If you want to spot the Veronica Mars fans in your life, just play Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” and see who tenses up. The original three-season run of Rob Thomas’ high school set neo-noir series (which now also includes a movie and later a fourth season) is sometimes silly, sometimes romantic, and sometimes mysterious, but it is never better than when it ratchets the tension up to almost unbearable levels, as in its first two season finales and the season three mid-season finale, “Spit & Eggs.”
It’s that last one that features the frantic dance beat in question, its repeated refrain following a bloodied Veronica (Kristen Bell) down the hallway of a college dorm as she runs full-tilt away from an unseen attacker in the episode’s opening moments. One of the series’ most-watched episodes, “Spit & Eggs” is shocking and tense, and it finally lays bare the true villain of the entire series: violent misogyny.
Sure, it has its occasional case-of-the-week episodes about missing dogs or internet scams, but Veronica Mars has actually been about the epidemic of violence against women ever since Neptune police laughed Veronica out of their precinct when she tried to report her rape in the pilot episode. In the seasons to follow, Veronica’s friends Mac (Tina Majorino), Parker (Julie Gonzalo), and Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) would all become rape survivors (Mac’s assault has been walked back but seems obvious), while other characters, like Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), Carrie Bishop (Leighton Meester), and Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter), would be revealed to have been a part of relationships they couldn’t fully consent to due to power imbalances. Even season two’s male villain, Cassidy Casablancas (Kyle Gallner), was ultimately revealed to be a victim of molestation, a fact that was the driving force behind the season’s mystery.
Rather than come across as an exploitative or unrealistic preoccupation, Veronica Mars’ persistent exploration of sexual violence is powerful and authentic, exploring the issue from many different viewpoints and presenting it as something that, while tragically common and immeasurably traumatic, is more than survivable with the right support. Years before campus rape was a common talking point on screen (see the series Sweet/Vicious and the documentary The Hunting Ground) and a decade before the #MeToo movement, the show’s Hearst College plot was boldly addressing everything from Greek life parties to GHB testing cards to campus safety ride programs, casting a noirish pall over the rarely-portrayed realities of a college woman’s life.
“Spit & Eggs” isn’t perfect — it includes the beginning of a separate mystery that’s a total non-starter and continues the season’s trend of making a feminist sorority look cartoonishly villainous — but the highly-rated episode is noteworthy both for its pulse-pounding suspense and its fearless, youth-oriented look at a long-ignored, often oversimplified problem.
From the outside, Veronica is a perfect personification of what every survivor wishes she could be; despite her small stature, she’s not afraid to stand up to the type of man who would hurt or belittle a woman, regularly laying out bad dudes with a sharp retort or her trusty taser and looking cool while she does it. Yet “Spit & Eggs” lets us see her cracks, as Logan (Jason Dohring) breaks up with her early in the episode, citing the way that she’s not built to let people help her — ”I’m here if you need anything, but you never need anything.” She puts on a brave face about it, telling Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac that she’s fine, but then cries in the shower. After being hurt over and over, she forces herself to be invulnerable except in brief moments that no one else can see.
Noir is a genre that revels in exposing the underbelly of society, usually through the eyes of a jaded protagonist, and Veronica Mars gives its protagonist several good reasons to be jaded. Yet, like any good heroine — and like many survivors with unprocessed trauma — she tends to find herself in harm’s way again and again. This time, it’s at a fraternity party where the Hearst rapist has claimed he’ll choose his next victim. Veronica enlists Mac, Wallace, and Piz (Chris Lowell) to help her scout out and safeguard potential victims. Eventually, a girl whose drink tested positive for date-rape drugs goes missing, and a mix-up causes Logan to look for her in the wrong location. Veronica heads to the girl’s dorm, and all hell breaks loose.
Logan’s friend Mercer (Ryan Devlin) — hot, sarcastic Mercer, who we thought had an alibi — comes into the darkened room and begins talking to the blanket-covered figure in bed whom he thinks is his drugged prey. He turns up the music (”Right here! Right now!”) and dances a little as he begins to undress. And in the vein of all great villains, he explains himself: he could get any girl he wants, he says coldly, but he hates hearing them talk, so he prefers to drug them. “I’m just taking what you would’ve happily given!” he insists. “I mean, that’s hardly a crime.”
