This one starts with Keith showing Veronica an article in the paper about the E-String Strangler, a serial killer who strangles women with a guitar string. The Strangler had been around Neptune a couple years ago when Keith was still Sheriff and everyone thought he’d been caught committing similar crimes up in Oakland. Keith was never convinced the Oakland killer was the same guy, but the mayor wanted people to feel safe so he pushed Keith to link the crimes. Looks like the real E-String killer is back now, so I guess people can start freaking out again. (If you’re wondering why there’s no follow-up on last episode’s big cliffhanger with Aaron Echolls getting stabbed, it’s because this current episode was filmed before that one but aired afterwards for some reason. I’m following the airing sequence, so this one’s kinda out of place.
At school, Veronica is asked by a classmate to find some dirt on his parents, who grounded him for smoking. (Wallace: “Apparently you’ve never spent time in a black woman’s house; be glad you’re still walking.”) Veronica agrees to see what she can find (for a price), but warns him the 70s and 80s were not pretty. Across the quad, Madison Sinclair celebrates her birthday with a cake and a string quartet, and invites everyone (well, everyone whose parents are rich) to her birthday party, which is apparently an annual tradition. Later at Keith’s office, Sheriff Lamb and the mayor show up to ask Keith to help find the E-String Strangler. A serial killer wasting college girls isn’t good for the town’s image (or business) and Keith is the closest thing to an expert they have on the killer. He agrees to work with Lamb and the Sheriff’s department to catch the bastard. Veronica figures that’ll give Keith the chance to check out the Tip Line recording from when Lilly was killed, to see who the tipster was, but Keith says that’s not on his agenda.
At school, Veronica gives her classmate some dirt on his parents (a drug bust and a bunch of speeding tickets) and word gets around, bringing more students who want to turn the tables on their hypocritical parents. At the Sheriff’s office, Keith gives the cops the profile of the E-String Strangler (which turns out to be a name made up by the press; the girls asphyxiated from being left in a closed space and the guitar strings were placed around their necks after death). Lamb resents Keith’s help and ends up making himself look stupid by constantly interrupting. Meanwhile Veronica has been digging up dirt for more classmates (one girl’s mother ran away to L.A. as a teenager and ended up playing the “bi-curious roommate” in a movie); Mac Mackenzie hears about Veronica’s little side hustle and comes to see her after school.
Mac says she can turn Veronica’s dirt-digging into a website where they’d charge $100 per person to ferret out secrets. Mac figures they can make a shitload of money off of it, but Veronica says she can barely handle school and her existing cases now. Mac asks Veronica to check her parents out, since she’s always felt a little out of place with them. (They’re nachos and NASCAR people and Mac is more falafels and Fellini.) Veronica finds out that Mac’s parents won a million dollar lawsuit against Neptune hospital fourteen years ago. Mac knows nothing about it and asks Veronica to dig deeper. She goes through the newspaper archives and finds a story about two babies being accidentally switched at birth. The truth didn’t come out until a few years later and both couples decided to keep the kids they’d been raising, but they each were awarded damages. No wonder Mac felt out of place. But if the story was reported in the local paper (even with the names left out) you’d think it would’ve been relatively easy to figure out who was involved. That seems like the kind of thing everyone in town would know.
Keith and Lamb go to a guitar shop to see if the string found at the murder scene is anything special. The local guitar whiz is too busy shredding to pay much attention to them, but when they threaten to take him downtown he cooperates, shutting a soundproof door to block the noise of his garage band-in-training. The string is nothing special and the budding guitar god gets mouthy, so they leave. Veronica goes to Mac’s house (which is very Middle-America, right down to her bratty brother and her mom barging in with snacks) and tells Mac what she found out. After a little more digging, Veronica found out who the other couple was in the baby-switching mess … Madison Sinclair’s parents. So yeah, Mac is technically Cindy Sinclair and Madison should be Madison Mackenzie.
At the police station, Keith and Lamb talk to the bartender at the club where the murdered girl was last seen, but he isn’t helpful. (Actually, he’s kind of a dick.) Veronica comes by with Keith’s lunch and meets Leo D’Amato, a new cop. Veronica asks him to put her dad’s lunch in the fridge and snoops around a bit. When Leo comes back, they kinda flirt a little and he mentions he’ll be there alone later. Veronica says she’ll come back and visit him, figuring it’ll be a great opportunity to get into the evidence locker and look for the Tip Line tape. The bartender tells Keith and Lamb about a dude named the Worm who shoots video of all the drunk girls at the bar and sells them. They go to see the Worm (who’s busy jacking off to another video tape) and they notice he has a guitar in his place. Lamb’s ready to grab him but Keith says they have to play it cool until they get a warrant, otherwise the Worm will destroy all the evidence.
