Monday, August 22, 2011

Veronica Mars Revisited Part 2

In Part 1 of my glowing look back at the fantastic TV series Veronica Mars I cast some mild aspersions on the last two seasons of the show, stating that the level of interest and quality dropped slightly. Now I am here to rebuke myself and make amends by examining more closely the evolution of the characters and stories that came after the conclusion of season 1's epic Lily Kane murder mystery.

The first season of Veronica Mars was fraught with tension and darkness. Veronica was obsessed with discovering the truth of her best friend Lily's murder, and to a lesser degree the events of the night she was date raped. Even in the many episodes that were not specifically focused on these two personally relevant cases, the tension of Veronica's existence in the town of Neptune was a constant presence. Veronica and her father were outcasts, reviled by the community, albeit unfairly, and finding their only solace in doing their jobs, pursuing the truth regardless of outside opinion, and in the strength of their relationship. With the end of the season bringing a resolution to Lily's murder (in a gripping, terrifying, brutal climax) Veronica's belief that solving the case would return both her and her father's life to something resembling normalcy was left as an open-ended question. Could she possibly go back to the trusting, secure, naive life she once led? Would a restoration of the Mars reputation lead to comfort and security? Would life begin treating them more fairly?

The surprising season two premiere dealt with these issues in an interesting way. Veronica, after standing by Logan through an arrest for murder, becomes distressed and exasperated by his tendency to seek danger and incite violence. She breaks up with him and ends up back together with her first love Duncan, who, after leaving Meg, woos Veronica quietly and sweetly. She cuts down her hours working with her father and instead gets a job at the local coffee shop as a hostess and barista. In the wake of season one, she attempts to return to an orderly life, one where, as she says more than once in the premiere, "normal is the watchword."

However, Neptune is far from normal. Logan's arrest for murder of a PCH gang member and subsequent release incites public outcry at yet another example of the elite rich of Neptune getting their own brand of easy justice. The community becomes ever more polarized and aggressive, with attacks and reprisals occurring between the gangs and the 09ers. Veronica, despite her desire for neutrality, gets caught in the middle of this. Her new relationship with rich boy and popular jock is seen as her picking a side, returning to the 09ers from which she was once expelled. Most of her classmates regard it as a betrayal, that her year as an independent, rebellious girl, offering help to all comers and seeking fairness in all matters was an act. At first she seems determined to ignore public opinion and has, in effect, retired from the PI business. However, the writers found the perfect means by which to "pull her back in" without yet revealing some larger mystery: her best friend and all around example of a truly good person Wallace is accused of doing drugs and kicked out of the athletics program.

Her attempt to exonerate her best friend is successful, and shortly afterwards she is a witness, and near victim, to a tragic bus crash that ends the lives of the driver, one teacher, and six students, and puts Meg in the hospital in a coma. Thus we are given the long-form driving story arc of the season, as slowly Veronica discovers the crash was no accident and becomes increasingly driven to discover the truth, particularly after finding some links to the crash and Aaron Echolls, thus believing that she was the intended target and feeling all the guilt that comes with that.

The season as a whole shows us a Veronica that is still driven, still cynical, still short-tempered and mercilessly unforgiving towards immorality and deceit. And yet she is not the same girl that we saw the year before. The show maintains its darkness, its neo-noir elements, and Veronica, as always, is at the heart of it, getting herself into trouble (the scene in the River Stix where she is helpless at the hands of the Fitzpatricks is particularly horrifying) but she still seems happier than the girl we knew. Perhaps its the longer hair, or the lack of as many flashbacks to the good old days and their comparison to the present, and perhaps it is just the lessening of the burden on her shoulders and that of her father's. Whichever it is we get to see her smile more, we see her spend more time with her friends, we see a lighter banter, though no less witty and brilliant, between her and her father.

The tone doesn't remain peppered with lightness throughout, however, as the final few episodes of the season, with the mystery coming to a head, become darker and scarier than ever. The return of Aaron Echolls in his inevitable murder trial, which Veronica and her father both have large parts to play, as well as the discovery of an STD that could only have been contracted from the night she was date raped, bring back the two personal cases of the first year with all their weight added to the current bus crash murders. The finale gives us more resolution, more shock, and more gripping, stomach tightening tension and violence than any other episode. She solves the murders and solves her own rape but not without sacrifice and not without extreme danger. The last episode gives us explosions, gunshots, some brief torture to our hero, suicide, psychological torture, romantic evolution, another murder, and a surprisingly lovely graduation scene.

To take what was strongest in the first season and not only amplify it in the second, but find a way to make it more complex and mature, is an astounding feat. It would seem that to do so for the third season would be impossible. And that's why they didn't really try. Much like Veronica, the writers made the show grow up and evolve with each passing season, and college brings us a more crystallized version of what Veronica the adult (not that we've ever really seen her as a kid) will look like.

Season 3 shows us Veronica as a freshman in the local Hearst College, seemingly content in her rekindled relationship with Logan, naturally acing her Criminology class, making new friends by solving minor cases, and still living happily at home with her father. Even more content and self-assured and a person, Veronica seems happier than ever, more able to have fun and laugh and less likely to expect that everyone is out to get her and that life will be consistently unjust. To see her so well-adjusted is a joy, but it wouldn't be Veronica Mars if danger and evil didn't lurk nearby. To satisfy the necessity of a goal for Veronica, the first half of the series presents a new adversary in the Hearst Rapist, giving us for the first time an ongoing case with acts of heinous violence being perpetrated in real time, as opposed to just searching for a bad guy after the fact.

