Mars Investigations 12: Clash of the Tritons
Thank you for your patience with the delays I've had over at Mars Investigations HQ! We're back on track although I am toying with doing an every-other-week release schedule just because I'm realizing that any time I have a busier-than-usual week it's very tough to get this newsletter out!
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🔍 Intro and housekeeping (above, already happened)
🔍 Synopsis of S1E12 "Clash of the Tritons" from veronicamars.fandom.com
🔍 Some thoughts on public service announcements
🔍 Stray thoughts and observations on cultural references (📝) music (🎼), and tech (🚀)
🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations
🔍 Synopsis of "Clash of the Tritons"
Originally aired January 11, 2005
"In this episode, Veronica is framed for creating fake IDs, and she sets out to find out who the culprit is. Meanwhile, the school guidance counselor, Rebecca James, interviews the people who were most affected by Lilly Kane's murder, and Logan's family dramas continue." (source)
🔍 Some thoughts on being obsessed with inconsequential minutiae
As you can probably tell from reading this newsletter, I love to spend time identifying a random prop or piece of set decor and then digging into the social or cultural context of whatever I find. Take the book on the Mars' coffee table that was a children's adaptation of a Christian allegory, or the art in their home that turned out to be an ad for countertop surfaces. And sometimes there's no context to be had, it's just fun to notice shit, like the cat on the computer screen behind Veronica for about one second in "The Girl Next Door."
More often than not identifying these things and learning more about them doesn't reveal anything meaningful about the show itself. They simply turn out to be artifacts of the era that a set designer thought had the right look or feel. But that's kind of what I love about these deep dives into minutiae—they let me just kind of marinate in mundane, era-specific details.
And this week's episode had some of my favorite minutiae so far: a bevy of posters with public service messaging. Because so much of this episode takes place in locations that are often papered in public service ads—a school and a police department—we're treated to ads that cover everything from healthy eating and personal hygiene to HIV/AIDS. All of these ads got me thinking about the marketing of socially appropriate/healthy behaviors. Whether it's preventing forest fires, saying no to drugs, or putting litter in its place, these are ad campaigns for acting like a person in a society. Then there's weird "personal responsibility" stuff like "Eat More Fruit!!" All this is to say, I really enjoyed the inconsequential, era-specific minutiae in this episode.
And as I was cataloging them, I started wondering about the history of PSAs I stumbled across "A Brief History of PSA Posters" by Angelina Lippert for Poster House. It's a really fun read with great visuals; I recommend it!
Anyway, here's what I noticed:
- The episode opens with Veronica and the student in an MIT hoodie sitting in the office at Neptune High. They're chatting when they hear a commotion. Looking through the glass doors, they see a bunch of kids running down the hallway, wearing just sneakers and ski hats. On the door is a small poster that reads EAT MORE FRUIT!! with an illustration half-peeled banana and some other fruit.
- Veronica places a camera in a display case in order to record the fake ID activity happening at the lockers. In the display case is an exhibit in recognition of personal hygiene month (lol). It features a sign that reads "Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after every meal," as well as soap, mouthwash, deodorant, shaving cream, and a lot of cotton balls.
- There are a couple of PSAs on the wall in the Neptune Sheriff's Department. One reads "AIDS turns a child into an orphan." Another one is from an ad campaign by the Ad Council for the National Parent Teacher Association aimed at getting parents to be more involved in their children's schools. Both of these ads have the confrontational style that was really common for PSAs of that era.
- Rebcca James has American flag decor in her office and in Clemmons' office, there's some kind of illustration with what looks like first responders holding up a flag. This is very extra patriotism-wise and strikes me as a shortly-after-9/11 decor choice. Of course, these are different than the PSAs described above but the concept of, essentially, advertising the United States is very much in the DNA of the very first public ad campaigns, which came out during World Wars I and II.
🔍 Stray thoughts and observations
- Guidance counselor Rebecca James gets a grant to study the long-term effects of grief in adolescents which is the device that allows us to overhear the conversations she has with Weevil and Duncan. A little contrived but also pretty inventive so I'll allow it.
- "Wow. I have that exact same platitude-a-day calendar at home. It's how I know beauty comes from within." Sick ass burn!
- The piece of paper that the office aide hands Rick telling him to go to the principal's office is different than the piece of paper we see when Rick is telling Veronica about that moment. If you noticed that you'd have known Rick was lying before Veronica's Poirot moment. (I didn't notice it until I re-watched and looked specifically for that detail.) It's a neat way to verrry subtly signal to the viewer that Rick is an unreliable narrator. And maybe it's also something to keep in mind about the narrators we'll meet through the season. Can their version of events be trusted? Can their memories?
- A great character detail of Sheriff Lamb is that he chews gum very aggressively. He chews gum at you.
- Logan's frosted tips. That's all.
