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Veronica Mars season four's final ticking clock begins with "Gods Of War"

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When it comes to Veronica Mars’ penultimate episodes, they tend to be when the shit really goes down. Not necessarily the stuff of season-ending shit but enough to really ramp up the tension in the season finale. For example, “Gods Of War” has a gunfight, an accepted marriage proposal, a countdown to another bomb, and the (presumed) reveal of the serial bomber. On any other show, that might be how the season ends. But not Veronica Mars—this is just the beginning of the end.

I suppose there is no honor among thieves—at least when you’re on the white-collar side of things—but as Clyde’s introductory flashbacks suggested, there was at least supposed to be loyalty to your protector. Early in the season, Big Dick even played up the importance of that loyalty. But since Big Dick really is every bit the slimeball he seems, after all Clyde has done for him, he even can’t do the one thing he apparently promised him in this plan for boardwalk supremacy: give him Comrade Quacks as the home to his classic car dealership. Instead, after getting the property dirt cheap with Clyde’s help, he leases the property to someone else, overcharging them. I’ve stated before that Keith and Clyde are the last of a dying breed, and part of that is that they’re the kind of men whose word actually means something. So when Big Dick asks Clyde to remind him when they actually made a deal about Comrade Quacks and Clyde says that he gave him his word, of course it meant nothing from Big Dick.

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So with spring break ending and Big Dick coming into a lot of money on the boardwalk, he ends up actually playing Clyde the way Clyde played him in prison (and since he’s been on the outside). But that’s not even because Big Dick knew what the score was: It’s simply because he’s a big dick. And he goes back on his word to Clyde while, in the same breath, instructing him to buy a car for Matty as a bribe.

Clyde isn’t the only one who gets screwed here either. Despite Weevil trying to bury his head in the sand about what Veronica told him, he starts asking Clyde about the Sea Sprite bombing and the cartel… only to learn that the boardwalk job’s done and there won’t be any more payouts. So now Weevil can’t provide for his people, and unsurprisingly, Clyde has no sympathy. But thanks to Big Dick screwing him over (and Weevil giving him the info on the cartel having it out for the bomber), Clyde gets Weevil to introduce him to Alonzo and Dodie… so he can play them the audio of Big Dick confessing to the Sea Sprite bombing. It’s a good move, unfortunately hampered by editing and the lack of visual difference between the present-day scene and the flashback. At least the original Big Clyde flashback went with a dark blue filter to shift between the timelines—here, it’s literally just the same scene from earlier (with no visual difference), plus an insert showing that Clyde recording Big Dick. While the sex dream makes sense in its decision to look like the rest of the episode, to make it seem for a second like Veronica has given in, this just turns an interesting scene into a clumsy one.

But back to Big Dick: It’s not until he actually approaches Matty with the bribery car that he finally looks anything resembling menacing. (His reaction to Penn accusing him at the city council meeting was all emotion.) Of course, that’s in relation to a teenage girl, so it’s understandable he’d finally have some leverage or belief that he can outpower someone. Big Dick is pretty much all smarm, but there’s a difference when he’s directing it at Matty. It’s very Aaron Echolls-esque, only, unlike Aaron Echolls, this is the one time when he’s intimidating. It’s an especially impressive characterization for the character, considering David Starzyk is so physically imposing. In season two, there was a hint of Big Dick possibly being a worth being scared of, during the Logan/Kendall affair, but that never actually came to fruition, as he was too busy running from the feds.

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Outside of the 90909 zip code, however, there is apparently some professional courtesy. Or at least an understanding of the numbers game, even if most of the numbers are Neptune High School students. I’m talking about Weevil and the PCHers coming to save Veronica and Keith from Alonzo and Dodie. We know that Alonzo (especially) and Dodie, while quick to decapitate, are pretty smart men, and there’s no push back on Weevil stepping in. In fact, Alonzo seems to respect Weevil (both as an extension of his relationship with Claudia and as a leader), which is either the most ridiculous thing to believe about Neptune’s premier biker gang (and there have been a lot of ridiculous things to believe about them) or the only natural way for Veronica Mars come out of an encounter with Mexican cartel members (who she snooped on and tried to turn in) alive. Which is pretty necessary for what happens next.