When a new friend close to Veronica becomes a victim of the rapist, she takes it upon herself to discover the identity of the bastard and bring him down. Keeping in form, Veronica's pursuit of the truth and inflexible morality leads her to make many enemies on this new campus, ruffling the feathers of groups with similar agendas as well as apathetic college kids. Naturally she draws the interest of the rapist himself, leading to a harrowing scene where she once again feels the effects of being drugged and has a disturbingly close call in a parking garage before being rescued by Logan. After 12 episodes, half the amount of the past two seasons, we are given the resolution to this initial mystery and our final taste of Veronica in a violent situation. With a similar rush of adrenalin, and perhaps a creepier malevolence and cruelty that Veronica must survive, the wrap-up to this case is as terrifying and exciting as anything the show has given us before.

But that wasn't the end of the show. The murder of the Dean, with whom Veronica had grown close (and whose personal recommendation for Veronica's application to an internship at the FBI gave us a rare and touching opportunity to hear Veronica's praised said out loud) occupied the next few episodes, dealing more meticulously and archetypically in the process of a murder investigation. Veronica becomes embroiled in the lives of her criminology professor and the dean's family, as well as her criminology TA, an amateur sleuth in his own right, the aptly named Tim Foyle. Working in tandem yet unofficially with her father, who has become acting Sheriff and whose resumption of his old role is a lovely thing to see, Veronica gets to the root of the matter, eventually solving the case, this time not with blood or guns or violence, but with a cool recitation of the facts in an academic setting. Not only has Veronica herself matured, learning to control certain impulses like the dangers of giving in to easy vengeance, but her methods have as well, allowing herself to bring about justice solely through her intelligence and the force of her personality.

Unfortunately, we don't really get another wide ranging mystery, despite the proven abilities of the writers to construct long form story arcs. Instead, due to low ratings and the show airing on the newly formed network The CW instead of on UPN (where standards for ratings where rather more lax) the show was ordered to complete the season with more "standalone" episodes, dealing in short, independent cases. The lack of a cohesive investigation is certainly a bit of a loss to the show's structure, yet it emphasized this older Veronica, who could go through her life as successfully as ever only without that possibly unhealthy tendency to obsess.

Her strict morality is also explored more in the third season, with even her father falling outside her standards on one occasion, showing both the overwhelming temptations and desires that even good men fall prey to, and the unforgiving, cold, judgmental and really rather unfortunate hard line that Veronica can't help but take. Even though she's always basically in the right, Veronica's rigidity often either leads to the sacrifice of her dearest relationships, or forces her loved ones to sacrifice on her behalf.

This is exemplified in the series finale, though calling it that is really just a matter of form. (It was announced the series would not renewed  mere weeks before its airing, so while the writers probably suspected the truth, we are not given the closure that one would expect from a true ending.) In pursuit of a deviously acquired and publicly released tape that shows Veronica naked with her new boyfriend Piz (another example of Veronica's attempt to make life lighter, and yet also an example of the darker side of her nature as she is not truly content in a merely easy, loving, drama free relationship) we see a quasi-return to the Veronica of old in the purposefully titled episode "The Bitch Is Back."

You don't care now. But holy crap! Are you gonna care when I start to get my revenge on. You'll be doing all sorts of carin'.

Seeking the truth and justice in a personal issue, Veronica follows every single lead aggressively and mercilessly, which gives us some truly wonderful scenes exhibiting her skill, her fire, and the effect she has on all she comes into contact with. For old time's sake, we get a return of Jake Kane, the patriarch of the Kane family, and a particularly emotional scene in which Veronica breaks into his mansion (following a lead that the video came from a secret society in Hearst patroned by Kane) and sees an enormous portrait of Lily Kane that reminds us of her stylized flashbacks. However, we're given a twist in her fathers subplot, wherein Keith is running in a special election to retain his post as Sheriff against the fantastically oily Vinny Van Lowe, and the complication of the election and his duties as Sheriff when evidence comes across his desk of Veronica's recent break in. Veronica, singularly focused on her own vendetta, does not return his calls, forcing him to make a decision for her own safety that risks everything he has worked for.

While we don't get the closure that we want, a hint of these characters' future and a resolution to their relationships with each other, we are instead given a microcosm of the show. We see the rich and powerful getting what they want and escaping consequence (Jake Kane and the devious secret society members.) We see the deceit of the conscienceless winning out over the good (Vinnie Van Lowe.) We see the dangers of true, profound love as well as the enduring loyalty of it (Logan's impulsive violence and Keith's affectation of normalcy with the daughter he loves.) And we see that, despite the adversity, the mistakes, the injustice and the disappointment of her life, Veronica is blessed with love and will never stop living her life the way she has; maintaining her standards and searching for the truth, no matter who gets in her way.

My love for this show is only surpassed by my indescribable desire to see more. The glimpse we received of a Veronica in the FBI was profoundly exciting and rich in potential. The beauty of her character is that there is no set limit to her story arc; Veronica's entire life will be worthy of a show because she lives for excitement, she champions the good, and she doesn't know how to sit still. Buffy was given 7 seasons, but Veronica Mars was cut tragically short. I swear, right here and now, that when I inevitably become a multi-millionaire, I will contact Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell and personally fund either a new series or multiple films. It's the very least I can do.

1 comment:

  1. Well almost a year later I read this :( but i totaly agree about almost all things! speciely that about being a multi-millionaire and call Rob the first thing! it has been almost 4 years they quite the show, but we woulden't they be capaple to produce a fourth season now. I think that alot of people would watch it!