2.01 "Normal Is the Watchword"

Aired Sep 28, 2005

Roundtable Reviews

topanga: Wow. What a season premiere. Could Rob Thomas have packed any more information into that 44-minute episode? I don't think so. I loved the fast pace and the suspense. The show had me under it's spell — I couldn't move from my spot on the couch during the entire hour, not even during the commercial breaks. I forgot I had a 1/2-gallon of ice cream thawing on the kitchen counter, and I ended up with a chocolate milkshake.

lilserf: Rob is to be commended for moving the show into new territory so quickly within 44 minutes, but I felt certain aspects did suffer a little.

While I enjoyed the fake-out of Veronica's boyfriend, the fact that it was covered so quickly felt a little...cheap. We didn't really see much of why Veronica couldn't bear to stay with Logan any more, nor of why she re-fell for Duncan. If sitting in a cafe is all it takes to snag Veronica, I have a feeling her section would be full round-the-clock.

misskiwi: I definitely think that the summer backstory of Veronica's love life could have used a little more breathing room. It would have been intriguing to know that she was dating Logan at the beginning of the summer and Duncan at the beginning of the school year without really knowing what had happened. Giving us a glimpse of the tensions between Duncan, Logan, Veronica, and Meg would only have heightened the suspense. Granted, it might have been less effective stretched out past Meg's death, but it did feel very...not contrived, but condensed. And I really, really like Veronica with Duncan. I was feeling the LoVe (ooh...now I feel dirty, one "r") last season, but Veronica and Duncan are good together when they're happy; Veronica and Logan are best together when they're not. And the girl? She does deserve a break.

Inigo: My reservations were [also] about Veronica. There was something off about her, particularly when she was with Logan. To me, it seemed that she really was being a girlie-girl when she told Duncan that she wasn't his sister, that she really was thinking about him when Logan arrived and that it was Duncan that she initially thought was at the door. Her time with Logan thereafter seemed almost as if it was under sufferance, under some sort of obligation for her part in Weevil going after him.

topanga: While I loved almost everything about the episode, I groaned with disappointment when it turned out to be Logan at the door. That seemed like a contrived plot point developed to please LoVe fans. It became more believable once Logan explained why he ended up at the door of the girl who turned him into the police and believed he'd murdered his girlfriend. But I still would have preferred it to be Wallace. Or Duncan, for that matter. Either one would have made more sense.

Inigo: Logan made perfect sense to me. That boy has always been a glutton for punishment where the girls he loves are concerned. The impression of last season was that Lilly jerked him around a lot, and as he said in "Hot Dogs," she didn't love him the way he loved her. Yet he went back to her every time, except the last. Couple that with the context of his having nowhere else to go when he was in pain and in trouble, and it worked.

misskiwi: The comedy in this episode was an oasis after a summer drought. Beautiful. Wallace delivers what is, in my mind, the funniest line of the series with his Rastafarian sarcasm and got several other good barbs too. Some subtle stuff, too: the dialogue about home runs and not being a purist overlaps the scene where Logan makes a booty call at the Casablancas residence in an episode where Veronica had already made one crack about getting to second base.

Inigo: I loved Wallace in this episode. I loved that he didn't take the office aide job, knowing this would piss her off, and avoided the flack by getting the master key. I loved his Jamaican accent. Give that boy some ganja!

topanga: Wallace and Veronica? Their friendship seems stronger and more equal than ever. Wallace no longer acts like her sidekick. And his hair? Those eyes? Someone turn the hose on me, please.

lilserf: It was great to see Veronica and Wallace continue to work closely without secrets as pals, and the season-arc mysteries offer all kinds of interesting potential, yet they maintain a different "flavor" than the Season 1 mysteries.

topanga: The MotW didn't grab me. And it's strange to hear myself say that since every storyline involving Wallace tends to grab me. I thought it lacked the intensity of "M.A.D." or "Weapons of Class Destruction," and it didn't have the humor and emotional appeal of "Betty and Veronica" or "An Echolls Family Christmas."

