This Veronica Mars review contains no spoilers.
Spring break isn’t for everyone, Marshmallows. And while Veronica Mars Season 4 recaptures much of the original show’s magic, it also makes bold, grown-up choices that won’t be for everyone, either.
Neptune, California has become a spring break destination but not everyone is happy about it. Some, like Big Dick Casablancas (Dick and Beaver/Cassidy’s dad) want to clear out the riff raff so they can gentrify the town more expeditiously. Others, like magnetic newcomer Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste of The Good Place, Killing Eve) are happy for the business, so long as the drunk dudes understand that yes means yes and no means no. But someone is taking their objections to a new level and planting bombs throughout Neptune, the first of which draws in a promising Arab-American politician and two members of a Mexican drug cartel.
Hulu’s new season of Veronica Mars has many familiar elements, like Veronica’s voiceover, that pitch-perfect sense of humor, and noir tropes deployed alongside modern pop culture references. But it also dispenses with the case-of-the-week format in favor of several mysteries: who planted the bomb? What happens with this case that is so bad that Veronica wishes she never took it? What will happen between Logan and Veronica? What’s really going on with Keith’s health? What’s Veronica avoiding – is she really running from Neptune, and if not, why can’t she admit it?
Much has been improved upon since the movie, if you weren’t exactly wowed by the Kickstarted feature film which had plenty of fan service but mostly felt like a lot of familiar elements placed in a different setting that we keep being told is the same one. Notably, while there are plenty of cameos from fan favorites (and even some folks you never thought you’d see again), the length of the series versus a movie allows them to be well spaced out and to fit more realistically into the story. More than anything, this showfeels like Veronica Mars again, especially by the third episode when it finds that strange, special brand of dark humor where the show always used to live.
While much of Prestige TV interprets “more adult” as being dark and gritty, Veronica Mars gets down to brass tacks on what it means to being an adult, from caring for a parent who you must realize is, in fact, mortal, to the struggle of adult friendships, to what it takes to be in a committed, adult relationship. If only more of our entertainment were willing to explore the moments after the big kiss, the grand gesture!
In the movie, Logan was a bit of a pod person. This season does a much better job of setting his abrupt emotional evolution from the film into context. The old Logan is still in there, somewhere, but he goes to therapy, he’s putting in the time, he’s dealing with his shit. Most importantly, his quippy sense of humor and the fire for Veronica are back in a way that feels essentially him, while still believably and understandably evolved.
In season three in particular, Veronica couldn’t stop investigating Logan, couldn’t bring herself to let her guard down and trust him. That’s not to say she had no reason, but it’s part of her character that she has to deal with, or at least attempt to address, and it’s satisfying to see Veronica Mars season 4 engage with it so directly and whole heartedly. As thrillingly high stakes murder as accusations were, in some ways they were a cop out, something that let Veronica off the hook because she could count on Logan to be such a screw up. Season 4 asks what happens when Logan Echolls gets his shit together and the only problem in the relationship…is Veronica?
There are a few elements that are harder to swallow – or just plain confusing – when you take a step back from your binge. A number of essential characters disappear around the halfway or three-quarter mark and are never heard from again. Matty’s Veronica analogue is a great addition, but there’s no confidante to force V to explore the parallel. It’s a bit disappointing to see that all of the promising emotional work in season 3 from Dick Casablancas after his brother’s crimes and death by suicide seem to have since fallen away, in favor of his fun guy persona. It all feels a bit cheap and easy…just like Dick. Weevil is done dirty by both the script and the main character in a way that reeks of White Feminism and frankly betrays him, the audience, and the character of Veronica, who was always so aware of shortcomings of the carceral system, especially when it comes to racial injustice.
The central mystery itself has probably one or too many twists. There is such a thing as too clever by half. While the ancillary mysteries held some interesting additional reveals in the denouement, the main mystery starts to feel like it’s jerking you around too much by the third or fourth twist. Mostly, the ending feels like a rush to get where the story needs to go, rather than the steady ache of inevitability at which the show was so adept. Saying this is where the tale was always headed is not the same as setting up that tractor beak-level of storytelling that was both brutal and satisfying in equal measure.
Early on, season 4 throws down the gauntlet: Veronica should never have taken this case, knowing what she knows now. It’s the kind of thing people say all the time on detective shows, but it gets at a larger challenge the show has in moving an already-hard-boiled show from the domain of a teenager to a supposedly darker, more serious world of adults. We’ve seen teenage Veronica survive rape, her best friend’s murder, her mother’s alcoholism and abandonment – and that was just the pilot. So how did Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero-Wright and company raise the stakes and make this case feel like one V would regret more than any other? Fans may struggle with the answer, but if the show is to continue, it was likely the only way forward. Veronica Mars has grown up – will fans be able to grow with it?