Ms. Track and Capture: Veronica Mars Back in Action
The Veronica Mars books do not pull punches. (Spoiler alert: plot points discussed, but not the ending. That’s one punch I’m willing to pull.)
WARNING: Mentions of sexual assault and abuse.
In print, without studio pressures (or UPN/The CW’s ridiculous, sleepover-styled “aftershow” featuring the Aerie Girls), there’s an aggressive social criticism that underlies everything VM does. Race, gender, rape culture—none of these are off-limits. Sexual assault has come up on the show multiple times, but rarely do we get a comment as succinctly chilling as, “’…if she’s a prostitute, it’s not rape so much as shoplifting.’” But, of course, it’s not enough to depict the compassionless misogyny still so pervasive in our culture; the moral condemnation is a necessary complement. “’…[W]hen this guy kills someone you consider worthy of justice—because he will,’” Veronica tells Sheriff Lamb, “‘I’m going to make sure everyone knows you refused to investigate him.’”
Other themes implicit in the source material become explicit and all the more insistent in Mr. Kiss and Tell. “Neptune’s finest seldom collar anyone who can afford a long trial. If you’re poor or nonwhite, our wheels of justice run fast, but not necessarily true,” Veronica thinks to herself at the opening of chapter one, as we bear witness to Eli “Weevil” Navarro’s trial (a consequence of the events shown in the film). It’s a welcome B-plot. Weevil’s arc got muddled in season three, when the network pushed for VM to focus more on romantic relationships and less on…well, anything of interest. But now, we have the privilege of seeing a more complex image of his character, from his relationship with his wife, Jade, and daughter, Valentina, to his reaction to having his life dismantled by a fundamentally crooked criminal justice system.
More than ever, creator Rob Thomas and co-author Jennifer Graham paint a picture as elegant as the 1940s film noir classics they deftly reference: never shying away from a spectrum of moral gray, yet also bringing in the stark black-and-white as the situation calls for it—when, for instance, Dan Lamb compares a female sex worker’s body to a commodified object in the most grotesquely literal of ways (above). Veronica Mars, the woman and the franchise, have graduated and grown up. It’s no coincidence that the prose devoted to a more experienced and mature Veronica involves words like “systemic” and “disenfranchised”; class warfare, immigration law, the politics of abuse, and, oh, yes, fundamentalism are all present factors, looming over the story with as strong and measurable a presence as any of the book’s many human villains.
Despite these changes—or, rather, in conjunction with them—we still have the comforting presence of the cast of characters we know and love. Keith, Mac, and Wallace all have their place in the story, in addition to more minor but nonetheless significant side characters like Norris Clayton, Lianne Mars, Cliff McCormick, and Leo D’Amato. As with the show, this VM installment is haunted by a specter of the past: in this case, Meg Manning, the only “09-er” girl with whom Veronica remained friends. Her arc and her influence are an inexorable part of the plot, even without her direct involvement.
That brings me to an aspect of Mr. Kiss and Tell that sets it apart from its predecessors, of both text and screen: despite a distinctly feminist slant, there’s never been much of a sense of female solidarity. Veronica herself has a tendency to view women through a harsher lens than men. After all, Madison Sinclair remains one of the most hated characters in Veronica’s life for giving her a “trip to the dentist” (read: spitting in her drink) that resulted in Veronica’s own sexual assault; yet Veronica tolerates the presence of Dick Casablancas, the classmate who drugged Madison’s cup with GHB, and therefore the ultimate cause of Veronica being drugged and vulnerable that night. The reason for this double standard is unclear, but one possibility is that she continually demonstrates that she thinks women are, for the most part, smarter than men, and therefore more culpable. Another possibility is that her painful relationship with her mother is at the root of it. Either way, Veronica may be all about self-empowerment, but there’s never been much of a concept of sorority for her; Madeleine Albright she is not. But in this novel, we get a sense that Veronica has grown past some of those biases. Of course, the nature of the case in Mr. Kiss and Tell is necessarily a factor. But from the brief discussion of workplace discrimination with Leo to Veronica’s admiration for another character’s “solid brass ovaries,” it’s clear that gender ranks as one of the issues about which Veronica Mars has become even more outspoken than before.
If there’s anything in the novel that left me with a lukewarm (or cooler) feeling, it’s the direction of Logan Echolls’s character. To be fair, the military plotline works much better in the book than in the film, if only because we get more context as to how Logan went from a hard-drinking, mentally unstable murder suspect to a (somewhat) less belligerent flyboy. Something about it still feels wrong, but perhaps it’s just the consequence of being cheated out of seeing ten years of character growth happening in real-time. That’s all I want—novels’ worth of in-depth play-by-plays from a character’s life. Is that so much to ask for?
At any rate, it’s all more or less forgiven because of the authors’ skill at describing their characters’ mannerisms and deportment. Ten-year gap notwithstanding, there’s some good stuff to sink your teeth into here. Logan’s interactions with his and Veronica’s new puppy are especially revealing. He may not say anything about why he seems nervous around the dog, but, as Logan himself states, he comes from a family of bad actors. Just look; it’s there.
Mr. Kiss and Tell has lags and spurts like any plot-y mystery, but the authors are so adept at juggling multiple subplots that it never gets too slow, even when the case itself stalls. Besides—a beloved canceled-too-soon program has been reanimated into a theatrical film and a book series written by the show’s creator. So, go ahead, marshmallows. Sit back, get toasty, and enjoy. This, like the rest of the Veronica Mars universe, is a labor of LoVe.
Author: Kate Colvin
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