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Only four episodes in, the fourth season of Veronica Mars is surprisingly dense. Except for the Maloof family ring (presumably) and Dick Casablancas’ acting career and life as “King of Spring Break”), everything has ended up being in service to the larger mystery of the bombings, which are now classified as a serial killer spree. Even the Hu’s Reduced rat plot led to the Mars Investigations theory about the purposes of these bombings. With these episodes clocking in at just under an hour—with the final scenes making way for the next episode, proper binge-watching retention strategy—and adding up to eight episodes, it’s clear that the mission statement for this season is all killer, no filler. Even for the weaker storylines like the cartel members and Congressman Daniel Maloof, it’s undeniable that they serve a purpose for this season.

“Heads You Lose” doesn’t even really get a chance to breathe after the bombing at the end of “Keep Calm And Party On”—which left one dead and 12 injured, with two critically-injured—before moving on to another, more personal and creative bombing scenario. (It’s probably worth noting that the bombing in the previous episode didn’t take out any characters we know, even in a small sense, while this one does.) Considering the game-changing ending to that episode, it’s surprising this one begins relatively light, with Dick hitting on a girl named Alyssa (Sarah Hyland) at an extremely empty Comrade Quacks in the aftermath. But surrounding Dick’s perpetual ability to turn legitimate tragedy into an attempt to get laid are Veronica, Logan, and Nicole trying to sort out how to handle this kind of trauma as it just keeps on coming, Comrade Quacks serving as visible evidence as to how the bombs and the PCHers have affected boardwalk businesses (and Comrade Quacks is supposedly the most popular of the bunch), and the quick introduction of date rapist/next bombing victim, Bryce (Ian Bamberg).

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The scene of Bryce on the beach with the bomb strapped around his neck is one of those moments where you truly understand why you need Veronica Mars on a streaming platform (or cable) instead of network television. While Veronica Mars could be tense in its original iteration—and honestly ended up so much better than either of its original networks ever wanted to allow it to be—under network mandate, it could never sustain the tension for as long as Rob Thomas may have ultimately wanted. That’s where 20-plus episode seasons come in, as opposed to the streamlined eight episodes we have now. Imagining this season with 22 episodes is imagining it with a lot of filler—and the longest spring break ever—stretching these bombings out to a point where the chilling effect that now comes with them in this episode wouldn’t exist. (Riverdale’s second season had this problem with its Black Hood storyline, promising a terrifying serial killer who would flip the entire town upsidedown... only for him to spend more time failing at killing characters in the span of 22 episodes than actually killing them.)

There are a couple of interesting points about this scene. First, there’s the fact that, while the cops wouldn’t have gotten there in time, the helplessness of this scene comes from the girl who wants to help and even calls 9-1-1 but is screwed because she’s a spring breaker, not a Neptune resident—she has no idea where they are. This is not what should be happening on anyone’s spring break. The other point is that, while Bryce is a certified piece of crap, his last act before he goes kaboom is getting as far away from people as he can once he realizes the bomb’s about to blow, at least keeping them safe. This scene has to make you care about a minor character that you know is bad news—and he’s even placed side-by-side with Dick at the beginning to hammer that point home—and David Walpert’s script does that in that short time with these seemingly simple but intelligent choices.

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I suppose it makes sense as a series often about the haves vs. the have-nots, but it’s amazing just how much of this series relies on real estate plots. That was a large part of season two—and the attempted incorporation really added to the headache, which is why the smartest move Rob Thomas made this season was to incorporate Neptune between Mr. Kiss And Tell and now, instead of trying to explain it all over again—and with Big DIck at the forefront, it’s a large part of this season too. Things seem to finally be coming together in terms of the “why” of the bombing, with Big Dick wanting his NUTTs to own and control the boardwalk, to get rid of the less desirable businesses. We already knew that Sul Ross was leading the charge in saying no to NUTT; here he’s called the “Princess Leia” of the boardwalk business owners. The PCHer crime wave on the boardwalk plus NUTT, it all adds up.

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Except for when it comes to the very intense, personal bombing of Bryce. Which is why Mayor Dobbins finally gets the FBI—Agent Woods and the more familiar Agent D’Amato—involved, and they bring their theory about this being a serial killer in Neptune. Serial killing for cheaper real estate is a bold move, is it not?

