TV discussion

Veronica Mars 2×21 – ‘Happy Go Lucky’ – TV Rewind

Do you ever find yourself getting so worked up over one of your favourite television series when nothing goes right for your favourite characters, almost to the point where you realise it’s ridiculous to get so worked up over fictional characters?

Welcome to ‘Happy Go Lucky’,  where Veronica and Keith are pretty much trampled on emotionally at Aaron Echolls trial, where he eventually gets released; Veronica is essentially slut-shamed when on the bench; and most disturbingly of all, Woody Goodman is revealed to be a child molester.

Veronica Mars has been dark before and truly shown itself to be unafraid to go to places that other teen affiliated dramas might stay away from, but Rob Thomas and his writers have never been afraid to go ‘there’ and as we find ourselves one episode away from finally finding out who sent that bus and its occupants to its death, Diane Ruggiero’s teleplay helps to get there by throwing in a twist of disturbing magnitude.

Before its incredibly dark and disturbing revelation regarding Woody, we get to watch our heroine and her father get destroyed on the witness stand. Essentially, this being an episode from this particular season of Veronica Mars, there is so much going on that it’s almost hard to keep up, but as always it’s damn fine television.

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Court cases in live action media can work really well or not depending on where they’re done. A cinematic courtroom thriller can be one of the best things in the world and Hollywood has used them as a means to deliver some great character driven thrillers over the years; think of all those John Grisham adaptations, think of A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, and many others.

On television, however, it can be more hit or miss. Where in movies it’s a chance to explore fertile storytelling territory and deliver information that can change the course of a story, it sometimes feels on television as if the episode is simply rehashing plot points we already know; a massive complaint levelled at the second season of Broadchurch.

‘Happy Go Lucky’ doesn’t spend too much time on Aaron Echolls’ trial, but when it does it’s not simply rehashing previous plot information, instead deciding to use it as a means to once again show that a lot of the time, Veronica and Keith are truly against the rest of the world. Even when they manage to capture a man who has beaten his son, committed statutory rape and then murdered to hide his secret, the world of Neptune isn’t going to give them a break, or send one of its richest sons to jail.

The reward money they gained around the same time was stolen by Veronica’s estranged mother and now just as they have gained closure over the murder of Lilly, a murder which ended the life of Veronica’s best friend, brought Keith’s tenure as Sheriff to a halt and made them social pariahs in every corner of their town, the system is about to turn against them yet again.

It may feel like the show put us through a waste of time having Aaron get discovered and arrested at the end of last season. But his sporadic appearances, and Logan’s destroying of the video evidence earlier in the season has meant the series was unafraid to take the characters to the point of finding out that their work to put Aaron away has been a bit of a waste of time. It takes a lot of guts from a series to do that, but then again, this is Veronica Mars we’re talking about, which isn’t afraid to play with our hearts and break them.

It’s an incredibly engaging hour of television as always, and to call it emotionally compulsive and engrossing would be an understatement. The stuff with the trial, especially when Veronica and Keith’s testimonies are destroyed by Aaron’s lawyer, and when Veronica’s recent chlamydia diagnosis is laid bare for everyone to know, will have the audience screaming with anger, and the image of Sheriff Lamb smiling smugly will induce the feeling of wanting to punch the television. And then there’s the Woody revelation.

All season there has been something off about Steve Guttenberg’s portrayal of Woody. Not off in a bad way; Guttenberg, a major star from the ’80s whose fame fizzled when the ’90s began, has played Woody with a child-like optimism which you knew hid something. That child-like optimism becomes all the more disturbing when we find out that this man of immense power in Neptune is a child molester.

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For someone who is frequently and gently poked fun at for being one of the highest profile leading men from the ’80s but one who chose willingly to star in four Police Academy films, Guttenberg’s performance all season has been incredibly effective and quite possibly one of the most disturbing to grace American network television.  He had that cheery demeanour that one would always associate with his brand of performance from that era, but all season it has been hiding the most dreadful secret of all.

Veronica Mars has never been afraid to go to a dark place; after all, last season dealt with sexual violence and is doing so again. Make no mistake; this isn’t just a plot twist for the sake of a plot twist. This revelation will link back to the bus crash and eventually to story strands the series dealt with last season.

The Woody revelation is as stomach churning as anything the series has ever done, and yet never feels exploitative. If anything, in this day and age of Me Too and Operation Yewtree, with stories of abuse being revealed every other day, the key revelation at the heart of ‘Happy Go Lucky’ makes the episode one that is still, unfortunately, relevant.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that this level of criminal perversion is right at the heart of Neptune and its higher infrastructure. As disturbing as it is, it’s just a reminder that in a town where murderers get away with it and the higher class get one over the lower, child abuse just becomes another day in the life of Neptune.

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