Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Years, Continents, Bloodshed" (season 4, episode 8)

Friday, August 2, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Years, Continents, Bloodshed" (season 4, episode 8)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Scott Winant): The Mars family has a not-terribly-difficult decision to make, although initially they are loathe to make it. Penn insists that they work for him - after all, what have they got to lose? If he's guilty, great, they help keep him in jail. If he's innocent, they earn some money while catching the real killer. Sensing that they're being manipulated, Veronica and Keith reluctantly agree but insist on taking the investigation where they want it to go. This leads them back to the Pi Sigma fraternity, where Keith marvels at Veronica's ruthlessness, forcing the weepy Blake Long (Spencer Ward) to admit what happened during Spring Break 2015. Drunk and in the midst of hazing rituals, the bros lashed out at a hapless pizza delivery man, dunking him in the violent waves until he apparently drowned, his body washed away. When one of group expressed remorse, his tent was burned down during the night; since then they've adhered to a vow of silence although Blake suspects his own friends set the fire. Veronica has her own interpretation: the pizza guy didn't really die. He came back to kill one of his tormentors (ironically the one who felt bad), and three years later he's been avenging himself on the broader swathe of spring breakers. Matty, now edging her way into working full-time with Mars Investigations, learns that the pizza shop can't find the paper ticket from that fateful night's delivery, but Penn maintains that such an incident never happened to him. And then, a breakthrough...


Matty finds the missing ticket with the name "Don" - the pretentious murderhead who insists that he works as a congressional tech advisor in Washington, D.C. (but is in fact living modestly in San Diego). Penn, now out of jail since there wasn't enough evidence to charge, leads them to an abandoned factory where they find a dead Don. There's a bullet in his head and a suicide limerick pinned to his chest so it looks like the case is closed, although the last bomb still needs to be defused. Then Matty calls again, with information that implicates Penn staging a cover-up, and Veronica realizes the bomb isn't at the restaurant as they thought...it's set to destroy Kane High, the new institution that Jake Kane funded, whose grand opening both Wallace and Matty are at this very moment attending. Racing to the scene, Veronica is able to clear the area while Keith plays a game of chicken with Penn, insisting that they're going to hang out in the blast radius until Penn reveals the location of the bomb and snips the wires. After all, Keith is convinced that his brain is deteriorating (later he will discover his memory problem was just a fixable byproduct of his medication), so he tells Penn he's got nothing to lose. The pizza bomber blinks first, the school is saved, and Penn is taken to jail although he cryptically mocks Veronica on his way to the slammer. She doesn't think much of it initially, as she needs to abruptly shift gears: she is finally, at long last, going to marry Logan. Thirteen years after they first fell in love - two grieving, grudge-bearing teenagers smooching on the balcony of a cheap motel - Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls say "I do"...and "Yeah, why not?"

The bomb plot dominates the first half of the episode, but a couple other threads unfold simultaneously. Logan and Veronica make their plans for a civic ceremony quickie, Logan runs into college girlfriend Parker at the city hall (she's fresh off a divorce and hardly encouraging), and he pays a visit to his therapist to calm his nerves. Earlier in the episode, as Veronica and Keith take on Penn's case, Matty is nearly caught by a samurai sword-wielding Big Dick. But he comes across Alonzo and Dodie instead and Dodie happily lays his machete aside to run Casablancas through with his own sword. Matty watches as Dick is beheaded; slightly stunned, a bit disgusted, but mostly numbed to carnage by now, she leaves miraculously unscathed. The Mexican assassins observe that it's time for them to go home with their prize and, with no small amount of wistful melancholy, they gaze one last time over the community they've come to enjoy so much, the landscape's rare charm far more significant than the gory corpse at their feet. Clyde observes the whole tableau with bemused, muted satisfaction. He will now get his car dealership, but a visit to Keith - however superficially pleasant - goes nowhere, and the proud but lonely man learns that he lost his new friend while saving his own skin.