Now, bringing back both of season three’s Big Bads—Tim Foyle and Mercer Hayes—for Veronica’s Chino visit makes sense. Not necessarily because either one of them is thought of particularly fondly but because they’re the only Big Bads she could have talked to. Aaron Echolls? Dead. Cassidy Casablancas? Dead. Cobb, from the movie, could have possibly also worked, but considering I just called him “Cobb, from the movie,” that speaks to how particularly memorable he is in the larger context of the series. (Plus, unlike Tim and Mercer, Veronica never truly had a relationship with Cobb that would justify him talking to her at all.) Even in prison, both of these men continue to underestimate and piss off Veronica, apparently learning nothing from the fact that she put them behind bars in the first place. Or seemingly learning nothing, as Mercer changes his tune as soon as Veronica suggests she’ll show up at his parole hearing. It’s truly amazing how Tim Foyle can continue to have an air of superiority the whole time though when she put him in prison. Him pointing out that she was only a freshman in college doesn’t make her look smaller—it only makes him look lamer. You can’t say either of these characters are out of character during these scenes, that’s for sure.

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But even with their refusal to take Veronica seriously until she makes them, the information they provide does give more weight to her Chino theory. According to Tim, Big Dick and Perry both worked in the library—and both had their own particular brands of misogyny, which would fit with Perry’s supposed manifesto. Mercer, on the other hand, gives her the intel (that we already know) about Clyde working Big Dick on the inside to become his protector (the running joke of the cell block, apparently) and to guarantee “a future payday” (which has since come to fruition). It’s Keith’s work on the outside that fills in more of the boardwalk blanks, getting more confirmation of the PCHers’ role in all of this, as well as information about the lowball offers Big Dick has been giving boardwalk business owners to buy their businesses, which has only gotten lower post-bombings. (As Veronica says: “He can’t even overpay to destroy a community like a regular cuss-head.”) Then there are the Mom-and-Pop outfits swooping in with slightly higher offers that they discover are actually shell companies. (They could really use Mac right about now, and Keith says as much.)

With confirmation that the PCHers are for some reason helping out Big Dick in his boardwalk plans and Veronica realizing that her friendly neighborhood attempted mugger Juan Diego (Tyler Alvarez) is the one who was shitting in the Sea Sprite ice machine, it’s clear the stop Veronica now has to make. While Weevil officially returned in the previous episode, “Heads You Lose” finally reunites him and Veronica… and it’s not the warm welcome anyone would hope for. In fact, the first thing Veronica does once she sees him is judge him for not living the straight life anymore and chopping cars like his uncle did. And she’s actually not wrong about him being “a regular Fagin now” either. Over the years, Weevil has called Veronica out plenty of times for accusing him of evil, especially after all they’ve been through. The problem is, this time, they’re not at a place where they can reset, based on the aftermath of the movie and specifically the events of Mr. Kiss And Tell. (I’d usually address said events, but since the next episode discusses them, I’ll just save it for then.) So she accuses him of “doing grunt work for the people who want to destroy this town,” which, if nothing else, is the inarguably true aspect of what’s going on at the boardwalk. (Her suggesting he has anything to do with the bombings is not, but she has a point that he may be a cog in that machine.) She calls him a sellout because it’s not like he’s given her an excuse for this or any explanation whatsoever. Sure, he says, “You know, it must be nice to have choices, Veronica,” but that doesn’t mean she’s going to cut him some slack. Not even when her facade slips just a little after that. Because it takes a lot for Veronica Mars to forgive, and what Weevil’s doing with the PCHers is only making that harder.

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Being on Veronica’s bad side has never been a place you want to be, so I wonder what side Penn is on at this point. Again, Keith and Veronica mostly see him as a nuisance, constantly cracking on him for just being “the pizza guy,” whether it’s to each other, other people, or even just to his face. His fellow Murderheads don’t take him seriously (especially after the continued Daniel Maloof accusation) and neither does the 16-year-old girl who enjoys his company but considers him flaky. Matty throws him a bone by telling him what Mars Investigations has uncovered and their working theory. But while he follows up by admitting to Keith and Veronica that he “made a mess of things” and would “love a chance to set things right,” his response to them saying no to his offer to pool Mars Investigations/Murderheads resources is to completely blow everything up (metaphorically) by publically claiming the Big Dick/Clyde/Chino theory as his own (and as his own investigation) at the city council meeting. From the moment he showed up at the wreckage of the Sea Sprite lobby in the pilot, Penn has wanted to be seen as a hero to the people and for it to be broadcast on the national level.

He also wants to look cool in front of the Murderheads (especially Carol and Don, for different reasons), which has yet to happen with his far-fetched ideas. (Unlike his other theories we’ve heard, the Maloof one was honestly the best he had, as off the mark as it was.) Penn is at least able to set Big Dick off in a way that proves Big Dick can be pushed to the edge (with David Starzyk selling how intimidating Big Dick can be when pushed) if you really try him… while also tipping his hand to the fact that he bugged Mars Investigations’ office. Amateur.