Inigo: What could redeem the MotW is if Boatloads of Fun Corp. is more than, or part of more than, just a group of families getting together to finagle the sporting advancement of their children. On the one hand, they are illustrative of the wider theme of money buying anything, like Logan's release in some eyes, but I hope it is linked more specifically into what is going on in the town.

misskiwi: I'm sure we'll find out more about the Boatloads of Fun Corporation, and it's unfortunate that their introduction felt shoehorned in. One thing about the MotW that did go over really well for me was the plausible transition from hypothesis to hypothesis as Veronica dug deeper. Everything they did seemed like the most likely scenario at the time, from changing the forms to the spiked Spirit cookies. Well executed, if a bit cramped.

Inigo: I would say that I thought the execution of the MotW failed in one crucial respect, misskiwi, while otherwise agreeing with you about the logical sequence. The cut to Jilly Ho jarred because it was hard to think how she and Veronica got to the point in the conversation when we joined it. I can construct that she asked Jilly whether anyone had a grudge against her but it seems a little extraordinary that she would even think it had anything to do with someone suing her dad in his business. I wonder if some lines were cut.

marks of love: The ending sequence is so powerful. On my initial viewing, I honestly felt as if I had been punched in the gut. I was in a car accident last month, and the shock levels were pretty similar. (Less bruising from TV, though.) The camera sweeps are a little distracting, but I think I like them anyway, because they really add to the enormity of the situation. That final shot of the crash is sickening: the water seems to sizzle insidiously, the pieces of the bus scattered in the surf, the lack of visible bodies...it hurts to look at. Also, there's this bright blue glare that I can't identify; it certainly doesn't seem to be natural, but it doesn't really look like anything I could think of (gas on the water?).

misskiwi: The ending. My God, the ending. I can't stop watching it. Seriously, you guys. I don't know if that makes me a twisted person, or if I just love the tension and the music and the OMG! but...wow. And the thing I love the most about the entire scenario is its similarity in setup to the denoument of "A Trip to the Dentist." The hand of fate, for lack of a better term: a series of coincidences, accidents, misunderstandings, and bad intentions come together in one big cataclysmic mess. If only Dick hadn't tried to drug Madison. If only Madison hadn't had a bitch moment. If only Dick and Sean hadn't tried to force Beaver on Veronica. If only Duncan hadn't been drugged. If only, if only, if only. Everything but the first decision to attend the party was out of Veronica's hands. This time, that gets flipped on its head to "what if" since Veronica narrowly avoided disaster rather than colliding with it head first. What if Meg hadn't wanted to avoid Veronica? What if Veronica hadn't decided to attempt reconciliation? What if Weevil and Veronica hadn't fought? What if Meg hadn't been a bitch? Some of those questions have happy endings, and some...not so much. It's a close call for Veronica, and one with some major potential for survivor guilt. "I'm sorry Meg is hurting, truly sorry, but I can't say I have any regrets." Mmm, foreshadowing: oh so delicious. We'll see if that holds true, and I hope we see some major repercussions in all the characters from this traumatic experience.

topanga: Word, misskiwi. The way the end of the episode established the season-long mystery arcs was like, whoa. What happened to the bus — how did it fall off the cliff when it was driving on the side of the road away from the ocean? Did someone plan on Veronica, Duncan, Dick, Beaver, and Gia being on the bus? How will Veronica and Duncan feel about Meg's death? Will it affect their relationship? Are Veronica and Weevil becoming friends again, or does he simply enjoy the feeling of a woman riding on his big ol' hog? Will Lilly return? And Meg knows how to swim, doesn't she? Maybe she isn't dead.

You know a show has set up a good cliffhanger (no pun intended) when, long after the closing credits have rolled, you're still sitting on the edge of your seat with your mouth hanging open, staring at the TV screen as if the next episode will magically start playing just for you.

misskiwi: Yeah, I'm wondering about the mechanics of the bus going off the cliff on the opposite side of the road, too, topanga. One possibility is that the bus either blew a tire or had an axle or something break, causing it to swerve to the left, scrape the barrier, and go off the cliff. The brakes would also have to have been cut, since Gia made it clear that the bus had not slowed down. Which begs the obvious question of the identity of the saboteur and their motive. I am certain that none of the 09ers were intended to be in any danger. Meg and Veronica were on the bus — or could have been, in Veronica's case — by their own choice in spite of Dick's invitation to ride in the limo. Considering how much effort the episode expended setting up the scale of the class wars in Neptune and the tensions between 09ers and non-09ers, the fact that the bus was supposed be all non-09ers is not a coincidence. So, assuming the bus was tampered with, which seems likely, it had to have been done after the arrival at Shark Field to insure that no 09ers were harmed in the making of this "accident." Fiddling with the bus before it left the school risks it happening on the way to the field with all the students on board, and the same for before Dick secures a ride home for the 09ers. It could have been done at the gas station.

