Thursday, April 20, 2006

This is Probably a Bad Idea: Your Host Tackles the Veronica Mars Mystery

First of all, I should probably mention that I have the investigative skills of a stunned wombat. Seriously, you wouldn't believe the things that I had to have pointed out to me this season: that Logan deliberately targeted Hannah, that the bomb was stashed in one of the bus passengers' bags. I have absolutely no chance of working out the solution to Veronica Mars' season-long mystery simply by examining the available evidence and deducing a theory of the crime. The thing is, I don't think anyone else has a chance of doing that either, or at least not yet. Veronica Mars is a mystery story, which means that although on a certain level it is an intellectual puzzle, first and foremost it is a drama, and its writers' primary objective is to maintain tension and ensure that the mystery's solution is surprising to its viewers. There is, without a doubt, at least one piece of crucial evidence as yet undiscovered, without which the mystery can't be unraveled. The rules of good storytelling demand that this evidence not be revealed until the season's very last episode. There is simply no way, at this point in the story, that I or anyone else could solve the mystery using evidence alone. What I can do, however, is use my familiarity with stories and their conventions to at least make some intelligent guesses about what the season's end has in store.

One of the things I liked about the revelation of Aaron Echolls as Lilly Kane's killer was that, although as a plot twist it was shocking, psychologically it made perfect sense. The writers had made certain, over the course of the first season, that we learned certain things about Aaron and Lilly that made the fact of their affair seem organic to the characters. We learned that Lilly was promiscuous, and that she treated her lovers poorly. We learned that Aaron would sleep with anything female that stood still long enough, and that he had a violent and explosive temper. When the sex tape of the two of them surfaced, the discovery we made, and the theory of the crime that Veronica deduced, dovetailed perfectly with our previous knowledge of the two characters' personalities.

Lilly's murder, however, was a crime of passion--all that was required of the killer was that he or she have a violent temper. The bus crash in the second season was a premeditated crime, and its perpetrator must therefore have a more complicated and unusual personality. The crime was committed in cold blood. It was calculated, although to what extent remains unclear. We still don't know whether the bomb's intended target was the bus or the limo, and I have the sneaking suspicion that Cervando's claim that the explosion was meticulously timed is a red herring--what if the intended target was a single passenger, on either the bus or the limo, and the fact that the bus was at the cliff at the time of the explosion was merely an unfortunate accident? We have no way of knowing just how intelligent and calculating our murderer is, but given the strong likelihood that the gift basket with the bomb ended up in the hands of someone other than its intended victim, I think we can safely conclude that the murderer is not a criminal mastermind. Most importantly, unless we discover a common trait that links all of the victims (or all of the intended victims, if the bomb was supposed to destroy the limo), our killer has no compunction about killing innocent bystanders in order to get a specific person out of the way. We're talking, in other words, about a person who is either mustache-twirlingly evil or a complete psychopath.

Which would be kind of boring, and which is why I find myself enamored of the theory that the killer is a contemporary of Veronica's and not an adult. I'd be happier with a killer who is still somewhat human, and I think the only way that can happen is if they have a teenager's moral deficiencies. By and large, the student body of Neptune High has demonstrated a breathtaking capacity for selfishness, self-centeredness, and a lack of empathy--in other words, typical teenage self-absorption, taken to extremes. These are the kids who thoughtlessly commit grievous sexual and physical assaults, who humiliate their fellow students for kicks, who demonstrate almost no sympathy in the face of their fellow students' pain, and who in general act to gratify their immediate urges without giving serious thought to the consequences of their actions. For an adult to be this season's killer, they would have to be monstrous, but at Neptune High, Veronica seems to encounter nothing but monsters, who at the same time are still recognizably human. The show has toyed with taking its noir tone to such an extreme--mostly by constantly teasing us with the possibility of either Weevil or Logan being killers (and yes, I realize that post-"Plan B", Weevil and Logan are both killers)--but for the most part it has shied away from this level of darkness (did anyone really believe that Veronica was going to sic Harry on Liam Fitzpatrick?). I'd be interested to see the writers take this extra step.

It certainly doesn't help that our prime adult suspects are all such bores, and, in terms of story logic, extremely unlikely killers. After laying out such a compelling argument for her guilt in "Never Mind the Buttocks", I think we can safely conclude that Kendall is not the killer. Terrence Cook has been a red herring from day one, and Woody Goodman, although obviously a shady character, is far too obvious. They all have secrets, and no doubt are involved in the bus crash in one form or another, but I find it hard to believe that any one of them will be revealed as the killer.

