After the previous two episodes delivered some not so stellar cases of the week (“The Quick and The Wed”, in particular, being the weakest of the season), it’s a relief to see something very good this week, if good is, in fact, the right word because as the title of this episode suggests, Veronica Mars is returning to a story involving sexual assault.
The subject of rape in a mystery drama can lead to somewhat intense results. Unfortunately, we live in a world where rape is a real and horrific crime that nobody should ever experience, but since it sadly does, it is a subject that comes up in fictional works that deal with crime and mystery every once a while.
Veronica Mars is a series that had rape as a main part of its story from last season; after all a major subplot that ran through season one was Veronica’s sexual assault that built up to one of last season’s most problematic episodes when she found out who had drugged and assaulted her in the penultimate episode ‘A Trip to the Dentist’.
A major problem that the episode had was how it turned such an emotionally violent crime into a whodunnit which I’m never quite sure is the most tasteful thing to do. Now, with “The Rapes of Graff” we’re presented with another whodunnit in the manner of “who is the rapist?”, except for this time we’re in the stages of setting up the story arc for next season, so the episode is not even going to give us the comfort, if comfort is the right word, in knowing who the rapist is until next season.
With this season being set during Veronica’s final year of high school (which is a daring move to take in season two, most American high school series try to go at least three or four seasons before entering the problematic storytelling years of going to college), our titular heroine visits Hearst College as one of her potential choices when she leaves Neptune High. While there, she runs into two characters who look a little like Arrested Development actors, while also running into a familiar face in the shape of Troy (Aaron Ashmore).
While there, however, a student is sexually assaulted and has her head shaved, and Troy is the one under suspicion.
It’s a story that has to potential to leave one groaning a little in worry at the prospect of the series dealing with an emotionally violent crime like this once again. Veronica Mars is a great series for sure, has some fantastic writing and one of television’s all-time greatest female characters, but, like a lot of television shows made a decade or before, there are times when it falls into the realm of not treating characters or plots in the most politically correct way. It’s not the fault of the writers so much as it is the result of attitudes at the time, but sometimes in rewatching a series that we love but which is nearly fifteen years old, it’s understandable that one might wince a little at what is very much problematic attitudes in this day and age.
“The Rapes of Graff” as a title is problematic for sure, the episode itself is for the most part, however, is very good. Daringly it never reveals the culprit which seemed to have been the biggest aspect of the episode that was criticized at the time, but of course, we’re in the throes of setting up next season, so there is that.
While turning a serial rapist into a “whodunnit” is in itself a problematic thing, and the title of the episode is way too light-hearted with its play on words, there is a wonderful darkness and unsettling atmosphere to this that makes it the all-around best episode we’ve had in the last few weeks. While the idea of this simply being a set up for next season could have its own sense of issues, the tone, the attitude towards the crime and the pulsating anger at the heart of it make it must-watch for sure.
There is even something daring about how it starts off as if it’s going to be light-hearted fun what with guest appearances from Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development and then just proceeds to drop us into the middle of something dark and disturbing when Shawkat’s character is sexually assaulted and Troy is the prime suspect.
The main direction of the story is Veronica trying to prove Todd’s innocence, and since we know Todd is not the best of people, there is a possibility of his guilt, but it never once forgets about the victims of the crime and for anyone only familiar with Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development, to see her in a more dramatic role like this and doing it really, really powerfully will come as something of a major surprise.
We get more stuff this week with Logan and Hannah, and it builds up to a wonderfully melodramatic conclusion where she’s sent off to boarding school as a result of Logan and her trying to continue their relationship, but it’s great to say that for the first time in three weeks, it’s the case of the week where this episode of Veronica Mars excels, even with the disturbing subject matter.
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