Veronica Mars Season 1, Episode 3 – Meet John Smith

Okay, I’m enjoying these recaps so much – I hope someone is reading them and laughing, because I laugh writing them. So here we are! Episode 3, let’s go!

Previously On…

A recap of what’s important to know before watching this episode (as told by the creators):

  • Duncan was V’s boyfriend!
  • Lilly was murdered!
  • Mr. Mars ruined his reputation by blaming Jake Kane for Lilly’s murder and was run out of office.
  • Lianne Mars, V’s mom, left eight months ago.

The Play by Play

So we immediately start at school, where these three boys that we’ve never seen before are assessing how hot girls are. Cool cool. Don’t love it. They first assess a rando girl, and then one of the boys, I’m going to call him Kid for now, starts talking about V, saying he has seen her in the video store he works out. Kid’s friend says that V is an 8.5, tops, and Kid says that being a PI makes her a 9, at least. DON’T LOVE IT.

Troy joins V and talks about how he’s going to go sailing this weekend. He makes a bunch of jokes to flirt with V, and she falls for it, hook, line, and sinker. It’s kind of cute. Sort of. Mostly. I have reservations about Troy… for no real reason, honestly. As Troy walks away, V’s books get knocked out of her arms, and Duncan helps her pick them up.

After school, Duncan is floating in the pool, listening to music. His dad asks him if he’s going to do something soon, and suggests interning with a senator over the summer or something like that. Duncan is NOT interested. He just puts his headphones back in and goes back to floating… which is relatable, honestly.

V and Mr. Mars are eating dinner, and he reveals that the guidance counselor reached out to him and wants to meet. Mr. Mars asks questions about why she might want to meet with him, and V deflects the questions before asking about why her mom might have been meeting Jake Kane at the Camelot two weeks earlier. Mr. Mars doesn’t entertain these questions, tells her to stay away from the investigation, and angrily gets up from the table. I guess that’s the end of THAT conversation.

Flash to Duncan eating dinner with his parents. They’re talking about him as if he isn’t there, and Jake says he just wants Duncan to be passionate about something again.

In the awkwardness, V leaves to go to the library.

Duncan also gets up and says he’s going to Shelly Pomroy’s house. He’s given at 11 pm curfew. SEEMS A LITTLE LATE FOR A SCHOOL NIGHT. But what do I know, I wasn’t raise with a bajillion dollars.

Now we flash to Duncan and V making out in the backseat of a car… is this a flashback? NOPE. V is dreaming about Duncan. Oh boy.

Can we sidebar about Duncan for a second? The boy is the most white bread character on this show so far, I think. Why is V into him? Why was she in the first place? Did he used to be fun? Do we know? Are we going to find out. Okay okay, let’s go back to the recap.

The theme song plays and we’re off to the races.

So now we’re at the video store, and Random Lady returns a movie that Kid had recommended to her. Right after, V and Mr. Mars walk in, arguing about the movie Slapshot. I want to note that V has Princess Leia hair. It’s not great, but it does show her amazingly sharp jawline. Kid asks V to talk about something private. She recommends that he find her at school the next day. And wouldn’t you know? Mr. Mars rents Slapshot again. (This reminds me of my dad HARD lol.)

In the Kane household, Duncan drinks milk right from a nearly full half gallon container! Who does that?! He’s a monster! His mom then reminds him to take his antidepressant and babbles on about how everyone’s doing it, basically. But then he accidentally drops the pill down the drain… and he just lets it go.

At school the next day, V sees Duncan and Logan and is suddenly sad while people pass around her in the hallway. It’s possibly the most 2000s shot in the show so far. And that’s including all the outfits! Troy bumps into her, and she smiles and asks him out! His response is “Finally! The girl comes to her senses!” It’s kind of a great response. And let me tell you why! Sure, Troy was laying it on pretty thick, and I didn’t love everything that he was saying and doing. However! He doesn’t force anything on V. He’s not creepily stalking her or anything. He just uses the opportunities he gets to flirt with her and he waits for her to decide whether she wants to go on a date with him. I don’t love Troy. There’s something fishy about him that I can’t put my finger on. But in this sense, he’s ahead of his time as a character on a show.

