It takes a lot for a television series to shock an audience with character deaths. Either spoilers will, literally, spoil the fun, or they can foreshadow in a not subtle way, but when a television series can make you exclaim “what?” when they kill someone off, it cannot help but make an episode memorable.
‘Mars, Bars’ (great title) would already be a really good episode of Veronica Mars. The Dean O’ Dell murder ratchets up a gear and the murder of Coach Barry isn’t bad either. There is the logistical problem that what was supposed to be the third story arc of the season was going to rely, once again, on the murder of a school staff member, although it does give the hilarious impression of Hearst College being the most dangerous college in America when its staff members are dropping like flies or are involved in complex murder plots, but then the episode goes and kills Sheriff Lamb at the most random moment.
Michael Muhney was without a doubt a brilliant antagonist throughout the initial three-season run of Veronica Mars, a morally corrupt and bankrupt presence that we loved to watch Veronica run rings around, and who we hated with a passion whenever he got one over on Veronica or Keith, which was rare but still prone to happen every once in a while.
A recurring presence in the first two seasons, Muhney was made into a regular for the third season, but with eight episodes of the season left to go, the series goes and kills him off in an almost random, yet incredibly violent fashion, and gives him an equally random final line, itself a nod and a wink to a death in the famed American comedy series M*A*S*H.
On its own, it would be enough to make the episode an incredibly memorable one, but thankfully it’s the icing on the cake as ‘Mars, Bars’ is the third season on fire. For a season that has felt somewhat compromised by decisions on how to approach the structuring of its story arcs and its approach to some of its themes, there have been points when the season has reminded the audience just how fantastic a series Veronica Mars can be when an episode gets out of its own way and deliver the goods and its gratifying to say that ‘Mars, Bars’ is not an example of “great title, shame about the episode”. We’re taking great title, great episode.
The twists and turns in regards to the death of O’Dell are incredibly memorable and gains extra points for eventually taking us to the point where a major character is killed. The other ongoing plotline involving the death of Coach Barry (Matt McKenzie) is also incredibly well handled, although one cannot help but wonder if the eventual destination of that storyline would have been even more powerful if it had been given over to the entirety of the final third of the season with which to land its resolution.
It still works, make no mistake about that, and everyone puts in great work, from the acting and the writing, but alas this is always going to be known as the episode that killed Sheriff Lamb. One moment of likability in season two notwithstanding, the series was never afraid to make him a truly unlikable character and amazingly there is very little in the way of redemption for him upon death. He doesn’t do anything terrible here, nor does he accomplish anything likeable or make the audience or characters mourn him. He is killed in the line of duty and that is that; and still remains a somewhat unlikable figure up to the end.
Even for one of the most unlikable characters in the series, we’re reminded that Neptune is as unforgiving as ever. As if we need reminding.