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Veronica Mars - Season 4 - Review: Do Strong Female Characters Always Have to Suffer?

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Bad news for all the criminals out there: Veronica Mars is back and ready to taser you into the next prison cell. Obviously, the sheriff department will take all the credit for catching you because nothing really has changed in Neptune ever since Veronica attended High School.

Season 4 is set several years after the 2015 movie and has Veronica back in Neptune running Mars Investigations together with her father. She is with Logan who, over the years, turned out to be the perfect guy which is quite an achievement considering how screwed up his entire family was.

When Neptune’s most popular spring break locations are stricken by bombings Veronica and Keith find themselves spending all their resources on trying to find out who the perpetrator is. Sheriff Lamb is long gone but the new, kickass chief of police – portrayed by the fabulous Dawn Lewis – does not make the investigative life any easier for the duo.

For the first few episodes, it seems like Big Dick Casablancas and his prison buddy Clyde (J. K. Simmons) are responsible for the bombings. When  bombs kept Their plan to buy up all beachfront properties to then rent them out or resell them for outrageous prices was not very successful as most property owners refuse to sell. Therefore, Veronica and Keith assume Casablancas planted bombs to scare the owners into selling to Big Dick’s shell companies. Turns out the father-daughter team is not very far off with their theory. Though Casablancas never intended to kill anyone, the bomb was only supposed to be a “small” warning. The people that died were simply collateral damage, not intended targets. When bombs keep going off, even without Big Dick’s help, the case gets more complicated. For some time, it even looks like Veronica’s new friend Nicole, a night club owner, might have something to do with the bombings. Eventually though, the trace leads to the Murder Heads, a group of people who try to solve cold cases in their free time as some sort of hobby. Their leader is Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), a pizza delivery guy, who publicly accused Casablancas of planting the bombs. In the last two episodes of the season, he becomes the prime suspect but is quite excellent at convincing people of his innocence. He even successfully throws suspicion on one of his fellow Murder Head members. Eventually, though, when threatened to be blown up by his very own bomb, he admits to being the mastermind behind the attacks. Being sent off into prison he promises Veronica that he will always be a few steps ahead of her. With the arrest of pizza guy, Veronica lulled herself into a false sense of security. Only a few hours later Epner’s last bomb detonates and kills one of the two people Veronica loves most: her husband of only a few hours, Logan.

Looking at season 4 as an autonomous entity, detached from the first three seasons and the movie, it is rather good television. Looking at it as the revival it was, it becomes a lot less wonderful very quickly.

What worked

While there are quite a few things that did not work, let’s take a look at the many things that were actually well done.

As was so often the case during the original run
as well, the interaction between Veronica and Daddy Mars was the highlight of almost every episode. Every moment they share on-screen together reflects their history, reminds us of what they went through together over the years and shows how deeply they care for each other. Bell and Colantoni are completely in synch and turn every scene into something exceptional. There are very few TV shows out there that portray such a close, healthy father-daughter bond.

While the scenes with Veronica and Logan were not always as well written as I hoped they would be, they were still moments I kept looking forward to. The couple – respectively and together – have overcome most difficult times. They both have been disappointed and gravely hurt by people they were close to. Finally having someone they can rely on and trust (even though Veronica still has major issues with the trusting part) is a little miracle.

A further positive aspect is that the show really tried their hardest to bring back as many original characters as they could. Admittedly, most of them had fairly small scenes (even Wallace was barely around) but after all most of these people are simply not a fixture in Veronica’s life anymore now that she has long left Neptune High and Hearst College. Instead, new people were introduced and while one may like them or not, it cannot be denied that the casting was quite perfect. J.K Simmons, Dawn Lewis, Patton Oswald, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Izabela Vidovic, Mary McDonnell and all other new additions excelled in their roles and were often able to distract from other shortcomings regarding the plot.

A very welcome, very relevant storyline was Keith’s issues with his memories. Important details kept slipping his mind throughout the entire season. In the end, his declining memory even puts himself and Veronica into grave danger which causes him to consider retiring early. TV shows rarely shine a light on health issues like dementia, so this was a welcome surprise. That the memory issues were caused by Keith’s medication and therefore could easily be fixed was a relief on the one hand but somewhat of a disappointment on the other hand. It almost got very real... but then it didn’t…

The revival in general was bolder, edgier, darker and sexier than its predecessors (thanks to Hulu for that). It has stopped being a teenager drama entirely. A change I certainly welcomed.

