Team Logan or Team Piz? My Veronica Mars Season Three Binge-Watch Finale

Ok. Let’s get down to… Pizness. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen under the spell of Stosh Piznarski (Chris Lowell) and I can’t get up! In anticipation of the Veronica Mars movie in theaters, I have completed all three seasons of Rob Thomas’ series this past month. You can find my season one reactions here and my thoughts on season two here.

Based on what I’d heard on the Veronica Mars grapevine, I was bracing myself for an abysmal train-wreck. Fortunately, despite some tone-deaf missteps in its thematic storytelling (I’m looking at you, serial rapist arc), season three was a solidly entertaining and enthralling affair overall. It’s safe to say, that SPOILERS follow.

Let’s start by addressing the giant Echolls in the room. Because everything pop culture these days is Team This versus Team That (sorry, Team Deputy Leo), Veronica Mars fans pledge allegiance to either Team Logan or Team Piz. And what shirt will I be wearing to the Veronica Mars movie? #TeamPiz. I’ll be honest with you, going into the third season, I was expecting Piz to be a gigantic wet blanket of a character. Why else would the fandom so up in arms about him? But no, I quickly fell prey to Piz’s charms. He’s a good guy for sure, but he’s way more than a puppy-dog crush. He’s witty. He’s genuine. He has ambition. He defends what he believes in. He provides the stability that Logan (Jason Dohring) simply cannot. (Between Veronica Mars and Enlisted, I’ve had a great time watching the über-charming Chris Lowell this year. PLEASE WATCH ENLISTED, DAMMIT!)

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Logan is passionate as all hell, but his quick temper has caused more damage than good. Over the course of the season, LoVe disintegrated, not just once, but twice. His relationship with Veronica (Kristen Bell) was indeed as epic as he proclaimed it might have been the year prior, but it was unsustainable, unhealthy, and downright exhausting. In the third season, Logan lacked personal vendettas and true adversaries to fuel his fire (well, save Piz, Piz’s ribs, and Piz’s face). While in his relationship with Veronica, he only had his own inner demons to wrestle with. As a result, Logan became more reactionary and subdued, and that robbed him of his dynamic spontaneity. The trust issues that caused the schisms between him and Veronica happened off-screen (Logan’s trip to Mexico with Mercer, Logan sleeping with Madison Sinclair). This telling and not showing, a trait that has plagued the series before, lessened their impact. All told, I felt this wasn’t quite the same snappy Logan Echolls from the first two seasons.

In this third season, the ensemble really worked well together. The dynamics just clicked and it was an absolute joy to watch the core group gel as friends, while the outside world swirled around them. (Score one more point for Piz: Veronica’s friends actually liked him!) While storylines such as the Valentine’s scavenger hunt or Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and the gang hanging out at the beach to test out his airplane may have come off as slight, I thought they highlighted the fun of this group of characters. I enjoyed spending time with them. I enjoyed getting to know more about Mac’s (Tina Majorino) inner life and watching Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) confront his emotions and show vulnerability in the face of past tragedies. Veronica Mars really knows its history and Cassidy’s death resonated with these two characters well into their freshman year of college. By acknowledging their hang-ups, their respective character arcs for the season felt satisfying.

I liked the structure of the smaller mystery arcs at Hearst College, which allowed for more breathing room towards the end of the season for character development. But as for the mysteries themselves, the results were uneven. The first of the two mini-mysteries, the Hearst College serial rapist, was a less than successful arc. It was an all-too-quick introduction to college life that threw Veronica into the deep end. At Neptune High, she wasn’t at the top of the food chain, but Veronica knew the school’s machinations inside and out. Props to the series for tackling complicated gender issues head-on, but the players involved were painted with such broad strokes that their impact hardly resonated. We were presented with all-too familiar stereotypes of angry, self-righteous feminists and sexist, douchey fraternities, with nothing truly subversive under the surface. Still, the stakes could not become more higher than in “Spit & Eggs,” when Veronica defended herself from the rapist’s attack. The threat of violence never felt more real than it did in that episode.

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The mystery of Dean O’Dell’s death fared much better, particularly with Patrick Fabian’s excellent performance of the slick and calculating Professor Landry. His assistant, Tim, proved to be a great foil for Veronica. His character had more social standing than her, yet he possessed less detective acumen. Veronica’s deduction of Dean O’Dell’s killer was a delightfully delicious scene. No physical attacks or need for rescue in this climax, just plain ‘ol deductive reasoning. Brain trumps brawn. The other “case of the weeks” had a decidedly more mature tone (Ugandan child soldiers, abortions, prostitution), but were no less entertaining.

The series finale, “The Bitch is Back,” brings Veronica Mars unexpectedly full-circle to the Kane residence, with larger-than-life paintings of Lilly and Duncan Kane overlooking Veronica’s break-in. For the first time, we really see Veronica’s relationship with her father (Enrico Colantoni) put to the test. Keith makes an immeasurable sacrifice for his daughter and willingly tampers evidence of her jumping the fence. This act could jeopardize him winning the sheriff election. His demonstrated love for his daughter is so strong, but we aren’t privileged to a cathartic emotional release, as we did when Keith rescued Veronica from Aaron Echolls or when the two were reunited after Veronica believed him to be dead in Woody’s plane crash. We’re just left with a knowing conversation over breakfast.

