‘The Bitch is Back’ is no longer the end of Veronica Mars, but that was very much the case in 2007 when it first premiered. While the series leaves many plot threads hanging, there is something beautifully melancholic about its final image, that of its titular character walking off into the rain, destiny unknown.
Cancellations are the worst thing about television. There is no denying that television is a wonderful medium when it comes to long-form storytelling. Sure, there are a plethora of terrible reality shows and cheesy sitcoms that need an education in what humour really is, but the shows that get it right, particularly the comedies and the dramas where something magical happens, make it worth it. They consume our time; we stay up late just so we can watch that ‘one last episode’ and we nitpick and analyse every last detail.
The danger is when a show that we love so much doesn’t manage to break through commercially, and struggles to find a larger audience that appreciates it. And its network or broadcaster don’t care for the appreciation and love of a small but vocal fanbase. Such was the case for Veronica Mars.
Its final episode is one that feels defiant at the odds against it, but which still isn’t afraid to invoke a feeling of angry melancholy. It was maybe something that came through in the writing, a piece of inescapable knowledge that the end was nigh, even if there was a pitch for a fourth season that was incredibly intriguing and different to what the series had done before.
That fourth season, had it happened, would have seen the series reformat itself into something vastly different and would have been a world away from the teen drama element that was a big part of the fabric of Veronica Mars. And yet that feels like the world that Veronica is walking away from in its final moments; this wonderful character who we’ve spent the last three seasons watching, as she goes from high school student to attending college, and experiencing tough moments and choices, walks away to adulthood. Because regardless of if the next season of the series had happened or, as would happen, a big screen movie, Veronica would be older: a grown up finally in the world of grown-ups.
The final teleplay of the series at the time is by its creator Rob Thomas, and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, and it seems only right that its most frequently brilliant voice should be the one to put a last statement on the series at this period of time. Its plot line is a brilliantly typical Veronica Mars one, dealing with Piz and Veronica’s sex tape being released, the ramifications of Logan beating up Piz, and the revelation of a secret society headed by Jake Kane (a returning Kyle Secor) that really does feel like a set up for a plot strand to be picked up further down the line given how expansive a potential plot line it feels.
As a season finale goes, its great, and given that it’s coming at the end of a point in the series that involved doing more in the way of stand-alone tales, it means that while the stakes are somewhat lower than revealing the key mastermind of a bus crash plot or who killed Veronica’s best friend, there’s an intimacy to Veronica trying to figure out who released a tape of her and Piz together that gives it a different drive to finales of before.
As an actual final episode, it might come across as a disappointment, but any perception of its quality will now surely get better because it’s not the end anymore. Thankfully it’s just another part of its journey; a journey that includes a movie and an upcoming revival.
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There are moral dilemmas for Keith, who we see will do anything to protect his daughter, even if it means once again losing out on being Sheriff. Although this is Neptune so chances are it was always meant to be Vinnie that wins the election, and let’s face it, it’s the most Neptune deserves because they’ve never deserved Keith and Veronica. And once again it leaves us with something that would have been incredible to watch and see how the series would have dealt with it had it come back in whatever form it would have taken for that fourth season.
What is the legacy of Veronica Mars? A quiet and subtle one, but one which is vastly important to its legion of Marshmallows and LoVe shippers. While Veronica has never quite felt like it has ranked as an important piece of pop culture in the manner of something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the quality of a lot of it means it is more than worthy to sit alongside it as one of the best teen drama hybrids. Yes, some elements of it were problematic, not least the times it dealt with sexual assault, but it is a show from 2005 and nothing ages brilliantly anymore as we become more enlightened.
Its impact on other shows has probably been more subtle, but no less impactful. Its portrayal of murder mysteries and other darker plot lines can still be seen in things that came about not long after like Pretty Little Liar,s and big hitters today like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why.
Of those shows, Pretty Little Liars was by far the best, even if was more glossy and less gritty than Neptune, with its plot lines becoming increasingly, albeit enjoyably ridiculous the longer it went on, and gave us Troian Bellisario as Spencer Hastings, one of the best teen characters and performances in a post-Veronica Mars world. 13 Reasons Why is deeply problematic in ways that Veronica Mars wasn’t, and while Veronica Mars’ dealings with sexual assault was not the best, at least it never felt exploitative or sensationalist in the way 13 Reasons Why has always done, while Riverdale fizzled out spectacularly after that strong first season and which it never recovered from.
When it comes to teen mysteries there has probably never been a series as great as this one, nor one as controlled. Yes, the third season was its weakest and ended up all over the place trying to mix in shorter story arcs and stand-alone mysteries. Yet even at its weakest, it was still better than the pretenders to its throne, even if they do get more attention in this day and age of social media.
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What can never be taken away from Veronica Mars is the brilliance of many of the scripts from Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero-Wright, Phil Klemmer and the many writers and directors who brought Neptune to life, while Kristen Bell’s performance as Veronica is one for the ages and one of the best central performances to grace a television series, and let’s not forget Enrico Colantoni as Keith. Was there ever a father and daughter relationship as brilliant as the one that this series gave us? I struggle to think of one.
While it may not have made a considerable commercial impact, it did gain itself a movie that its fans were willing to pay for and then some. So many Kickstarter-backed movies struggle, but Veronica Mars made it to the silver screen with a Kickstarter campaign excelling in ways that many don’t, and if there’s anything that sums up the series, its fans and its central characters in a perfect way, maybe that’s it; fighting above its weight in the most brilliant way imaginable, defeating the odds, even as it walks through the rain.