Mars Investigations 9: Try a little tenderness
12 min read

Mars Investigations 9: Try a little tenderness

Screenshot of S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Josh and Veronica stand in a greenhouse with rows of green plants behind them. Josh is wearing an orange and gray button down shirt and look at Veronica who is wearing a pink longsleeved shirt and a brown vest with a fur color and looking at Josh with skepticism.
Josh, Veronica, and the "ultimate cash crop" (?????)

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🔍  Intro and housekeeping (above, already happened)
🔍  Synopsis of S1E9 "Drinking the Kool-Aid" from
🔍  Some thoughts on trying a little tenderness
🔍  Stray thoughts and observations on cultural references (📝) music (🎼), and tech (🚀)
🔍  Next time in Mars Investigations

🔍 Synopsis of "Drinking the Kool-Aid"

Originally aired November 30, 2004

"In this episode, Veronica investigates the mysterious cult of which Casey, another student, is part, the Moon Calf Collective. Meanwhile, Veronica deals with the aftermath of the realization that Jake Kane is likely her biological father." (source)

🔍 Try a little tenderness

Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Casey Gant is looking at Veronica. They are standing in the school hallway and Casey's eyebrows are raised and he's in the middle of talking with a smile on his face.
Casey Gant, looking engaged and happy

I’m in a very intense “try a little tenderness” headspace right now. Maybe it’s because we’re going into our 24th month of a pandemic and Russia just started a war. Maybe it’s because of the hellish anti-trans stuff happening in Texas (and across the country). Maybe it’s because, in a 2022 tarot reading, The Tower was the card that the reader drew for my February. Maybe it’s because things have been a bit aggravating for me professionally lately. Whatever the reason, when I rewatched S1E9 “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” the thing that stuck with me most was how much vulnerability and tenderness we see in this episode. For a show that’s played around quite a bit with the good-vs-evil binary, and with Veronica getting her strength from leaning into that, it felt refreshing to see something a little different.

In S1E9 we see the good that can come from letting go of a worldview built on binaries (crime and punishment, good and bad, bully and victim, deserving and undeserving). When we let go of binaries and the preconceived notions that are built into those binaries, we see people, relationships, and situations for the messy things they are. And with this clarity, we know that to approach life with binaristic thinking is like approaching the task of building a house holding only a hammer, when in reality we can’t get the job done unless we have a toolbox full of stuff. Being able to hold nuance, vulnerability, and tenderness as you deal with life’s messiness is like having that toolbox full of stuff, one that lets you build and maintain relationships that allow for mistakes, contradictions, accountability, and the repairing of harm.

Rereading the above, I feel like I sound like I’m trying to start another Moon Calf Collective so let me get to the episode and try to explain what I mean.

The Gants hire Keith to bring them evidence that the Collective is doing something illegal. Keith and Veronica take on the assignment with enthusiasm—they need the money and are totally on board with the idea that they’re going to rescue a teen from this harmful cult. But as they investigate, it becomes clear that nothing particularly bad or illegal is taking place at the farm. OK, yes, Josh is creepily nice. And why is Holly recruiting her high school students?? Sure these are red flags except nothing egregious—besides how bad the Moon Calves are with boundaries—is really happening. Nevertheless, Keith is set to tell the Gants about Rain:

KEITH: This is what we're working for. We were praying for a break and now you gave it to us. Don't tell me the prospect of having new digs and steady hot water doesn't sound good to you. And we can't just blow this off, Veronica. They're contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It's a serious crime.
VERONICA: Oh, please, Dad, you've been around these people. Do you honestly think they're corrupting anyone? I think they're exactly what they seem to be; a bunch of sweet, naive, sixties throwbacks.
KEITH: That's possibly true but definitely beside the point. Even if they are the utopian sweethearts you think they are, we don't answer morally or otherwise to the Moon Calf Collective. We answer to our clients who pay us to do a job and that job is to find the information they want.