Frustratingly, so much is left up in the air in these final moments. Does Logan win Veronica back? Does Keith win the election? This unsatisfying resolution was, in fact, intentional. Creator Rob Thomas told The New York Times, that this lack of closure was his way of sticking it to the network: “My view was, ‘No, I don’t want to make it easy for you to cancel us.'” I understand now why fans were clamoring for a Veronica Mars revival. There was so much potential left in these characters’ stories and so much unfinished business.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to wait for almost seven long years to revisit the awesome world of Neptune. I just need to get myself to a movie theater stat, #TeamPiz shirt in tow.

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The Binge-Watch Continues: Veronica Mars Season Two

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.

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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.

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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.

A Binge-Watcher Feasts on Veronica Mars Season One

With the Veronica Mars movie only a month away, opening in theaters March 15th, I decided to finally take my unopened Veronica Mars DVDs off the shelf and dive right into Neptune High. I immediately became fully immersed in Rob Thomas’ world of high school noir and binge-watched the entire first season within a week. The following are my thoughts on season one. Needless to say: SPOILER ALERT.

Series creator Rob Thomas successfully balanced the tones of high school wisecracks with murder mystery, thanks in large part to Kristen Bell’s magnetic charisma. It goes without saying that Kristen is pitch-perfect as high school sophomore and junior private eye Veronica Mars. She may be small in stature, but Kristen demands attention every time she is onscreen. Her sharp wit and resilient pluck makes it easy for us to root for her. While at times it was easy to forget that the character was just a teenager, Kristen never shied away from playing Veronica’s vulnerabilities. And boy did Veronica go through a lot. Not only was her best friend murdered, she was drugged and raped at a party, her mother abandoned her and her father, and she was socially ostracized at school. And that’s all in the first episode. All of that while keeping up with her homework. You know, typical high-schooler stuff.

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Kristen Bell had chemistry with nearly every actor she came across, none more so than with Enrico Colantoli, who played her father, Keith Mars. There was a lived-in ease to this father-daughter duo that harbored many nuanced layers. Veronica worked for her father at his private detective agency and their relationship was at its most interesting when the two were at odds, whether it was Keith trying to protect his daughter from family secrets or the two coming to blows when approaching a case from two different life perspectives. The fierce love between the two characters and the care the show gave their relationship was undeniable. When Keith Mars revealed that he was indeed Veronica’s biological father, I just about lost it. What a tear-jerking moment. No other parental relationship on television holds a candle to Veronica Mars and her father. And who wouldn’t want Keith Mars coming to the rescue when trapped in a refrigerator on fire?

Going into Veronica Mars, I knew that #TeamLogan and LoVe was going to be a thing. I mean, who didn’t? So I spent the entire season anticipating the moment when Veronica and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) would finally get together. Along the way, I loved watching their characters be drawn into each other ever so slowly, from outright despising each other, to Veronica helping Logan showcase Lilly’s true wild self in her memorial service tribute, to Logan coming to Veronica’s doorstep and asking her to investigate his mother’s presumed suicide. These two sarcastic kids were meant for each other. Even so, when their seismic first kiss happened at the Camelot Motel, I was caught off-guard. I gasped, sat upright, mouth agape. The electric moment was a wholly earned and awesomely organic one, eighteen hours in the making. As for the season cliffhanger, it has to be Logan at Veronica’s doorstep in the middle of the night, right? RIGHT?!

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Veronica Mars really captured the fluidity of high school social cliques and just how tenuous relationships can be during those years. Veronica Mars was established as a former elite ’09er, now aspiring to live as middle class. Through this outsider lens, the show was able to explore the many facets of Neptune’s class structures. As a case-of-the-week series, the most intriguing cases were the ones that expanded the world of Neptune and dove into these socioeconomic hierarchies. The show also had an overt interest in the importance of parenting and the lengths parents would go to provide a stable upbringing for their children: from Keith and Veronica’s solid and loving relationship, to the Kanes’ ruthless attempts to protect their son after they believe he’s killed his sister, to Aaron Echolls’ (Harry Hamlin) violent detachment from his wife and children. The often cruel familial cycles fought to be broken in the weekly cases as well.

As for the overarching season mystery of Lilly Kane’s (Amanda Seyfried) murder, I didn’t predict that Aaron Echolls was the killer. While the clues of the identity of Lilly’s murderer were right there in front of me (the fits of uncontrollable rage, the physical violence, the recurring guest star status), darn it, I was fooled. I bought what the show was selling, that Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn) had accidentally killed his sister in during an epileptic fit of sorts. Red herrings are central to mystery narratives and I fell for this one hook, line, and sinker. Other than the LoVe connection I talked about earlier, there was no other moment this season more shocking to me, than seeing Aaron Echolls’ wild eyes in Veronica’s rearview mirror. It was standard horror fare for sure, but thrilling nonetheless.

Quite possibly my favorite aspect about watching Veronica Mars’ first season, which originally aired during the 2004-05 television season, was the surprising cavalcade of guest stars. Paris Hilton! Melissa Leo! Jessica Chastain! Jonathan Taylor Thomas! Aaron Paul! Adam Scott! Leighton Meester! Max Greenfield! Penny Proud! Going into the second season of Veronica Mars, I’ll be eagerly anticipating more awesome casting coups, more high school noir intrigue, and more all-around badassery from Kristen Bell, Rob Thomas, and company.

My thoughts on Veronica Mars season two can be found here and my reactions to season three can be read here.