As V and Troy walk away, Logan and Duncan kind of follow them. The visuals that Veronica Mars uses to hop between storylines are very seamless like this. It makes it easy on the viewer and difficult on the recapper, because there’s so much hopping between storylines. But I’m doing my best to make it work! Anyway, Logan and Duncan are having this stupid conversation about how they hate it when girls talk when they’d rather be making out, I presume. It’s slightly horrifying, but true to the culture they were raised in as spoiled, rich boys. Logan then points out that Troy is all up in V’s business. Duncan, for his part, responds with “Let it be, Logan.” And then he promptly runs to the bathroom to throw up. What I liked about this scene, though, is that, when he looks in the mirror after, it looks like he’s seeing clearly for the first time in a long time. The narrative we’re getting this episode is that white-bread-Duncan was a cool guy once, but his head is in a cloud of antidepressants now. Logan is waiting for him outside the bathroom holding his backpack, and Duncan tells him he’s never been better.

At this point, V pulls Kid into the women’s bathroom, and Logan kind of laughs and goes “That girl is seriously whack.” W H A C K. Hey 2004, I see you. Lololol. Also of note – this is the first time V uses the women’s bathroom as her “office” at school… but definitely not the last.

So Kid wants V to help him find his absent dad. This seems bogus to me as a viewer because he doesn’t know a single piece of identifying information about said dad. Just that his name is John Smith. HELPFUL.

Mr. Mars meets with the Guidance Counselor, who I’m going to call GC from now on because I never remember her name, but she’s a player for a little bit of time here. GC tells Mr. Mars that V is an excellent student and that she has a great mind. However, she’s noticed some dramatic changes in the last year – V’s been late, showing attitude, etc. Mr. Mars doesn’t take this super well, but GC is pretty understanding. She recommends that someone try to talk to her about it, and he says he’s more than capable, then leaves.

Back in the Kane house, Celeste Kane suggests that Duncan see a life coach, and Jake laughs and laughs. Duncan, for his part, completely ignores all of this and stands up to make a toast… to Molly, their former dog who was rehomed several years ago. He calls Molly the best friend a boy could have. Yikes. Then he leaves the table and his parents are left pretty speechless.

At school the next day, Kid reveals to his friends that he’s paying V to look for his long-lost dad… who is dead. His friends laugh at his genius, but you have to know that isn’t going to go over well with V.

At the Mars Investigations office, V and Wallace are setting up this scheme to get the real John Smith to notify them of his existence. Wallace and Mr. Mars meet for the first time! V explains the scheme to her dad, who asks Wallace why he’s helping her. He starts to say that she promised him all the answer keys to something… I think math. And then, at a sharp look from V, says, “she promised to be his friend.” Lololol. Nice save, Wallace.

At that point, V asks Wallace for her own personnel file, which he readily agrees to get for her. She wants to know what the guidance counselor is saying about her to her dad.

In the Kane house the next morning, Duncan throws away another pill.

At school, Wallace teases V while he reads through her personnel file. As they’re joking around, Kid appears. He made a mixtape for V, in case she’s going to do any stakeouts or anything. When he leaves, Wallace busts up, and V then asks for Kid’s personnel file.

That night, V goes on a date with Troy. He tells this weird, funny story about strapping a fin to his back and pretending to be a shark on the beach with Duncan. He says Duncan “saved his life.” Okay, listen. It’s super weird that you’re dating your ex’s friend, V. It’s not going to get Duncan back. But I know I’m screaming into the void with this one, having seen future episodes. Anyway! He makes some quip about changing the song and smacks the radio thing on their table. He says “if that had worked, I would have expected sex.” And she responds, “if that had worked, you would have gotten it.” I know they’ve been flirting and all that, but that line really rubbed me the wrong way. You’re in high school. I know that doesn’t really matter, but no matter what, sex should never be EXPECTED. It’s something that needs to be given freely and CONSENTFULLY, and this conversation is gross. However, it’s made up for. They leave the restaurant, and I want to point out how terribly 2004 V’s outfit is. Blue layered tank tops with a plaid miniskirt and chunky calf-high brown boots. Just YIKES. Very yikes. At V’s car, she’s babbling, and Troy leans in to kiss her… and she LEANS AWAY. At which point, to Troy’s credit, he sees what happened, reaches out to shake her hand, and then walks to his own car and leaves. V, on the other hand, has regrets.

She tries to sneak back home, but Mr. Mars is waiting up and asks about her date, which gives us this gem of a conversation:

Mr. Mars: How as your date?

V: Oh, you know. The conversation was lousy, but the sex was fantastic.

Mr. Mars: That’s not funny.

It WAS funny, actually. I’m still chortling a bit. I just love their father-daughter relationship.

That same night, it seems, Duncan is making out with a blond girl in the backseat of a car, and I assume it’s another of V’s dreams. But no, this is real! And Duncan calls the girl “Veronica” by mistake, which she clearly notices and is not pleased about.