But by the time Keith has to decide what to do about Rain, he’s allowed himself to see that Veronica is right; the Collective is not only probably harmless, but also a much safer place for Rain than wherever she has been or will go if she’s taken away. He admits to himself and Veronica that his initial impressions were wrong: Sure, the collective may be strange to him, but it also seems to be a safe place.

And of course, as Veronica has gotten to know Josh and co., she’s started to realize that she was also wrong about the Collective. This group of people might be weird, crunchy, touchy-feely, but also fine people, maybe even good. Upon realizing the magnitude of what she’s done by telling Keith about Rain, and the effect it could have, she approaches Josh, Casey, and Holly to say “I’ve done something I regret.” She confesses that she made a mistake, a bad one. By admitting this, she’s holding herself accountable; giving Josh and co. a heads up is an attempt to repair the harm she might have caused. She explains that the authorities might be on their way to raid the farm and remove Rain. Josh’s reply is simple: “It’s OK, Veronica. We get the picture. Everything’s going to be just fine. We appreciate you being upfront with us. Come join us later if you like.”

He’s a little terse, but not unforgiving. He lets her see that he is frustrated and also understanding. Similarly, when Veronica observes that Casey is being pretty nice to her, considering what she just confessed to, Casey says to her, “I guess I don’t think you were faking the kindness.” He can acknowledge the betrayal and the fact that Veronica’s kindness was authentic. That’s a hefty amount of vulnerability and tenderness from all three of these characters in just a couple of brief scenes.

And Casey’s ending brings the themes of the episode into relief. It's just as we’re realizing that the Collective has been good for Casey that we see him forcibly taken away from it. Watching him get out of his new Porsche the next day and barely nod to Veronica as he walks by, a husk of his formerly joyful self underscores the sadness and emptiness of being separated from a life that connected you to tenderness and vulnerability.

Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Casey Gant in a deep red zip up jacket has his head tilted slightly back and is smirking a little bit, his eyes narrowed. He's in the parking lot at Neptune High.
The husk of Casey Gant, smirking mirthlessly

This is all so much more satisfying to me than if this episode had been about Keith and Veronica taking down a dangerous cult that was brainwashing people and ruining their lives. By centering the episode on a group that challenges Veronica's and Keith's (and viewers’) preconceived notions and then leans into curiosity, accountability, and harm repair, we get something so much richer.

