Wednesday, May 10, 2006

TV: Veronica Mars

Spoilers ahoy!

The second season finale of Veronica Mars aired last night and, as with the end to the first season, it was a tutorial on how a serialized mystery can wrap up pretty much every single loose end satisfactorily, yet still leave viewers wanting more.

What I loved most about the episode was that, despite how much material needed to be packed in, despite how much plot there was, the show still took the time for an extended Graduation Day fantasy, in which Veronica's life had never been turned upside-down by the murder of best friend Lilly Kane. Father Keith is still sheriff of Neptune, mother Lianne (I'm always happy to see Corinne Bohrer!) never ran away, Duncan Kane never fled the country with his love child (although Veronica, oddly enough, is dating Logan in her dream, not Duncan), and Lilly is right there to celebrate graduation with Veronica. Of course, Veronica and Wallace never became friends, much to both their losses, surely; in a brief exchange, Wallace sums up the fantasy: "Have a good life -- I'm sure you will."

But the dream is fleeting: Lilly is dead, her killer has just been set free, and it's not a good life. Or at least, not an easy one. Which has probably made Veronica a better person than she ever could have been otherwise. And which makes for some great television.

Then, the plot. I've suspected Cassidy "Beaver" Casablancas was behind the bus crash for a few weeks now, but for no good reason. In fact, the entire reason for my suspicion was his refusal to have sex with Mac, and his subsequent angry break-up with her. Seemed like there was a lot going on under the surface there, but what, exactly, I wasn't sure. Was he just closeted and reluctant to come out? It seemed like something more than that to me, and I was right. It took this episode to explain exactly why I was right. I was still running on the assumption that Veronica's chlamydia had been contracted from Duncan, and when we discovered Woody Goodman had it, too, I figured Duncan must have been the missing third Little League player that had been molested by Woody. I was as shocked as Veronica when she discovered the truth (and I loved the stunning camera work in that moment, the old Hitchcockian trick of pulling the camera back while simultaneously zooming in). "Not pictured: Cassidy Casablancas." A powerful reveal that gave me chills.

And the confrontation between Veronica and Beaver on the roof of the hotel was tremendous. We learned that Beaver has never been the good little boy he's been made out to be -- that in fact, he was the one who had raped a drugged Veronica in the first season. And then, as he taunted Veronica by telling her she had a minute left to call her father before he detonated the bomb on his plane -- the personal nature of that moment, the sheer, cruel, calculated evil of it, was more devastating that a season's worth of terrorism and torture on 24. When we saw the fireball over Veronica's shoulder, as we saw in her face her world dying, my heart sank. Even though I knew Keith couldn't be on that plane, that the show couldn't possibly be that unfair, for a moment I was right there with Veronica. What a brilliant, wrenching scene.

And Beaver's final moment was fitting, but still chilling. About to leap from the roof, he listened to Logan try to talk him out of it. But when he asked for a reason not to do it, Logan came up blank. "That's what I thought." And in silence, in the back corner of the screen, almost insignificant, we saw him take his final step backward, and just like that, he was gone. I almost wish Veronica had shot him when she had the chance. Or Logan. But that worked, too. Good riddance.

The rest of the supporting characters had their stories wrapped up, too, some not as positively as others. I wasn't too surprised (and certainly not unhappy) to see Aaron Echolls, Lilly's killer, get murdered himself, but I was surprised to see who was behind it -- Duncan Kane, hiring a hitman (his father's old security chief) from his exile in Australia. Good for you, boy, good for you. And Weevil's off to jail, arrested by sadistic bastard Sheriff Lamb in front of his grandmother, moments before receiving his diploma. And Jackie's in New York to stay, revealed to be the daughter not of a rich supermodel, but a working class waitress -- and the mother of a two-year-old. So that's Beaver, Duncan, Weevil, and Jackie, all presumably written out of the show for good in one fell swoop. Man, this show needs to repopulate when it comes back next year (I refuse to entertain the thought that it might not be back). Perhaps Arrested Development's George Michael and Maeby can reprise their roles as college students from earlier this season. After all, Veronica never did solve the mystery of Maeby's hair being shaved off.

Things went much better for Charisma Carpenter's Kendall, who it appears will definitely be back for season three (hooray!). An $8 million windfall for her, due to Beaver's real estate dealings, which hinged on the failure of Mayor Woody's incorporation proposition. (I like that Beaver's plan worked on two fronts, cover-up/revenge, and simple financial gain.) The cliffhanger set-up, in which she revealed the mysterious contents of a briefcase to Keith Mars, wasn't exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, but then, I don't really need to be hooked to come back for another year. I will tell you my one prediction for next year's mystery: whatever happened to Logan's mother? Her body was never recovered, was it? And we all know, in a detective story: no body means she's still alive.

All in all, another wildly successful finale to another wildly successful season. At times this year, it seemed like there was a little too much plot getting in the way of the action (as opposed to, say, Lost, which, up until last week's last five minutes, has spent a season with far too little plot moving things along). Almost everything involving the Fitzpatricks, for example. But the writing and the acting (mainly that of Enrico Colantoni and Kristen Bell, the best parent-child combo on TV) just keeps getting better. This is a great show, and hopefully the merger of the WB and UPN into the CW next year, and the subsequent (again, hopefully) merger of their viewership will bring Veronica Mars the larger audience it deserves.

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