Chris (chrisjournal) wrote,

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POV, subtlety, and character perception in Veronica Mars

In a rambly fashion, I recently commented to valancy that I loved the subtle way pov functions in Veronica Mars.  And she asked what I meant...  I tried to explain myself in a comment and found that I'd run out of space before I could even get to the point.  It's honestly a concept that I have a hard time making linear enough to write out.  I'm sure if I'd been more interested in lit crit classes than classical rhetorical theory in college, I'd be able to point directly at the proper name of what I'm talking about and then expound knowledgeably about its use in VM. 

Lacking that background, I'm just going to babble on merrily about it, because even if the technicalities are lacking, the VM love abounds.  And maybe the discussion will attract someone who knows what I'm talking about better than I do.  I'd love to be educated hint hint.

And be warned:  it's long.

First, it's probably useful to define 'subtle' as I mean it.  On the surface, it's hard to fathom labeling the use of pov subtle in a show that's named after the pov character, is partially narrated first-person by same character, and in which the title character is in a ridiculously huge percentage of scenes.  So: subtle.  And to put it in partly fannish terms:  "not of the anvil nature" and "as related to subtext."

It's not so much that it isn't very, very obviously Veronica's point of view that we see, but the effect that pov has on me as a viewer that I find exceptionally well done, layered, and very much non-obvious.   I'm repeating myself from the earlier comment here, but it comes out inside-out, with a variation on unreliable narration:  Veronica's telling us the story, we're definitely seeing it through her eyes, but she's busy telling us about how her life used to be and that the story is about Lilly's murder.  But by watching the story play out on our televisions, we can see perfectly well that there is a huge gap between the world as she sees it and the world the way it is.  It's like...somebody help me out with terminology here, *please*...third person omniscient narration shoved inside purely first person narration.  I think this what I am struggling to say:  the writers on this show manage to effectively put me as viewer in the position of feeling as if I am telling--in-- the story.  Yes!  That's what I mean.  And I won't say that this is the same thing that makes me a BtVS girl at heart rather than an AtS girl at heart.

Anyway, there were two examples of this that came up.   First, the one that I was about to go into when I realized my post was too long for comments on LJ:  Veronica as a cold fish, though I think that one's really more accurately labeled 'mixed audience perceptions of Veronica Mars.'  Then second, the one that got valancy asking questions in the first place:  falling in love with Logan. 

It's fairly typical of readers/viewers, as well as *many* creators/writers, to want to pigeonhole their characters quickly -- it creates a feeling of familiarity and a bond of "I know what she's all about" -- identification happens and shows draw audiences that are loyal fans.  The vast majority of Hollywood is all about sticking to the formula:  define your character and don't stray, or the viewers will.  And perhaps that is true.  But I tend to get bored with this after a while.  I want my characters to grow and change.  When they don't, the show gets stale.  This is *not* a problem for me in VM, although I guess it could very well prove to be a problem for RT and company, ratings wise.  From where I sit, it's brilliance.  

It's safe to say that viewers of the show have had mixed reactions to Veronica as a character over the span of the season.  Even within episodes.  Taking the finale as the example, a goodly number of reactions (positive and negative) complained about Veronica's characterization.  I've seen takes on it that range from 'she's a complete bitca who totally dissed my poor woobie' to the more common 'she's cold,' 'that's not the Veronica I know,' 'she's a user,' and 'when did she turn stupid?' 

I may be reading much more than is really present in the intentions of the writing team, but I think it's a factor of the inverted pov they use in the the show.  What we see on our screens, these mixed views of Veronica as a character, are intended.  I mean, how do you suppose Veronica feels about herself?  It's fucking phenomenal writing that they can make me feel about her the way logic tells me she *must* feel about herself:  I'm a bitch.  I don't care about anyone or anything.  What's *wrong* with me, to be doing this?  How could I do that to ***?  What was I thinking??

She's not giving us voice over on it, for the most part.  And even when she does give us voice-over, it's hardly reliable as to the state of the world or its affairs or herself, really.  I mean, Veronica tells us that her life used to be perfect, and we know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it wasn't.  It's all in the twisted pov we get.  Why would a writing team intentionally send such mixed messages to an audience?  Because it *makes us feel exactly what Veronica Mars is feeling*. 