Another interesting thing about the bus crash is watching the reactions of the various 09ers. As Veronica and Weevil approach the scene, we see two people run out of the limo before Duncan tears out of it and blows past them and runs along the barrier. Two of the 09er girls don't even move away from the limo. Dick and Beaver stand idly by (ah, the irony) with their arms crossed. Only Duncan and Gia appear to be showing any emotion and are standing the closest to the cliff.

lilserf: I'm not convinced the bus sabotage had anything to do with 09er/non-09er class warfare. There was no guarantee Dick would set up that limo for the rich kids to take home, or that all the 09ers would be on it. I think the saboteur (if, indeed, it was sabotage) was more likely targeting a single person. If they're willing to kill everyone on the bus to kill their target, there's something more than class warfare going on.

The question remains, of course — who WAS the target? Obviously our titular heroine is at the top of the list, but Gia is another intriguing possibility. Even Duncan, with his father on trial, could be a target, although that's a slim chance. Personally I think the target was somebody in the 09er limousine and the bus kids were just caught in the crossfire.

misskiwi: Unless Dick was one of the saboteurs, in which case it makes a lot of sense. At this point, I just can't believe that it was only a coincidence that the 09ers didn't take the doomed bus back. This is Neptune: nothing happens by accident.

marks of love: It's funny that you only now mention the possibility of Dick being a saboteur, because on my first viewing, I was left with the strong impression that Dick knew about the bus and was purposely trying to save Duncan and Veronica. Of course, this struck me as somewhat odd, since I've never really thought Duncan and Dick were good friends, and I'd have imagined that when Logan and Duncan "broke up," Dick would stop associating with Duncan. But that just reinforces my original impression: Dick was purposely trying to buddy up to Duncan and Veronica on the bus ride so that they would be open to riding home with him so that Logan wouldn't be sad when his exes (heh) died. What really confuses me about this sequence is Duncan's immediate acceptance of the invitation; I guess I'll have to rethink the notion that the two of them are not friendly, even though it makes the most sense to me.

But is Dick that kind of callous murderer? He's a wannabe rape enabler, and he dated Madison Sinclair, so I shouldn't put it past him, but it's still so extreme. If he is a saboteur, it's certainly just in a henchman capacity; this is conspiracy that he didn't cook up himself.

Of course, this theory of Dick knowing in advance then rules out the possibility that either Gia or Duncan could have been intended as targets, narrowing down the possibilities to Veronica, Meg, the driver, Miss Dumbass, or one of the extras. With the exception of Veronica, none of these make much sense; I mean, Meg doesn't even have the Klan to plot against her. ;] So I'm not at all married to this hypothesis, because I think Gia is a prime suspect for "shoulda died." Poor kid. Neptune'll do that to ya.

misskiwi: I'm baffled by this notion that there was a single target of the bus accident. This may seem counterintuitive, but I find it more likely that someone plotted to take out a bus full of students because they were non-09ers rather than that someone would do this sort of thing to get rid of one person. And when you consider if Dick is capable of this, remember that he's already set a community pool on fire. I'm not saying I think he did it, because I don't really, but at the moment he's the closest thing to a suspect.

marks of love: I agree that it does seem bizarrely over-the-top to kill a single person via a bus accident that will take out several others, when a shotgun blast to the head would do the job just as well, but the idea of blank motiveless malice makes even less sense to me. Why go to such conspiratorial lengths to murder what is essentially a random group of people? There's no solid motive there, and this show is all about the seedy dark desires of seemingly respectable people. There has to have been something specific gained by the scheme, had it been carried out.