🔍 Stray thoughts and observations

  • This is the first time that an episode picks up exactly where the previous one left off. In this case, it's Veronica crying in the parking lot of the prison after visiting Abel Koontz who suggested that her real father is Jake Kane.
  • Veronica reverse engineering how Clarence Wiedman surveilled her is a cool sequence and one of the more tradecraft things she's done so far this season. I particularly like the snippet of the scene (starting around 2:18) when Veronica is talking to the server at Aladdin and the scene cuts and restarts almost instantaneously. Each time it happens, the camera angle is slightly shifted. It telegraphs the urgency and Veronica's franticness. Maybe this is the first time we've seen her legitimately shook? Or perhaps she's putting a little mustard on her performance to get what she needs from the server? Maybe both.
  • WHY are the Moon Calves so secretive and coy about their poinsettias? And how the hell are poinsettias the "ultimate cash crop"?
  • The restaurant Clarence Wiedman was surveilling Veronica from is called Aladdin. We can do better, Neptune.
  • According to Wikipedia, Enrico Colantoni's face is all banged up in this episode because of an ice hockey injury. The man is Canadian so I'd say the story checks out.
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars is standing in at Veronica's desk inside Mars Investigations. He is wearing a suit and looking at Veroncia's outstretched hand which is holding a vial. Keith is smiling a little. He has a bruise under his right eye.
Father (but maybe not Veronica's?) of the year
  • Regarding the flashbacks to Ms. Mills' English class: couples are allowed to just...canoodle and cuddle during read aloud time? Even for a free spirit like Ms. Mills, this seems highly irregular for a high school classroom to me!
  • Similarly, bringing students off-campus to her commune feels inappropriate. A figure of authority should've flagged this!
  • "He started babbling about renouncing the toxic death style of late-stage capitalist society and un-remembering the consumer siren song. I think compost even came up too, once." <- This is my nominee for best chunk of dialogue in all of season one.
  • Veronica's take on "crap teen poetry" feels VERY right on for me, at least as someone who was in high school from 1993-1997. "I Cut Because I Can" would 100% have showed up in my high school's lit mag. Kids these days, sound off: Is crap teen poetry any different nowadays?
  • When Veronica is chatting with Rain and chef Django, Farhang Pernoon, the actor playing Django, is holding a pen to a pad and does what looks like a scribble scrabble as he's talking. I like the idea that the director was like "Make a note of something" and the actor playing Django drew a bunch of messy spirals and was like "Nailed it."
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Django and Rain, both wearing brown coats over green sweatshirts are standing side by side. Rain is holding Django's left elbow and looking at him while smiling up at him.
Chef Django does a scribble scrabble
  • I just want to note the very specific kind of awkwardness that arises when a person who is Funny attempts to shoot the shit with someone who is Earnest. Veronica trying to chat up Rain—and I realize that Veronica has an ulterior motive here and that could account for some of the awkwardness—is painful for me personally, as someone who has tried to connect with people who are crunchy, earnest types by joking and as a result can find absolutely no conversational purchase.
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Rain and Veronica are standing at the farm next to a cow, which Rain is petting. They are talking. Rain is smiling and looking into the distance. Veronica is smiling awkwardly.
Keepin' it 100 (percent awkward)
  • If I was called on to read an original poem aloud to a crowd, I, too, would fake a panic attack and run away.
  • At one point Veronica says: "...if it means me having to save this homely boy from cultists, so be it." We can all agree that in no reality or dimension is Jonathan Bennett who plays Casey Gant (and more importantly Aaron Samuels) "homely," right?
  • So the Moon Calf Collective seems pretty harmless, right? Like, it's a place for crunchy folks to live together in harmony (until it all goes sideways and someone turns out to be an embezzler or a kidnapper or whatever). But for the moment it and Josh are like....fine? Yes, he does give that little "you've built this fortress" speech to Veronica which sounds an awful lot like a cult leader grooming a prospective victim. Major Keith Raniere vibes! But also we're presented with no real evidence that anything untoward is happening at the farm. I like how muddled this all this!
  • Duncan and Veronica had two interactions in this episode. In one, she was basically ignoring him because of how freaked out she was that they might be half-siblings. And then at the end of the episode, they had a fun 'n flirty moment in the parking lot.
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Veronica is standing by her car in the Neptune High parking lot. She's wearing a purple jacket and has her taupe shoulder bag over her shoulder. She is looking with a wry smile at an off-screen Duncan.
She hates to see Duncan go but she loves to watch him leave
  • Mystery-wise, we still don't know if Keith is Veronica's biological father.