One minor matter remains. It's very minor, no big deal at all. But Veronica could never quite figure out why the bomber's letter spoke of "midday round Fiji" - perhaps it was just a red herring meant to deflect them to a sandwich shop on the boardwalk? Only as she prepares for her honeymoon with Logan, and he crosses the street to move the car for street sweeping, does it register. Penn left a backpack behind in her car that afternoon. And right now it's 4:59pm in California, which means it's almost noon on the island of Fiji... An explosion blasts from the street below, blowing out the window to Veronica's bedroom. Veronica falls back, scratched and bleeding, the horrible old feeling surging forth again: like a cloud of overpowering radiation, the sense that she and everything around her in this world, including the people she loves, are cursed. But, of course, her story - if only hers - continues. A year later she leaves Neptune. Matty begins to work at Keith's office, Veronica's home is sold to the developers who have transformed the town overnight, and new clients are calling the celebrated sleuth from across the U.S. On her drive out she listens to Logan's final message, emailed to his therapist the day he was wed (and, as far as we can tell, the day he died). "Is it weird to want to marry someone because you respect her? Because you want to be like her? Because you want children who will inherit her qualities? I want to marry Veronica because she's the toughest human being I've ever met. Blows that would destroy most people...she always picks herself back up." A tear runs down Veronica's cheek as she keeps her eyes on the road ahead, leaving her lost home behind.


My Response: Let's take the least important matters first. We already knew Big Dick set one of the bombs (and Clyde almost certainly the other), and Penn looked like almost too obvious a suspect for the rest. I really did think each bomb would be planted by a separate person - with Nicole responsible for the one that blew off the young punk's head - but no, the conspiratorial pizza guy is the primary killer. I can go with this, although I kept hoping the series would pull a surprise on us (eventually it did, kind of, just not in terms of the killer's identity). I did enjoy how alternatives kept emerging only for us to swing back to Penn. This is probably the first time that the series has pointed emphatically to a culprit and then relied on our own engineered skepticism to keep us guessing anyway. (Veronica kept mentioning the police's knowledge of the nails; the "previously on..." montage featured this dialogue over a shot of the chief's right-hand man turning and looking suspiciously toward the camera, which certainly got me thinking, so well-played, montage editors.) Regardless, the bomb plot is far from the key to this revival - even if it's admirably large-scale and ongoing in a way that even the most dramatic throughlines of previous seasons were not. On a show that is no longer episodic at all, the serialized season mystery feels more and more like the "B" plot. The grander themes of Veronica's relationships are the connective tissue for all four seasons and the film - her relationships to place as well as people.

Now, finally, that place is literally in her rearview mirror, an exodus that feels more considered and final than the 2007 escape (which we only learned about in retrospect) while one of the most important of those people is, it seems, gone for good. Is Logan dead? This question was, for me as most viewers, at the forefront of my mind as the final "One Year Later..." stretch began. "On my way to see you," Veronica's voiceover tells us; even in tragedy Rob Thomas is a tease. Is she going to the cemetery? The hospital? Has Logan been deployed somewhere else? The monologue is coy in its language, but eventually we discover Veronica isn't addressing Logan at all; she's speaking to his therapist, whom she's finally agreed to visit. It's only in the way the therapist speaks about Logan that we can confirm what seemed apparent when the bloody bride lay on her bed: a few brief hours of marital bliss are all they can ever claim. Logan is dead. But wait, is he? Even as it becomes abundantly clear that a grieving Veronica is on her own and that she and everyone else speak of Logan as belonging to the past, we never see the aftermath of the explosion, we never see a grave (not that even a tombstone would confirm a corpse, necessarily), and nobody that I can recall speaks the words "death," "died," etc. Fans have, it seems, desperately seized on these threads and begun tugging as hard as they can. And to be fair, that openness doesn't seem accidental. This ambiguity leaves room to dream.

