Women! Bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch!
–Veronica (Kristen Bell), “Welcome Wagon”
It’s the first day of college for Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell). “It’s time for a fresh start,” she muses while making her way across the Hearst College campus. “How ’bout you try not to piss anyone off this time around?”
Minutes later, in the Season Three premiere episode, “Welcome Wagon,” Veronica’s slouched in her seat in intro to criminology, reading Popular Photography & Imaging while the other students gather into earnest small groups to discuss the in-class assignment: who’s the killer on the Riverboat Queen? The cocky TA approaches to suggest she might be in the wrong class, that maybe she should head over to “education,” where, he says, “I think they let you read magazines over there, even let you cut them up, make little collages.” Less than three minutes into the episode, and Veronica’s showing up her classmates, her TA, and her professor, an apparent authority on profiling. So much for not pissing anyone off this time around.
We love our Veronica. So obviously smarter than everyone else, she’s also frequently wrong in her rushes to judgment, often, as she tells Wallace (Percy Daggs III) during the second episode of this season, “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week,” “turning [her] unbearable guilt into steely resolve.” It’s this capacity to be wrong and move on that makes Veronica so special and so like the rest of us. Exceptional and familiar, she can quote Clint Eastwood and cite Brigadoon with equal ease, praise boyfriend Logan’s (Jason Dohring) sexual prowess with charm (“You should seriously consider going pro in that”), forgive Wallace and his new roommate Piz (Chris Lowell) for their genetically-implanted hot-bod-obsessiveness, and appreciate the complications of being inside or outside of any community.
The first two episodes are all about this ongoing dilemma, which shaped Veronica’s experience at Neptune High. While her dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) surely trained her well in the art of detection, their relationship has endured some rocky points (her deceits concerning she now drives a brandy new Saturn, the result of dad compensating for his own guilt over missing her HS graduation). Her skills make her both outstanding and isolated, as in the criminology lecture hall, subject to resentment and admiration.
Her first “case” on campus involves the theft of “stuff,” namely, Piz’s clothes, computer, and especially his super-special collectors’ item guitar. She marvels at his faith in his new neighbors (he explains that he’s from Oregon) and humbly takes her instruction in “frak” (Battlestar Gallactica‘s “profanity of the future,” according to the RA who so instructs). But she also pursues her investigation with her usual fervor, that is, convinced of her rightness and visibly satisfied when proven so. The case reveals — again, as this is a perennial theme in Veronica Mars — some not-so-nice truths about the divisions between communities, here, those who can afford to go to college and those who can’t.
To help her new friend Piz (any friend of Wallace, etc.), Veronica sits through a bad-band set, dragging along the wonderful Mac (Tina Majorino) and her new vavoomy roommate, Parker (Julie Gonzalo). While Mac is predictably put off by Parker’s interests in boys, parties, and midriff tops, Parker claims their connection is, like, “just whoosh, total sisterhood.” (Veronica is dubious that she’s convinced Mac to watch Top Model with her, but Parker insists it’s true.)
The general rhythms of girl-bonding ups and downs will be familiar to regular Marss, as will the plot point, introduced in “Welcome Wagon,” that the Hearst campus has been troubled by a series of rapes. Given her personal history, Veronica is emphatic about the stakes in this case: “The thing about being roofied and raped,” she says, “You may not remember the who, when, where or why, but you know the what.” She takes up the investigation in earnest in the episode airing 10 October, which puts her inside a couple of new communities, the school newspaper and a sorority, Zeta Theta Beta. Though she’s undercover in the latter (dressed, she says, “like a ’50s vacuum ad,” while Maurice Chevalier sings “Thank heaven for leetle girls” on the soundtrack), she’s not precisely comfortable in the former, where the conclusion seems defined before the questions even get asked.
Still, she’d rather do journalism and photography than work in the library, and so Veronica takes up the assignment she’s handed. It’s a role-playing exercise that parallels another for Logan, whose weekend-long “class experiment” pits one group against another, as “prisoners” and “guards” looking to understand their own capacities for torture. The Abu Ghraib/Lynndie England photos figure prominently in his professor’s set-up: “You don’t think it was invented by a bunch of rednecks on the fly in Iraq?” he asks rhetorically. Torture has “always been here.” (Logan’s group of prisoners includes a walking target named Horshack, played by Bell’s Pulse costar and Freaks and Geeks‘ beloved Neal, Samm Levine.)
It’s hard to say whether the faux prison experience or Veronica’s night at a sorority party is more excruciating. He faces off with a “guard” who’s a little too enthusiastic about getting to call people names (“heeb” and “homo”) and deprive them of sleep by blasting Rupert Holmes’ “Pina Colada Song.” Still, Veronica rather nails her experience when handed a green drink that resembles something from a mad scientist’s lab and instructed to imbibe this “panty-dropper”: “I think I’d sooner drink Mark McGrath’s bathwater than drink anything here.”
It’s vintage Veronica, voiceovered (and so, available to her and you only), judgmental, and self-confident. While the sorority girls gather in hopes of finding friendship and security — scrutinized by one another and observed by a surveillance camera — Veronica’s comment illustrates as well how inside and outside can become confusing even as the divisions seem clear. Veronica is sure. But then she’s not.