Favorite Scene From Each Episode of Veronica Mars - Day One: Pilot, or, Revenge is a Dish, Well, You Know The Rest

Veronica Mars’ pilot is amazing, or some other more distinctive superlative. The pilot contains an interesting one-episode plot, seamlessly integrates a compelling backstory, shows us why we should care about the heroine and her father, introduces other complex characters, and has amazing cinematography. The list could be longer.

The first time I watched the pilot, it seemed like a bit too much: a murdered best friend, the heroine getting raped, bullying, awful cops, gangs, class warfare, missing parents, a symbolic lynching, and teenage boys? There is a fine line between noir and The Hunger Games. The darkness struck me as a bit overdone at first, but the rest of the season justified it.

The pilot is potentially another case of the whole episode being another favorite scene for susanmichelin’s Favorite Scene From Each Each Episode of Veronica Mars game. Given that I can ramble for 1,000+ words about a two-second shot, I want to focus on the confrontation between Veronica, Logan, a car’s tailights, a tire iron, and Weevil’s fists in order to discuss a recurring theme of the series: the problem of revenge.

There are many ways to distinguish revenge from justice, and not everyone will agree with those ways (or even that the distinction can be made). Some common ways of making the distinction might include: revenge is personal, justice is impersonal; revenge is cyclical, justice is final. Generally, accounts of justice do try to distinguish it from revenge, which is seen as being problematic or just wrong.

Whatever the case, fictional revenge (or tragedy, or whatever) is not the same as approving of revenge in general. Enjoying fictional revenge arguably allows us to cathartically experience some sort of beneficial emotional release or purgation that we are generally denied in reality. (Clearly I am no expert on the nuances of these issues, but hopefully that is sufficient for what follows.)

One of main joys of Veronica Mars is watching the title character stick it to wrongdoers, even when (or perhaps especially when) “sticking it” involves Veronica confusing revenge and justice herself. That sort of thing is a staple of antihero popularity. Veronica is not always an antihero, of course. Even in the pilot she is not exactly an antihero – she is primarily trying to help a friend out of a jam, and goes for a little personal revenge on Logan along the way. Nonetheless, as the the series continues, a big part of what makes Veronica so fascinating is her continual swinging between (and combination of) anti-heroism and heroism, revenge and justice, selfishness and selflessness, coldness and warmth, and vindictiveness and mercy.

On an intellectual level, Veronica surely knows the difference between justice and revenge. That she so often chooses to ignore this distinction might be interpreted as her simply not caring or being in denial about what she is actually doing. Perhaps it is something else, but what is clear is that Veronica has decided (and on the basis of her experiences in Neptune, it is easy to see why) that the public mechanisms for dispensing justice are worth every little, and that personal justice (revenge) is her primary remaining option.

The series’ first mystery of the week is not actually much of a mystery as a case of getting her new friend Wallace out of a bad spot, and Veronica decides to get a little revenge along the way. Basically, Veronica needs to get two members of Weevil’s gang out of trouble. She needs to do this because if she does not, the PCHers are, in Weevil’s words, coming “for you, your boy, and your little dog too.” In order to steal the tape, she needs to get access to the evidence locker at the sheriff’s department. And in order to do that, she plants a bong-bomb in Logan’s locker and arranges for a search.

The first thing out of Weevil’s mouth to Veronica is a misogynistic remark (“ the only time I care what a woman has to say is when she’s riding my big old hog”), and most of his banter with her in this episode would make construction workers shake their head at the lack of subtlety. Even then, Weevil is charming, not just because of Francis Capra’s charisma, but because he is trying to help out his friends who are likely to receive disproportionate, life-ruining punishment for petty theft. We have already seen the nastiness of Neptune’s class divide, and siding with the fictional underdog comes instinctively to most viewers these days (even those viewers whose real world politics say otherwise).

Weevil talks to Veronica in a vile manner, but Logan’s treatment of her in the pilot is more infuriating. Weevil is crude and tasteless, but Veronica is able to blow his obnoxiousness off with clever ripostes. Logan is more clever and cutting in his remarks, and what makes them most devastating (aside from his former friendship with Veronica) is that they have a basis in truth rather than generic sexist vulgarity, which is why she simply stares back. Both Weevil and Logan exude a combination of sexuality and violence, Weevil through his crude comments and threats, Logan more through his body language (although the tire iron to the headlights is less subtle). However, while there are indications early on that Weevil is a gangster with something like a heart of gold. Logan comes off, superficially at least, as typical rich, mean, TV bully (although the “wassamatta with you people” flashback points to  something more).

So when Logan finally seems to get his when Weevil begins to beat him, we expect it to feel good, or for Veronica to revel in it. Yet it is disturbing. Weevil not only says he could do this all day, but seems to mean it, and seems to enjoy it, even with Logan refusing to fight back. This foreshadows Weevil’s hatred and jealousy toward Logan over Lilly and his belief that Logan hit her, something that will explode at the end of the season. We hate Logan, and Weevil giving him a beatdown in such a calculated manner makes Weevil come off as, well, kind of awesome. But as much as we might hate Logan, Weevil has already messed up the vehicle in which the 09ers arrived; a lengthy beating seems a bit excessive if we step away from our emotions – something bigger is clearly going on than the pilot shows us.