Is Veronica actually traveling to see Logan in a facility somewhere, where perhaps he's lost his voice or his mind or some other abilities, still alive but in a way that will take some adjusting to? Is Logan in a coma with no good prognosis but, as of yet, no final end? Could Logan have disappeared in the wake of his apparent demise? Why would he? Because the bomb wasn't actually set by Penn but by more ominous enemies who will hurt Veronica if they think he isn't dead? Because he was needed, suddenly, for an ultra-secret mission that even his new wife couldn't know about...for a year??? This all feels very over-the-top to me, and honestly I'd completely accepted his death when the show closed. It was only after listening to a podcast that I learned others had not, and I reflected upon how the episode actually does encourage speculation, although I'll bet Thomas leans toward the grimmer reading. Keeping options open is an understandable tactic, especially for such a tumultuous production as Veronica Mars. Nonetheless, I find myself wishing the series would commit one way or the other; the poignancy of the finale is undercut if varnished with too much desperate hope. The following was written before it occurred to me that Logan might actually be alive and for the moment I prefer my original conclusion, even if I appreciated his character and what his relationship with Veronica brought to the narrative, and was shocked by the gut-punch of the final bomb.


Given Logan's fate, this last episode title turns out to be a dark one. Could the starcrossed Veronica/Logan love affair end any differently? In a sense, this is the only way to bring closure to that roller coaster relationship: a happy ending preserved in the amber of tragedy. Now the honeymoon phase that Parker describes will never wane. Yet if the message of the closing minutes - that Veronica is a survivor who keeps going when others would quit - rings true in grief, it would ring true in marriage too; even if we accept the impossibility of an easy road forward, Veronica and Logan weren't saved from anything other than the chance to live a life shaped but not defined by adversity. No, it's the audience (and the creative team) who needed this outcome, even if we don't want to admit it. The look on Veronica's face as the glass settles on the bed around her tells us this is always how it had to be. We didn't meet Veronica before her best friend was murdered, before her mother ran off, before her entire social circle dropped her, before she was raped and her assault was ignored by police, before she'd built herself the toughest shell of any seventeen-year-old in Neptune. We only glimpsed that Veronica in flashbacks - and once, memorably, when she dreamed of a normie alternate universe - but she was always a stranger. And she always will be.

If Veronica's decades-spanning romance leaves a bittersweet aftertaste, more martyred than defeated, her equally tumultuous relationship to Neptune ends more unambiguously. The class war has been finally, totally won. When Veronica Mars premiered in 2004, it's easy to forget that inequality wasn't entirely off the cultural radar. John Edwards (of all people!), then a vice-presidential nominee, emphasized this problem on the national stage, and columnists and commentators would - in the margins between the all-encompassing War on Terror and hot-button social issues like gay marriage - occasionally note the ever-widening wealth gap in Bush's America (and, if they were being honest, in Clinton's before him). Nonetheless, the dominant cultural flavor of that era was the gaudy decadence of celebrities; if that aspect also made its way into the series, it did so alongside a much more idiosyncratic emphasis on the have-nots, with Veronica placed precipitously in the middle of those twin peaks. The American sociopolitical landscape of 2019 has caught up with Veronica Mars; it's as openly divided as the show was back then, but also divided in a different sense: a viable left alternative has finally emerged to the hypercapitalist hegemony of the past half-century but that same hegemony has never been more total in its power than at the present moment.

The latter is reflected onscreen as Veronica drives out of town, past the new beachfront condos and boutique businesses, having just prevented the destruction of an elite private school opened by her tech billionaire nemesis (a wonderful dramatic irony and the season's most perfectly-conceived cameo). Neptune's gentrification is not a sudden shift, nor even the abrupt result of a long-planned coup, but part of a much more gradual process. Note that even the summer before all the dominoes fell, when the middle class still held a toehold, that marginal presence was still based on servicing the wealthy - since many of those tourists were the decadent offspring of rich families. This arrangement allowed a struggling petty bourgeois to accrue some of the profit and a modicum of power in a community stacked against them, but now all but the 1% have gone the way of the poor and working class: out of luck and out of town. (Weevil is bluntly told to fend for himself after succumbing to the brutal, inevitable logic of an economic system that hires those desperate for work to be their own gravediggers). "We are all 09ers now" could be etched onto the "Welcome to Neptune" sign; instead of segregating itself as once planned, the upscale zip code simply annexed and purged the surrounding area. Resistance by endurance has failed. Survival by accommodation has failed. What remains? Perhaps Veronica will return from her exile with a plan for liberation. Only the future, both on and offscreen, can tell.

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