Television

We Used to Be Friends

The bombshell ending to Veronica Mars’ fourth season might be the point where I say goodbye.

Kristin Bell as Veronica Mars sitting at her desk.
Kristin Bell in Veronica Mars.
Hulu

This article contains spoilers for Season 4 of Veronica Mars. Like, the big one.

The fourth season of the pop crime noir series Veronica Mars, which originally premiered way back in 2004, is now available in its eight-episode entirety on Hulu. Plenty of critics have raved about it, and I too found the new season to be pretty strong. But this piece is not going to be about that! Nope, this piece is going to be about the season’s extremely distressing ending, you know, when—SPOILER ALERT, DANGER DANGER—Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) dies.

A little context: I watched Veronica Mars as it aired on UPN, a then-network, now trivia-question answer. I thought it aired when I was still in high school, but the dates inform me that I was just out of college— apparently, to my mind, too old to be watching a show solely for the love story, so I convinced myself it aired when I was still an adolescent. Don’t get me wrong: Veronica Mars is the Lemonhead of television, an acid tongue-lashing that goes down like a treat, but that’s the reason I love it logically. The reason I love it illogically, the reason that I pounce on screeners like a hyperactive kitten, the reason I am still excited about it like I was TV shows I watched in high school, is LoVe—the fan moniker for Veronica and Logan’s relationship, a name I learned while searching YouTube for compilations of the pair’s most “romantic” moments, something I have not done, you know, that recently.

Watching a TV show almost entirely for its romance artificially narrows it, if fast-forwarding to the love story segments of each episode—which I have definitely done—counts as really watching at all. On the other hand: Veronica (Kristin Bell) and Logan are a great couple! The two got together midway through the first season, with the satisfying thwock of a perfect plot twist. Logan had originally been introduced as the vilest of assholes, the ex-boyfriend of Veronica’s dead best friend, but he and Veronica made for a swoony pair, with shared traumas and a love of the one-liner—a couple that fit together perfectly, except when their damage made them explosive. Bell brought a barely contained ferocity to the cute blond heroine and Dohring brought an unexpected feyness to the tortured teen bad boy. Together they were a mix and match of gender tropes and strengths, with an inappropriate amount of chemistry.

I am confident that I was aided and abetted in LoVE-oriented viewing by the show itself, which is also extremely schmoopy and dramatic about the pair’s whole “epic” thing (Logan’s words, not mine). At the end of the original series, the two were broken up, but Logan had just romantically decked someone on Veronica’s behalf, which is the kind of thing that, despite being an ardent and self-sufficient feminist, she totally liked. When the series returned in 2014 as a crowdfunded movie, Veronica returned to her hometown of Neptune, California after a decade away to help Logan figure out who had murdered his ex-girlfriend. The movie had an intricate plot, of which I have forgotten almost every bit except the part where Veronica ogled Logan in his Navy whites for the first time and told him to “only ever wear that.” (The movie and the new season both contain uncomfortably long sex scenes that seem intended as softcore fan service.) By the end of the movie, Veronica was—obvi—back in Neptune for good with Logan and her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni). She had given up a sane, stable, richer, more antiseptic life for a rawer, more passionate one picking through the grungy town she hates with the two men she loves.

As Season 4 begins, Veronica and Keith are still running their PI business in Neptune, whose rich citizens are making an unprecedented play to gentrify the town’s seedy beachfront. Neptune has always been a kind of upside-down Mayberry, an acridly heightened not-quite-real-world, awash in oleaginous one percenters and two-bit hustlers, all of whom can banter like Nora Ephron’s version of Philip Marlowe. As spring breakers descend on Neptune for drunken revelry, a bomb goes off at a motel, killing four people, and it’s just the start. Veronica and her father begin working the “mad bomber” case, an intricate and dark tale involving politicians, hate crimes, suicide vests, and a Mexican cartel. Full of red herrings and switchbacks, the plot can be hard to follow, and the mystery is better understood as an occasion for a number of game actors—Patton Oswalt, J.K. Simmons, Max Greenfield among them—to quip their hearts out while providing a new vantage on Veronica. For the first time in her life, she seems kind of immature.

When the series began, Veronica was just in high school and already wise and cynical beyond her years. Traumatized, disillusioned, and grieving, she channeled her pain and fury into a near-vigilante passion to plumb the scum of Neptune. 15 years later, heading into middle age, she’s still doing exactly that, but with so much sangfroid it’s easy for everyone to forget she’s stuck in the same place. As competent, brave, and snappy as ever, she’s emotionally lagging—and Logan becomes the series’ most potent tool for demonstrating this.

