TV Discussion

TV Rewind… Veronica Mars 1×14 – ‘Mars vs Mars’

Taking opposing sides in a statutory rape case, the “Mars vs Mars” element of the episode sees a discussion that will appear all too relevant to audiences in 2018, and a story even more so. After last week’s minor stumble, “Mars vs Mars” places Veronica Mars back up high with a superb installment that manages to do that thing which this series is only capable of; be fun, be dark and be hugely enjoyable even when talking about dark subject matter.

Boasting guest appearances from Adam Scott and Leighton Meester, both of whom would go on to appear in even bigger series (Meester in Gossip Girl, Scott in Parks and Recreation, as well as Party Down which stemmed from Rob Thomas also), “Mars vs Mars” has the capability of tying the audience up in knots while also diving head first into issues of consent, so-called slut-shaming, and feeling like it is the perfect piece of storytelling for the Me Too movement, even though it was first broadcast in 2005.

Best of all, it places the two characters we care most of all in the series, Veronica and Keith, against each other morally, as each take a different side of the episode’s key argument; Mr Brooks (Scott), a popular teacher  at Neptune High, is accused by student Carrie (Meester) of sleeping with him when she basically tells him, in front of the rest of the class, that’s she not pregnant and he can have his keys back.

Right away the episode asks the audience to pick a side also when it comes to the investigation as both Veronica and Keith take different sides of the argument; Mr. Brooks happens to come across as a genuinely nice person and one of the few people in the school to treat Veronica with respect, while Keith’s side of the argument stems from the idea that Carrie may not be the nicest person in the world, but she deserves to have her accusations taken seriously given the nature of them.

It’s an argument that feels like it still reverberates today.

Best of all, on top of splitting the audience divide, it also portrays both characters in negative and positive lights throughout until the final revelation comes at us like a sledgehammer. The episode may have come before Meester and Scott went on to play their best-known characters,  but we can see elements in their performances that would make them famous down the road; Meester as Carrie has aloof bitchiness that would become the hallmarks of Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl, while Scott’s charming likability, which would get a whole workout on Parks and Recreation, is all there as Mr. Brooks, given a full work out in that wonderful history lesson he teaches at the start.

Given the nature of the series, we all hope for a convenient ending, but the most wonderful thing about Thomas’ story and Jed Seidel and Diane Ruggiero’s teleplay is that it follows through to an emotionally messy conclusion that isn’t afraid to land its punches. Just when Veronica gets Mr. Brooks’ innocence proved, she visits his house and then sees that Carrie wasn’t lying when she notices several details from her accusation that were, in fact, true, but is later revealed that Carrie herself wasn’t the one who slept with her teacher, but in fact her friend Susan who actually did get pregnant as a result.

Veronica Mars is rarely a show that does happy endings, and when it resolves its case with ten minutes to go, you know something is up.

It’s another highlight from the series that treats it subject matter with respect. The theme and plotline of teacher/student relationships can sometimes fall into traps and tropes that take it past the realm of seriousness and more into the realms of the uncomfortably sexual; most recently we’ve had Riverdale which devoted several weeks in its first season to Archie and Ms. Grundy, and while it felt like the series was trying to make it a hot pairing, in actuality it just felt uncomfortable given that while KJ Apa is not a teenager, he was in fact playing a fifteen-year-old.

Of course, Riverdale is not the only series to have done this trope, most infamously Dawson’s Creek devoted most of its first season to Pacey and Tamara, but always the story is there to be done as a sensationalist piece of sexed up story telling. Veronica Mars explores the subject as a crime, and sticks the landing, not allowing Mr Brooks to get away with it, even if he is played by Adam Scott and we all love him as Ben Wyatt.

It reiterates the point that Veronica Mars may be a series set in a high school and features teen characters, but it transcends that genre and isn’t afraid to explore ideas, tropes and stories that one gets within that framework in an honest, adult and bravely uncomfortable way.

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

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