TV discussion

TV Rewind… Veronica Mars 1×09 – ‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’

Picking up where we left of from last week, the revelation that our heroine’s father may not be the incredibly lovable Keith, but the more suspicious Jake Kane, hangs in the air with a suspenseful threat, even as we go into a tale involving that staple which many a television mystery show has devoted itself to at one time or another; the cult.

Thankfully, “Drinking the Kool-Aid” isn’t as intense or distressing an hour of television in comparison to something like “The Field Where I Died” from the fourth season of The X-Files, which literally threw in a final act which contained a mass suicide involving kool-adi, but Veronica Mars‘ ninth episode of its first season still packs a mighty punch, especially when it comes to its reveleation involving the cult in question that somewhat goes against standard television mystery convention by making the cult’s good behaviour legitimate, but still having the capability of leaving one somewhat emotionally deflated.

Happy endings are frequently in short supply in Neptune, and while nobody is left dying by the end of this hour of television, there is a feeling of defeat hanging in the  air that once again reiterates that Veronica Mars is a series not afraid to leave its audience in emotional knots.

With a title that implies that something dark is going to happen, and it being a common saying in regards to cults and their predilection for suicide, thankfully Russell Smith’s teleplay, based upon a story by creator Rob Thomas, doesn’t dip itself into distressing waters the way you might expect.

In fact, the twist at the heart of the episode is that the cult that Veronica and Keith are investigating, and with which they hope to “save” Veronica’s fellow Neptune High student Casey from, is not in fact an evil entity wanting to take advantage, or even physically hurt, Casey, but are exactly what they say there are, with their positive attitudes to life conveying their true beliefs and motivations.

This being Veronica Mars, we’re about to be given one good thing, but have something taken away with another, and as it is, Casey (Jonathan Bennet), whose affiliation with the cult in question has made him a better person from the one he used to be, is subsequently kidnapped by his family and a cult de-programmer and turned back to his more nastier, top of the high school chain, ways.

It once again reiterates the point that Veronica Mars is frequently a show that isn’t afraid to go into more emotionally exhausting places. Bad things happen to good people and it reminds the audience once again of the somewhat poisonous air that surrounds Neptune. Class is not a heavier theme of this episode as it usually is, but there is a hint of it surrounding the episode’s plot; the cult is happy to live in a more lower class way, but Casey coming into money from his recently deceased grandmother means that his fate is sealed. The image of him being bundled into a limousine against his will is subtle but as self-defeating a moment the series has thrown so far.

As always, as the case of the week is going on, the series is not afraid to keeps it ongoing mystery arc going. The murder of Lilly isn’t primarily the focus this week, however, as much as the mystery surrounding the identity of Veronica’s father, which of course means that Veronica wasn’t just a half sibling to her best friend whoses murder she is investigating, but also a half-sibling to the boy she used to be in love with; Duncan.

The throw in a hint of potential incest is a daring one. If one looks at something like current teen drama smash hit Riverdale, there is a hint of it running throughout too, but where that show throws those hints into its mix with a sublte but still almost salivating feel, there is a real element of emotional horror to the suggestion here, one which causes our heroine to throw up on the side of the road when coming back from her prison visit with Koontz.

The opening moments of the episode carry through on the emotional ramifications of Abel Koontz’s suggestion that Keith is not Veronica’s father. Because of this, the episode throws in a DNA test, but instead of utilising it in a typical television thriller way and using such a test as a means to mine obvious drama out of its characters and plots, it instead burrows it away for something more subtle, and by the end of the episode, Veronica has discarded it, opting not to see the results, the envelope unopened. It may be a touch of denial from our hard edged, but lovable lead character, but in many ways the audience is culpable in such a decision; we love Keith and in all honesty we’d rather believe he’s her father than the more dastardly, and upper class horror show that is Jake.

The daughter/father dynamic at the heart of Veronica Mars is one of its greatest joys, and not even halfway through the first season yet, having already established the familial chemistry between Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni, it’s almost a risky thing to suggest that you’re about to throw in a truth bomb that might destabilise it, especially at this early stage.

Then again, that probably sums up the Veronica Mars experience in a nutshell. It’s compulsive, gripping and thrilling, but to allow the series into your heart is opting to let it break you just a little bit. What a wonderful slice of television it constantly is.

Are you a fan of Veronica Mars? Let us know what you think of this episode below.

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