Despite the episode beginning with a Veronica/Logan argument (over Skype) and continuing with an increased flirtation between Veronica/Leo and an intense sex dream, almost dying in a storm of bullets makes Veronica reassess some things and finally accept Logan’s marriage proposal. In a season where Logan has repeatedly asked Veronica if she wants him—as is, not as he was or as someone else entirely—this moment functions as the answer to that question. She does. It technically doesn’t answer the question of if she wants Neptune, but with Logan, Neptune is a package deal. Which means she’s also finally made her choice on that front too, for better or worse.

“Do character flaws count less if you’re self-aware about them?”

This has been another one of the big questions of the season, as Veronica remains perfectly aware of her issues while actively refusing to do anything to fix them. (I would argue that season three tried to do a lot of what season four has on this front but missed the mark, as it was attempting to do this type of introspection on an 18-year-old who definitely wouldn’t change things. As a 30-something, Veronica’s refusal to change is now treated as the bug that it is, not a feature.) This has created issues with Logan, has continued her issues with Weevil, and is what convinced her to bug Nicole. (Veronica didn’t have to bug Nicole. She could’ve asked Keith to, to abstain due to a conflict of interest. But she didn’t.) Veronica’s self-awareness of her flaws is what allows her to take in Matty as her protege, to make sure she doesn’t become exactly like her in the ways that alienate you and make you hard; but in trying to help Matty, Veronica’s still not trying to help herself.

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So much about Veronica’s identity is that she’s a natural loner—as is Logan, in a different way—but because that has become so much of the “Veronica Mars brand,” it’s easy to forget or even for the series to sometimes betray the fact that she’s, to quote Wallace, “a marshmallow.” But as the series goes on, there is more of a focus on Veronica’s hardness than her softness, which has driven so much of this season (in a great way) but can also prevent the character from having any type of happiness outside of just her small core circle. Unlike her scenes with Weevil though, this is, unfortunately for Veronica, a moment of softness, of vulnerability. Sort of. Similar to how she couldn’t “take the win” and lie to the Maloofs before, she can’t lie to Nicole about the bug either. But the difference here is, unlike with the Maloofs, Veronica actually has a personal connection to Nicole and shouldn’t approach her the same way as she did her clients.

It’s fascinating that the moment that breaks Veronica and makes her come clean is Nicole asking her to come with her on a girls’ spa vacation post-spring break. At that moment, Veronica is stunned—it’s like Kristen Bell learned how to short-circuit—and it’s clear she’s going to break and confess. And that’s when cool, carefree Nicole becomes the latest character to call out Veronica Mars, bringing up how Veronica’s response to learning Nicole’s “deepest, darkest, personal secret” was to bug her and continue to be her friend despite thinking she could possibly be a murderer. “Shit, Veronica—how low is the bar for you,” she asks. On the one hand, the bar for Veronica and her friendships is actually quite high, thus the office bugging to be sure she could trust her. On the other hand, the idea that Veronica could think Nicole may have killed college kids and still want to be her friend—and idea that she was struggling with—is a symptom of being born and raised in Neptune. Because if she had been the bomber and her motive actually was going after sexual assaulters and creeps in this nightmare town, then what? (Thankfully Veronica Mars didn’t do this, after the way they handled “feminists” in season three.) But even though that theory came up, it was never strong enough to justify Veronica’s decision to bug Nicole’s office, and the fact that listening in on Nicole made her sick proved that. As did her saying as much about the theory: “I didn’t really think you did it—it’s just part of the job. And I’m telling you because I don’t want this between us anymore.” Of course, it actually wasn’t “between” them at all until she confessed—it was all on Veronica.

