In the third episode of the first season of Veronica Mars, Veronica is enlisted to find a classmate’s missing father, which dredges up her own issues with her missing mother. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Veronica Mars.
Trigger Warning: We must talk about both depression and transphobia in this review. Heads up!
This was a difficult episode to watch for a number of reasons, both good and bad, because the material is inherently challenging. I was reminded of how I felt when I first started reading Harry Potter and was shocked at how prevalent certain upsetting themes were from the beginning. His parents are dead! His aunt and uncle abuse him! He’s poor! EVERYTHING IS SAD. And while Veronica Mars is set in gorgeous, sunny Southern California, there’s a grim tone to the way that these characters face their grief, their losses, and their confusion over how to move on with their lives. LET’S ADDRESS ALL THE HEARTBREAK. (And the few signs of hope we get, too!)
I love that his character development is occurring at the same time that Veronica’s is. Truthfully, I love shows with tons of characters, especially when time is given to their stories, too. I think “Meet John Smith” is about moving on and how hard that is for these people after Lilly Kane’s death. Keith clashes with Veronica over her curiosity towards her missing mother, initially because she won’t let the case go. And when Rebecca, Veronica’s guidance counselor, suggests to Keith that her daughter might need someone to talk to, he reacts to that in a defensive manner, too. Keith’s a single father trying to work against his own ruined reputation, and he’s got a precocious, sassy daughter, and the truth is that he is probably just as upset over the disappearance of his wife as Veronica is. But he’s got a role to play for his daughter, and perhaps he’s reluctant to let Veronica see how much he’s hurting. Plus, we’re still not sure if Keith is hiding something huge from Veronica about why Lianne Mars left. Does Keith know something we don’t? (Probably.)
However, with the introduction of Rebecca, we’ve got a chance to see Keith experience some hope. This is the first time we’ve seen him express romantic interest in anyone, so it’s possible that he does want to move beyond Lianne. Is this meant to imply that he truly believes she’s never coming back? That’s just speculation at this point, but I found it refreshing that Keith might be able to find some sort of happiness on his own. Of course, we’ll have to see where this goes and if Rebecca is going to be a recurring character at all.
I admit that Duncan’s not necessarily my favorite person (though I dislike Logan about a million times more), but this episode goes a long way to sympathize him for the audience, and it does so in a way that’s not condescending to people who have dealt with depression. Hell, I’d say this is a refreshingly accurate depiction of the experience, at least speaking in terms of what I’ve gone through in the last fifteen years or so. I admit that I never pursued anti-depressants. I wasn’t morally opposed to them at all; it was an issue of cost and access. When you’ve spent your entire life without health insurance and without regularly seeing a doctor, it’s easy to see why it seemed like an impossibility to me. Granted, I now know that there are places and people who could have helped me, but during high school and college and the years after, it always seemed like the people with money were the only people who could afford to seek medication. And by god, there were certainly years where I needed the help.
So I appreciate a lot of the details here. Duncan’s mother refuses to shame her son for taking anti-depressants, and that kind of support is vital to help normalize mental illness. Duncan’s medication is left unnamed on purpose, so I don’t know if the depiction of the side effects of going turkey is perfectly accurate, but the friends that I do have that have taken (and then gotten off of) medication like this have related similar stories: They felt physically ill for days at a time. They experienced moments of extreme euphoria out of nowhere. They hallucinated, they had horrifyingly surreal dreams, and for some of them, their depression came back with a vengeance. Duncan’s doctor respects that the decision to stop taking the medication is Duncan’s choice, and he also provides him with what he needs to know about the side effects.
Ultimately, it’s through a hallucination of Lilly (IN THE MOST NOT OKAY SCENE OF THE EPISODE) that Duncan decides that the haze he’s been in can’t rule his life anymore. And that depiction – of the mood swings, of the moments of inactivity, of the loss of motivation – is what I liked most about this. That is what depression has always been like for me, and when I did finally seek help for it, it was for a lot of the same reason Duncan did what he did. He was sick of feeling like he couldn’t move on, that he was stuck with this depression. His decision to keep taking anti-depressants felt very real and very believable, and I love that he wasn’t demonized for doing so.
Veronica and Justin
Obviously, it was hard to watch these two kids suffer throughout “Meet John Smith.” Justin’s transformation throughout this episode, though, was probably the most surprising, especially since he’s so unlikable in the first few scenes he’s in. Justin and his friends treat Veronica as if she’s nothing more than a score, so Justin lies about his “dead” father in order to keep Veronica talking to him. She’s entirely justified in lashing out at Justin once she finds out the truth, not least of which is due to WASTING $150 IN POSTAGE. THAT IS A LOT OF STAMPS, Y’ALL.
Except it ends up not being a waste. As she and Justin are suddenly thrust into a case that started off as a cruel attempt at getting close to Veronica, they both have to deal with the difficult issues that surround the disappearance of their parents. That’s particularly hard for Veronica since this never was a joke for her and the wound is still fresh. Justin, on the other hand, becomes more and more concerned about why his mother has clearly been lying to him.
I think it’s smart, then, that the writers force Keith to reflect on the very same topic after he overhears Justin. Veronica has internalized the idea that her mother is a “villain” because it’s the only way she can rectify the fears and concerns that she has. Keith insists this isn’t a healthy dichotomy to believe in, but how else can she explain why her mother won’t contact her? As she says, it’s easier for her to believe her mother did something wrong and awful than to worry herself forever about whether or not she’s going to come back.
I have a bit of hope, based on the ending to “Meet John Smith,” that the writers are going to give Lianne a sympathetic justification for her actions, much like they did with Julia. Now, about that. I think that despite that Julia and Justin have a fairly happy ending, y’all need to stop with the whole twist ending that someone is trans because nope. This isn’t The Crying Game, and it feels crude and cruel to make a person’s experience a plot twist. Thankfully, there’s no egregious misgendering, Justin’s mom is clearly the awful one here, and Julia was portrayed as a caring parent who didn’t know how to deal with their wife’s violent, ostracizing transphobia. The writers also made it obvious that Julia didn’t do wrong here and that she did the best with her situation that she could at the time. Plus, Veronica has that amazing little monologue about how she would kill to know that her mother cared about her the way that Justin’s clearly did. It’s about love, right?
It’s not the most stunning handling of a trans woman, but I honestly expected worse once it all came together. I liked that it made Veronica realize that she had to find out if her mother loved her, too, and that’s why she left for Arizona shortly after helping Justin. Unfortunately, her quest for closure doesn’t end as well as it does for the other characters in this episode. Her mother is gone, and no one knows where she went. Despite that Lianne’s friend insists that Veronica’s mother cares about nothing more than her daughter, Veronica is left questioning that. Unlike Julia, Lianne hasn’t made the effort to show her child that she loves them.
Amidst this, though, Veronica also has to deal with how the case brings up her feelings for Duncan, too. They clash with how she feels for Troy, and it’s remarkably complicated for Veronica to cope with. She likes Troy, she’s attracted to him, and yet she still can’t bring herself to open up to him. That’s why it’s significant that she goes to him at the end of “Meet John Smith.” She shows him that she’s willing to be vulnerable in his presence. I like that this wasn’t a sexual thing, either. It was about showing someone that you were willing to trust them when you were at a low point. That’s nice.
Obligatory shoutout to Wallace for being ceaselessly adorable throughout this episode. What a cutie, y’all.
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