Season four of “Veronica Mars” just dropped on Hulu, only 12 years after the show’s third season finale. All this time later, Mars is still resilient, suspicious, and anti-vulnerable—with a heart of gold.
As the tough-as-nails noir private investigator, Kristen Bell’s reprised Mars doesn’t disappoint. She is exactly who she was when we last saw her, certain about everything except what she wants. She can only see a few steps ahead of her, and while she can bug a friend’s office and predict criminal behavior, she operates her personal life entirely out of a fear of being hurt, with a certainty that anything she touches will turn to muck. Mars isn’t wrong.
Lots of original cast members make appearances, from Weevil (Francis Capra) to Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) to Wallace (Percy Daggs III). Patton Oswalt makes a season-length appearance as a pivotal pizza delivery guy cum conspiracy theorist and Twitter hero.
Bringing back beloved characters years after the series ends is a privilege of streaming media services. Hulu knows the audience for “Veronica Mars.” The fan base made itself known in a Kickstarter campaign to fund the show’s movie. While the project generated a storm of hate, it still happened, and the fans were the reason. It’s no wonder Hulu wanted to tap into that same group of Mars devotees and give them what they really wanted—more in the series.
I first started watching “Veronica Mars” in 2010, when I was up late pumping milk for my baby who couldn’t latch. I needed something to distract me from the guilt of not being successful at nursing, and once I finished watching every season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Veronica Mars” was up next. It didn’t disappoint.
I was entranced by Bell, and by Veronica’s drive to find out what happened to her best friend. Teen shows where all the kids are played by twentysomethings is almost a perfect genre, allowing us to relive high school and all the associated social misery, but without the gangly, awkward, zitty phase. Veronica flitted between social groups, but always kept to herself. She never trusted the wrong person, or let her heart take the lead.
She guarded her heart with barbed wire fencing, much in keeping with director Rob Thomas’s vision by recasting the classic noir detective as a young, Californian girl. In a sense, the original three seasons saw Veronica as a woman cancelled, the cause of her unwillingness to flirt with any potential for betrayal.
The untimely death of Veronica’s best friend and her father’s bungling as a sheriff resulted in the protagonist’s expulsion from the popular crowd at school. She wouldn’t let it drop, no matter how deep into Neptune High society the intrigue went. She was true to herself, committed to honesty above any person or idea, and not afraid to be shunned for seeking truth.
The fourth season’s eight episodes take place over spring break, and the plot centers around Neptune’s debaucherous, fratty beach culture, the criminal underworld, and Veronica’s menagerie of associates. Veronica is older, wiser, and as jaded as ever. The plot is just convoluted enough to keep viewers guessing, and moves along quickly enough that whodunnit theories are made and broken and made again.
But the real story is of Veronica’s vulnerability. She doesn’t have many friends outside of her dog, Pony, and her dad. Her boyfriend, classic bad boy love interest, Logan Echolls, is barely around because of his top secret Naval intelligence job. But even when he returns, his heart reaching out for her, she holds back. She takes his proposal of marriage as an insult to her independence, and it’s only in anger that she can get close.
Veronica makes a new friend, Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and ends up bugging her office, as one does. When she finds she can’t maintain that relationship without being honest, she tells her friend about the bug. She feels better for confessing. Veronica wants Nicole’s forgiveness. She wants her admission to make everything better. But it doesn’t, and Nicole drops her.
Having to decide between being truthful and the inevitably miserable consequences of that honesty is a tough call, but Veronica errs on the side of truth. In that, her character maintains her integrity after the decade-plus gap in episodes. Veronica doesn’t always do the right thing, but she’s honest about it.
She isn’t satisfied until she has nothing left to lose. The season closer brings her that tragic end, and with it, in some odd way, a sense of relief. Her ship of life can’t fully go sideways if it already sank.
In the end, things all go badly for Mars because good stuff can’t happen anymore. We’re not allowed to walk out into the world with a smile and some hopefulness and think to ourselves, “Hey, maybe things won’t totally suck.” Nope. Once we’ve worked as hard as we can, even harder, earned our reward, and found true love against all odds, we have to know for sure it’s gonna get messed up, fully hijacked, just one more time.
The Neptune of “Veronica Mars” is fully gentrified; Veronica and her fans are the rejected renters. If season five comes—and it may—Veronica will have to deal with that unfathomably bottomless hole of grief. She’ll have to figure out if she can trust, and be vulnerable, without believing it’s her vulnerability that causes tragedy.