In preparation of the Veronica Mars film release in theaters on March 15th, I have been binge-watching the series from the beginning, with great gusto. My thoughts as a VM newbie on the excellent season one can be found here. My reaction to season two are as follows. SPOILER ALERT, you marshmallows!
Any successful television series manages a fair amount of world-building in its second year. In the first season, Veronica Mars concerned itself mainly with the Lilly Kane murder and Veronica Mars’ (Kristen Bell) rape, with “case of the weeks” linked thematically to the issues of parenting. In the second season, we not only continued with the Aaron Echolls murder trial, but the season-long mystery of the bus crash brought several seemingly disparate plot threads into the show’s orbit; from Felix’s murder, to the rivalry between the PCHers and the Fitzpatricks, to Mayor Woody (Steve Gutenberg, who had all the signs of the bus crash killer, thanks to Gutenberg fitting the Harry Hamlin guest star role), to Kendall Casablancas (the commanding Charisma Carpenter). With social inequities pushed to the forefront*, the magnitude of the show’s world-building became quite remarkable.
* Special acknowledgment goes to my hometown of Palo Alto. Aside from Veronica Mars’ desire to attend Stanford University, I was quite taken aback to see Palo Alto be used as a cautionary tale for Neptune’s impending incorporation vote. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer…
What has impressed me the most about the first two seasons of Veronica Mars is just how much plot the show is able to wrap up within the final episode and still have the breathing room to provide emotional catharsis. It’s not an easy feat, but the show has stuck the landing each time.
I’ll admit it, Veronica Mars had me fooled again. As with Aaron Echolls last season, I did not see Beaver “My Name Is Cassidy” Casablancas* as the one who orchestrated the bus crash. Throughout the season, Kyle Galliner’s performance as the neglected and bullied little brother was extremely effective in gaining my sympathies. I rooted for Beaver’s small successes, including letting out a squeal of delight when he and Mac held hands in public at the Winter Carnival (which looking back, ick. Kudos, too, to Tina Majorino’s great performance). This solid groundwork made Beaver’s shocking turn from pathetic punching bag to ruthless mass murderer all the more impressive. The reveal that Beaver did, in fact, rape Veronica was an especially brutal moment.
* I didn’t get the names of the Casablancas brothers, Dick and Beaver, until halfway through the season. I was a prude in high school; sue me.
This season was filled with intricacies that wove a deep history of Neptune and its inhabitants. The fallout from the Lilly Kane murder held a surprising command over the year, culminating in the not guilty verdict of Aaron Echolls. Not only was that outcome a massive blow to the gut, it was completely sobering. As the audience, by default, we’re almost always predisposed to be on Veronica’s side. The show is titled Veronica Mars, after all. We are privy to her awesome detective skills. We are sympathetic to her schemes and scramblings. But to an impartial jury? Veronica doesn’t look too hot; she’s just a nosy, troublemaking teenager. But as Veronica’s dad said, Aaron did indeed pay for his deeds. While a free Aaron Echolls may have been a more interesting dynamic than a dead one (especially with that chilling conversation with Veronica in the elevator), perhaps it’s for the best that the show tied up loose ends moving forward.
Ultimately though, the bus crash was more of a puzzle to be solved than anything else, rather than providing a emotional payoff. We didn’t really get to know the bus crash victims until Veronica became haunted by them towards the very end of the season in “I Am God.” The bus crash-related “case of the weeks” were held at more of a distance, clues to be observed rather than felt. While this was a thoroughly and meticulously plot-driven season, the emotional impacts weren’t quite as personal for Veronica as a ruthless social ostracizing, the murder of your best friend, or determining the identity of your rapist. Believing the bus crash was orchestrated to kill you does come close, but the personal stakes weren’t as deep.
Veronica Mars also has a tendency to tell rather than show, which became a bit problematic this season, particularly with the character of Jackie Cook (Tessa Thompson). Early in the season, during the climactic homecoming dance, Jackie tears into Veronica for presumably wanting to be with both Duncan and Logan. But the next time we see Jackie, she is part of the Veronica and Wallace’ Fennel (Percy Daggs III) team, assisting in a caper to clear Wallace’s name. Where was the reconciliation? Why was it deemed unnecessary to leave that out of the narrative?
The show had difficulty managing Jackie’s character, but I found her to be the most compelling when she was set up as a mirror to season one Veronica; how the socially elite can become the socially outcast in a heartbeat. Teenagers are brutal, and watching Jackie attempt to stay strong during her father’s troubles was compelling. Somewhat surprisingly, I felt her emotional coming clean to Wallace to be one of the more moving parts of the finale. It came together nicely, though it was still transparent that she was being written off for not always clicking. The aftermath of Wallace’s father drama also fell apart at the seams, especially since we never saw his mother again until a cameo at graduation. Still, the reunion between Wallace and Veronica on New Year’s Eve was an emotional highlight of the season for me.
Meg Manning and Duncan Kane were also effectively dismissed, both of whom were more interesting in their departures than they ever were roaming the halls of Neptune High. I also found the Fitzpatricks to be bland baddies. Similar to the neo-Nazis in the final season of Breaking Bad, the Irish crime family had no distinguishing characteristics other than being despicable human beings. But kind of that’s the point, isn’t it? When you’ve enlisted their help, you get nothing but evil. The Fitzpatricks didn’t get what’s coming to them (at least this season), unlike Weevil (Frank Capra) who was arrested at his high school graduation for the murder of Thumper, but other characters, such as Abel Koontz, Deputy Leo, and Trina Echolls, were brought back for satisfying conclusions.
Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) coming to Veronica’s aid during her confrontation with Beaver was also gratifying. While nothing this season topped the epic Camelot motel kiss, I’m still invested in Team LoVe. Logan is a much more dynamic love interest than the snoozy Duncan, that’s for sure.
While the second season’s intricately-weaved narrative didn’t quite pack the emotional punch of the last, I still really enjoyed this twisty roller-coaster. With that said, based on commonly-held opinions of the Veronica Mars fandom, I’m cautiously guarded about the third season. But I am keeping an open mind about Piz and eagerly await him with open arms. Bring on the Piz, I say!
For my thoughts on Veronica Mars season three, click here.