Logan’s response is more troubling. Logan might already be foreshadowing, even at his first episode douchiest, his own selfless heroism by taking the beating so that the whole gang will not beat down his friends (and it is very Logan that he is doing this for friends who seem to be worthless). Other aspects stand out as well: Weevil asks Logan to apologize to Veronica in order to end the beating, and Logan just flat out refuses, looking at Veronica while doing so. This is not just some random bullying with her father as a pretext, it is personal, and he is not going to apologize to her. Of course, viewers are later led to wonder what sort of punishment Logan really received from his father for the embarrassment of being taken to the sheriff’s; Veronica is clearly a bit shocked by transition from “you’re so cute” to “you know what you cost me?” Logan’s whole demeanor towards her as he dances with the tire iron is, well, a bit psychotic. Something is clearly off. One might even speculate that on some level Logan is willing to take the beating because he feels like he deserves it – whether this is an unconscious acknowledgement that his treatment of Veronica is wrong, his later-revealed feeling that he failed Lilly, or just from the feeling of his own worthlessness.

This is not to make out Logan to be an innocent victim. Still, planting evidence is clearly wrong in itself. (One might also briefly note the juxtaposition of Veronica planting evidence to frame Logan with Lamb holding up Lilly’s shoes as discovered on Abel Koontz’s boathouse) But Veronica’s revenge is not justice because there is no finality. None of the participants  acknowledges what he or she did was wrong (except, perhaps, Weevil’s forced [and thus rather empty] apology to Wallace), and there is no finality.

What is most striking about the beatdown, though, is Veronica’s reaction. She probably had been fantasizing about Logan “getting his” for months. The viewers may or may not experience some sort of catharsis in seeing Logan getting bloodied – given the factors listed above, probably as much as might be expected; I don’t know. What is clear is that whatever she thought before, when Veronica sees it up close, she clearly does not derive  pleasure from it. It  reminds me of the climactic death of Cato in The Hunger Games (book, not so much the movie): after all the buildup of Cato as evil and sadistic and the one to beat, Katniss and Peeta spend all night listening to him being slowly being mangled by the Mutts before she finally puts him out of his misery with an arrow. During fighting, the reader eagerly anticipates Katniss killing  the “bad guy,” but Cato’s death scene is so brilliantly brutal that the reader feels dirty for having anticipated it. Obviously, Logan getting beaten up is not the same as getting mauled by a bunch of mutant dogs all night. The parallel effect for our hero is the same, though, as we see from Veronica’s facial reaction. We have expect good guy Wallace to respond like this, but not our badass little ice queen.

Veronica makes Weevil stop, although she says she does not even want an apology from her enemy (a curious line that I have thought about a lot without coming to any conclusion). Whether or not one takes this to foreshadow their eventual romance, this clearly the first instance of the “Veronica comes to Logan’s rescue” trope. Moreover, at least in the moment, she seems on some level to understand just out of hand the cycle of revenge had become.

Veronica’s realization of the ugliness of revenge is, at least in part, based on how the whole situation got out of control. Logan makes some ugly remarks, so she plants the bong. Yeah, it is a lousy thing to do to him, but for all she can see, it is just a mean prank rather than something vicious. Yet Logan wants revenge – and the next thing she knows, he’s breaking out the headlights of her car. And then Logan is getting ruthlessly beat down. The cyclical and expanding torrent of revenge continues without an obvious endpoint or resolution.

This sort of thing happens again and again in the series.  Weevil’s hatred of Logan is out of revenge for hitting Lilly (allegedly, turns out to be false, thanks for clearing it up on-screen, Rob Thomas. Oops.) turns near-murderous. Logan’s persecution of Veronica is based on vengeance for personal betrayal. In “Clash of Tritons,” Rick is trying to get revenge on Veronica for what her father did to his.

In Season Two, Weevil is out for revenge against Logan (again) because he believes (mistakenly) Logan killed his Felix. Weevil and Logan get into a massive revenge battle involving arson, gang beatdowns, flagpole tapings, and torture. Most severely, the Big Bad of Season Two, Cassidy Casablancas’ murderous bombings and other acts are acts of revenge against his father and Woody Goodman. While Veronica and Logan symbolically give up revenge on the roof of the Neptune Grand, in Season Three both of them give in to rage and vindictiveness, ending in Wallace’s torture, Keith’s losing the election and facing charges, Logan’s death sentence from the Russian Mob, and Veronica’s nine-year exile. (More examples could be given.)

Veronica Mars often gives viewers the release they crave by showing Veronica and her friends being personally vindicated via vengeance in a context in which the mechanisms for justice are so broken. Veronica herself often seems to get that release (think of Tad on the flagpole). Whether Veronica or the viewers ever actually get that purgation or not, one of the brilliant aspects of Veronica Mars as a series is that while on the surface it appears to celebrate vengeance, the show goes deeper and refuses to shy away from the futile non-finality and destructiveness of revenge.

[Previously in this series: Clash of the Tritons, or, Veronica’s Own Private Logan]