Mars Investigations 6: Potential vs. performance
I am excited to say that Mars Investigations has received its first correction! My friend, fellow Veronica Mars expert Jenny, pointed out to me via Twitter that in S1E6, Felix is listening to an iPod Mini, not a 4th generation iPod, as I had said in issue 5 of the newsletter. I appreciate any and all corrections so please do keep them coming!
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Also please note: The start and end of any potential spoilers are marked with this emoji: 🤐
🔍 Intro and housekeeping (above, already happened)
🔍 Synopsis of S1E7 "The Girl Next Door" from veronicamars.fandom.com
🔍 Some thoughts on potential vs. performance
🔍 Stray thoughts and observations on cultural references (📝) music (🎼), and tech (🚀)
🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations
🔍 Synopsis of "The Girl Next Door"
Originally aired November 9, 2004
"In this episode, Veronica looks into the mysterious disappearance of her neighbor, Sarah. Meanwhile, Logan and Weevil have to deal with each other in detention." (source)
🔍 Potential vs. performance
At a company where I used to work, the annual review process used a nine-square grid to determine how well an employee was performing relative to their own potential. Like most of the tools used in annual reviews, it’s a pretty blunt instrument for evaluating people, and I don’t recommend it! But I do find myself thinking about it a lot, sometimes when I’m having stress dreams about this particular job, and also when I encounter something disappointing that I expected to be better. This grid popped into my mind after rewatching S1E7, “The Girl Next Door,” because the episode is a classic instance of High Potential/Moderate Performance. If this episode was my employee, I might be making a note like “Did not meet performance goal set at last review!!”
I say High Potential because I know how good this show can be. But the output? Middling. I don’t find this episode to be unwatchable, just ho-hum. The Logan/Weevil storyline does a lot to zazz things up, and Veronica’s journey with the yearbook and Evelyn Bugby of the class of 1979 is fun 🤐 and results in an important piece of information. 🤐 But the mystery of the week is, well, kind of a snooze. We don’t really know Sarah, and we don’t get to know her in a real way because once she goes missing, we’re just hearing about her through other characters (who we also don’t really know or care about). And Veronica also barely knows her! This is the first time this season when Veronica investigates something where the outcome won’t really have consequences for her or for someone or something she cares about. If something terrible happens, it’ll be sad, sure, but it won’t really impact Veronica.
Furthermore, the investigation itself is pretty blah. Following along as Veronica pokes around an empty apartment and presses for information creeps who are annoying in similar ways is just not that fun to watch, especially when compared to watching Veronica infiltrate a video game cafe or dorm party, or banter with Wallace as she looks over ballots, or mail pretend scholarship letters to 400 John Smiths.
Basically? I am going to need EITHER a very dynamic mystery and investigation process or the presence of Wallace so that we can watch a fun relationship develop as the mystery does. This episode has neither!
Finally, and kind of as a side note, the other reason this episode leaves me cold is that we’re starting to see how hard the show leans into sexual violence as both a backstory and a plot point 🤐 and will continue to as this season and future seasons unfold. 🤐 As Cordelia says to Xander in S3E3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Find a new theme.” I mean, there are only so many stories about sexual violence we can watch in a single show before we a) wish for the sweet release of death and b) have to ask ourselves whether the creators have any interest in or aptitude for creating female characters whose personalities and situations don’t come only from their history of sexual violence.
In conclusion, this episode’s annual review will read High Potential, Moderate Performance. But you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes we can make do with a decent B plot, a better-than-average C plot, and some exposition that moves the story along. They can’t all be bangers.
🔍 Stray Thoughts and Observations
- One thing Veronica Mars has going for it is the casting of guest stars who went on to become way more famous later in their careers. I love rewatching a show with someone who would go on to become THE Tessa Thomspon or THE Adam Scott. Unfortunately, Jessica Chastain's presence doesn't do much for me and it doesn't save the episode from being flat flat flat.
- Two other things I absolutely don't like about this one: Wallace isn't in it and it's Ms. Dent's (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) last episode. According to Wikipedia she left abruptly because was pregnant but continued to be credited for several more episodes. Something about that doesn't scan to me and I think Veronica should look into it.
- The apartment complex Veronica and Keith live in is called Sunset Cliffs. And is it me or does it look a little tidier and more polished than it did in the pilot when it seemed a little more run down?
- There's so much A+ Logan here, starting with his interaction at the lockers with Clemmons ("'Anthropomorphic.' All yours, big guy") He's a consistent pop of color in an otherwise drab episode and he is moving more clearly toward wiseass class clown and away from cruel piece of shit.
