It may only be the sixth episode of its first season, but Veronica Mars is on fire at this point, having found its groove, capitalising on its assured “Pilot”, and running with its brilliant mixture of case-of-the-week, on-going mystery arc, witty dialogue and brilliant characterisation.
“Return of the Kane” ups the ante yet again. Throwing in more clues in relation to Lilly’s murder, the series is on fire in regards to hooking the audience in to coming back for more potential plot developments the following week. Of course, we know that we’ll have to wait until the end of the season to find out who did it, but when the show has its claws into you the way this one does, it’s a commitment worth making.
While Lilly’s murder investigation is ongoing, the series throws into the mix another brilliant high school case for our avenging angel to mix her way into, and coming four years after the controversial first election victory of George W Bush, it can’t help but feel somewhat more relevant than ever in the current era of the Trump administration and the controversy over that election.
Even more tantalisingly, the school election allows Veronica Mars to return to its most popular recurring theme; class.
It goes like this; on the one hand we have Wanda Verner (Rachel Roth), representing the more outsider realm of Neptune High, such as the nerdier, less “cool” crowd, and on the other we have Duncan, who as well know comes from the privileged world what with his huge house, rich parents, and a world that Veronica found herself ostracised from.
Even better, as all this going on (Phil Klemmer and Rob Thomas’ teleplay is a very busy one this hour), Logan (Jason Dohring, definitely shaping up to be a series highlight of the main cast by this point) gets caught arranging fighting contests between homeless people (a reference to the similar phenomenon of “Bumfights” from the early-2000’s), and in doing so the series uses the surround controversy over his actions to introduce us to his home life.
Where Duncan and Logan come from very similar home lives, such as big houses, successful fathers and mothers who revel in their affluent lifestyle, the series goes and subverts expectations when it introduces us to Logan’s father, movie star Aaron Echolls (Harry Hamlin) and things are shown to be similar at first between the two, but then by episode’s end things have taken a turn into the vastly different, with a dark, subtle show changing twist that makes Logan into a somewhat more compelling and complex character than we have perceived at this point.
This is an incredibly busy episode, with so much going on that it wouldn’t be a surprise if it derailed at a certain point, but it doesn’t and becomes another superb episode from the show. Everything is compulsively watchable, enthralling and gripping, with wonderfully subversive twists in every corner.
Like film noir, Veronica Mars isn’t afraid to pull the rug out from under us, as indicated by last week’s twist that took a previously well liked character and made him into an antagonistic figure. That twist took three episodes to kick in, here the show does it in the space of a single forty-five minutes. They present a character, in this case Wanda (Rachel Roth, winning us over right away), make us root for her throughout the entire episode, and then makes her a turncoat in the final moments.
It means the election is handed to Duncan, fairly this time after it had been rigged last time in his favour, but who then goes and changes the policy on school lunches to benefit those not as rich as himself or his friends, a key policy that Wanda herself was campaigning with, but who loses the respect of Veronica and the audience when it’s revealed that she’s selling out students in order to lose a drugs charge against her, and that Veronica is one of those she has pointed to.
If there is anything to be learned from “Return of the Kane” it’s that nobody is who they seem. Wanda is the key example of this in the case of the week, but in terms of the show’s long-term arc ambitions, it’s Logan who is the eye opener. Starting off being his usual borderline psycho-self, the notion that he is essentially responsible for Neptune’s equivalent of the notorious “Bumfights”, is not a surprise, and there is real tension in the air when Aaron shows up for the first time. Essentially tricking his dad into putting money into a food bank by the end of the episode, “Return of the Kane” throws in its most shocking twist when it’s revealed that Logan is the victim of an abusive father, having to pick out the belt himself that Aaron will beat him with, a chilling image if there ever was one, the details of the eventual beating spared for the audience by Aaron closing the door.
After six weeks of portraying the somewhat typical psycho charmer of a character, Logan is shown to be a character of hidden depths, and a previously untapped level of sympathy, and it’s the first time we see a look of fear in a character who thus far has been portrayed in a cocky, sometimes unlikable way.
It’s another indication of the depths that lie at the heart of Veronica Mars. Every week the series is essentially turning the tables in ever more subtle, and wonderful ways, portraying high school politics, class, and dark themes of murder and domestic abuse. By this point it was clear that it was becoming one of US network television’s most quiet and underrated slices of brilliance. The fact that very its ratings were low was a crime worthy of investigation by Veronica herself.