If we do accept the notion of a teenage killer, who are our suspects? If we dismiss the characters who have been underexposed (Mac, Butters, Cora, Jane), or overexposed (Weevil, Logan, Wallace), or who are simply too stupid to tie their own shoelaces, much less orchestrate a murder (Dick Casablancas), we're left with a rather small group of potential killers. The first is Jackie, and I realize, even as I write this, that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Jackie is capable of mass murder. There's certainly been no indication that she has either the determination or the intelligence to carry out the bus bombing, and given that she was practically a stranger to all of the potential victims, it's hard to imagine what her motive might be (her rather flimsy justification for an animus against Miss Dumas notwithstanding). I'm really only considering Jackie as a possible killer because, if she isn't involved with the bus crash, I am at a loss to determine the purpose of her existence.

I disliked Jackie when the writers wanted me to dislike her, and I liked her when they wanted me to like (read: pity) her--between dissing Jane Austen and being dunked in cold water by half the school, there wasn't much chance that I wouldn't respond to her exactly as the writers wanted me to--but at no point did I develop any feelings of my own towards her. Jackie's taken part in quite a few plotlines over the course of the season--she gave Wallace something to do, was a minor motivator in his decision to leave Neptune, and her behavior after Terrence was accused of the bus crash makes for an interesting counterpoint to Veronica's actions when she was similarly ostracized. I find it hard to believe, however, that the writers truly introduced Jackie for no other reason than that she should take part in these minor plotlines, and while this certainly wouldn't be the first time that Thomas and his writers had grievously misjudged a character's appeal and effectiveness (exhibit A being Duncan, the first season's alleged femme fatale), I'd like to believe that they had a greater purpose in mind when they came up with Jackie. Since she's apparently leaving the show (hardly a great tragedy, although Tessa Thompson did her best with what she was given) I can only hope that that purpose will come to light before the end of the season, and one possibility is that she had something to do with the bus crash.

In all honesty, though, I don't believe Jackie is the killer. I am less certain, however, about Beaver Casablancas. Throughout the season, the writers have gone to great lengths to show us just exactly how little we know about Beaver, but we do know that he's clever, that he's calculating, and that he has a vicious streak and a mountain of barely suppressed rage brewing against the world. And then there's the implosion of his relationship with Mac under extremely suspicious circumstances. In other words, there's a very good chance that Beaver is seriously messed up. I can't offer any compelling evidence for Beaver's guilt, or even suggest a motive (my best guess is that Woody Goodman is involved in some capacity. I think the theory that Beaver's sexual hang-ups have to do with some sort of molestation on Woody's part makes a great deal of sense, and it's possible that Woody manipulated Beaver into placing the bomb on the bus--and that Beaver has now turned around and is manipulating Woody), but he's the only character whose guilt makes any sort of sense, psychologically and from a story logic standpoint.

Most importantly, Beaver's guilt would hurt like hell. In spite of the disturbing undercurrents to his behavior, we've come to feel for this kid. We'll be gutted if it turns out that he was capable of committing such a horrible crime (assuming, of course, that the writers don't turn Beaver into a super-villain at the last moment, but I think we can trust them not to do that), and a character we love--Mac--will be heartbroken. Veronica will be forced to choose between upholding justice and hurting someone she cares about. In every respect, Beaver's guilt would be a satisfying solution to this season's mystery and so, even though I can't offer a shred of evidence for it, I'm willing to commit myself publicly to the theory of his guilt.

And yes, I realize that I haven't dealt with Curly Moran.


gwenda said...

I think you're probably in the right neighborhood-ish.

mycalena said...

I love veronica mars I watch the show every tuesday

chance said...

My problems with your theory is the difficulty of getting the explosives for your average teen (especially since they didn't seem to have gone the homemade route) and the reasoning behind framing Jackie's dad (which I am not particularly seeing for either of them.)

Not that I have any good alternate theories, mind you. I need to rewatch some of the episodes in quick succession.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Chance, I think the explosives are problematic no matter who you think the killer might be. The bus crashed before Woody become mayor, and long before demolition work started on the stadium (we can't be expected to believe that explosives would have been lying around while the stadium's furniture was being disassembled). How would any killer have gotten their hands on the makings of a bomb?

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you on the velvety smoothness of the resolution of the Lily Kane arc. It seems to me that the resolution turned on three threads converging: two of those you've outlined, Lily's and Aaron's promiscuity and Aaron's violent temper; the third, the videotapes, the thing that turned what seemed like the character detail of the first two threads into relevant parts of the mystery. But the savvy that folded the first two threads into the preceding season was missing from the third; there was no reason, as far as I can remember, for us to believe that the third thread existed before the last five minutes of 'A Trip to the Dentist'. For all the (wonderful) work done with the Kane/Abel red herring, you'd think that the three minor support struts necessary to have a conclusion that made sense would have been set up properly.