At school, Mac says she wants to crash Madison’s birthday party to see how the other half lives … especially since should be part of the other half. Veronica says it’s a bad idea, but ends up going anyway (along with Wallace). They bluff their way in and Mac is dismayed to see the life she might’ve had: the Sinclairs have traveled all over the world and have a library stuffed full of books. Mac meets Madison’s little sister (Lauren) a precocious kid who’s reading the Westing Game. Mac has an instant rapport with her, but Madison comes in and gets all snotty, kicking Madison and Veronica out. Mac wonders why their parents didn’t just trade kids back and Veronica says they must’ve gotten attached to the kids they’d been raising. Mac wonders what happened to the million bucks her parents got from the lawsuit and asks Veronica to keep digging.
The case against the Worm (real name Eddie) is looking good; his guitar strings matched those on the victims and it turns out he wasn’t selling the video tapes, he was keeping them for his “personal use”. Later, Veronica comes by the police station when Leo’s there alone to share a pizza with him. Weevil comes in and distracts Leo with a noise complaint, giving Veronica time to sneak into the evidence locker and lift the Tip Line recording. Afterwards, Leo and Veronica flirt some more and he tells her his best pick-up line is inviting girls to check out his band at a club. But since Veronica’s only 17, that won’t work with her. (In case you’re wondering, Leo is 20.)
Later Veronica listens to the Tip Line recordings and hears the tip that got Abel Koontz arrested. The voice is obviously distorted, so Veronica asks Mac to decipher it. Keith sees one of the dead girls on a tape they took from Eddie’s place and goes to tell Lamb, but Lamb already has Eddie in custody because he saw another of the victims on a tape too. They interrogate Eddie, who’s obviously got some mental problems, but he’s smart enough to ask for a lawyer. Keith wonders where Eddie could’ve kept the girls, since evidence shows they were held for 48 hours before being killed; Eddie’s place has pretty thin walls and he doesn’t have any other property. Lamb is convinced they have the right guy and tells Keith he’ll handle it from here. Veronica sends Mac the digital recording and tells her she found out what happened to the lawsuit money. Mac’s dad started a business selling cars, but it went bankrupt and he ended up working as a salesperson for the new owners. Veronica tells Mac not to do anything stupid, but Mac’s way ahead of her.
She goes to the Sinclair house to get the purse she “accidentally” left there the other night. Mrs. Sinclair seems to recognize her (there is a strong resemblance) and is really nice to her. They have an instant rapport, just like Mac had with Lauren. Madison is still snotty to her and as soon as she gets her purse, Mac leaves, even though it’s obvious Mrs. Sinclair would like her to stick around for a while. At the police station, a woman comes in to say her daughter is missing, so apparently Eddie isn’t the killer after all. New evidence points to the bartender from the club, who’s disappeared. Keith gets paranoid about Veronica, who’s not answering her phone. He activates a tracking app and traces her to a garage in a sketchy neighbourhood.
When he busts in, he finds her watching Leo’s band rehearse; I guess his line worked after all. Keith apologizes for embarrassing her and notices the DIY soundproofing on the walls. He gets an idea and tells Leo to come with him. They head over to the guitar shop, which has a soundproofed back room and find a wristband from the club where the girls were abducted outside. Keith busts in and finds the missing girl locked in a safe. The guitar shop owner (who turns out to be the killer) tries to bash Keith’s head in, but Leo tackles him. The guy starts strangling Leo, but Keith threatens to blow his head off. Later, Veronica thanks Leo for saving her dad and finds out he’s been suspended; apparently, someone took his keys the other night and left the evidence room unlocked. Veronica doesn’t say anything, but Leo knows it was her. So much for that romance.
Veronica goes to see Mac the next day, to hear her cleaned up recordings of the Tip Line call. Mac plays several versions and Veronica recognizes one of them. Mac has to leave because she’s going on a cross-country camping trip with her family. As they’re getting ready to leave, Mrs. Sinclair stops across the road and watches them. Mac goes over and they give each other a look that says they both know the truth, but Mac chooses to go with her family on the camping trip. Makes sense, since it’s the only family she’s ever known … warts and all. Meanwhile, Veronica decides to get a little payback on the guy who called in the (false) Abel Koontz tip, who just happens to be Clarence Wiedman, head of security for Kane Software, and the guy who scared Veronica’s mom out of town by sending her threatening photos of Veronica. Veronica takes photos of Wiedman and sends them to his office, just to let him know it’s on.