📝 Cultural references

  • "Mooncalf" has a few different meanings. The most relevant one for this episode is mooncalf meaning someone who is a dreamer.
  • The episode's title ("Drinking the Kool-Aid") is a reference to the mass murder-suicide that took place on November 18, 1978, when more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple died after ingesting cyanide either through forced injection or being coerced to drink Flavor Aid laced with it at the direction of cult leader Jim Jones. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" has become shorthand for someone who unconditionally and unquestioningly supports something or someone that should probably be questioned. I am irked by how casually this phrase is thrown around in everyday life because it references a cult leader murdering almost 1000 people. Sidenote: I wish more people understood how cults work beyond goofing on the people who get taken in by them. I think most people can learn a lot (I know I have!) about groupthink and group dynamics by learning about cults.
  • "I'm prepared to admit that these Moon Calves probably don't merit the full ATF fire-bombing treatment." This is a reference to the two-month siege by federal authorities of the Branch Davidians, who were led by David Koresh. To end the siege, the authorities lead an assault on the compound that resulted in a fire that caused the death of 76 Branch Davidians, including 25 children, two pregnant women, and David Koresh. I recommend watching Waco: The Rules of Engagement, a documentary that reassesses everything that went on.
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Josh and Holly make out at the farm while Veronica looks on in surprise.
Boundaryless, yes. A cult? Seems like no!
  • Vanilla Ice
  • Zbots
  • Gordon Lightfoot. Keith likes it folky!
  • Dracula. When Keith says the following, he uses a Dracula accent for the part I have italicized: "This is so endearing. My badass, action figure daughter is afraid to draw a teensy little drop of blood."
  • "When the Angels Sing" by Social Distortion is the "poem" Weevil reads aloud in class
  • HIV home test kits and the era of getting extra credit for taking a test. As someone who was in high school in the mid-nineties, I am here to tell you that HIV and AIDS awareness was a huge part of our lives and the idea that a few years later in 2004 a teacher would give extra credit for taking an HIV test (even though of course Veronica is making this story up) is very plausible.
  • Duncan is briefly seen reading Edward Said's memoir Out of Place
  • The 1993-1998 CBS show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
  • Yahtzee, a dice game in which, as you might remember from commercials, you shout "Yahtzee!" when all five dice rolled have the same result
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Wallace and Veronica are standing in the hallway of Neptune High. Wallace is looking at Veronica. His hand is on his chest and he is making what looks ilke a serious point as Veronica, the back of her head to the viewer, listens.
Wallace giving Veronica wise counsel
  • Gone with the Wind: Veronica invokes Scarlett O'Hara's famous "I'll never be hungry again" monologue when she says the following (italicized) with a Southern belle accent: "But if I am an heiress, as God is my witness I'll never take cold showers again."
  • The Brady Bunch (1969-1974 on ABC)
  • Oliver Twist
  • According to Wikipedia, the whole missing-children-on-milk-cartons thing wasn't really happening past the late 1990's
  • Taco Bell's Meximelt and Cinnamon Crispas
  • Veronica says to Wallace: "Thank you for being my own personal Springer audience." This is a reference to the Jerry Springer Show, a daytime talk show that was on the air from 1991-2018. In this exchange between Veronica and Wallace there is, once again, some very cringey and presumptuous stuff happening around race (from Veronica). I don't know who all was in the VM writers' room and making decisions about how Veronica interacts with Wallace but it feels overly familiar (at best).
  • "Should I check myself before I wreck myself?" is a reference to Ice Cube's 1993 song "Check Yo Self"
  • "Incense and peppermint" is a reference to the 1967 song "Incense and Peppermints" by the band Strawberry Alarm Clock. Very psychedelic hippie shit!
Screenshot from S1E9 of Veronica Mars. Josh and Veronica stand at the farm. Josh is wearing an orange and gray buttondown shirt. He is standing close to Veronica and his head is bent towards her while he explains something. Veronica looks up at him in skepticisim, one hand in her shoulder bag. She his wearing a longsleeved pink shirt and brown vest with a fur collar.
The look on Veronica's face is the correct reaction when someone does pop psychology on you

🎼 Music

  • Obviously "When the Angels Sing" by Social Distortion is a must-listen
  • Otherwise, I want to highlight the music that's played at the farm because it score those scenes perfectly. First, there's "Make a Deal with the City" by East River Pipe, which plays when Veronica first arrives at the farm with Ms. Mills. As it's starting, Veronica says "I feel like I'm on a movie set or something" and the opening notes, which are dreamy and ethereal, underscore that feeling. The joyful "Have a Nice Day" by the Stereophonics scores the moment when the Moon Calves are making dinner together. And finally, one of the Moon Calves is strumming and singing "Oh! Sweet Nuthin" by the Velvet Underground, a song about those who are discarded by society but find something else (something better maybe?), as everyone sits by the fire.

🚀 Tech

  • Mini cassette recorder

🔍 Next time in Mars Investigations

Next up in our rewatch is S1E10 "An Echolls Family Christmas." This is about the time in season one where my memory of how things unfold starts to get a little shoddy. So I am extra excited to rewatch this episode which I have just about no memory of!

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Edited by Andrea Lynch
Tech support by Jen DeMarco