Full spoilers for Season 4 below.
When Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell announced that fans would be getting a long-awaited fourth season of Veronica Mars, we thought we knew what we were getting. After all, the 2014 film and subsequent novels gave us a glimpse at grown-up Veronica and Veronica Mars, and they were fun, snarky, breezy nostalgia trophies that gave fans everything we could possibly want.
And now that we have what we want, Season 4 is ready to remind us that life doesn’t work that way, and that getting what we want doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending for any of us.
In some ways, Season 4 is the perfect Veronica Mars for 2019. It’s tough because it has to be. It’s mad, the way we’re all mad these days. Veronica’s always been tougher and angrier than the next guy, but now that everyone else has grown up around her, we start to realize that her tough streak isn’t always an advantage. It’s left her callous and selfish, stunted. Logan – Logan Echolls of all people – has matured, deepened, learn to self-actualize through therapy and a lot of discipline. He wants his girlfriend to go on this journey with him – after all, they went through the same trauma, so many of the same tragedies blew through their lives “like a tornado, uprooting everything, creating chaos.” Logan’s ready to stop using those tragedies as an excuse, ready to learn from them and move on and be a real person, someone who lives his life with intention. He’s “[crawled] from the rubble and slowly [rebuilt].” Veronica may say she’s using her dark history as fuel, but it’s really a crutch, something that keeps her from loving and living the way she should – unequivocally, responsibly, compassionately. She just keeps chasing that storm.
As hard and heavy as that is, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Veronica Mars still deals out the best dialogue on television, lines like Cliff sighing to Keith, “It’s bizarre but, let’s be honest, the world stopped making sense when Prince died,” or Wallace laughing to himself when he sees a little Veronica 2.0 sidling up to a Wallace 2.0 for a favor on the school bus: “That’s a slippery slope, Owen.” We get some delightful cameos: the aforementioned Cliff, Max, Vinnie, Parker, Jake Kane. While we don’t get nearly enough Wallace and Weevil, even less Dick and no Mac at all – and of course that’s Thomas telling us that the nostalgia party is over, it’s time to embrace the new Veronica Mars or all move on with our lives – the scenes with those first two, in particular, all land beautifully. Wallace continues to build Veronica up more than she deserves, and Weevil continues to confront her self-righteous myopia, her belief that she is right above all else, that her needs and aims supersede anyone else’s. She needs both of those voices in her life.
The new characters almost all work great (as much as I love Clifton Collins Jr., I could use a little less cartel time and a lot more Wallace time, but listen, there will never be enough Wallace for me) – especially Patton Oswalt’s Penn, J.K. Simmons’ Clyde, Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Nicole and Izabela Vidovic’s Matty. Each of these characters challenges Veronica in a different way, teaches her more about herself. Penn’s lesson is the hardest, of course, but Nicole teaches Veronica that living your life believing that “the people you care about let you down” mostly leads to you letting down the people you care about, instead. And Matty – Veronica 2.0 – is such a fresh-faced reminder of who Veronica once was, how that plucky, intrepid, single-mindedness is a lot more palatable in a teenager. When it’s a 30-something woman still living her life ready to tase the first person who looks at her sideways, it becomes something else.
Clyde is actually Keith’s lesson, though Keith has only grown increasingly wiser in these intervening years and doesn’t have all that much learning left to do. His conversation with Veronica about their habit of “tilting at windmills” proves as much, not that V ever listens to him. Keith’s health arc was devastating, with Enrico Colantoni turning in his best work in a career filled with great work. I had such immense, consumptive anxiety about Keith’s well-being, and of course in the end, it turns out he was the last person we needed to worry about here.
I guess we knew someone had to die – this is the grown-up version of Veronica Mars, after all, and even the YA version had plenty of casualties – but Logan’s death is genuinely shocking and heartbreaking. It happens in the final minutes of the final episode, barely an hour after he and Veronica have sworn to love each other and be faithful to one another until the end of their days. Of course, Veronica had already made that commitment to herself by rejecting Leo’s advances – a slippery slope if we’ve ever seen one – and as the episode starts to remove obstacles to Logan and Veronica’s happiness, one by one, suddenly it’s clear that the worst thing that could happen will happen. Their life together ends before it starts. All of the work that Logan has put into himself and into his relationship, his redemption that hit so much harder than anyone who met the “obligatory psychotic jackass” from the pilot could ever expect – it ends in an explosion, gone in seconds. And Veronica’s left to crawl from the rubble and slowly rebuild.
Veronica Mars’ fourth season is so grown-up not only because it’s dark and raunchy, truer to its noir roots than the story has ever been before. The mystery’s more adult and nuanced; Veronica’s voice-over has seasoned and changed (especially her Kill Bill-inflected closing narration). But also its heart is more adult, and what it’s trying to teach us. It’s no longer okay for Veronica to put herself above everyone else, to laugh off the suggestion of her loving boyfriend that she join him for therapy, to steamroll her disabled father into continuing to work when he doesn’t feel equal to the job. Veronica’s strong, and she’s resilient. We know and love that about her. “Blows that would destroy most people – she just picks herself back up.” But that isn’t enough anymore. While it’s too late to mean anything to Logan, Veronica finally goes to therapy because she knows it’s what he would want, even though it’s really, really not what she wants. She ends the season – and possibly the series, I guess we’ll find out – by making a choice for someone else for maybe the first time since Lilly Kane was murdered, and I hope that this character I have loved for 15 years will discover that the choice was really for herself all along.
Because “even the experts agree – a girl needs closure.”