Everyone’s favourite teenage detective is now a grown up. So what does that mean for the return of Veronica Mars?
Note – this review will avoid explicit, direct spoilers, but if you’re very touchy about them, reader discretion is advised.
After a meandering third season, a cheesy fan-servicing movie and many years in the wilderness, season four of Veronica Mars shows that while you can go home again, you might not like the people you find there.
The show has returned to Neptune, where Veronica (Kristen Bell) and her dad Keith (the twinkle-eyed Enrico Colantoni) are still private investigators solving sordid crimes. They’ve still got the same foils in Logan (Jason Dohring), Eli (Frances Capra) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) to bounce off. And the side characters are still suitably broadly drawn and cartoony enough to be played for winks, if not always outright laughs. But the reason why Veronica Mars season 4 works as well as it does is because it hasn’t gone back in time.
Veronica is now no longer a preternaturally gifted, spiky and sardonic teenager. She’s a grown adult, and one on whom the toxicity of the world around her has started to rub off. And in subtle (and less subtle) ways, she shows exactly what that kind of stagnation can do to a person. Where once the show presented her as a character with limitless potential, provided she could just survive high school, now she has a harder shell.
It’s almost reminiscent, as a theme, of the recent Gilmore Girls revival, and how the showrunners developed Rory Gilmore’s character after about a decade away. She too was presented as someone who was really struggling to keep it together in the face of opportunities slipping away, and doors starting to be closed on her. Rory’s life hadn’t turned out how she necessarily would have chosen, when we last knew her. In Veronica’s case, she has closed the door on the opportunities herself, too bound up with her ties to her dad, and her life’s work, to leave. She is in fact back in her home town, doing the same job she had as a teenager.
The contrast isn’t really helped by the more positive character developments of her peers. Wallace is still involved with high school basketball, but he’s also a family man, and friends with a bunch of yuppies. Leo has joined the FBI – once a dream of Veronica’s herself. Logan has learned to master his murderous, violent rage. Even his ex-girlfriend Parker seems to be deeper and wiser, in her one-scene cameo.
The world has turned, and the people of the earlier seasons have grown and changed, like the people in the loyal audience who kept momentum alive through the long break. Forget about being friends a long time ago – for those slipping into the show again, there’s a pleasant familial quality to it. It’s nice to see everyone getting along with their lives. And perhaps more nice things will have happened for them if a Christmas special rolls around.
But catching up with Veronica Mars herself is tough. Showrunner Rob Thomas hasn’t shied away from the fact her life was always going to be hard, should she choose to stay. She’s still despised by a large swathe of the town, and keeping the business alive remains a struggle. Logan leaves for long stretches, at unexpected times. And the violence around her is directed so much more starkly at her. She carries a gun, and uses it. It all takes a toll.
Throughout the long break, many devotees would have wondered what Veronica Mars would have been like as an adult. Well, this is probably it. She drinks a lot, needles the people around her into fights and has become, if anything, even more ruthless in her exploitation of them. It doesn’t make for a particularly attractive protagonist, but it’s compelling, and feels true to the character.
The other way the world has turned is in the class warfare always bubbling under the surface of Neptune. A recurring theme of the first three seasons was that while the little people might win battles, the rich eventually win it all. It’s beautifully fitting that the campaign to oust the unclean from the town is led by Richard ‘Big Dick’ Casablancas, a white collar criminal who if anything has been made more powerful by a stint in prison. Where we pick the story up again, it’s clear there has been another decade or so of dominance by the wealthy, and everyone else is just hanging on.
Veronica has always, since season one, episode one, known what side she’s on in this struggle. We’re getting into more heavy spoiler territory here, but the enigmatic ending of the season suggests she realises it has been lost forever. If that does spur her to leave Neptune, then perhaps it will be a chance to explore her stunted personal growth, and whether she can change. Either way, after the doubts of the movie, the fourth season is a clear sign the showrunners intimately understand the world they’ve built, and the characters they’ve created.
You can watch all of Veronica Mars on NEON.