- This is the first time we've seen Lilly as Celeste sees her: self-involved and not very caring. In the flashbacks where Veronica is asking Lilly for help understanding what's going on with Duncan, Lilly is downright dismissive and then evasive. It feels like brand new information about who she was as a person. Is this the show signaling that there's more to Lilly than we thought? Or more than Veronica thought? I genuinely don't know because I'm thrown off enough by this reveal that it makes me wonder if it was even intentional on the part of the show or if it just reads differently than they intended.
- I always get a kick out of seeing character actors from my TV-watching past. In this case it's Steven Williams (Mr. Daniels) who played Captain Adam Fuller on 21 Jump Street (1987-1991). Another one is Adam Kaufman (Andre). He was in season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as notorious cad and enemy of the Buffy state, Parker Abrams.
- We see Current Veronica watch as Flashback Veronica runs past her into the girls' bathroom. Veronica encountering her past self isn't just a nifty trick, it's also a literal expression of some of the things the show has been playing with so far this season: the tension between longing for the past and wanting to be distanced from it, memory, secrets.
- 🤐 Two more juicy clues about a connection between Weevil and Lilly! Another fun thread to unravel that, one can guess, will widen the pool of murder suspects. 🤐
- Sarah and Andre's apartment is filled with terrifying original art such as the giant face with empty eyes staring out from behind their bed.
- I thought that the weirdest piece of set dressing in the Mars home was the huge framed poster that turned out to be an ad for countertop surfaces. But that was until I saw the book Dangerous Journey on their coffee table. This book is an adaptation for children of a 1678 Christian allegory called The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come. The website desiringgod.com tells us that "Only the Bible has sold more copies than The Pilgrim's Progress." WHY is this casually resting on the Mars coffee table??
- The theme for the class of 1979 prom is "Love is thicker than water." That...doesn't make any sense? The seniors at Neptune High that year don't understand how proverbs work!
- So, what did cause the screaming and thumping noises that woke Veronica up that night? We never found out.
- Early in the episode when Veronica is in Ms. Dent's classroom, the computer monitor behind her has an image of a cat on it. I want to know more about that cat! Who are they!
📝 Cultural references
- Veronica's "Snow Patrol" CD. Maybe it was 2003's Final Straw?
- The hit Nancy Sinatra song "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (another reference Logan makes!!!!)
- Macbeth, Hamlet, Poe, Shakespeare, Wordsworth
- The board game/movie Clue when Andre says: "That must have been when I cracked her head open with a candlestick and she crumpled to the ground. No, wait. That was Professor Plum in the study."
- Andre says "La-dee-dah" to Veronica. This is (famously) something of a catchphrase for Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) in Annie Hall (1977).
- Weevil references a scene from Casino (1995) in which a guy gets his get put in a vise by Joe Pesci. Content note for that scene before you click through: A guy gets his head put in a vise.
- In response, Logan says of Mr. Daniels "I'd rather see him locked in a room, padded, crapping himself in a corner. You know, he's an English teacher. He'd appreciate the poetic justice." First of all, yikes Logan. Second of all, I am not sure if this is a reference to something in literature or just a scene Logan has cooked up. Finally, how is this poetic justice? Please hmu if you know or have a guess!
- The MTV/Ashton Kutcher hidden camera show Punk'd: "People are going to be talking about that punking for years."
- White after Labor Day: According to "Can You Wear White After Labor Day?" by Chelsea Peng for Marie Claire, some historians think this rule had to do with those with old money people wanting to separate themselves from the nouveau richer, while others think it's more about putting away your light, white summer clothing once summer ends as a signal that it's back to school, work, and business.
- A chunk of Hamlet's dialogue from act one, scene 5 of Hamlet is written on the blackboard in Mr. Daniels' classroom:
Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?
A Lilly reference mayhap?
- Sarah and Andre fought like the famously volatile couple Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) and Nancy Spungen.
- Right after the open credits as Veronica walks to the laundry room and talks to Sarah, "The Trial of the Century" by the French Kicks plays and has a kind of haunting opening piano that I think sets up the conversation with Sarah well.
- We once again hear Air's "La Femme D'Argent" which we also heard in the pilot. I'll never be mad at hearing this song but also, we did already hear it this season.
- Flip phone
🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations
I can't wait to rewatch S1E8, "Like a Virgin" because we get to meet Meg and Mac. Also, I love a computery mystery. This should be a fun one, as well as an antidote to S1E7.