Also, and this may seem like complaining about a lemon because it's bitter, I think the decision to have someone as peripheral to Veronica's life as Aaron Echolls turn out be the murderer was a big problem and it really opened my eyes to the writers' character/plot priorities. I would never have guessed Aaron was the murderer and even if the resolution had been forehadowed in a way that satisfied me, I wouldn't have. And I think that was the point; the end was to be end you were not going to see coming. Not an end that would let us see inside Veronica's character. Not an end that would cause Veronica to reflect upon her actions, her philosophies, her relationships. Not Duncan. Not Logan. Not Lianne. It was not an end that cared about character, it was an end that cared about unpredictability. Aaron might as well have been the guy that framed her in 'Clash of the Tritons' for the all the effect the murderer's identity had on Veronica. If the writers want to ignore the possibilties for developing their characters because they want to pursue the possibilities of mile-a-minute plotting and shocking twists (and if Season 2 has taught me anything, it's that they do), it's their perogative. But it is, to my mind, keeping the show from taking the step from 'highly entertaining' to 'artistically meritorious'.

And - now I'm just rambling - that prioritization of plot over character is tearing a hole in the show this season. Last year, the characters were being developed alongside the plot and there was congruity between the two; what drove Veronica, drove the mystery and so forth. This year they don't have the same luxury of developing characters that can thrust in the same direction of the mystery. And since the mystery has pretty obviously been designed without considering how best to explore these particular characters, you've just got alot of sitting there, thinking, "You know what I find interesting about Veronica? Her blind pursuit of vengence. Wonder if they'll explore that?" and some more sitting around and some more thinking, "You know what I find interesting about Duncan and Veronica together? That they're resetting themselves to before Lily's murder. Wonder if they'll explore that?" and some more sitting around and some more thinking about some really interesting character or relationship that the writers will never explore in depth because it's not immediately pertinent to some mystery.

Y'know the way I sound mad with the show? I'm not, I love it and its labyrinthine, intimidatingly clever plotting and its sharp-as-a-tack dialogue. But it's a show with strengths, and its strengths are its weaknesses but those weaknesses are stopping it from being something truly great.


Anonymous said...

LilLy Kane, even.


niall said...

There is simply no way, at this point in the story, that I or anyone else could solve the mystery using evidence alone.

I am not as certain of this as you are. To take last season, no, we couldn't work out for certain that it was Aaron Echolls--but people could and did guess that it was him. Now, some of that is just that people were guessing anyone and everyone, and some of them were bound to be right. But some of it is, as you say, that there were hints in plain sight, and people picked up on them.

The difference this season, I think, is the signal-to-noise ratio. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, a lot of things left hanging that need to be accounted for--far more, I think, than we had at the same stage last season. My guess is not so much that some crucial piece of evidence will be revealed, but instead that some secondary mystery accounting for a number of the puzzle-pieces will be solved, and that the solution to the bus crash mystery will become clear from what's left.

For example, maybe Aaron Echolls really did have a plot to kill Veronica, and that it got confused with the quite separate plot to blow up the bus. I can't think of any other reason to bring Lilly's murder back into play at this stage; I can't believe that they're going to undermine the entire end of season one by revealing that Duncan did it after all, especially now that Duncan's left the show.

You're right that Beaver looks like the obvious non-obvious suspect at this point ... which of course makes me think it's going to turn out to be someone else. I'm at a complete loss as to who, though.

chance said...

Well, not so much - as I see it there are three sources of potential legal explosives:

1.) The demolition company - I used to work in construction and these kinds of things are scheduled far in advance. So Woody as the owner could have gotten the super tour or asked for a sample or just bribed someone on the demo team. This isn't out of the question in my opinion (Which apparently includes the FitzPatricks.) There is the possibility of theft by stranger, but I don't really buy that.

2.) Curly - he was mechanic to all the rich and on hard times since he was booted from his stunt doings - so the belief that some 09er could have bribed him for explosives is reasonable to me. (I just don't see Beav doing it and Jackie didn't know him) Or he was working for Aaron and was making for Veronica.

3.) Lucky, the army guy who was now a janitor. OK, I extrapolate here on what he did in the army, but there's got to be a reason why they brought him up.

My current theory is Woody was trying to kill Terrance and has been doing a massive cover his ass move ever since because Terrance gave someone the baseball the explosive was hidden in.

Ted said...

Niall, they aren't suggesting that Duncan might actually have killed Lilly. Duncan's hair was planted; Aaron Echolls instructed Kendall Casablancas to get hair from Duncan's shower drain.This allows his attorney to argue reasonable doubt. If Aaron Echolls is acquitted, he could be an ongoing threat to Veronica next season.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

S, there's lots of good stuff in your comment, which I mostly agree with when it comes to this season (I'll probably write something about the season as a whole after it ends and I have a chance to watch it again) - the show has prioritized plot over characters, and a big part of the problem is that Veronica doesn't have the kind of emotional impetus to solve the crime that she did last year.

