Mars Investigations 7: I love mess!
In the last issue of Mars Investigations, I said that I thought that Lilly came off as kind of dismissive and cold in Veronica's flashbacks. And I wondered if this was intentional—maybe a hint that Lilly isn't as wonderful as she's been portrayed so far. But that didn't fully scan to me. In short, I couldn't really make sense of it. Longtime Veronica Mars fan, my friend Justine, emailed me with her thoughts (spoilers below but only for this episode):
I actually always thought Lilly's behavior in this episode was solid when it came to dropping clues that only make sense in hindsight. On first watch it def seems like she is just being dismissive and shitty. In retrospect though, it seems like she only just found out about Veronica possibly being her sister—which has got to be a pretty heavy thing for her to be holding (and keeping from Veronica) in that moment.
I wanted to quote Justine in full because it's a great point that made this chunk of the episode make a lot more sense to me. I don't know why I didn't put this together for myself but I am thrilled that Justine did and shared it. Please write in (just hit "reply" to this email) if you have alternate theories or thoughts on whatever I am putting out there!
As a reminder, you can get in touch with me by replying to this email or contacting me at email@example.com.
Also please note: The start and end of any potential spoilers are marked with this emoji: 🤐
🔍 Intro and housekeeping (above, already happened)
🔍 Synopsis of S1E8 "Like a Virgin" from veronicamars.fandom.com
🔍 Some thoughts on loving mess
🔍 Stray thoughts and observations on cultural references (📝) music (🎼), and tech (🚀)
🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations
🔍 Synopsis of "Like a Virgin"
Originally aired November 23, 2004
"In this episode, when someone publicly releases the results of an online purity test and causes chaos at the school, Veronica goes on the case. Meanwhile, Veronica attempts to obtain information from the confessed killer of Lilly Kane, Abel Koontz." (source)
🔍 I love mess!
Things are messier than ever in Neptune. The leaking of purity test results causes Neptune High to dissolve into a toxic stew of accusation and recrimination. Both Keith and Veronica deal with the fallout of the Kane Software rumor mill, which has poisoned Alicia Fennel against the Mars family. Veronica, of course, has been Neptune High’s main character for a while now. But in this episode, she learns that what she thought was a well-guarded secret—that Jake and Lianne were seeing each other—might be more of an open secret. Will that give rise to more rumors (if it hasn’t already), including the nightmare fuel that Jake Kane is Veronica’s real father?
This episode brings what’s normally bubbling just below or at the surface shooting into the air like a geyser of gossip, and pretty much everyone is getting drenched. What is it about hot gossip that makes the air feel electric?
Gossip has a reputation for being bad, distasteful, harmful. But “Like a Virgin” reminded me: Gossip is agnostic. Gossip can help as it hurts, and vice versa. It can enhance your reputation (if, as Duncan points out, you’re a guy) while simultaneously torpedoing someone else’s (slut shaming). The disadvantage you’re at when there’s gossip swirling about you can ultimately put you in a position to get even (Meg, Veronica) or to exceed expectations when you prove the rumors wrong (Keith). It can fuel an admirable (if amoral) attempt to separate sex-crazed 09ers for their allowance money (Mac). And of course, gossip is at its most powerful when it takes the form of a whisper network, i.e. when those at some social disadvantage deliberately “gossip” about someone in their midst who might be dangerous or harmful in order to warn others.
This episode also reminded me that we, people living in the real world, have something in common with the residents of Neptune. We’re all moving through the hallways of our lives surrounded by secrets—ours, other people’s. Secrets about who we love and who we hate, who we admire and want to be like, secrets about who we envy. Secrets about our sexuality, things we’ve done, things we haven’t done or are too afraid to ever do. Secrets about who we’re secretly dating or who our father is (or isn’t). The keeping and revealing of secrets, especially big ones, is an emotionally complicated business. In real life, this can be scary, scary shit. But as viewers, we’re in for a delightfully rewarding ride watching how the declassifying of secrets destabilizes individuals and relationships and maybe even threatens the social order itself.