At school, V receives Kid’s personnel file – Kid’s name is actually Justin. Aaaaaand she realizes his dad is dead. So, being V, she confronts him and makes him read part of his own personnel file aloud so that he has to actually tell her that his dad is dead. And then, after all of this, one of the scholarship letters gets returned to him with a note… FROM HIS DAD! The plot thickens.

Back at home, Mr. Mars tells V she has a visitor. He describes said visitor as “pint sized, desperate, not having a good day.” Super accurate description of Justin, and I appreciated it. V goes to the door and talks to him, and he pleads with her to help him. He talked to his mom, and she was pissed, so now he needs to know. V agrees to help him and starts trying to track down who sent the letter back.

As V is doing this research, Mr. Mars comes back and tries to comfort V, saying he doesn’t want her to think her mother is a villain like Justin thinks his dad is. But V says this in response, making Mr. Mars realize that maybe he isn’t going to be able to talk to her really at all.

“The hero is the one who stays. The villain is the one who splits.”

What we learn after Mr. Mars leaves her room, though, is that she knows where her mom is, and she’s just biding her time until her mom comes looking for her.

The next day after school (or some time), Duncan, Logan, Dick, and some others are on the bleachers watching a lacrosse practice. Logan pokes at Duncan until Duncan wants to fight with him, but then he starts singing “Summer Lovin'” instead?? It’s weird and funny, but mostly weird. Dick’s friend then does a backflip off the bleachers, landing on a padded mat on the ground. Duncan looks up to see V and Troy kissing and he decides to try jumping off the bleachers too. But he pops right off the mat, hitting his head. V stops kissing Troy and runs to Duncan’s aid. His head is bleeding, and V and Troy get him into V’s car so V can take him to the hospital.

On the ride, Duncan asks her, “Remember how things used to be?” She has some inner dialogue about how she remembers everything tragic that has happened between them, but verbally says “Not really, no.”

Jake Kane shows up at the doctor’s office, and he more or less kicks V out. So she leaves. The doctor says that Duncan doesn’t have any fractures, and Jake verbalizes again that he doesn’t understand what Duncan was thinking. So Duncan kicks Jake out.

Meanwhile, V goes looking for the San Diego John Smiths to take pictures for Justin to identify.

Random Lady is back at the video store asking for a movie that needs to be ordered. Justin takes her order, since she’s a regular customer who always tries to work with Justin in particular.

Duncan talks to his doctor about going off antidepressants. The doctor describes the symptoms related to stopping taking them cold turkey, and Duncan agrees that he’s made most of the symptoms, but that it’s worth it.

Mr. Mars goes back to GC and apologizes. She gets a call and spills her coffee everywhere. This exchange is really flirty! Mr. Mars agrees that GC should be the one to talk to V. As he’s leaving, GC goes, “Sheriff Mars? You always had my vote.” OOOOOOOH.

V shows Justin the pictures she took of the different John Smiths. He eliminates all but one. He says it could maybe be him, and he wants to go in person to see. He shows V the cut up pictures that he found with his mom, where a hand is visible. So much to go on! But after school, they start tailing John Smith. But Justin is terrible at this. He hops out of V’s car and approaches the guy, talking to him! Not good not good not good. He says it’s not the guy, but V notices that the handwriting on a grocery list is the same as the note Justin got.

Duncan is napping on a couch at his home, and he hallucinates Lilly, all bloody and in the clothes she died in. She tells him that the murder doesn’t make sense, and she wants him to wake up. Something is missing! This freaks Duncan out, you can imagine.

V and Justin go to John Smith’s house. V breaks into the garage, where she’s confronted by the same guy, who she thinks is John Smith. She accuses him of being a criminal, and he says he’s a parole officer. But then another car pulls in, a classic one… and it’s Random Lady from the video store. Julia. Julia is his dad – she’s trans. This leads to a very uncomfortable conversation about being trans and how it was something Julia had to do. Justin calls her a “circus freak,” which I do not condone. I’ll talk more about this stuff in a little bit, but I’m going to continue to refer to Julia from this point forward by her name and female pronouns, just for clarification.

V drives Justin back home. She points out that Julia drives 90 miles each week to see Justin for a few seconds. She compares Julia and Justin’s situation to her mom, who she hasn’t seen in almost a year.

When V gets home, she decides it’s time for her to go see her mom.

That same morning, Duncan takes his antidepressant. The hallucination of Lilly was too much for him. He wasn’t ready for it. V says hi to him at school and asks him about his head, but he’s back to being surly Duncan. This must have been so confusing to V, but it’s never explained further.