What could have been better

Dropping an entire season at a time almost requires it to serialize storylines and move away from episodic storytelling. So, instead of several smaller cases Mars Investigation focused on one case only for the entirety of season four. The show did itself no favors with that decision. Especially the storyline with the Mexican cartel members who came to look for and kill the bomber and stroyline around the congressmen felt like it was squeezed in after Rob Thomas & Co realized that the bombings alone did not make for a very interesting case. However, instead of making the case more complex with this addition they just made it confusing and tiring to follow. It seemed like the puzzle pieces did not quite fit together as well as they should have. The many unnecessary misleading clues did not help either.

A further issue for me was the fact that Veronica carelessly got drunk and smoked weed as if it had become her second nature to get stoned every other day. As someone who was roofied and is consequently terrified of not being in control at all times, the Veronica we know from season 1 to 3 never would have indulged in drugs to a point where she could not defend herself anymore if the need arose. Additionally, it was somewhat strange that it took Veronica so very long to find out that something was off with her father. She is a PI, she has an incredible eye for detail but it takes her weeks to find out her father, who she has a very close relationship with, had memory issues? Really? Veronica’s behavior in general seemed off to some fans of the original show. While I felt she was not all that different, I did notice that the way she treated Logan, for the most part, was rather terrible.

Even though many people in Neptune could not stand Veronica in the original series, she was always surrounded by friends or at least by people who eventually became her friends. In the revival, Veronica is pretty much all by herself at all times. Wallace and Weevil are barely around and Mac is nowhere to be found at all. There was only Nicole, the night club owner, who Veronica sort of became friends with before the woman became a suspect in their case. There was never a conclusion as to what happened to Veronica’s and Nicole’s friendship. It almost seemed like they were so busy killing off Logan they forgot all about Nicole’s existence.

Lastly, let’s take a look at Logan’s (and eventually also Veronica’s) therapist, Jane, portrayed by two-times Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell. It was rather disappointing to find out that the therapist only appeared in two short scenes in the very last episode. Introducing Jane earlier in the season would have given us some interesting insight into Logan’s emotional state. Additionally it would have provided the audience with the opportunity to get blown away by McDonnell’s exceptional acting abilities. The two short scenes merley were able to give a foretaste of something that probably won't ever come. Only one of many missed opportunities.

What was unacceptable

Killing off main characters seems to be a new trend no one likes nor asked for. Some shows can pull it off to get rid of a main character, most shows, however, cannot. Veronica Mars certainly could not. In the last few minutes of the season, long after Epner had been arrested, another bomb went off and killed Logan, Veronica’s husband of only a few hours. Seconds before the explosion Veronica realized that there must be another bomb and that it is likely to be hidden in Logan’s car. But her epiphany came too late. Just as she was about to scream her husband’s name to warn him, the bomb detonated. I like to believe that Veronica from season 1 to 3 would have realized at the latest when Epner said “Face it, Mars. I'm always a few steps ahead” that there was still a bomb set to go off somewhere. It was na├»ve of everyone involved – from the FBI and the police to Keith and Veronica – to think that with Epner behind bars the danger was averted. And because the pointless death of Logan was not already upsetting enough, series creator Rob Thomas and his Team decided to end the flashback with Logan's death and then jump right back into the present (which is one year later) instead of properly dealing with the disaster they have created. The cherry on top, however, was Thomas’ explanation on why he believes Logan had to die. In an interview with Rolling Stone he said:

“It’s just hard to imagine a detective show with a 35-year-old woman with a boyfriend. I just don’t want to write that. I love Jason Dohring and I love everything he’s brought to the show. I’m sure I will work with Jason again at some point in my career. But I feel like for this show to work as a detective show, it has to be with Veronica as a single woman.”

In another interview with TVline he commented:
“I think there’s a reason you don’t see many hard-boiled detective shows where the lead detective has a boyfriend or a girlfriend; it kind of limits your options. It was like we were cutting off a limb to save a life… I love Jason Dohring. And I love the character of Logan. But I feel as though we are going to have a better shot of doing more and more Veronica Mars if our heroine does not have a boyfriend or a husband.”

So, his plan is to keep Veronica alone and miserable? Because a woman with any kind of life partner cannot be successful? Because a woman who has a husband cannot be interesting? Will you kill Keith next because Veronica is not entirely miserable yet?

These are all misguided, untrue beliefes that far too many people in the industry still insist on upholding. Letting women suffer through one blow of fate after another is by far not the only possible way to highlight her strength.

If it were not for the ending this revival actually would have been good. Not outstandsing but okay. However, Logan’s death taints the entire remake with a bitter taste. The possibility of a 5th season has become rather unappealing now. The Veronica Mars revival could have been a love letter to its fans or at least to its main character but it clearly was neither.

What did you think of the revival? Let us know!

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