That said, it seems a bit churlish to complain that Aaron and Lilly's affair was introduced at the last minute. There are conventions to mystery stories, and one of them is that the last piece of the puzzle can't be revealed too early. I also didn't have a problem with Aaron as the killer - Veronica's emotional connection to the crime came through Lilly, not her killer, and I think making the killer someone Veronica cared about personally would have been overkill.

Niall, of course people guessed the identity of last year's killer before the last piece of evidence was introduced - I'm sure there were those who even guessed his motive. But all they were doing was offering a compelling theory - they had no proof, and couldn't have had it before "Leave it to Beaver".

Chance, both Lucky (who, I agree, must have been introduced for a reason) and Curly could have been approached by Beaver as easily - maybe even more easily - as they could have been by Woody. Also, do we actually know that the explosive used was C4? And if we do, why was Veronica worked up about Weevil's Anarchist Cookbook?

Dotan said...

The whole "precisely timed", "had to be following the bus" arguments used in discussing both Weevil and Kendel via Liam as supects, seem to be there to tell us (beneath the smokescreen of red herring suspects) that the killer was in the Limo, which points at Beaver.
Of course, this is something I might not have noticed if I hadn't seen the episode after reading your post.
It occured to me also (between post and episode) that the "Gay thing", flagged a couple of times this season, probably does tie in strongly to Beaver's motive; last episode showed that his main concern in the relationship with Mac was more with the display of heterosexuality than with the sex as an actuality.
The whole strand of Woody's incorporation scheme tying into real estate prices and therefore real estate fraud is probably also going to get addressed, somehow.
The Aaron Echolls stuff is probably more about setting up Season 3 than the current mystery.

chance said...

Ted - There's still the attempted murder of Veronica - if Aaron gets no time for that, well he's rich in America, but I still think he ought to be in jail for next season too.

My problem with Lucky or Curly giving the explosives to Beav is I just don't see it in his nature to pal up to either of them sufficiently to ask for it. Dick or Logan, yes.

Curly saying he knew who did seems to point to him providing the explosive, but I don't know. (But since Moran is an Irish name perhaps he's connected with the FitzPatricks and that's what he means. And that would give them sufficient reason to off him, though nothing really explains the writing on his hand so far.)

Plus, for Beav, if I wanted to kill Dick, I'd steal some roofies from Dick's stash, prop him in his car and let him drive himself into oblivion. Or get him drunk and drop him in their pool. (I can believe he wanted to kill Dick, but I don't believe he wanted to kill more than just him.)

The C-4: No, as usual they are being rather coy about whether it's a real bit of evidence or not. I chose to believe it is unless we get evidence to the contrary

I think Veronica was more worked up that she knew Weevil had killed Thumper and she used that as a method to let him know she knows, more than she really believed that he'd done it.

niall said...

Ted: oops, ignore that bit, then. For some reason I had the impression she'd put a bug in the shower rather than taking hair out of it.

I'm quite intrigued by Chance's suggestion of it all being incidental and Woody playing cover-up. Not sure it ties in as well with the rest of the season thematically, though.

Anonymous said...

I think one can make a distinction between the (entirely valid) choice of holding off on the crucial reveal and what the writers did with the videotapes. The knitting of the information together should occur at the last minute, the introduction of it, however, shouldn't. The videotapes were in need of having the same kind of foreshadowing that all the other clues received because they didn't just allow all other points to converge but because they existed as a plot point themselves. I mean, an incidental plot earlier in the season that revolved around a celebrity sex tape distributer or a handful of throwaway remarks would have done the job.

I don't think that the amount of people that guessed correctly should be the criteria for judging a well executed resolution but rather how easily one can see the seeds planted in retrospect.

> I think making the killer someone Veronica cared about personally would have been overkill.

That's cool. I think Lianne would have been a lovely choice and that that choice would have generated pyschological drama (Veronica finds the murderer and wishes she hadn't. Veronica realises that she can't return to her idealised past because solving Lilly's murder will deprive her of her mother) rather than trapped-in-a-fridge-by-a-murderer drama. And the suspects they had been setting up all year were either close to Veronica or used to be so I think I would have been climatized.


Matthew said...

My current theory re: Beaver is that he believes he was the target of the bus bomb. He is smart enough to know about the life insurance policy, and there is the strong suspicion that Woody molested him at some point. That points to two suspects who could have wanted him dead, and because of the way he has teamed up with Kendall, I think it must be Woody. (Well, in Beaver's mind it's Woody.) And if he's terrified and guilty about the kids deaths, he might have some vital information he hasn't been willing to come forward with yet.

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Mike Taylor said...

"... yes, I realize that post-"Plan B", Weevil and Logan are both killers ..."

Wait -- how is Logan (even indirectly) a killer?

(And wasn't Duncan supposed to be un homme fatal?)

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