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If you want to talk professionals, you’ve got to talk Veronica and Leo. It’s addressed in Mr. Kiss And Tell, but it’s a whole other thing to experience it onscreen: After all these years, Leo and Veronica are effortless in their interactions with each other. That’s simply not the case for Logan and Veronica, not for lack of trying on Logan’s end. But that’s the thing—“trying” to be “effortless” is not effortless. But while that lack of effort and ease are there and Leo’s initial scenes are dedicated to having his somewhat flirty relationship with Veronica (with his patented “Hey, Veronica.”) exist at a time when Logan’s actually around, “Heads You Lose” ultimately uses Leo as a sounding board for Veronica and another perspective on the Logan situation. As much as the episode plays up Logan’s jealousy and suspicion of Veronica up top, this isn’t the show just throwing in another love triangle for drama’s sake. (Technically, they’ve already done this love triangle, and a less well-adjusted Logan won even then.)

Veronica: “He barely reacted to the rejection. Made me think he just asked so he could have the upper hand. Like he wanted to wear the ‘I love you more’ pants.”
Leo: “You ever consider putting on the peace offering tank top?”
Veronica: “Me? Maybe he should put on the ‘I defied the well-established boundaries of our rock-solid relationship’ hair shirt.”

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This is how Veronica sees her relationship with Logan and pretty much always has. Only now, Logan’s clearly not playing at that game. After all these years, Veronica can’t reprogram herself into thinking relationships aren’t a never-ending battle all about getting the upper hand. So Leo decides to speak her language to help guide her through this situation—and ultimately lands on the opinion that Logan actually seems “chill”—because as Veronica Mars season four continues to go through Veronica’s thought process about the proposal, her relationship with Logan, and who she sees Logan as now, it has yet to do in a way that suggests it thinks Veronica is in the right. That’s something that can often get lost in translation when it comes to Veronica Mars: While Veronica is our protagonist, our good guy, she has a lot of less-than-flattering and downright unhealthy characteristics that make her a very flawed hero. This is a character who was fueled by anger more than anything else to solve mysteries in the first season. “Get mad, get even” was her battle cry. And Veronica knows she’s a mess: She wants to help Matty because, even though she sees herself in her, she doesn’t want Matty to become like her. Veronica being a toxic, messed up person isn’t new to this series, and it doesn’t make her a bad person. But this season realizes it’s something she finally has to deal with. The conversation with Leo in the car is just further proof that Veronica should take Logan’s advice and see his therapist. Leo can’t fix her, even if he’s easy to talk to.

Really, anyone’s easier to talk to than Daniel Maloof. While I praised his story in the previous episode, it all goes back downhill here. Despite how Logan, Veronica, and Keith interact with him, the facade of Daniel Maloof is pretty much completely gone at this point. The character is a scared little man who continues to make bad decision after bad decision, seemingly not thinking things through for even a second. He’s really somewhat of surprise idiot. It was one thing when Daniel was considered the bomber, but since he’s not, it’s absurd that all of his behavior is the result of him thinking he’s still somehow responsible for the bombs (thanks to his blackmailer’s emails). I suppose that can explain why he’s spiraling and so scared, but the thing is, not even Daniel’s own P.I.s believe the blackmailer is responsible for the bombings. And yet, Daniel keeps digging himself in deeper and deeper because of this, now specifically with the cartel. Understandably, he regrets asking Alonzo and Dodie to kill the Carr brothers, but not so much why he’d think they wouldn’t do it as soon as possible. And why he’d think they wouldn’t be smart enough to record it and make clear they did it “for the Congressman.”

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At the same time, that Alex Maloof, the one who lost his fingers and his fiance in the bombing is barely featured at all is a bizarre choice, as he’s already got built-in sympathy based on everything (including how his mother felt about his fiance) he’s gone through. Daniel has no such thing, and it continues to dwindle with each episode. As I said before, Mido Hamada plays Daniel’s desperation well, but that’s really all there is to the character now (yet no one really reacts to that), halfway through the season.

The best parts of the Daniel Maloof scenes are honestly Logan (and at times, Amalia’s non-stop coldness), as they combine his superhero status with his quick wit. He even gets to explain why he took the job (because of overspending on the ring) and the worthwhile challenge that is his relationship. All while Daniel continues to act as suspicious as humanly possible. Daniel always lies to Logan, preventing him from doing the job he hired him for, pretty much asking to get killed out here in these streets. And honestly, trimming that fat from this season might be for the best. This episode is already better for the minimal cartel action, after all.