Veronica and Logan were once two damaged, furious peas in a pod, but Logan is trying to get a handle on his issues and his anger. He’s going to therapy and wants to domesticate. He asks Veronica to marry him. Veronica hates all of it. She can’t sit at the dinner table with friends without reading about crime on her phone, and she doesn’t like Logan lite or Logan in therapy. Mid-season, all of this comes to a head in a fight where she chastises him for losing his edge, for not being the violent impetuous knucklehead she finds so hot, until he punches a wall and they have sex that she feels great about and he does not.

Logan wants to grow and change. He wants Veronica and him to be the sane, healthy thing. But Veronica believes in none of that, wants none of that, trusts in none of that. This idea has been snaking through the show, and their relationship, since its original run. Her experiences and her work have made Veronica incapable of trusting anyone, and if that makes her a great investigator, it severely limits her ability to make or keep relationships of any kind. This season, Veronica makes a friend—and then bugs her office. Logan, who groks Veronica, proposes to her by putting an engagement ring in his luggage, knowing she’ll find it when she rifles through the pockets.

That ring puts them at a crossroads: They are either going to break up or come to some sort of understanding in which Veronica suppresses her hard-won knowledge about human behavior and does something willfully naïve for the sake of potential happiness. It appears, at first, that happiness wins out. Over the back half of the season, Veronica comes around to Logan’s point of view. After a shootout and a flirtation with someone else, she decides they should get married. They do! They’re so happy! It’s so happy it starts to feel too happy! And it is. In the last 10 minutes of the series, Logan dies in the mad bomber’s last explosion.

When I saw that Logan had died I skipped right over sadness and rage—no “How dare they” or “This show betrayed me!”; I guess I’m not in high school anymore!—and went straight to acceptance. Huh, I thought, I guess I’ll never be excited to watch Veronica Mars again? And then a few weeks later, only because I had to write about it, I went back and watched the two episodes I had skipped in order to find out what happened with Logan and Veronica in the first place. (I was, by mid-season, concerned. I could tell the show was writing them into a corner: the happy place. The only way for a TV couple to get out of this place without some sort of traumatic event is to never get into it in the first place, to not make the pair so happy that their happiness becomes boring. Veronica Mars did not seem to be going in that direction!)

Having basically achieved whatever-ness in record time—I mean, they definitely could have just broken up in a final seeming way, but it’s fine, another show I don’t have to watch!—I can see what there is to like about this ending. Freeing the show from Logan and Veronica cracks open the story. The season ends with Veronica on the road, leaving Neptune for who knows where.
If Bell and creator Rob Thomas are going to keep making seasons of Veronica Mars, as they seem intent on, having too many more mega-crimes in this one seedy town might have been pushing credulity. Now, Veronica is propelled out into the world, to take another shot at being an adult in some non-Neptune context. What does that look like? What does Veronica look like when she’s not running from who she is (as she did in New York), but she’s also not anchored by her dad and Logan?

I can see that this is a way to shake up the series. And yet, I still hate it. (So much for acceptance!) As Veronica has matured, the most interesting question—one the show has always been asking—is what living with trauma and preternatural knowledge of everyone’s awfulness does to a person. Yes, Veronica is savvy and righteous and fearless, but she’s warped. By continuously honing her mistrust and skepticism and anger, other, gentler parts of herself have atrophied. Her skills are defense mechanisms that have also made it impossible for her to live anything like a happily undefended life.

This season, you could see the way in which Veronica’s terrible knowledge continues to exist inside of her, curdling—and you could also see the way the way it was in high tension with the possibility of a kinder future, a different life experience that she almost wouldn’t or couldn’t let herself have. Killing Logan basically erases that tension. Veronica’s not living with trauma, not in tension with anything else; she’s Job, a woman whose self-protective instincts turn out to be completely necessary. This is how you get to the last lines of the season, a voicemail Logan left for his therapist right before he dies, where he explains that he wants to marry Veronica because he respects her so much, because she’s the toughest person he knows, sending us off with the knowledge that Veronica will survive. To this voicemail I say: No shit, Sherlock. Who doesn’t know Veronica is tougher than archeologically excavated jerky? But Veronica’s toughness is not the stuff of hagiography. It’s the stuff of tragedy. No one should have to be that tough, and with Logan’s death the show pushes her further and further away from any other option, and does so as if it were the most noble, interesting direction in which to take her.

When it premiered, Veronica Mars was doing surprisingly incisive and acerbic things about class, sex, and pain from inside the relatively frothy confection known as the teen drama, not doing surprisingly hilarious things from inside a dark drama about a traumatized truth hunter: If these two descriptions amount to almost the same thing, they’re not quite. You put the emphasis on a different syllable. As Veronica heads into middle age and future seasons, how much pain is so much that the show can still be the first thing—actually fun and dark— instead of the second—pretty fun for being so dark? One of the things that lightened the show even as it gave it depth was Logan and Veronica’s kicky, passionate relationship, and now that’s gone, too. As Veronica soldiers on to solve crimes in parts unknown, I’m reminded, as ever, that she’s tougher than me: I think I might just give up on the whole thing.