While Veronica gave an understandable reason for refusing Logan’s marriage proposal in the season premiere, her opening voiceover in “Chino And The Man” takes a turn by further explaining that she felt like Logan “proposed on a lark.” Whether that’s true or not, that’s what Veronica believes, especially as there was no “fallout” on Logan’s end after the rejection. No “avalanche of anger and resentment.” Yet again, Veronica’s preternatural trust issues send her down a disturbing path, one that only gets worse once she picks a fight with Logan over him agreeing with her that Neptune is “the worst.” (His “Why ruin a good thing?” when Big Dick asks when they’re going to get married basically sets off a countdown to said meltdown.) Logan wants to be supportive—knowing from years of experience that there’s no winning when it comes to disagreeing with Veronica—but “supportive Logan” is apparently the guy Veronica doesn’t recognize.
Most surprising about “Chino And The Man”—only the second episode of the season—is the fact that Veronica Mars pretty much gets right into it when it comes to Classic Logan vs. New Logan, the series’ established toxicity of the Logan/Veronica pairing, and the toxicity of what Veronica expects out of Logan. Remember Veronica’s reaction to Logan beating the tar out of a guy for her in the season three finale? What she wants out of Logan is what she’s always wanted out of Logan, and it’s always been screwed up—this is not a new, late in series characterization for her. Veronica Mars is a deeply-flawed character, especially when it comes to her relationships.
I know people had issues with Logan’s characterization in the Veronica Mars movie, wondering how he possibly got from “Bad Boy” point A to “All That You Can Be” (the Navy version of that) point B in the nine years since Veronica last saw him at Hearst. Mr. Kiss And Tell filled in the blanks that led to his transformation—specifically, the rock bottom that led to it—but it’s obviously a better choice for the series to tackle it onscreen now that it can. Veronica should probably know better at this point, considering they’re five years into their adult relationship, but at least she says what plenty of fans have been thinking: This version of Logan seems more like a “pod person” than Logan. “You just feel sanded down. Logan minus the Logan.” She even asks him if he’s on medication, which would also explain things (like it did Duncan, to an extent). These criticisms of Logan from Veronica are absolutely fair after the way the character came across in the movie.
But like I pointed out in the premiere, he can still quip with the best of them, and even his scenes early in this episode with the Casablancas still have that biting sarcasm behind them. Jason Dohring isn’t playing Logan at 11 like he did in the first two seasons, but he’s still playing him. Sure, he’s more mellow, someone you can trust around your baby or play Cards Against Humanity with, but he’s not humorless or Duncan Kane 2.0; Logan is still in there. He still has all that anger inside of him, and he even brings up the Bruce Banner/Hulk comparison to explain it. Only now he’s in therapy, which should be considered a win. And Veronica doesn’t know how to handle that. She doesn’t know how to handle a healthy, mature relationship, and she’s even admitted as much. Veronica is turned on by the danger of Logan, which has always been a problem, wanting to be with a self-destructive mess like “Classic Logan” while also wanting to change him, a big part of season three’s Veronica/Logan conflict. Now that he’s actually changed—and not because of Veronica—she’d rather have the self-destructive mess version. In her mind, that guy wouldn’t have proposed to her, but he would punch in a kitchen cabinet in frustration before having sex with her. Which is why once Logan’s gotten that out of his system, he leaves his therapist’s number for Veronica. It’s not just a snarky send-off—it’s something Veronica should take under extreme consideration. The closest Veronica ever got to therapy was mandatory guidance counselor sessions in season one, and those were just moments of confirmation that she would continue to be fueled by her anger. And that’s how this character continues to live her life, despite accomplishing her goals in that first season.