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Stray observations

  • David Walpert also wrote for Just Shoot Me!, New Girl, and House Of Lies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s the only Veronica Mars writer who’s had the unique experience of having written for three of its leads (Enrico Colantoni, Max Greenfield, and Kristen Bell, respectively) before even writing on the show. (Walpert also wrote on the 2009 Cupid reboot, so he was also already familiar with writing for a Rob Thomas show.)
  • As Alyssa, I’m pretty sure Sarah Hyland has officially won Most Distracting Veronica Mars Cameo for this season.
  • The fact that Dick wears Heelys is even less surprising than the fact he decides to finish (even though it’s just a sip) Alyssa’s drink before chasing after her in said Heelys.
  • Dick: “I play her jealous ex, who’s also a mannequin.”
    Logan: “Ripped from the headlines.”
    Veronica: “I’m sorry—she fell in love with two mannequins?” First of all, Rob Thomas needs to write Ryan Hansen this Lifetime Christmas mannequin movie, immediately. Second of all, seriously, Dick getting booked for roles as the douchey jealous ex-boyfriend in Lifetime Christmas movies is perfect, even if he thinks Romania is in England.
  • Daniel slamming the mug down in frustration when Amalia and Alex are arguing over the ring pretty much captures how I feel about the ring plot. At least it brings in Vinnie Van Lowe, the only other P.I. in Neptune.
  • Charlie: “Plus, they’re big Vols fans, so I know they’re accustomed to misery.” True.
  • For those wondering about “the rape case at the Grand” that Veronica worked on with Leo, that’s from Mr. Kiss And Tell. More importantly, it’s not just “any” rape case: It’s Grace Manning’s rape case.
  • I suppose I’ll never completely understand why James Jordan was the one actor Rob Thomas decided should play two different characters. But considering how many times I’ve mentioned that point only for people to do a doubletake, I suppose it was because Jordan has a chameleon-like quality.
  • While it might sound like a stretch that Mercer Hayes is still in prison (considering how quickly real-life rapists get out), the episode immediately has Mercer acknowledge that very point. Veronica Mars is just so damn good that Mercer is still in prison.
  • The Leo/Logan doorway scene is the most awkward scene in the history of Veronica Mars. Logan doubling down on it all makes it even better: “I think Piz is back there too. Somewhere. Piz!” Also, while Leo and Logan actually met back in “Ruskie Business,” it’s understandable Logan doesn’t remember him and Leo reintroduces himself: Classic Logan was absolutely wasted that night, and Leo saw him as nothing more than Veronica’s messy drunk classmate. In fact, Leo didn’t even know back then that Veronica dumped him for (and cheated on him with) Logan.
  • I may not know cartels, but I know what it’s like to watch Veronica Mars in her element, and Alonzo does just that in this episode. He reacts to her the way everyone should: Intrigued, somewhat amused, curious as to what could compel her to come into enemy territory like this. Weevil coming in to send his boys away only adds to that interest.
  • Veronica: “There it is: that vintage Logan Echolls jealousy. Oh, I’m gonna mainline it.” She’s right. Logan is in prime form while Leo’s around. But instead, they just continue their Hulu synergy and watch Harlots.
  • The Murderheads were already sad… and then the six-foot sub sandwich entered the picture. Then a 16-year-old gave them information actual investigators came up with.
  • When he got caught, Clyde’s ex-girlfriend Ichiko ran off with his stolen bank money ($392,000). But she supposedly still loves him and wants him to get in touch. The most important part of Keith’s correspondence with Ichiko is that, based on what she told Keith about Clyde, he doesn’t seem the bomb-strapping type. Which is great news for Keith, because they’re basically besties now.
  • Logan: “‘The life of the creative man is led, directed, and controlled by boredom.’ - Susan Sontag.” I used to believe Logan read from a book of quotes, but now I guess he had them memorized.
  • Veronica: “What the hell is goin’ on here? Two old boozehounds deep in the giggle juice, bumpin’ gums?
    Keith: “I was doin’ my job. And what’s with the fake-aloo? Our mark’s no Jasper.”
    Veronica: “We tailed our meat from the hardware store. Coulda been the same kind of nails used as shrapnel in the bombs.
    Keith: “But you came up dusty.”
    Veronica: “I’m no bunny. I knew it was a long shot.”
    Leo: “Okay. I think I know how you turned out like you did.”
  • Perhaps to prove that season three wasn’t all murderers, rapists, and Piz (no offense, Piz), this episode throws in another Hearst College character, Mac’s ex-boyfriend Max (Adam Rose). Max now owns the dispensary on the boardwalk, “How, High Are You.”
  • While Keith is able to do some proper investigating in this episode, he still has a momentary lapse of memory when he can’t remember the name “Maloof.”
  • What exactly is the purpose of seeing that dude who looks like Duncan riding around in his ATV as long as he does, if it’s all just to see the surviving Carr brother, Tyler (Alex Solowitz) at the end?

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