🔍 Stray Thoughts and Observations
- This episode introduces Meg, Mac, and Alicia, a trifecta of great characters. They'll all contribute to various storylines in different ways and I am very glad they're here.
- Thank god for the pacing and energy of this episode which I experience as a corrective to the 🥱 vibe of "The Girl Next Door."
- I love Veronica's "chaos is a ladder" energy when she discovers that people can buy one another's purity test results.
- Abel Koontz is imprisoned for murdering Lilly Kane. Cain and Abel, get it???
- I didn't go to a high school where you showered and/or changed with other people and I truly cannot believe this is a thing anyone survives.
- Related: Neptune High seems to supply students with those self-sealing towels that velcro closed at the end. That is a true amenity.
- "You get tough, you get even." Veronica's advice for Meg and also pretty much her motto.
- If you zoom in on the computer screen when Veronica is looking at her sent mail, you can make out the names of some of the recipients (Wallace, Mallory Dent, Cliff McCormack) and subject lines ("are you for real" is one that was sent to Wallace" while "Navigator meeting--tomorrow" and "request" are the subject lines associated with Ms. Dent and Cliff respectively). You can also see the dates that these emails were sent. Everything we can see was sent between November 15 and 21, 2004. This episode premiered on November 23, 2004 which means the show was totally placing itself in our real-world timeline. This is just a fun fact!
- Stallingsburg, WV, Abel Koontz's hometown is not a real place.
- I am not qualified to evaluate the accuracy of the West Virginia accents Kristen Bell and Christian Clemenson (who plays Abel Koontz) are doing but I do know that listening to that scene in the prison made me feel very embarrassed. Kristen Bell in particular is giving me Designing Women.
- Related: Here are audio recordings of a bunch of different people from West Virginia if you want to hear those accents for yourself. In this Quora thread, commenters discuss that a) there is a range of accents in WV and b) that the accents in WV are Appalachian, not Southern.
- I'm also not qualified to evaluate the accuracy of Veronica's dialogue about the school's computer security breach, but my friend Ray who is a software engineer and cybersecurity enthusiast is qualified! As a refresher, Veronica says:
Is there any way to convert cipher text to plain text without initial knowledge of the crypto-algorithms?... I'm trying to figure out how someone could have overridden the control framework on the school server in order to access everyone's password.
Ray deemed this dialogue legit and good. He said the use of the phrase "control framework" is "a little vague" but that overall it makes sense and is "💯" (direct quote). He also explained to me in detail what the above dialogue means but it seems like too much to include here. Lmk if you want to understand and I will release an addendum newsletter!
- Speaking of accents, what do we think of the French accent Rudy Dobrev is doing as Renny DuMouy? 😬
- Grind Girl magazine sounds really cool, like Sassy meets Thrasher.
- In this episode, both Meg and Veronica wear a ton of pink and we see Meg in Veronica's customary color palette of pink and green together. What is it about the combo of pink and green that the show's costume designer is so into? Could be an inquiry to pursue in a future newsletter!
- Abel Koontz says to Veronica: "Are you the product of a schlubby sheriff or the king and queen of the prom?" I mean, I take the point, but Keith Mars is decidedly NOT schlubby. He's a hunkier-than-average dad, just ask Rebecca James 🤐 and Alicia Fennel!🤐
- According to Abel Koontz, Veronica's mom used to visit Kane Software during lunch hours which is such a bad way to keep a secret affair quiet.
📝 Cultural references
- "Like a Virgin" is the title of the iconic 1984 Madonna song. The video has a lion!
- "You crazy kids. This stuff you're into; hula hoops, cramming into phone booths, visiting death row inmates. What's it going to be next month?" Here Cliff is referencing teen fads from the 1950's. The cramming-into-phone-booths thing sounds very 2021 to me and I could definitely see #phoneboothchallenge absolutely ripping it on Tiktok.
- Alan Dershowitz, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro are celebrity criminal defense lawyers. (Celebrity lawyers who are criminal defense lawyers for celebs.)