As “Chino And The Man” also reminds us, Veronica is also painfully aware of this character flaw, even if she’s not actively doing anything to change it. While the rejected proposal still looms over Veronica and Logan, Veronica Mars isn’t dragging this particular fight past this episode. That they’re able to move past it and Veronica can make the apology phone call is a type of growth for this relationship, even with all the mess still surrounding it. Sure, the phone call almost veers into cliche, “too much information” speakerphone territory when she steamrolls Logan to get it out, but nothing particularly private is divulged in front of Dick before Logan grabs the phone and takes to Veronica one-on-one. (Diane Ruggiero-Wright understands the humor of this series and doesn’t go all-in on the cheap gag.) The scene is then punctuated by “Classic Veronica” asking Logan for a favor, which is worth noting because it actually does lead to the temporary return of “Classic Logan,” only now in a form that does not cause concern. The fight—well, beatdown—scene between Logan and the Carr brothers, set to Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” is essentially the non-sociopathic and polished version of Aaron Echolls’ “That’s Amore” beatdown in season one. While the Aaron scene was a hard one because it meant rooting for an abusive father to beat his daughter’s abusive boyfriend, with Logan’s scene, there’s nothing to question about enjoying this Veronica Mars moment of choreographed violence.
Outside of Veronica and Logan’s relationship, the bombing brings out an attention seeker in the form of Penn the pizza boy. Veronica Mars has briefly looked at attention seekers in the face of tragedy before, with Lynn Echolls’ suicide and the bus crash victims. But with Penn, it makes an actual storyline out it, as he uses his 15 minutes of fame to do something typically reserved for the Mars family: play detective. Considering the number of high-profile murders, serial rapes, and criminal organizations that exist in Neptune, it’s a wonder it’s taken this long for the show to have a civilian enter the mix in trying to solve a case like this. Penn and his “Murderheads” exist as a natural progression for Neptune, especially now that Veronica Mars exists when the true-crime genre is so hot. And that heat and need to be the center of attention is what drives Penn to go on national television and accuse Daniel Maloof (“the Middle-Eastern JFK”) of planting the bomb—based on actual knowledge he has about how things went down, from the college girls’ motel room to Tawny’s make-up bag to the attempted Maloof family pay-off. Not exactly what a seasoned detective would but definitely a decent theory if you don’t think too much about it, which it appears Penn hasn’t.
On the opposite end of this civilian crime-solving spectrum is “slippery” 16-year-old Matty, who takes matters into her own hands to try and uncover who’s responsible for the bombing and her father’s death. The random gum all of a sudden stocked in their vending machine (and the “Mole Man” who stocked it, instead of their usual guy) sends her in the direction of the vending machine (Jimmy was rustling the machine right before the explosion) vendor, Alpha-Jolly Amusements—a Liam Fitzpatrick operation. Matty so very clearly exists as a parallel to young Veronica, and from her first scene here—when she refuses to answer Langdon’s questioning and then strolls out of the precinct—it’s clear she’s got that same spark and righteous anger teen Veronica had. This explains why Veronica comes to care for her, and even before they even have an actual interaction, the way Veronica reacts to tracking down Matty is an early indicator that she likes this kid. If there were ever an actual Veronica Mars reboot, Izabela Vidovic would have that casting in the bag.
Matty and Penn are characters who also reveal what plenty of others must see Neptune as. With Veronica Mars, it’s easy to take for granted how blissfully unaware the people of Neptune can be about just how dangerous it is when they’re not confronted by it on a regular basis. As the audience, we see Neptune as the world Veronica has shown us. Matty has no reason to fear vending machine vendor Liam until it’s too late because as a normal 16-year-old girl, she has no idea who the Fighting Fitzpatricks are. Penn, on the other hand, is a grown man that considers himself an expert in all of this stuff, which is pretty laughable. At the same time, he has very salient points about the sheriff’s/police department in Neptune—especially from the outside looking in, which is actually how most of these characters actually see this world. While the audience and, of course, Veronica and Keith have the full picture on Neptune’s true nature, the truth is, most of Neptune doesn’t and wouldn’t. Which is why Penn asking, “Do you think they’ll ever figure out who murdered Lilly Kane?” is such a killer of a line. The audience, of course, knows Aaron Echolls did it. But at this moment, Dianne Ruggiero-Wright brings to the forefront the unfortunate fact that, despite all that Veronica and Keith did to find Lilly’s killer, a good number of people will always believe A-list actor Aaron Echolls was innocent.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say the casting of Patton Oswalt as Penn is somewhat distracting, but it’s certainly not as distracting as the casting of Academy Award Winner J.K. Simmons as Big Dick’s “friend and associate” from prison, Clyde. When it comes to wanting to point the finger at someone suspicious, there might as well be a flashing red arrow accompanying Clyde. This episode introduces the character and immediately (mostly via flashback) presents reasons not to trust him: his partnership with Big Dick, his criminal past as a bank robber, the way his partnership with Big Dick came to be (only two days into Big Dick’s prison stint). Plus, he’s won an Academy Award. But then when Clyde’s talking to Veronica, and he calls Dick “that little shit friend of your boyfriend,” Simmons suddenly fits in this world like a glove... while simultaneously sticking out like a bloody glove. Clyde’s back and forth with other characters is not the same as anyone else’s back and forth on this show. It’s intriguing, engaging even—despite how relaxed it is, in all the chaos—pulling you in to want to know what he’s going to say or do next. It’s an atypical character that pretty much functions the opposite of the cartel characters.
