If “Not Pictured” is indicative of anything, it’s that Veronica Mars is the dark night of the soul when it came to the teen television genre. After the Woody Goodman revelation at the heart of “Happy Go Lucky“, the season two finale of Veronica Mars doubles down on all the darkness and emotional nastiness and instantly makes itself one of the series’ very best episodes.
You may just want to take a shower after it.
All season, Veronica Mars has upped the ante in terms of its season-long mystery arc; one murder last season gave way to nine victims this season, while a single murder mystery gave way to a bus given over a cliff and all manner of brilliant plot convolutions and alleys for the plot to wander down.
Everything about Veronica Mars this season was designed to be bigger, but instead of feeling as if it was copping out and trying to turn itself into something else, all the while the series’ ongoing plotline upped the scale, everything else going on around it felt like a wonderful continuation of what the series had done last season.
Heading into its finale with the revelation that a child molester has been effectively running the town of Neptune, “Not Pictured” doubles down yet again on the darkness with a retconning of one of last season’s most dominant plot lines into something even more disturbing.
Once again, sexual violence plays a major part in the proceedings, and given that this aired in 2006, there is the potential for the episode to prove itself deeply problematic in 2018. The “whodunnit” aspect of last season and Veronica’s rape has admittedly not aged the best; whether or not sexual violence is a plot line a television series or movie, or any mystery, should utilise as a means to engage the audience in an intelligently pulpy whodunnit narrative, is a question that comes up a lot, and it can cause one to ask whether or not that aspect of the first season of Veronica Mars has aged.
It never helps that the season one episode that dealt with that event gave way to one of its most disgusting characters, Dick (Ryan Hansen), becoming a comic relief figure during the course of this season. Sure we love him, Ryan Hansen in wonderful and Dick’s role as the jester of the series is not without charms, but when one goes back to re-watch “A Trip to the Dentist“, we’re witnessing incredibly abhorrent behaviour from someone we’re supposed to laugh at a few episodes later and the effect is weird and disturbing, and not in a way the writers probably intended.
“Not Pictured” links the revelation regarding Woody to Veronica’s rape. Veronica’s chlamydia diagnosis? That wasn’t there for nothing and it’s the key to revealing who caused the bus to crash. The reveal that Beaver (Kyle Gallner) was not only the one who caused the bus crash but was also one of Woody’s victims is the darkest the series has ever gotten and when the revelation comes during a confrontation that is one of Veronica Mars’ greatest ever scenes, the teleplay from Rob Thomas and John Enbom doesn’t pull any punches.
Not only did Beaver, or Cassidy as he wants to be called given that it is his proper name, cause the death of nine people, it is also revealed that he did in fact rape Veronica at Shelly Pomroy’s party. This revelation stings hard, but it also leaves the audience reeling with everything being delivered to us. We can never forgive Beaver for the rape, that much is for sure, but the episode subtly, but also in a way that doesn’t pull punches either, lets us know that Beaver is part of a cycle of abuse. Whether it’s down to the writing or Gallner’s performance, but there is a part of Beaver that is sad and tragic. His actions are deplorable and disgusting with regards to his treatment of Veronica, and murdering nine people is psychotic, but would any of it happened if Beaver hadn’t been abused by Woody. It’s a subtle question just dancing around the framework of the episode.
Woody Goodman is a monster and the purest monster that season two has to offer and the damage he has doled out has led to many lives being destroyed. The episode brilliantly puts the audience through the wringer here. Beaver’s reveal that he was molested by Woody gains some sympathy, but then again his actions aren’t portrayed like that of someone having a psychotic break. He is very much in control of his actions and two wrongs definitely don’t make a right here. His treatment of Veronica at the party and then here when he uses her taser to hurt her physically is raw and anger-inducing television that brilliantly leaves the audience reeling, while the possibility that he has hurt Mac (Tina Majorino) haunts the scene also giving it a sense of emotional horror the likes of which network television rarely dabbles in.
The only thing that the episode cops out on, and we know they have to, is Keith’s “death”. Having apprehended Woody and taking him back on a plane, Beaver has rigged the plane with a bomb to take his final revenge on Woody. The thing that sells it brilliantly is Kristen Bell’s performance. We know that Enrico Colantoni is not going to leave the show, but for one moment we truly believe that Veronica believes that and it just adds to the pressure cooker of a dark environment that the episode is revelling in.
While not every character finds themselves on a dark level of discovery as Veronica does over her assault, the supporting cast doesn’t get off scot-free either. There is a still wickedly entertaining and strangely angsty fun to be had in seeing Weevil, Wallace and Jackie (Tessa Thompson’s last appearance on the series) get their hearts handed to them on a plate.
Weevil getting arrested by Lamb just as he is about to graduate has an element of cruelty to it that once again has one cursing the name of Lamb, while Jackie and Wallace’s will they/won’t they romance has the final nail put in its coffin when it turns out that Jackie has a child in New York and works as a waitress there now that her dad, Terrence (Jeffrey D.Sams) has sent her away to make up for his debt to the casino owner who gave him an alibi.
It once again shows the inherent emotional cruelties of the world the characters find themselves in as if we need the reminder. Hell, even Aaron Echolls doesn’t get off lightly. Sure, he is technically free and manages to get a roll in the hay with Kendall Casablancas, but he subsequently has his brains blown out by Clarence Wiedman, a hit ordered by Duncan, who we see with his daughter on a beach in Australia.
Given everything going on here, this is an incredibly dark hour of Veronica Mars to finish its second season on, and it may very well have nearly been the last ever hour of the show. The UPN Network was set to merge with The WB, meaning some shows would make it to what was going to be called The CW and some wouldn’t.
Thankfully, Veronica Mars would, in fact, make it for the third season, but not without some dreaded changes. One could argue that the series would come close, but it would never reach these heights again.