This post discusses the plot of Veronica Mars’ fourth season.
Rob Thomas is staying offline for the time being. Fans of his noir-tinged cult favorite Veronica Mars got a big surprise on Friday, July 19, when the show’s fourth season launched, in its entirety, on Hulu—seven days earlier than announced, and immediately after a San Diego Comic-Con panel marking the series’ return after 15 years off the air. But when those fans reached the end of the eight episodes that continued the adventures of Neptune, California’s toughest, quippiest, savviest private investigator, they got a nasty shock. Moments after Veronica (Kristen Bell) weds her on-again, off-again, on-again beau Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Logan becomes the final victim in the string of bombings that form season four’s central mystery. Just as viewers think they’re getting a chance to catch their breath, a nerve-jangling story delivers its final jolt—bringing a legendary ’ship to a tragic end. Thomas knew this twist would be controversial, but he has his reasons for it, which he detailed to The A.V. Club this week, along with some thoughts on what lies ahead for Veronica and whether or not Adam Scott will ever again say those five fateful words: “Are we having fun yet?”
The A.V. Club: So you’ve had a pretty wild week.
Rob Thomas: I think it’d be wilder if I were letting myself look at the internet. [Laughs.] I’ve had sort of a bunker mentality.
AVC: And on top of that, the surprise, early release of season four. It bumped the bunker mentality up a week.
RT: [Laughs.] It most certainly did.
AVC: So let’s talk about the way season four ends: When did make the decision to kill off Logan Echolls?
RT: Somewhere between the movie and taking the pitch [for season four] in. It was in my head for a long time. It felt to me like Veronica and Logan being happily ever after is the end of the series. I don’t know how I could’ve kept writing him into Veronica Mars as the husband or as the boyfriend.
Even in this iteration, I feel like trying to work him into the periphery of the case felt strained. Imagining a world where he’s not involved in the Veronica Mars mystery cases, and just served as the happy husband or happy boyfriend wasn’t appealing to me. I thought there was a reasonable chance that the movie would be the last time we ever saw Veronica or Logan, and believing it was the last time we might ever see them, I was happy to put them together and give that “happily ever after.” Now, the fact that we’re going to get to do, we think, more Veronica Mars, we want to position ourselves as a mystery show. If we were born as a hybrid teen soap/mystery show, we think we can only move forward as a mystery show. If we be the high-school soap that we were when we began, it’s going to feel like nostalgia, it’d get to a point of diminishing returns. It’s really in betting on the idea that there will be more Veronica Mars that I felt like Logan can’t be around for them.
AVC: It’s interesting that you bring up moving on from the teen-soap aspects of the show, because the character of Matty who’s introduced in season four feels like a potential bridge back to those types of stories. Did you see her that way?
RT: Yeah. Yes. But that would have to be a spin-off. Matty being around to take the show back into high school wouldn’t solve my Logan problem.
AVC: Do you feel like the Navy aspect of Logan’s arc complicated things?
RT: No. If Veronica and Logan were going to keep being drawn together, but he’s either in the show or he’s not—I don’t know that I see Veronica thinking about a future together with Logan as “unreformed bad boy” at 35. It doesn’t seem like the thing that an adult, mature Veronica would still be torn by. If he’s still bumfight Logan at 35, I hope that Veronica would move past him.
AVC: And moving forward, it’s not like he’s not going to be a part of the show. Jason Dohring might not be there, but Logan’s memory would certainly haunt Veronica for whatever future stories you get to tell with this character.
RT: He’s still going to be a huge presence in her life. It’s going to be a huge event in her life. It’s not like we’re going to pick up the next series and Logan never existed. She’s still going to be wounded from that.
I’ve felt in the past that the audience loves Veronica most when she’s going through the roughest shit. [Laughs.] And we have now returned her to a pretty dark place.
AVC: Do you know when you’ll hear if Hulu wants to make more Veronica Mars?
