TV discussion

TV Rewind… Veronica Mars 1×10 – ‘An Echolls Family Christmas’

If there’s one thing that you can count on in a long-running American network television series at one point or another, it’s that you’re going to get a Christmas episode, and since these shows have a habit, or used to in pre-internet days and when television series piracy wasn’t as big a concern, of having ended up airing on British television usually at a time when Christmas seemed far away, like the middle of spring or summer.

Usually with US shows, Christmas is a time to be a little more sentimental, with even a series as chilling as The X-Files having a warm hearted coda to it yuletide tale of murder/suicide in season six (“How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”). So a big hand to Veronica Mars that devoted a Christmas episode to gambling, stolen money, stalking, infidelity and then finishes it with a cliffhanger involving a character potentially being stabbed to death.

Happy Christmas from Neptune. Have a happy new year if you survive long enough.

That it ends with a brilliantly typical world weary voice over from Kristen Bell is just the icing on the cake. It could be almost be used a prime example of the the series’ most primary concerns on class, and how being higher up on the class pole is not necessary something that equates with personal happiness.  Sordidness is a feeling that runs rampant through film noir, but here it feels even more overt because it’s dealing with material and themes that you expect from a small town drama; infidelity and betrayals are to be expected from series’ with a teen drama element, but since Veronica Mars is colliding with the even more dramatic stakes that comes from film noir and detective fiction, it’s easy to feel those tropes becoming even more heightened.

With both Veronica and Keith embroiled in two separate investigations involving the Echolls family, there’s a lovely exploration of both Logan and his father, Aaron. Even brilliantly, and somewhat more suspenseful, the episode is coming after the revelation a few weeks ago that Logan is beaten by his father, who has a clear interest in punishing his son for any sinful transgressions with the use of a belt. Even though it’s never directly referred to, the spectre of that moment haunts the Echolls family because we, the audience, know what goes on behind the well decorated Christmas parties and opulent decor.

It gives a genuine feeling to the rotten heart at the centre of Neptune… as if we need reminding.

It’s a wonderfully funny, thrilling and dramatic episode, with Ruggiero’s teleplay being another wonderful balancing act that indicates the series’ wonderful ability to be playful, dark and entertainingly engrossing with its use of stand alone tales and ongoing narratives. The poker winnings theft itself is where the meat of the episode’s playfulness lies, and builds itself up through wonderful sleuthing from Veronica, flashbacks to the night itself, and then Veronica revealing the actual culprit like an Agatha Christie heroine, rounding up the suspects when they’re all in the one room, all the while dealing cards like a professional croupier.

It’s a playful quality that is dissipated quickly, however, through it last five minutes that really goes to town with its darker level of confrontation and violence. We finally get a moment between Veronica and Jake that we’ve been waiting for since last week, although the conversation never gets quite as far on the subject of who Veronica’s father is, her concerns over the photographs sent by Wiedman (Christopher B Duncan) to her mother being the major drive of the dialogue.

That it then follows that up with Aaron being stabbed and bleeding to death is a superb cliffhanger that the not very high viewership of the series had to wait several weeks to see how it would all be resolved. That the majority of the party guests are not privy to the stabbing within the Echolls household but instead outside enjoying Christmas carols feels like an image that could sum up the whole show; everything may be pretty on the outside, but inside things are rotten and dying.

It does make for splendid television though.

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

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