The Stanford Prison Experiment has almost become such a clichéd plotline in itself for television dramas to use, but it’s hard to know whether or not one should enjoy or criticise Veronica Mars for utilising it here.
Admittedly it does wield some genuinely humorous parts of the episode and it’s great to see Logan and Wallace share more screen time together, but it feels like every American genre series with a procedural element or characters solving mysteries feels the need to use it, even though some credit is due here because it’s merely used as a subplot here and doesn’t involve the central mystery that Veronica is trying to solve.
The central mystery surrounds the campus rapist and asks some incredibly complex questions of Veronica and the audience, even if this week’s mystery of the week starts of involving the story arc for these first eight episodes before winding into a different direction entirely. I still don’t feel centring a plotline around a serial rapist is tasteful, but Diane Ruggiero’s teleplay packs a mighty punch and asks the audience and the characters they’re watching some intense questions.
The majority of the episode’s runtime sees Veronica go undercover and it’s always fun to watch Kristen Bell play Veronica as someone other than the tough character who is always against the grain that she had down to a tee at this point in the series’ run and as engaging as that element is, there are powerful repercussions to be had in the episode’s opening scene as the episode deals with the aftermath of Parker’s rape. Introduced to the series in last week’s season premiere, Parker, aided brilliantly by Julie Gonzalo’s performance, had what could probably be best described as a vacuous quality, but this being Veronica Mars, one should have sensed how it was going to give way to something considerably darker and tragic.
The image of Parker with her head shaven and her anger at Veronica for not stopping her assault at the end of the last episode and for thinking that it was consensual sexual intercourse because Veronica had made assumptions on Parker’s character, is a moment that stings emotionally and is the most powerful scene of the entire episode. The manner in which Gonzalo and Bell play the moment is superb, bitter and powerful and shows, as if we need reminding, of just how wonderfully complex a series that Veronica Mars can be. If it can find this level of emotional intelligence and subtlety going forward, it might actually make what could be a problematic storyline like this work superbly and be justified in its telling.
The majority of the episode’s runtime involving Veronica and her undercover work for the college newspaper and the sorority house on campus that Parker visited before her assault, also lays down some complex themes and twists, mainly involving pointing fingers at those we think are responsible. It’s a complex notion and one that asks questions that are incredibly pertinent even today, and Ruggiero’s teleplay handles them brilliantly and intelligently, all without being preachy, or negating Parker’s story either. The only strand of the episode that doesn’t work as well is Keith’s adventures in the desert. Last week saw the reintroduction of Kendall Casablancas (Charisma Carpenter) who was then quickly killed off by Cormac Fitzpatrick (Jason Beghe). It’s fine in itself admittedly, and in this episode, it does end up leading to a great moment from Enrico Colantoni where he breaks down in front of Veronica once he returns home.
The scenes involving Keith, Cormac and Kendall last week and this week aren’t the worst, but it just feels like small potatoes and a distraction from everything else going on this week and the importance of it, plus it feels as if the series should be finding new storytelling ground this season instead of revisiting the Fitzpatrick clan, which in the end never really went anywhere last season anyway and which in hindsight felt like a red herring to keep the bus crash story going until the real culprit was revealed.
It’s a minor blip in what is an incredibly dark and enjoyable episode and which sees the series on better footing.
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