Which leads beautifully into the secondary example I mentioned earlier.   The use of pov in VM to create emotional attachment to characters in the story is amazingly well done.   I told valancy that I think I've fallen for Logan more because Veronica has than because of any inherent attraction I might have for either the character or actor involved.  I say this because I've pretty much systematically eliminated other possible reasons why I'd be so head over heels for this relationship and character.  I started off expecting to be entirely on the Veronica/Duncan train, rooting for Cinderella to get her prince, and to want to read fan fiction with Veronica/Weevil doing the nasty.  Somewhere in the process, Wallace became a defacto brother, Duncan became obnoxiously passive aggressive and *entirely* wrong for Veronica, Weevil lost his shine, and I fell in love, or at least lust, with Logan Echolls.  We could make a game of that:  mark the points in time where Veronica's feelings about the various men in her life changed by where *your* feelings changed...see how it fits.  Some would call it manipulation, I suppose, and a cheap writers' trick.   Manipulation, in my mind, is something altogether different.  Manipulation is what I call it when I *notice* the tricks while they're being played.  I have to have time and distance and spend serious analytical thought to find the tricks being played here.   To realize that I started feeling sympathy for Logan pretty much at the same place in the story where Veronica did, that I was suspicious as hell when he went to her for help and shocked *out of my gourd* when she kissed him and then he kissed her back. 

I kind of got astray from that process of elimination, didn't I?  So back on track...

Logan's about as far from 'type' for me to fall in lust with as it's possible to get.  Jason Dohring is not physically gorgeous or stunningly beautiful (Spike).  He's not the dark, rakish anti-hero (Methos).   He's not the classic leading man with pure intentions and a heart of gold (too many to name).  He's a cute looking boyman with a chipmunk face, ordinary brown eyes and hair that's...okay with some overtly classist and possibly racist tendencies, an insensitivity to the pain of other people, and a downright asshole.  Sure, there are reasons or explanations for some of that, and a phenomenal backstory of battered child/poor-little-rich-boy, but those are pretty much truths about Logan Echolls.  Definitely doesn't fit my model for fantasy leading man.

I don't ordinarily go for the woobie psychology, either -- lost soul is far from attractive to me in a fantasy partner.  The assholish behavior he had, especially in the beginning?  Pissed me off completely, and I *didn't* see chemistry there.  In the torture fest that constituted my high school years, I HATED with a bloody passion boys like Logan and Dick and Duncan.  As an adult, I pretty much feel the same way.  About the only thing I can credit to the actor/character that's on my "list of wow factors" is the voice.  JD's voice is like pure chocolate to my soul.  But that's hardly enough to win me over, and I've fallen hard for Logan.  Moreover, I've fallen for Logan and Veronica, together.  Much to my dismay.  The labels being thrown around in the fandom around V/L shippers don't exactly make me want to hop on board and be called a Loganista. But the bottom line is, I am.  And I think I will be, until Veronica changes her mind.  

It's not like with other pairings I've loved in other fandoms -- I'm not driven by wanting to see him happy, and therefore wanting to see him with whoever he wants to be with, and if that's Veronica, then so be it.  I actively dislike the notion of him with other girls (though the powerful slash vibes there with Weevil would probably content me, and the utter fuckedupness that with Duncan would create appeal to the fic reader in me, at least).  He hates her, he mistreats her, he goes to her for help, he kisses her, he wants her to trust him, he lies to her, he wants her to off herself...whatever he feels about Veronica, it seems highly unlikely that he's ever thought, "Gee, she's the only thing in the world that will make me happy."  So that can't be what's motivating me. 

It really all comes down to the effect the story is having on me.  And when I try to isolate *why* the story has this effect on me, it feels too simplistic to say "they gave him a great character" and "the acting is fabulous."   While both are true statements, that's not enough in other cases, so there must be something more than that going on here.  I lay it at the feet of the writing itself, the concept and method of delivery (pov being the primary delivery mechanism) of the show itself.  Because it does such a complex and layered job of describing Veronica to us, I am Veronica's bitch.

Do the writers really do it on purpose, or is it just Chris projecting her own wank on them?  We could analyze the text and subtext to try to make a call, but it's still interpretive games.  I do know I've seen a similar effect in other series television that was critically acclaimed, so there's at least some likelihood that it is, in fact, a viable and intentional storytelling method. 

Is it good writing, or bad?  Obviously I think it's *excellent*.  Your mileage will certainly vary on that count. 
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