Alonzo and Dodie’s first scene in this episode at least shows some self-awareness, as they are clearly supposed to stand out in Neptune and need to attempt to “blend in.” But that doesn’t change the odd shift the show takes when it goes from a scene like Dick’s premiere after-party to these two just standing on the beach. Even when there are good one-liners like, “You think these people shop at Wal-Mart?” and just the very idea that deceased Gabriel had a “crew,” these scenes feel like mini-episodes within an episode. As it is now, they’re in a parallel series from Veronica Mars, which works to these characters’ advantages at least once, when they arrive at the nerds’ motel room just as soon as Keith and Veronica leave it. I keep seeing Breaking Bad comparisons when it comes to this aspect of the series—and not in a good way—but all I can see during these scenes is something out of Fargo (the movie and the series). There, the non-sequiturs come with the territory—and again, the Clyde story does it better—but here, it doesn’t quite work. It makes sense if Rob Thomas had that particular Coen Brothers flick in mind, considering how much of the original series was just The Big Lebowski reference after reference, but those references were never as intrusive as an entire storyline. Throw in the surrealism that comes with Alonzo and Dodie just keeping a severed head on their motel counter, having killed a kid without doing anything to confirm that he was responsible for the bomb and them being blase about having to sever Daniel Maloof’s head when they see the news. This episode wrings out as much quirkiness from these characters as it possibly can, which is already better than Alonzo waxing philosophic in the premiere and actually gives Dodie a character. But writing a better approach to a story that’s not necessarily good doesn’t make it a good story.
So we have a teenager who’s investigating but in over her head, a pizza boy who thinks he’s investigating and is also in over her head, and two cartel members who aren’t so much investigating as they are looking for a head to sever. If nothing else, these three angles provide a much larger sense of appreciation for what Keith and Veronica do as actual private investigators, with experience, resources, and no machetes (just guns). But while the Matty storyline makes sense as a parallel to Veronica’s early years—with Veronica trying her best to prevent this girl from setting and hardening like she did—and even Penn makes sense as a thorn in the Mars family’s side—his enthusiasm and need for attention clearly doing nothing to help the case—Alonzo/Dodie remain the part that doesn’t belong. They’re a side adventure in a series that has never needed or used side adventures in this form. Just imagine following Danny Boyd as he does whatever he does for an entire season. Sure, he ultimately interacts with other characters—characters we care about—but that doesn’t necessarily make the set-up worth it.
- With the opening scene, I’d like to believe no one bought that Dick fell on such hard times. In fact, my first note was one wondering if Dick was hosting a homeless-themed party, because that’s something he’d do. As soon as Josh Duhamel showed up, I knew Dick had to be acting. Honestly, Dick as an actor makes a lot of sense. He just needs to get media training and a good publicist and lawyer, ASAP. At least he finally has “a deep appreciation” for what Veronica does, after playing an undercover detective. And he actually answers the phone for Logan when Veronica calls, instead of declining it. As little as these things are, they count as major growth for Dick. (Also, in keeping track of the Spondoolie-verse, Tim Chiou, who plays gang leader AJ in iZombie, is also in the movie.)
