Resolving ongoing, season-long (or beyond) murder mysteries on television, such as Veronica Mars, can be a tricky thing. Engaging an audience with red herrings and twists and turns is one thing, but giving them a resolution that is satisfying is another. Disappointment can turn to resentment and anger at writers deceiving us with an ending that either doesn’t make sense or on the opposite end of things, something too predictable.
Rob Thomas does not have that problem. Yes, the revelation of who killed Lilly Kane is maybe, in the end, the obvious suspect, but it does have considerable impact. With a script by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, “Leave it to Beaver” may be named after a 50s American sitcom, but that’s all it has in common. This being Veronica Mars, the eventual revelation is dark and filters its way into the realm of toxic masculinity, statutory rape, voyeurism and, of course, murder.
Aaron Echolls is our man. He did it. He’s the murderer. Yes, he is the obvious suspect given that we’ve seen him display violent tendencies and the series has tried to soften him up these last few weeks, but in the end, he has Lilly’s blood on his hands.
With the revelation of recording equipment above the pool house at the Echolls residence last week, of course Logan being the killer was a red herring, but the eventual revelation is even worse given that Aaron was much older than the high school attending Lilly, and the reveal comes through, of all things, a sex tape.
While being an ongoing murder mystery of a blonde haired high school student cannot help but bring comparisons with the seminal Twin Peaks, essentially the high tier of the genre, interestingly the use of a sex tape is reminiscent of the late, great Steven Bochco’s cancelled before its time Murder One which also used a long form murder mystery over the course of its first season, and which delivered its revelation via a sex tape.
Right from its opening moments, there is an air of suspense that never dissipates from the episode, with a forceful drive that takes it right through to the final moments. Yes, there are cliffhangers galore at the end, but Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright never cheats when it comes to what the audience has been waiting for all season; while Aaron Echolls was probably top of the suspect list, the motives and rationales are all a surprise, adding creepier layers that weren’t there before, with the episode in its second half upping the suspense to unbearable levels, bringing both Veronica and Keith into massive amounts of danger, on a level that hasn’t been seen before.
While the idea of Aaron being the killer is not the biggest surprise, the episode is never less than riveting, building itself up to a climax that plays on all manner of horror and suspense thriller tropes; people popping up in the back seats of cars, creepy point of view shots from inside a closet, lots of running, unfortunate extras bring knocked out, and, in one of the series’ greatest ever moments, Veronica locked in a box with a blazing fire threatening to burn her alive, with Keith desperately trying to save her.
It’s the latter point where the episode transcends itself. Veronica has been pretty much an avenging angel all season, but this is the first time the series really puts her into danger, and having her rely on being rescued by her father could have very easily have been a betrayal, but damn, the script, the direction, Bell and Enrico Colantoni sell it so well, with Harry Hamlin giving great horror movie psychopath in the episode’s dominant set piece.
The fight between Keith and Aaron is long, drawn out and brutal, with Aaron in particularly fighting dirty, but even with a blazing fire, Keith runs through it to save his daughter in a moment that is all the more powerful given that the mystery of Veronica’s paternity was resolved in favour of Keith.
All season we’ve been presented with one of the greatest father/daughter relationships in television history, a witty portrayal of parent and child that is the equal of Lorelai and Rory on Gilmore Girls, but one with a higher level of drama, and somewhat more acidic wit, but one which is filled with love.
Compare this to the eventual decision made by the newly returned Lianne who fails Veronica yet again, and then disappears into the night with the reward money Keith received for finding Duncan last week, one of the many cliffhangers that take us to the end of the season, and we know who Veronica is more like and every bit the equal of when it comes to her parents. There really is no question paternity here, but just seeing the relief on both their faces at the start of the episode is wonderful.
In fact, parental relationships and the failing and succeeding of them is a major theme here. Keith walks through fire, and yet Aaron in comparison has killed his son’s girlfriend, and Jake Kane is being arrested also for having manipulated the facts to get his own son off the hook having thought he killed his sister, the latter point bringing about arguably one of the most chilling moments in the show when Jake and Celeste states, in a deadly matter of fact style, the way they believed that the murder went down.
It’s a brilliant end to what has been a brilliant season, one that has scarcely put a foot wrong. The majority of the episodes have been brilliant, save for one or two minor disappointments, and it managed the wonderful feat of knowing what it was it wanted to do right from its superlative Pilot, from its tone, is marrying of teen drama tropes with noir and mystery, and at the heart of it Kristen Bell’s iconic, definitive performance.
The season ends with a lovely, subtle cliffhanger that leaves one wanting the next episode right away; and is a tasty piece of icing on the cake for the season. Wonderful television.