- The purity test first appeared in The Thresher, the official campus newspaper of Rice University, in 1924. It was originally only meant to be taken by women undergrads. Of course, it's evolved quite a bit since then and took off anew in the early 2000's when online personality tests were all the rage. More recently, a version of the purity test updated by two college students in 2020 recently went viral on TikTok.
- "I'd believe cartoon birds braided your hair this morning" is a reference to the birds in Cinderella who (along with the mice) play the role of Cinderella's downstairs staff for her morning routine. Related Disney princess reference: "Unless there's another fairy godmother already on it."
- Another Disney princess: Snow White
- Reverse cowgirl (Link is NSFW), second base (plus, here's the handy Wikipedia entry "Baseball metaphors for sex" )
- Super Featherweight is the weight division in professional boxing for contestants between 126 and 130 pounds.
- "Don’t Tell Mama," which Meg and Kimmy sing for their audition is a song from the 1966 musical Cabaret.
- "One of those Britney Spears virgins" and "And you were her noble Justin" refer to the (highly! problematic!) discourse around Britney Spears at this time in her career, which was originally obsessed with her virginity and then, after she and Justin Timberlake broke up in 2002, obsessed with the fact that her virginity might not have been real (thanks in large part to Justin who made a real Thing of talking about the breakup and their sexual relationship). FOH Justin!
- I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Here, Cole is referencing Bill Clinton's famous(ly untrue) statement about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. By the way, there's a whole Wikipedia page detailing the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Bill Clinton.
- Fantastic Sam's absolutely sounds like a place a TV show made up but it's actually an chain of salons with "with over hundreds of locations throughout North America."
- "Goofballs" is slang for barbiturates, which make you real sleepy. Barbiturates were commonly rescribed in the 1960's and 1970's for anxiety, seizure disorder, and insomnia and then came to be used recreationally. According to drugs.com, "The 'high' from barbiturate abuse is similar to alcohol intoxication. In small doses, the user feels drowsy, disinhibited and intoxicated."
- After poking around a bit to get an explanation for why "frog" is a term for French people, the consensus is that it has to do with frogs' legs being present in French cuisine. But there are other theories, too, discussed in this Quora thread.
- Guys and Dolls is a musical that premiered on Broadway in 1950. In the Neptune High production, though, Meg played the lead.
- Repo Man
- I am counting the PT Cruiser parked next to Mac's car as a cultural reference.
- Fo' shizzle
- Single White Female
- "You mess with the bull" is a reference to the same line in The Breakfast Club (watch the clip here, it's cued up to that line), the 1985 John Hughes movie starring Molly Ringwald, Alley Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and Anthony Michael Hall.
- The above made me realize that there's also dialogue that mimics The Breakfast Club in the last episode (S1E7, "The Girl Next Door"). When Andre confronts Veronica after catching her in his apartment, he says, "I don't know who you think you are, but you need to stay out of my business. Am I being clear?" and Veronica replies "Crystal." Here is the similar exchange in The Breakfast Club (also cued up).
- "They say 'the truth will set you free.'" They really do say that! In this case, "they" is none other than Jesus H. Christ, who says it in the Bible, specifically John 8:31-32.
- "Bustin' heads and breakin' hearts" comes from the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie Roadhouse.
- "Hands on the Money" by Kid Symphony starts playing as Veronica walks through the halls of Neptune High amid students taunting and shouting at each other about the leaked purity test results. It's my favorite music cue of this episode because it contributes to the scene's simultaneously frenetic and triumphant feeling. Looks like this song is also from the 2004 car racing video game FlatOut.
- "Don't Let it Get You Down" by Spoon starts playing in the Navigator broadcast room as Kimmy runs out of the room after being subjected to Pam's cruel dressing down. Good song!
- Computer tower
- CD jewel case
- Photoshop version 8, the first one with Adobe Creative Suite branding
- Mac OS X Panther
- flip phone
- Dell flatscreen monitors
- Sony computer monitor
🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations
If you know me, you know I love a story about a cult, so I can't wait to rewatch S1E9, "Drinking the Kool-Aid," with guest star Jonathan Bennett (aka Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls).