Sunday, December 19, 2010

Veronica Mars

Spoiler alert: I've watched all three seasons and know everything.  Scott, you can't read this yet! :-p

Trigger warning: Murder and rape

So, after a few people recommended the TV show Veronica Mars, which ran from 2004-2007, I figured I'd give it a shot.  I was all caught up in my other shows and had just finished watching season 5 of Bones.*  I was bored.  But this show came highly recommended, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

The show stars Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars, daughter of PI Keith Mars.  She's a high school student who is using her PI smarts to try to solve the murder of her best friend.  The first season involves a new mystery in every episode, along with a clue related to the larger season-long mystery, which is solved in the final episode.  The second season has a similar format, but it's much messier, not as engaging.  And the third season, taking place at college, dispenses with this format completely, instead relying on two shorter arcs, both ending before the end of the season.  It's not surprising that the show was canceled after that season, although it's disappointing that the show didn't get another chance to prove it could rebound from that last, less awesome season.

There are some things about this show that really stick out for me.  In the first episode, which gives viewers a background on Veronica's life and the mystery she's trying to solve, we get some pretty shocking information.  When the show begins, it's been almost a year since the murder of Veronica's best friend, Lilly.  Flashbacks show us that before Lilly's death, her younger brother Duncan was dating Veronica, but very suddenly dumped her with no explanation.  After Lilly's murder, Veronica's father loses his job as sheriff for accusing Lilly and Duncan's father of the murder.  For refusing to side against her father, Veronica is ostracized by her wealthy, popular friends.  To prove she's not going to be cowed, she shows up at a huge end of the year party, where she is drugged with GHB and raped.

The way her rape is treated throughout the series is sometimes good, sometimes not.

The good:

Veronica recognizes that what happened to her was rape.  She tries to report it, and when the new sheriff, Don Lamb, just laughs her off, viewers are made to understand that this is a Bad Thing.  Viewers believe that the rape is real even though, as Lamb points out, there's no evidence.  The show essentially forces viewers to accept and acknowledge Veronica's rape as a FACT, not to be questioned, and to acknowledge that the way Veronica was treated when she reported is not really unusual.

Veronica doesn't suffer from an extreme amount of PTSD, which is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just simply who she is and how she's processed her rape.  She keeps it a secret from most characters during the course of the show, telling Duncan, Logan (Lilly's boyfriend and Duncan's friend), her best friend Wallace, and a handful of other people.  We end up with a main character who's a bona fide rape survivor, who copes with what happened to her, but doesn't forget about it or rationalize it into something else.

Veronica is an excellent representation of the sexual assault survivor seen from the outside.  She's labeled a slut for being assaulted, something that many other survivors, myself included, can comiserate with (since many people don't understand the difference between consensual and non-consensual activity).  But other than that, her assault stays under wraps until important events and conversations draw it out.  She's an excellent reminder that many people we know are survivors; they just don't tell us.

She also ends up with an STD, which doesn't get diagnosed for about two years (which ain't good!).  While it did feel as if the STD was thrown in as a clue in the second season (which it was) and not really something entirely realistic (plus shouldn't she try to get in touch with Duncan and let him know?), part of me thought it was awesome.  Veronica Mars is another show where unintentional pregnancy ends in a baby (secondary character Meg), but it's one of the only shows I can think of that shows another consequence of sexual activity: STDs.  Not that it was Veronica behaving irresponsibly (mega-spoiler--she got it from her rapist), but simply that it's something we all know can happen, and yet television rarely goes there.

In the third season, the major first story is a serial rapist on campus.  While much of this story is crappy and will be dealt with later, it gets a few things right.  When Parker, Mac's new roommate, is raped, and it turns out that Veronica unknowingly walked in on the rape, Parker tears Veronica a new one.  After Parker insists that Veronica doesn't know how she feels, Veronica insists that she does and even gives the date of her rape.  Parker apologizes, saying she had no idea, and Veronica says that it's okay, since it's not something she goes around broadcasting.  It's a very, very serious reminder that many people we know are survivors; we just don't know because it's not something they broadcast.

Finally, the serial rapist is caught as he's trying to assault another victim.  While there are things about the serial rapist that are highly unusual, and will be discussed later, what's accurate is that the rapist, Mercer, is a very popular, clean-cut, well-liked guy.  It's clear that he could easily go out and get laid, and he even admits that to Veronica, who he thinks is his latest drugged victim.  He has the trust and friendship of Logan, and he's handsome and charming.  But when the facade comes down, he snickers about how he could go out and date, and that it would be really effective, but that then he'd have to listen to all these women talk.  He's a sociopath.  He's not some creepy dude with no friends who can't seem to get laid.

