If there is one component of the Veronica Mars experience that will become a massive recurring feature, it’s the issue of class division. Class warfare is everywhere in Neptune, and never has it been portrayed as crucially as it is here.
While most teen dramas from the US, especially those on network television, are very quick to portray upper middle class lifestyles, or in some cases the upper class itself (The OC), it sometimes does so with very little in the way of criticism or exploration, although The OC does go someway to further exploration what with a lead character from a lower class being introduced to the dreamy world of the rich and powerful.
During the “Pilot” of Veronica Mars there is one key line of dialogue in Kristen Bell’s superb voiceover that hints at where most of the thematic drama is going to come from in the show;
“This is my school. If you go here, your parents are either millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune, California: a town without a middle class.”
Hinted at throughout the “Pilot”, “Credit Where Credit’s Due” really goes for it and establishes it as the most prevalent theme of the series, or at least the first two seasons, with a deeper exploration of the 09-ers, and their ability to get away with just about anything thanks to their status in Neptune, while those lower down the class pole are left to take the damage for those above them.
The point is given more power by the fact that the lower class at school is exemplified by the Pacific Highway Patrol motorcycle gang, led by Weevil (Francis Capra) and by the more diverse skin colour they have compared to the white privilege that comes with being an 09-er, seemingly led by Logan and his best friend Dick Casablancas (and a big hello to Ryan Hansen, who we’ll see more of as the series goes on).
What better way is there to exemplify these themes by casting Paris Hilton. Wait, what?
As Veronica Mars continues, the series will not rely on too much stunt casting. Yes, one or two times we’ll see some familiar faces (the movie has one big name who shows up), while within the television series itself, the producers were good about using stunt casting sparingly, doing it in ways that actually works, but in its second episode the series pulls a stunt name and it feels a touch out-of-place for a series that is revelling in not wanting to be cheery over being rich and powerful.
It’s maybe why her character, Caitlin, gets the just desserts she gets here, the image of her unable to get a seat at the cool kids table being a powerful one within the framework of the series; you’re only as cool as the cool kids say you are. If you aren’t, go sit somewhere else.
With a narrative centred around credit card fraud, the crime is a great way for Thomas and director Piznarski (returning from the “Pilot”) to explore Neptune further and its class divisions, while taking time to explore the ensemble and give many of its stars a chance to further their characters.
As always, at the heart of it all is Bell whose performance as Veronica feels perfectly formed. Sometimes it feels like with most shows it takes an actor or actress several episodes to find that thing within their character and carry it through for the rest of the show, but Bell IS Mars, had been since the first episode, and carries that amazing sense of characterisation right into this one.
In fact, the same could be said of most of the cast. The casting of Hilton is the only false note here, with Dohring, Dunn, Capra, Daggs III and Colantoni feeling, like Bell herself, as if they’ve inhabited these characters for a good year or two before, a lovely notion that helps sell the feeling that there could have been a season or two even before this one, giving Neptune a wonderfully real and lived in atmosphere.
The themes of unfair divisions of class and the distrust of a law enforcement, represented by Lamb, give the series a brilliant, quietly angry energy as we witness Lamb and the Sheriff’s Department arrest Weevil’s grandmother as a means to try to make Weevil confess to the credit card theft himself, while Lamb (Michael Muhney, who does a great portrayal of vindictive antagonism) takes great pleasure in goading Keith over his handling of Lilly’s murder and eventual firing from the job, the means with which Lamb got the job.
There is a wonderful feeling of cynicism hanging over the show that makes it a wonderful series. Although “Credit Where Credit’s Due” is not just as great as that opening hour, it does mark an enjoyable continuation of the show and cements its foundations and attitudes.