Mr. Mars runs into GC at a coffee place… this seems serendipitous until you remember that she spilled coffee in her office and he was able to see the label on the cup! So he waited there to bump into her. Sneaky sneaky, Mr. Mars.

At the video store, Justin calls Julia to tell her that the movie she ordered was in. Tears are running down his face as he does it, but it’s very sweet. He tells Julia when he’ll be working next, and it sounds like she plans to pick up the movie then.

V drives to Arizona and arrives at a trailer park looking for her mom. Instead, she finds Lianne’s college roommate, who tells V that her mom left a couple weeks ago without saying where she was going. “You’re all she cares about,” the roommate says. V responds, “Mark me down as skeptical.”

The last scene of this episode is V sitting on the hood of her car, calling Troy. She tells him that she’s outside his house. He comes out and pulls V into his arms, where she cries.


The Episode Mystery

The mystery this episode starts out fake and ends up being real – Veronica helps Justin find his missing dad, who is not dead after all. Julia is trans and transitioned, and Justin’s mom wasn’t okay with it, she she pretended (and told her son) that she was dead. It’s actually pretty on the nose, if you think about it – John Smith is her dead name, so yeah… he IS dead. But Julia is alive and well and wanted to see her son. I’m going to discuss more about the handling of this below.


The Overall Mystery

Slight progress was made this episode!

  • Who killed Lilly Kane?

No investigating was done, but through a hallucination, Duncan realizes that he doesn’t believe the pieces quite add up in Lilly’s murder as he knows it right now. This unnerves him, and he tries to numb himself again with the antidepressants. He’s not ready yet.

  • Who raped Veronica?

No progress is made in this episode.

  • Where is Lianne Mars?

Veronica thought she knew where her mom was, but Lianne left and went somewhere else several weeks early. The mystery continues…


What Aged Like a Dairy Product

There are several things I could quip about, such as some of V’s outfits, but this week, I’m going to talk about something real that did not age with the show. And that’s the trans representation.

The narrative here is that Julia is trans. She’s Justin’s father, and when she made her true self known to Justin’s mother, she was kicked out and Justin was told his father was dead. But she loves her son and drives 90 miles each week to the video store Justin works at so she can see him and see how he’s doing. It’s really sweet. And the show uses this as a plot point in a fairly relatable way – if you’re looking for someone long lost, you might not know them as their true selves. That’s understandable. However…

Veronica Mars, as a show, doesn’t do right by the trans community, although admittedly, they could have done worse. The term “trans” is never used in the episode – no word is used to describe the transition that Julia goes through at all, actually. But the words that ARE used at the ones that are biting. Telling your son that your father is dead because he wanted to live his life as a woman? Gross. Calling your father – whom you just found out is your best repeat video store customer – a circus freak? G R O S S. And sure, V handles it well in the way that she convinces Justin that Julia was at least trying to keep track of him. But she continues to use Julia’s old pronouns, which are now incorrect. They continue to refer to Julia as “Justin’s dad,” which isn’t incorrect but feels weird. I sort of wish we could get an update on this story now with more vocabulary and a modern sense of storytelling. It would be really interesting.

The huge bright spot in all of this is the parole officer who loves Julia now. It’s unspoken and undiscussed, but you can just tell. He knows about Justin, he understands why Julia has to drive to see him weekly, and he holds her when Justin says cruel things to her. I really liked seeing that.

I will say, it was pretty bold to tackle a topic like this in the third episode of a noir teen detective show. In 2004. And it could have been a lot worse. But the trans rep here was gross, on the whole.


What Aged Like a Fine Wine

While I wouldn’t call Troy a feminist or anything, he is super respectful of Veronica and what she wants. This was def not always the case in these early 2000s shows, and it’s nice to see. It feels modern, which is a point in favor of this show holding up… especially when the trans rep is the opposite, as stated above.


Rating

A reminder of the rating system:

  • Red = I couldn’t even get through this episode because it was so bad
  • Orange = Pushed through, hated everything
  • Yellow = Opposite of enjoyable, but had some bright spots
  • Green = This was mediocre!
  • Blue = A solid episode!
  • Purple = Television at it’s finest, 12/10, must watch repeatedly.

Okay, this is a tough episode to rate. Some of the rep was really bad, and some of Troy’s stuff was not my favorite, and you can tell that Veronica Mars as a show is still looking for its sweet spot. So I’m going to give Season 1, Episode 3 a GREEN rating. A mediocre episode.

Continue being a marshmallow, everyone!

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