And now--the bad:

Near the end of season one, Veronica discovers that there's another classmate who was drugged on the same night, at the same party.  She begins to track down classmates one by one to piece together what happened to her that night.  What she learns is as follows:

- Logan brought GHB and gave it to people to use.
- Dick received some GHB and put it in a drink for his girlfriend Madison, "to loosen her up."
- Madison spat in the drink and gave it to Veronica as a cruel joke, not knowing it was drugged.
- As people were doing body shots on Veronica, Duncan tried to take her away.  Logan was annoyed with that, and he put GHB into Duncan's drink to loosen him up.
- Sean, Dick, and Cassidy found Veronica in the guest room, passed out.  Sean and Dick encouraged Cassidy to rape Veronica, and left him with her.
- Carrie Bishop saw Cassidy leave, but then Duncan went into the room.
- Duncan admits to having what he believed was consensual sex with Veronica, and he didn't say anything because he thought they weren't talking about it.  He believed her to be his sister, which is why he had dumped her and was avoiding her, but he was still in love with her and the GHB essentially led him to give in and have sex with her.

So basically Logan supplied drugs to people at the party and drugged his best friend.  EXTREMELY uncool and illegal.  Dick tried to drug his girlfriend to "loosen her up," but it's obvious that had she kept her drink, Dick would have raped her.  Madison unknowingly passed along a drugged drink.  Sean and Dick encouraged Cassidy to rape Veronica.  We learn at the end of season 2 that Cassidy DID rape her, and left her with an STD.  Then Duncan came in and also raped Veronica.

The end result?

Logan: is immediately forgiven by Veronica, who begins an on-again-off-again relationship with him.  The relationship only ends for the rest of the series because Veronica finds out that Logan slept with Madison while he and Veronica were broken up.  He didn't cheat, but Veronica can't forgive him because he slept with Madison, whom Veronica blames for drugging her.

Dick:  Veronica never much likes him, but she tolerates him, even though his actions, at least as much as Madison's, resulted in Veronica being drugged and raped.

Madison: Veronica hates her so much that she dumps Logan for good because he slept with Madison.

Cassidy: He's revealed at the end of season 2 to be the murderer of everyone on the bus, as well as an accomplice and a plane-ful of people.  He admits to raping Veronica and then tries to kill her.  Obviously, she doesn't like him much.

Duncan: Veronica is heartbroken after he tells her what happened, but by season 2, once they're aware that they're not related, they begin dating again, and they stay together until Duncan flees to Australia with his daughter (whose mother was another classmate).  Veronica doesn't seem to consider what happened between them to be rape; Wikipedia explains that Cassidy raped her, but that Duncan had consensual sex with her, which is erroneous based on, well, what actually happened.

So it looks like the only person appropriately hated for his involvement is Cassidy, while everyone except Madison gets off the hook.

Then, we get to the serial rapist storyline.  First off, it is highly, highly unusual to get such a strange MO: the rapist drugs women (thought to be with GHB, not clear), shaves their hair off, and rapes them.  I'm not going to imply that this is an impossible MO, but it is a weird one.  A number of serial rapists get away without drugs and a weird calling card (shaved head), but on charm and isolation and a well-placed chokehold.  All of the rapes in this show happen with GHB, which is extremely skewed.

Mercer, the rapist, also doesn't even act alone.  The show explains subtly that his accomplice, the RA named Moe, was involved in a prisoner-guard experiment with Mercer, and that somehow the power dynamic that was created in that experiment still persists.  Moe is eager to help Mercer, to the point of driving home drugged girls and giving Mercer access to their rooms.  He calls Mercer "Sir" and panics ridiculously when the shit hits the fan.  If rapists have help, it's not really ever LIKE this!  Eesh.

And then we get the show's treatment of Lilith House, a house full o' feminists, who are painted as humorless feminazis who actually fake a rape.  Yes, that's right.  Feminists who think faking a rape is a good idea.  Do you know how many feminists I know who think that's a good idea?  Zero.  The feminists I know are chill, cool folks, men and women and boths and neithers, who care enough about rape to know better than to blame it all on the Greek system or to fake a rape.  Seriously.

All in all, I liked this show a lot, and I'm looking forward to rewatching the first season.  It's fascinating to see how back and forth the writers go when it comes to treatment of sexual assault, that's for sure!

* And by that, I mean that I finished Bones, and I am thoroughly bored of Murder, She Wrote.

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