- The PCHer who gets into a fight with Logan laughs just like the weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- When there's 31:34 left in the episode, you hear the sound of Veronica tuning through different radio stations to pick up on the frequency that allows her to hear the bug in the guidance counselor's office. The audio sample used to simulate the sound of tuning through radio stations is the same one that starts the 2000 song "Hip Hop" by dead prez.
- In the current Tritons pledge class: Harry Didden, Steve Vargo, Matt Barone (and Duncan Kane). These are good names for NPCs who are high school students.
- There's a tabloid called Strike! which rules.
- So, Aaron Echolls has a daughter named Trina, you say?
- I'm here to say that just about every line of dialogue Jason Dohring says as Logan is a gem. Really. Each utterance, a delight.
- Aaron is scary as hell. He lightly threatened to kill his son!
- When he's being questioned by Veronica at the karaoke bar, Duncan speaks to her only in pangrams—sentences that use every single letter of the alphabet once. Here are the ones he uses: Brawny gods just flocked up to quiz and vex him. / Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim. / The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog
- I very rarely like to engage the "why didn't this character do this other thing" thought experiment because it's like, because you're watching this show, not a show about a character who acts a different way! That said, why did Keith go right back to Aaron to tell him that Lynn was responsible for the leaks? Yes, he's a bit of a black-and-white thinker when it comes to PI's code of conduct. But he's also learned recently (in "Drinking the Kool-Aid") that even when you have all the observable information, it's worth sitting with it for a moment to see if something else is going on, something perhaps imperceptible or at least not obvious. For example, perhaps Aaron finding out that Lynn was responsible could put her in danger one way or another.
- It's very nifty that the viewer and Veronica are, at least in this moment, on the same page about the questions we have after the events of this episode. Namely: What exactly is Duncan's mental health landscape? And was Weevil Lilly's secret?
- When Veronica brings donuts to Sheriff Lamb, the box says "Good Morning Donuts." I want this to be the name of the donut shop but it might just be generic donut box text like what you see on pizza boxes ("Pizza Oven Hot Fresh Delicious")
- Content note: This bullet point will mention apparent suicide. Holy shit, Lynn. You deserved way better. I genuinely don't remember if she actually jumped off the bridge or if it's been staged. Seems like we're meant to think it could be either!
📝 Cultural references
- "Clash of the Tritons" is a reference to the 1981 movie "Clash of the Titans," starring one Harry Hamlin as Perseus, the son of Zeus (played by Laurence Olivier).
- Content note: This bullet point will reference the kidnapping and murder of a toddler and capital punishment. Al Capone was a famous Prohibition-era crime boss who died in 1947 of late-stage syphilis, and the Lindbergh baby was Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the son of aviators Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh baby was 20 months old when he was taken from his crib in the Lindberghs' New Jersey home. His body was later found on the side of a highway. A German-born carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann was convicted of the kidnapping and murder and executed. He maintained his innocence till he died and it remains a subject of debate whether he was guilty or whether the authorities railroaded him. I recommend reading the Wikipedia page about the Lindbergh kidnapping, it's interesting! Capone's remains are buried in Illinois and Charles Lindbergh, Jr.'s ashes were scattered over the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, Veronica's joke about Al Capone or the Lindbergh baby being in her locker doesn't really make sense!
- The Diners Club card was the very first of the modern credit cards. It was founded in 1950 and was intended to be used for dining and entertainment so that cardholders had just one bill to pay monthly for those expenses. Sadly it's no longer accepting new applicants in the U.S.
- Mickey Mouse
- "La femme Veronica" might be a reference to the 1990 movie La Femme Nikita
- 7 minutes in heaven is a "kissing party game" that makes me want to turn invisble and melt into the earth
- "Ginsu’d" is a reference to Ginsu Knives which gave the world many classic infomercials in the 1980's where you'd see the knife cutting through an aluminum can and a block of frozen spinach.
- Candid Camera
- Shaft / "Shut your mouth" are references to the theme song for the 1971 movie Shaft, about John Shaft, a Harlem PI. As always, I hate Veronica's weirdly overfamiliar, uncool-in-a-racial-way line readings.
- The American landscape photographer Ansel Adams
- "Fadeaway like Jordan"
- Dave Chappelle. Chappelle's Show was on Comedy Central from 2003 to 2006.
- Kevin Costner
- I have to imagine that the show needed songs in the public domain because they were saving all their royalty money for Veronica's karaoke rendition of Blondie's "One Way Or Another." I certainly wish they hadn't chosen "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," famously a Black American spiritual that is thought to have originated in Oklahoma in the mid 1800's and seems to have messages about enslavement and freedom from it. "Hokey Pokey" and "On Top of Old Smokey" are the other songs we hear in this episode. Neither of those are in the public domain but I have to imagine their rights are more reasonably priced than say, a pop song that would be way more likely to be sung at karaoke.
- 6 CD changer
- FM car radio
- SD card
🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations
Can't wait to re-watch "Lord of the Bling." I don't remember much about this episode but I do know that Anthony Anderson is in it so it'll be fun.