TV Discussion

TV Rewind… Veronica Mars 1×18 – ‘Weapons of Class Destruction’

It’s not really hard to write about ‘Weapons of Class Destruction’ given how important it is in the Veronica Mars canon. On the one hand, its story of an FBI agent, portrayed by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, going undercover in Neptune High and its central theme of a series of bomb threats in the school adds up to one of the show’s best ever episodes, but let’s be honest, what we really want to talk about is THAT kiss.

It’s should be the icing on the cake, but instead it almost feels like its school terrorism plot line (which feels prescient today, even if it’s guns and not bombs that are affecting the safety of American High Schools) is the actual icing, and the thirty or so seconds given over to THAT kiss (henceforth will be referred to as THAT kiss) is what this episode is really about.

One of the most amazing things about the pairing that would become the predominant “ship” of Veronica Mars is how it was pretty much an accident. It was supposed to be Duncan, or it could have been Leo (and I do love the idea of Veronica with Leo as both Bell and Greenfield do share some wonderful chemistry throughout the show), but somewhere along the way everyone realised just how potent and wonderful the chemistry was between Bell and Jason Dohring and in one moment the entire emotional fabric of the show would be changed.

Teen dramas, or series with teen protagonists, have an interesting history when it comes to romance. More often than not, “ships” that were meant to be set in stone or an emotional endgame for a series end up not being so in the end, and instead another pairing becomes part of it; Dawson’s Creek started off as an unrequited love story between Dawson Leery and Joey Potter, its first season building up to their eventual realisation of how they felt, but by its third season all we wanted was for Joey and Pacey to be together, a more healthy and suitable pairing as it turns out, helped even more by the fact that Joshua Jackson’s performance as Pacey was so charming and lovable compared to the man baby that was James Van Der Beek’s performance as Dawson Leery.

That other teen genre juggernaut, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was all about Buffy and her romance with Angel. A spin-off featuring the vampire put the skids on to that relationship and so it became about Buffy and Riley, but when that didn’t work out and the writers realised that Geller had more sparks with James Marsters, it became Buffy and Spike, and with it an incredibly dark and disturbing romance that was the complete opposite to the yearning epic of Buffy and Angel.

Likewise, on Angel, the writers seemed to be wanting to pair its central character with Kate Lockley in the early stages of the series, but when that didn’t work, the writers switched to a bittersweet will they/won’t they story with Cordelia, subsequently ruined in its fourth season by showrunner Joss Whedon, sabotaging the show with some of the worst writing of his career and virtually destroying one of American television’s greatest female characters as a result.

With Veronica Mars, one can see how it was meant to be Veronica and Duncan. The series is aiming for a tragic undercurrent and using the possibility of incest to keep them apart, but you can sort of tell that it’s a red herring designed to keep any potential romance at bay, but as time when on, it was clear that Bell had more sparks with the resident school psychopath, helped most of all by Dohring’s complex portrayal which really helps sell the notion that both Echolls and Mars would be a great pairing.

The kiss itself is something that creator Rob Thomas was reportedly unhappy with, wishing it were more raw and emotional, but there is something about the moment that feels like an exhale, for both the show and the characters. It almost comes out of nowhere and there’s really no romantic build up within the episode itself, but when those lips lock together it feels so right, as if both the characters and the show itself have figured something out that was always there but it just took the whole season to realise “yes, that’s it”.

Coming as it does in a brilliantly gripping thriller such as this, it makes ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ the best episodes of the season. It’s silly to distill its brilliance down to one moment and thankfully everything else going on here is superb and makes for another brilliant episode of the show.

The idea of a high school student actually being a law enforcement officer, in this case, an FBI agent, is silly. It was silly when 21 Jump Street did it in the 80’s, and which the subsequent movies obviously understood, and it still feels like it could stretch credibility here, but casting Jonathan Taylor Thomas in the role is smart because he has that boyish look to him, and the narrative involving dirty tactics by his character to set up another student for a potential crime really has an angry force to it that helps sell the narrative.

Coupled that with Veronica and one of her teacher’s wanting to print a story in the school paper about it and having to go over Principal Clemmons’ head about it when he tells them not to just adds fuel to the series’ fire and its suspicions over authority figures as; and then to add more potency to the idea that Veronica should be with Logan, we have Duncan’s anger at Veronica over her suspecting him of Lilly’s murder.

The series’ ability to craft highly engaging standalone and arc-driven narratives make it perfect for the binge viewing generation and once again make you realise just how perfect a series this can be when it manages to hold so many balls and yet juggle them without breaking a sweat.

Of course, it also has THAT kiss. Up to this point, you could say best episode ever!

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