At the moment I am thinking that Gia was the most likely target of the plot. I had a fun minute speculating about Woody Goodman purposely sending his daughter to her death in an attempt to garner sympathy, and by "sympathy" I mean "votes," but that idea fizzled when I remembered that the limo trip was planned right under Woody's nose, so that'd be pretty lame.

lilserf: While I think Dick is probably enough of an asshole to resort to sabotage, I doubt he's smart enough to purposely cause a bus to go over a cliff.

In fact the only person I can think of offhand with motive, knowledge, and opportunity to sabotage the bus is — wait for it — Logan. He's practically incandescent with rage about his crappy life, and he's clearly pissed at Veronica. He quite pointedly said he wasn't going on the field trip — evidence or him being himself? And I'd credit him with enough ingenuity and know-how to mess that bus up in some way that could cause this accident.

Regardless of who sabotaged the bus, the other interesting question is: did they intend to put the bus over a cliff? I could see Logan (or Dick, even) sabotaging the bus so as to strand the field-trip-goers hilariously on a hot bus quite easily. Perhaps this went farther than the saboteur expected, and they were aiming more at a practical joke. Maybe this wasn't attempted murder at all, but poorly-executed pranking! We certainly need more information to find out.

misskiwi: I think, lilserf, although I could certainly be wrong, that Logan's rendezvous with Kendall constitutes an alibi, if not a solid one at this point. They were obviously quite far out of Neptune for this field trip since they made a pit stop on the way back, so for Logan to have nailed Kendall and either driven all the way to Shark Field to sabotage the bus or have managed to intercept it on the way back seems highly improbable at best. I do, however, find Weevil's presence intriguing because it suggests that there might have been other PCHers with criminal tendencies hanging around the gas station. I can't think of a motive or a likely target unless Logan's proximity to the bus in the morning made them think he was going on the field trip, but it's not out of the question.

As for Duncan and Dick's friendliness with each other, I think a lot of it has to do with the 09er culture of status before everything. Logan, despite having lost his entire family, being charged with murder, and having his father shipped off to prison for killing his girlfriend, has apparently not been shunned by Dick and Beaver. In Neptune, the only thing that would get you on the wrong side of the velvet rope is betrayal of your class, so it makes perfect sense to me that Dick could continue to be friendly with (and suck up to) both Logan and Duncan and anyone associated with them. What I don't understand is how Veronica can be even close to civil to Dick and, to a lesser extent, Beaver, but a lot of it may have to do with "normal is the watchword." And maybe she's started to move away from her revenge-centric view of the world now that she has more people she trusts compared to the pilot.

marks of love: You say that class betrayal is the only true crime in Neptune, but hasn't Duncan committed just that by dating Veronica? Or is she exempt by virtue of having terrified Dick months before? Her civility towards him is odd, but I think "normal is the watchword" is the best explanation. She must have started it when she was dating Logan and it was necessary for her to compromise (I imagine a great deal of groveling on Dick's part), and has kept it up while with Duncan because, hey. Why not?

misskiwi: marks, I don't think Duncan dating Veronica constitutes class betrayal, particularly when she had been accepted in that group before. She's not rich, but she's not from the wrong side of the tracks either. She only lost her status when Duncan broke up with her and Keith was run out of office, so it's not inconceivable she could get it back at least to the point of civility.

marks of love: I am continually fascinated with the symbolic purpose of water in Veronica Mars. Neptune is named for the Roman god of the sea, and in the United States cremation is monopolized by a company called the Neptune Society, thus lending a funereal connotation that viewers other than me may or may not have picked up on. Think back through the series: how many times have scenes of violence and despair taken place in or near water? Lilly died by her pool and was originally intended to have been found in the ocean. Lynn ended her life by taking the literal plunge. Veronica stood up Logan at the yachting club, and Aaron's beat down of Trina's boyfriend whose name currently escapes me was what clued me into his status as the possible murderer, since it was so easily read as a parallel to Lilly's death. Setting the pool (a POOL!) on fire is an act of war; all of the 09ers have their own because water is not just water. No, this town is the sea of corruption in which our characters swim and struggle; slowly but surely, the water claims its own. As we look over the cliff to Meg's watery grave, one thing is clear: Neptune's tide is rising.

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