Here's what I want from a season premiere of a serialized drama:
If there were major events at the end of the last season, make the fallout from those events a critical component of the new season's premise. Reintroduce the old characters and their relationships, but do that reintroduction without diving into exposition which will annoy existing fans. Set up the relationships and conflicts which will drive the season moving forward initially, or perhaps through the whole course of the season. And remind everyone why the show was great to begin with.
It's not that “Normal Is The Watchword” did all these things that impressed me. It's that “Normal Is The Watchword” did all these things better than any other show I've seen that impressed me. In my review of the Season One finale, I mentioned that if anything disappointed me, it was the lack of social fallout over the conclusion of the Kane murder case. One commenter mentioned that that would be the focus of the Season Two premiere, and they were not wrong one bit.
We see Veronica trying to get away from her job as a private detective, saying “normal is the watchword”, which is understandable, as she did seem to want to return to the status quo ante bellum. Her relationship with the 09ers still seems to be a bit strained, except for those she's dating, but that dating also has pissed off the members of Neptune who aren't so fortunate. The apparent murder of one of Weevil's gang by Logan Echolls, the first of those 09er boyfriends, doesn't help matters, leading Neptune to the brink of class war.
We also get to see the core relationships of the show quickly and effectively sketched out. Logan's the bad boy love interest, Duncan's the boring love interest. But more importantly than that, Veronica's wonderful relationships with her father and with Wallace take the stage, as Wallace is framed for a negative drug test. This brings Veronica back into the private eye fold, and it also brings up a marvelous scene as Veronica and Keith shout encouragement to Wallace through the bathroom door as he tries to pee in a cup. “Also, tweaking your own nipples can sometimes work” is perhaps not the thing Wallace wants to hear from the guy who's dating your mom, but I can sure as hell tell you that it's what I wanted to hear after a few months away from the Mars family wit.
There are also important new directions. Dick and Beaver, minor characters from the previous season who suddenly became important by the penultimate episode, make it into the credits, and have enough to do in this episode to deserve it. Charisma Carpenter shows up as a…distracting new character, who seems to be related to the other Casablancas (Mars Investigations indicates her name is Kendall and she's their stepmom). And then there's dear, sweet Meg, Veronica's only friend, who doesn't seem to have taken Veronica hooking back up with Duncan very well, and is now Veronica's only overt enemy. Or at least she was, until a shocking school bus accident at the end apparently kills her as well as the other members of Veronica's Journalism class – and there's our story to drive the season forward.
What ties it all together, though, is a storytelling form that indicates complete confidence from the show about what its viewers can deal with. It's half present-day, half-flashback. But the two different halves, combined with Veronica's voiceover, combine to present the information in pleasantly deceptive fashion. For example, the big “cliffhanger” at the end of last season was the overdramatized “who is at Veronica's door?” question, to which I believe I answered “Does anyone seriously believe it's Duncan?” And of course, it wasn't, it was Logan. There's also a moment when Veronica's co-worker says “Your boyfriend is here” and the camera briefly pans over to Duncan, which immediately made me say “Come on, we know it's not Duncan” at the screen. This was followed by the camera continuing over to Logan. But when the scene is repeated later in the episode – after Logan's classist misbehavior is shown – it ends up on Duncan and stays there. This is not necessarily a happy conclusion, as Veronica and Duncan haven't demonstrated the same kind of chemistry that Veronica and Logan have. But it is a far more understandable one due to the episode's structure. It wouldn't have worked at all had the episode simply started with Veronica and Duncan together.
Based on this episode, I am tremendously excited about Veronica Mars Season Two. I know that this is a fairly controversial season. Conventional wisdom seems to have it that Veronica Mars peaked in its first season and it's a straight downhill ride from that point. Yet there are significant number of people who also enjoy, and sometimes even prefer, the second season. Right now I'm thinking the second group might have a point, but then, my favorite Buffy premiere was “Lessons” from its seventh season, and that didn't turn out so well. Regardless, even if I'm disappointed from here on out, I feel confident in declaring that Veronica Mars has opened with a near-perfect season premiere.
- An odd form to the case-of-the-week. At a certain point, it was basically ended, and the emotional side of the storyline (and eventual bus crash) took over. It served its purpose of making Veronica a PI again and got out of the way. Effective.
- Veronica doesn't get on the bus because at a gas station stop, she sees an apparition of Lilly Kane running behind the station, where she has a discussion with Weevil. While we've seen Lilly as a ghost before, but those have tended to be self-contained possibly hallucinations. With this we actually have what appears to be a straight-up supernatural intervention. Wonder if this will lead anywhere?
- “Your dad's hot!”
- “I'm not the one who's easily shocked.” “Meg.” “Meg?!?”
- “Got any enemies?” “Lotus Clan.” “Not really their M.O.”
- “Did you get this floozy's digits?”
- “There were cookies in there.” “Did you eat one?” “I ate six.” “That's my Wallace.”