Don’t you just love it when a big name makes a guest appearance on a television show years before they hit the big time? There was that time Ryan Reynolds was on The X-Files, or George Clooney was on Roseanne, or, in the case of Veronica Mars‘ seventh episode, Jessica Chastain before she became one of the best actresses in Hollywood.
With a teleplay by Jed Seidel and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, “The Girl Next Door” delves into some pretty dark territory, with a story that takes in themes of domestic abuse and an ending that reveals the tale itself to actually be one centred around a rape, making the episode one that isn’t afraid to keep getting darker as it goes on for the duration of its run time.
Not that Veronica Mars is ever afraid to go into dark places; remember that the “Pilot” contained the revelation that Veronica herself was assaulted, which means that her learning of her neighbour Sarah’s (Chastain) assault carries with it a loaded charge because our heroine herself has been the victim of sexual violence.
Interestingly, “The Girl Next Door” is somewhat regarded as one of Veronica Mars’ lesser efforts. Although not a strong contender for “worst episode ever” by any stretch of the imagination, it is probably the weakest entry of the series up to this point, but will probably win brownie points of sorts for having a pre-famous Chastain in it and having a mystery that, while certain aspects of it are eventually easy to see coming, has the ability to, as always with this show, draw you in so irrevocably.
Beginning with a key part of its story at the end and then flashing back to show how the events came about, it is of course a trope that many shows with a thriller element have fallen into at one time or another; Alias made it into an art form, practically reusing it as a means to build suspense several times throughout its run, and The X-Files would use it several times as well within its all important myth-arc episodes. When watched carefully, it is easy to ascertain that when the episode is making you think that the episode is going to go one way, it’s really going to go somewhere else.
Also guest starring Adam Kaufman as Sarah’s husband Andre, he’s another piece of trash character that goes alongside his turn in the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Parker Abrams, but damn if he doesn’t do it so well, but part of the problem of his characterisation here is that the episode is so hell-bent in making you think he has killed the mysteriously disappeared Sarah, that it becomes obvious by the halfway point that he really hasn’t, even when the episode is still trying to make you think he has blood on his hands.
In the end, however, it’s hard to complain too much because while it is easy to see some of the faults, Seidel and Ruggiero’s teleplay cannot help but draw you in and become compulsively watchable, and while the case of the week is going on, the episode also continues the Lilly Kane investigation by throwing in a bunch of new elements that makes the murder of Veronica’s friend the most compulsively gripping and suspenseful on television since Laura Palmer’s body was discovered in the opening moments of Twin Peaks.
With the revelation that Veronica’s mother and Duncan’s father Jake had dated during high school, coupled with the revelation in the “Pilot” that she was the woman he was visiting in the motel, it’s about to open a whole can of emotional worms that the series is going to somewhat follow through on, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.
Even better, as all this is going on, we’re treated to a wonderful little subplot between Weevil (I haven’t spoken enough about how wonderful Francis Capra is, but let me say it now, he is wonderful) and Logan as they find themselves stuck in detention thanks to their antagonistic attitude to Mr X from The X-Files (the brilliantly intense Steven Williams).
The casting of Williams almost feels like a reference to his time on 21 Jump Street, while the double act between Capra and Dohring is incredibly entertaining and brings a touch of lightness to an episode that deals with the intense and dark themes that this one does. Their attempts at getting one over on Mr Daniels is witty and funny, but even this gives way to some serious drama at the end when Logan discovers that Weevil has Lilly’s name tattooed on him, another hint at the never-ending mystery that is at the centre of the series.
It really says something about how good Veronica Mars is that “The Girl Next Door” is the show’s weakest instalment to date, because by any other standards this is still a very enjoyable hour of the show. It loses some marks for its predictable nature, but it still has the habit of drawing you in so completely. The “avenging angel” qualities of its lead character mean you are simply riveted to your seat just to see her save Sarah by episode’s end, but daringly it ends up having Sarah be alive, but the eventual revelation over her pregnancy just pushes it even further into darker realms, and with it is a reminder that Neptune is a dark place indeed.