RT: I think it’ll be at least a few weeks as they see how many people watch it. We have a good feeling—but who knows, that could be dashed. It wouldn’t be the first time in my life where a show of mine went away because not enough people watched it. But it has felt like there’s this been this groundswell, just the enthusiasm for it. Judging by the reaction, I feel like people are tuning in.
AVC: How did making the show for a streaming service affect the way you approached episodic cliffhangers, versus the way you approached them when Veronica Mars was on broadcast television?
RT: We didn’t know for sure when we began that all of the episodes would drop at the same time. And I’m still not sure how I feel about that. We still tried to end episodes with cliffhangers, and I think I would’ve done that regardless. I’m watching Year After Year on HBO, and all of those end on cliffhanger-y moments. Most shows do, regardless of whether they’re going to be all released at the same time.
I have wondered if maybe a mystery show shouldn’t be all dropped at the same time. It would be a discussion if we get to do it again with Hulu: “Hey, can we release them once a week, like you do with The Handmaid’s Tale?” Because of social media, the answers to the big reveals get out immediately. They’re on the internet. They’re unavoidable. Even the spoiler-free reviews that I read were like “And then, they do something that’s going to make fans very, very, very angry.” That’s not really a spoiler-free review. I think there might be a benefit, with a mystery show—with a true whodunit, with big reveals—to pace the episodes out a little bit. But I don’t know that for sure. That’s just my gut reaction to what I’ve seen in the few days it’s been out.
AVC: I ask because my wife and I have been rewatching the first three seasons—she hasn’t seen season four yet—and she mentioned that the cliffhangers on Veronica Mars make her want to watch the next episode in a way that cliffhangers on a streaming show never have. And that made us wonder about how the role of cliffhangers has changed as modes of TV production and distribution have evolved in the last 12 years.
RT: What’s funny is every TV show also builds the big act-outs [the end of an act in a script that leads to a commercial break] and I was told at some point—and this may be hearsay—but somebody did a study about how many people switch off of a TV show during the commercial if they don’t have a big act-out. And the answer was “nobody.” And yet this thing, as a TV writer, that is just bred into you—whether people are going to come back or not is irrelevant. Networks expect a big act-out at commercial, and we all work toward a big act-out at commercials. And it was one thing when there were four acts in a TV show. That felt natural. Now that on The CW we do six acts, it’s like “Holy shit, man.” Every five minutes of show time you have to build to a big moment.
You know how you make fun of old television shows, like ending on a freeze frame or something? Someday people are going to make fun of this generation of TV writers for dropping some big piece of news and then having the music swell up as you push in on your lead actor’s face. It’s going to be the trope of the last 15 years [Laughs.] that future television writers lampoon, I believe.
AVC: Not to keep talking in theoreticals, but what excites you about the next phase of Veronica’s life? What type of story are you looking to forward to telling about her, in the event Hulu orders another season?
RT: I’m always excited to write for Kristen, because she’s so good, and I think we get each other’s rhythms so well. It’s a delight to write for her. I’m excited to write a Veronica Mars season when I don’t have another show simultaneously on the air. It was madness this past year trying to keep a hand in iZombie, because I wanted that show to land properly. It meant a lot to me. It’s hard to have one mystery in your head—it’s really hard to have trying to land a five-season show occupying the other side of your head, and have hours in both shows in the same rooms and sound mixes.
Creatively, the thing I’m excited about doing is writing a pure mystery. For me, season four was the bridge season. It was meant to be the thing that takes us from the show that we have been to the show we’re going to be. Things that I’ve been thinking of have been, like, an Agatha Christie “murder in a manor house.” Now, I don’t mean it’s going to feel dusty. I will modernize and update that concept. But doing something where Veronica is our hero detective, placed into something that is a pure mystery.
RT: No. I would love to be wrong. That group of actors—they’re all just busy and popular and off on other things. I wish it were a different answer, and we have not given up all hope, because those actors adore each other and we loved doing that show. It just feels like a long shot at this moment.