TV discussion

TV Rewind… Veronica Mars – 1×20 – ‘M.A.D’

You cannot escape the beating, angry heart of “M.A.D.” and its explorations of many of the themes that are within the centre of Veronica Mars. Although airing in 2005, with the entirety of its first season having done so during the 2004-05 season, it’s hard to escape the feeling that considering the Me Too movement and the increasingly important focus on sexual crimes due the influence of toxic masculinity, Veronica Mars has remained more important and relevant than ever.

Stories involving so-called slut shaming, date rape and sexual assault have always been on the periphery of Veronica and many of her investigations and as the season edges ever closer to its first season finale and the revelation of Lilly’s murder, instead of slowing down and pacing itself out as it builds towards its biggest revelation of all, it has instead doubled down on the theme of sexual manipulation and violence against women by men who think they can get away with it.

Next week’s episode will go right into that arena with its most disturbing episode yet, mainly because it will play right into the show’s lead character herself and her own assault, but this week its theme plays into the mystery of the week, but not without throwing in a dark hint of what is to come and Logan’s potential role in it.

Phil Klemmer and John Enbom’s teleplay is another of Veronica Mars’ brilliant ability to be thrilling, funny, mystery driven, emotive and angry without falling into the traps of wanting to be an “important episode”. It says something about the show at this stage that its tale of what would essentially be dubbed in today’s age as “revenge porn”, a depressing term if there ever was one, it just feels like another day in the life of being a student at Neptune High. That it also factors its story with the central idea of privilege and stature is also not a surprise. This is Neptune and by this stage Veronica’s more cynical attitude to her town and its events are practically catching.

Way back in the “Pilot”, the events of a rape, privileged kids and a borderline corrupt police department not giving a damn where enough to make the jaw drop, but by this stage the audience is like its lead heroine; taking it as another day and another dollar essentially. Yes, it still makes you angry, but it’s not a surprise for a town that is as corrupt, lawfully and morally, as it comes.

Veronica’s investigation into Carmen’s (Natalia Barron) situation which sees her being blackmailed into staying into a relationship with Tad (a depressingly typical name for a pervy, manipulative sex pest, played with relish by Jeff D’Agostino) who had filmed her performing a sex act while drunk, is gripping, intense and compulsively watchable as ever, the anger washing off the screen in waves.

For the most part it’s as entertaining as ever, and way ahead of the curve, as always with this show, in its portrayal of what has become an all too common story that appears in the news complete with laws being changed to make the release of such tapes a crime, as it should be.

The only sour note is that Veronica’s plan to gain revenge on Tad for most of the episode is to get him drunk, and get a tattoo on to himself that will make everyone question his sexuality and use the internet to out him as gay… because being gay is embarrassing?

It’s only this last point that both ages the episode badly, playing into the trope of gay panic that many shows used for comedic effect or character development. There’s nothing particularly flattering about a story that tries to get humour out of the idea that being gay is something to panic about, something that has led to some television shows, such as the iconic sitcom Friends, proving incredibly problematic for many in today’s modern times.

Yes, Tad is a creep and the avenging angel quality of Veronica as always makes for a fun entertaining episode, even with themes as dark as this, but to essentially destroy Tad by “outing him”, especially given that he’s hoping to join the Navy, could be seen a potentially outdated, problematic attitude, a rare case of the series being problematic in such a way when it’s frequently been above falling into outdated tropes and traps.

It’s does stop the episode from falling into the realm of an all time classic, because for the most part “M.A.D” does everything right until its stumbles with this one thing and had the potential to be right up there with “Weapons of Class Destruction”.

As its main plot is going on, Veronica’s relationship with Logan becomes public knowledge, first via Aaron, giving Harry Hamlin to show a more tender and thoughtful side to his character in his interaction with Veronica, and then, in one of the show’s best “oh, no” moments, when Veronica and Logan walk hand in hand to an impromptu surprise birthday party thrown by Aaron where everyone has been invited.

It’s one of those lovely reminders that Veronica Mars can play the teen drama very well when it can, even though it can be argued that the series is not a teen drama in the strictest sense of the world. Such fun, angsty drama is always a strange joy when watching television series featuring teen protagonists; the increasing embarrassment of the drama, coupled with strangely funny comedy and the inclusion of Madison being the meanest high school girl this side of Abby Morgan from Dawson’s Creek, and for five minutes Veronica Mars is just being a hugely enjoyable teen drama up there with the best of them.

But as noted before, Veronica Mars is not essentially a teen drama genre show; it’s a mystery and witty thriller more than anything, but one not above throwing in a disturbing twist or too and by episode’s end, the implication of Logan’s possible involvement in Veronica’s rape prior to the events of the season has raised its head, throwing a massive spanner into our heroine’s new relationship and the giving the next episode the chance to explore the night of Veronica’s assault.

This is going to be tough.

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