The sequence that follows — in which his would-be target reveals herself to be a very awake Veronica, and the two engage in a knock-down, drag-out brawl — is a feat of filmmaking involving taut, quick edits and countless camera angles. The tension of the episode’s climax, which lasts for nearly the entirety of the episode’s final 10 minutes, is almost unbearable for a first-time viewer. The music, direction, and acting by Bell and Devlin work together to keep your eyes glued to the screen, and the episode possesses a level of intensity and energy that the series has never quite achieved again since. And with a truncated nine-episode mystery starting off its third season, the Hearst rapist plot gave viewers less time to do the guesswork than past seasons did, making its double whammy of a reveal a sick shock to many fans.
The action is quick and brutal; Veronica tases Mercer, who then drags her by the leg, and she smacks her head in the process. He turns up the music even louder to cover the sounds of her struggle and yanks her up by the hair. She regains her bearings and claws at his face before finally stabbing him in the leg with the horn of a nearby unicorn figurine. She’s safe! No, wait, she’s not. We’re only now getting back to that in media res cold open, and as she runs down the hall again, the man and that endless club beat chasing after her, she bumps into meek, geeky resident adviser Moe (Andrew McClain). Cut to his room, where he’s given her a blanket and a warm drink while he says he’s going to get the police. We barely have time to think before Veronica notices a picture of Moe and Mercer on his bulletin board, and when she stands to examine it, her vision is blurry.
The details of the Hearst rapist case are some of the most lurid and memorable of the series, like something out of Criminal Minds rather than a CW teen drama. As Veronica hides in Moe’s closet, attempting to call her dad, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), through the fog of date-rape drugs, she notices a hammer on the shelf above her. She reaches for it, and when she does, she knocks loose a box of blonde hair that comes cascading down on her. It’s a truly disturbing moment. Moe, it turns out, is Mercer’s accomplice, shaving the heads of his victims and keeping their hair as a souvenir, all while submitting fully to him in a relationship forged by a morally murky Stanford Prison Experiment project the two were once subjected to during a class they took together. Moe, who drove the Take Back the Night public safety vehicle, had a direct line to the drunkest girls at every party.
It’s enough to make your stomach churn — creative and strange and dark, even by Veronica Mars standards. But Thomas, who wrote and directed “Spit & Eggs,” was never going to give the bad guys the last laugh. Earlier in the episode, Veronica took a rape whistle from a public safety booth, half-joking as she did that she has no faith anyone would ever actually come running. But as she sits in Moe’s room, drugged and at the mercy of two assailants, she begins to blow the whistle. It’s a faint, thin sound, but Parker, Mac’s roommate who was also victimized by the rapist, hears it down the hall. She comes out in the corridor, where she sees Mercer trying to sneak by, and despite her palpable fear, she yells “Rape!” several times. Several male students open their doors to investigate, and they immediately come to her support, questioning Mercer and Moe.
In a brief coda, Keith Mars catches the two men and sends them to jail. Upon hearing about their arrest, Logan, in perhaps his most on-brand messed-up romantic gesture ever, wordlessly goes to a diner and beats the shit out of a cop car in front of two off-duty officers, all for the express purpose of getting into a cell with Mercer. As he said earlier in the episode, he’s not great at staying on the sidelines, and — no doubt plagued by his own unhealthy learned attitudes about violence — he’s rearing to fight on Veronica’s behalf.
In fact, every main character in the series helps Veronica in their own way in “Spit & Eggs,” a contrast that’s touchingly opposite her isolation after her own rape in season one. Mac, still recovering from a trauma of her own, comes out of her self-imposed social isolation to test drinks at the party, with Piz and Wallace helping. Parker points the finger, Keith catches the bad guys, and Logan presumably gives them a bit of karma. Even strangers come to Veronica’s aid when the moment of truth arrives. For a show that would only continue to get darker in its later iterations, “Spit & Eggs” is a suspenseful, climactic outing that ultimately brings a little bit of light to the neo-noir town of Neptune, showing us what a united front of powerful, vocal survivors looks like years before our real-life cultural reckoning.