It’s kind of fitting that the fourth season of Veronica Mars got a surprise week-early release by Hulu. The season was set to arrive, with all eight episodes at once, on Friday, July 26. But during the show’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con, it was revealed by the streaming service that Veronica Mars would return…that day. Like, immediately that day. So diehard fans of the dogged private detective, first introduced as a high school student and now a full-on adult, could catch her latest adventure early.
As has become the case for a lot of streaming shows, it was best for fans to watch the show quickly because the season was full of surprises. To discuss any of them – and why they worked or failed – means we’re diving into spoilers. Right now. So skip this article unless you’ve seen all eight episodes (or if you don’t care about being spoiled).
Seriously. Major spoilers begin immediately.
The Death of Logan Echolls
As I mentioned in my overall review of the new season, I was able to watch all eight episodes before their official release. I watched the whole season with my wife; we both were big fans of Veronica Mars when it aired on both the UPN and the CW back in the mid-2000s, and we’d happily donated to the show’s Kickstarter campaign to get a crowdfunded movie in theaters in the spring of 2014. If I’d paused the show with about 20 minutes left in its final episode, and asked my wife how much she was enjoying the new show, she would’ve told me she loved it.
And then the show went and killed Logan Echolls. Now, my wife is actively pretending that this new season doesn’t exist. I didn’t have the same fiercely, intensely negative reaction to this final twist, to be clear. (And as you’ll see from my original review, I largely enjoyed the new season.) But I keep thinking about her reaction, especially after having read a post-mortem interview that Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone did with the show’s creator Rob Thomas. I keep thinking about what fans think of this show, in short, because Rob Thomas apparently cannot stop thinking about what fans think of his show.
Before I get to that, I’m not going to say that I cheered Logan’s death. After Veronica (Kristen Bell, wonderful as always) has solved the season-long mystery of who’s set off a series of bombs at Spring Break hot spots in Neptune – primarily the work of a true-crime podcaster/pizza delivery guy played by Patton Oswalt – she and Logan do the impossible: they get married. They’re happy! They’re thrilled! Until Veronica realizes that Oswalt’s bomber left one more bomb behind, in her car…which Logan has gone outside to move. So…bye-bye Logan.
Killing Logan is a huge move, especially since the stripped-down fourth season has only a few characters from the old days who stick around for more than a few scenes. Jason Dohring’s performance this season is deliberately less brood-y and intense, as Logan has been going to therapy and handling his issues. The issue with Logan’s death is less that it guts Veronica to her core, and more that it feels heavily calculated as a way to further this show’s noirish tendencies.
“I feel like for this show to work as a detective show, it has to be with Veronica as a single woman,” said Thomas in that interview. I won’t quote the interview at length, but it’s worth reading while also being immensely frustrating. It’s not entirely clear to me why Veronica has to be single, aside from the presumption that she can’t be happy if she’s also a detective. The twist plays fair enough, but it also feels like it was something Thomas forced upon himself and his writers.
The Mexican Hitmen
Even though season 4 of Veronica Mars is just eight episodes long, there’s enough room for those writers (including NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, because why not) to explore stories and characters at the periphery of the bombings that bring them together. One of the threads, which seems more interesting in the moment than in full, focuses on a pair of hitmen for a Mexican drug cartel, who get drawn in because they’re tasked by their boss to find the man behind the initial bombing, at the Sea Sprite Motel. (That bomb killed a nerdy college student related to the head of the cartel.)
Alonzo, the lead of the pair, is played by the great character actor Clifton Collins, Jr. (You know him from Westworld, The Mule, and he’s also very briefly in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.) As Alonzo, Collins gets to play a variation on the loquacious murderer, a menacing type whose allegiances and morals are such that you can never tell who’s in danger when he’s around. He’s a fine choice for the character, and does his very best as a disturbingly friendly hitman. But the show, after introducing him as a wild card, doesn’t seem to know what to do with Alonzo.
When all is said and done, Alonzo achieves his goal: he and his compatriot brutally murder Big Dick Casablancas (the Neptune businessman who used his prison connections to engineer the first bombing, which then led to a series of copycat bombings). In between appearing in the first and final episodes, Alonzo and his fellow hitman end up helping – or hurting – the re-election chances of a Muslim Congressman who tries to elicit their services.
Speaking of which! Let’s talk about the Maloof side of things. One of the victims of the first bombing is a young white female college student whose fiancé only loses a hand. That fiancé is the younger brother of Congressman Daniel Maloof (Mido Hamada), who’s got his eye on higher political office. (Or, at least, his mother has her eye on him moving up.) There’s more of a sense of politics running throughout this season, as a commentary on the world at large. (Casablancas is referred to as a con artist/real-estate tycoon, which does not feel like an accident.)
Nothing wrong with having political commentary in popular culture, especially in neo-noir. The problem is less that it’s part of Veronica Mars, and more that the Maloof side of things this season is as weakly formed as the subplot with the Mexican hitmen. That, of course, is because these two plots intertwine; we first learn that Maloof’s rigid mother tried to pay off the now-dead fiancée of her younger son, simply to stop seeing him. Then, we see Congressman Maloof struggle to deal with the dead young woman’s hillbilly-esque family, who go as far as abducting him and beating him brutally. He tries to resolve this in the heat of the moment by eliciting the help of Alonzo and his friend (who at one point mistakenly believe Maloof’s behind the bombing) to kill the hillbillies who beat him up.
And yet, when all is said and done, it doesn’t much matter. Maloof has his hands dirty, but not so dirty that we don’t see billboards for his Senate campaign in the final scenes of the season. And as with the hitmen themselves, he’s achieved his goal in ways that are separate from the storyline about Veronica herself. (Logan is brought in as Maloof’s personal security eventually, simply to justify why we keep following the congressman.) The performances aren’t the problem—it’s that, even with just eight episodes, there are a few elements that feel too extraneous.
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