- Clyde may be an obvious suspect, but his first order of business is to save Dick from accidentally committing statutory rape, which already gives him a leg up on so many characters.
- Clyde’s prison flashbacks immediately fill in the blanks when it comes to Clyde’s side of his relationship with Big Dick, instead of dragging them out for a later reveal. The only problem is, something Veronica Mars has never quite been able to capture the magic of since season one, no matter how hard it tries, is the ethereal look and feel of its flashbacks. The closest season two ever got was its dream-centric “I Am God,” but the format stopped being an integral part of the series for good reason. So for this episode to have flashbacks and not even attempt to have that look, while it fills in the blanks—by showing that Clyde is the actual mastermind in this dynamic duo, not Big Dick—it’s one of those things that understandably make the desire for Veronica Mars nostalgia come to the forefront.
- In the flashback, Big Dick only has “Bi” tattooed onto his arm (for “Bitch”) before Clyde saves him. Did he get the rest of the “Big Dick” tattoo later—when he could consent—or is he rocking a fake tattoo right now to seem hard in these streets?
- Dick: “You wouldn’t think it by looking at her, but you know what they say about small packages.”
Veronica: “That you’ve got one?”
- Logan: “Yeah, I feel weird for asking, but: What does Big Dick’s right hand do?”
- One seemingly integral component of the case—something Penn doesn’t address—is that, except for of Sul, the victims of the Sea Sprite bombing were at Comrade Quacks the night before.
- Simon: “I like a woman who sees a glass ceiling and just says, ‘F that.’”
Veronica: “Yep, me too.” The worst. And then he gets innocent King Pagursky beheaded.
- Clyde: “I appreciate your directness.”
Veronica: “Thanks. Most people don’t.” Clyde wants Mars Investigations to find Ichiko Doi, the woman he was dating when he got locked up. A logical Veronica turns down his request, as it’s him trying to find a woman who may not want him in her life. But this scene is also so different from other Veronica Mars scenes with the way Simmons plays Clyde. None of Veronica’s quips land with Clyde. Or maybe they do, but instead of giving it back or voicing confusion, there’s just the quiet acknowledgment before moving on to the next.
- Are the Carr family (Tawny’s family) other Fitzpatricks that we just haven’t met yet? They are extremely unpleasant people (Amalia Maloof has no problem doubling down on calling them “trash”), with the mother going on about “American law” when it comes to engagement rings. (Tawny’s ring is missing, and they think the Maloofs took it back.)
- When Penn explains that he rents out his house for the month and makes bank, the implication is that he’s staying in basically a shack while doing so. Am I crazy for thinking his shack looks good?
- Not only is Logan poor now, he’s bad at military video games.
- When it comes to the “98% canon” aspect of the Veronica Mars novels, Liam Fitzpatrick looks too good to have fallen on hard villain times like he had in Mr. Kiss And Tell. While Liam gets to intimidate a teen girl in this episode, his reintroduction to Veronica actually turns the tables on their first meeting, this time with Veronica getting the upper hand by pointing her gun at him. (As opposed to Logan coming in and saving the day with a gun he really shouldn’t have had… courtesy of Big Dick.)
- Veronica: “You’re losing it, old man.” Yeah, he is. And he still hasn’t told Veronica.
- Veronica: “What’s with the drop-in? I could’ve been having sex.”
Keith: “You’re not married.” This is a line that completely relies on Enrico Colantoni’s delivery and is also another in a long line of great back and forth between Veronica and Keith in just these two episodes.
- Logan is now Daniel Maloof’s security detail… right after Penn points the finger at the Congressman on national television (for planting the Sea Sprite bomb) and Keith tells Veronica he thinks Daniel is hiding something. The scene itself also highlights what the final scenes of these episodes are going to be: not quite cliffhangers but hooks that make you want to keep the binge-watch going.