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The irony of Veronica confessing is that it could be considered a healthy moment of growth for the character, despite the consequences. But because this is Veronica, there is a fine line between her not wanting the toxicity of keeping this secret to affect her friendship and her basically sabotaging herself by telling the truth. (For the latter, by telling the truth and Nicole not forgiving her, that could easily be another way to prove that people will let you down.) Even Keith’s advice isn’t for her to tell the truth: It’s to remove the bug, making it no harm, no foul. It’s not like Veronica learned anything from the audio that would make her think less of Nicole; in fact, it only made her think less of herself by listening. Really, in this situation, the only one proving that people will let you down if you let them is Veronica. And yet, it’s a testament to the writing team behind Veronica Mars and Kristen Bell that you still want Veronica to figure it out and get it all together one day. You don’t want to just write her off after she cuts people out of her life or sabotages things to prove she was right to be closed off in the first place. Her deciding to marry Logan is a step forward, even if her friend break-up with Nicole felt like a step back.

Now, as for the serial bomber: It all goes back to the nails. The shrapnel nail that was taken out of Penn’s back (that he tried to connect to Daniel Maloof), the nails that Clyde coincidentally passed by at Hardy Lemaire’s (hehe) Hardware Store, the nails found in the aftermath of every bombing since the third one. With this episode, we learn that the original nail was not even from the Sea Sprite bomb but instead from Matty’s string art in the lobby. (And Leo also confirms the nail wasn’t bomb shrapnel.) Meaning that the nails weren’t a signature of the original bomber. (As the audience already knows, the original bomber was Perry Walsh on behalf of Big Dick Casablancas. Of course there was no signature.) They were instead the signature of someone who got it in their warped mind that it was and thought that the proper way to copycat was to include nails in all of his bombs, giving himself away: Penn the pizza boy.

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The bomber is now looking for attention, in the way Big Dick/Clyde obviously weren’t, which obviously suggests Penn as well. First, there was the letter with the ultimatum for the mayor—which now makes sense as a way for Penn to pin the bombs on Big Dick, who, in theory, would want to embarrass the mayor for not passing NUTT ordinances. (Again, there is nothing to believe Big Dick would’ve taken the time or effort to write that letter, which is something Penn would’ve probably realized, had he actually known Big Dick. We already know his view of prominent Neptune figures is skewed.) But now he’s moved on to limericks, promising bomb number six in the next 72 hours. Really, the fact that it is so attention-seeking makes Penn the obvious choice, because now that he’s not on television all the time and the Murderheads (besides Carol) don’t take him seriously either, he has to get attention somehow. (Leo reveals that Penn’s also trying to get book deals.)

Plus, the cops found stacks of bomb-making material at his home.

Unlike other late-episode reveals, it’s no surprise no one really looked into Penn’s past until he was arrested because this entire season has been full of no one taking him seriously enough to care. Not even after he bugs Mars Investigations. Sure, Clyde put a dead duck in Penn’s bed, but that because he was pissed and didn’t consider Penn enough of a threat to actually intimidate. (Big Dick even considers 16-year-old Matty more of a threat.) As the story goes, Hearst student Penn Epner started playing Assassination on campus, the game with paint guns, and “took the game a little too far.” In his need to win, he shot a classmate during an exam, the classmate ended up losing an eye, and Penn was expelled. At his expulsion hearing, all he had to say for himself was: “Well, I won, didn’t I?” Then he started delivering pizza (as Mr. Cho apparently didn’t look into his background) and moved into his grandmother’s house, which she left him when he died.

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And now here he is. Penn pleads his innocence, and with 24 hours left until the next bomb goes off, he decides to hire Mars Investigations—the people who just brought him in to the police—to prove it. Any other season, the possibility that Penn didn’t do it would still be strong, but this season has been pretty obvious with who its villains would be. (I just don’t see hiring Patton Oswalt in such a prominent role just to put him in the background to finish it all.) The finale could put in a last-minute twist, but it definitely doesn’t seem like it. It just seems like Penn is taking one last shot at getting attention. See, that character flaw (which Penn is not self-aware about) makes the predictability work.


Stray observations

  • A nice touch about this season that really drives home that Keith and Veronica are partners on equal footing is the fact that they take turns working from the Reception area. They each have their own office, but no receptionist, so they pull their weight when needed.
  • Dodie: “We should’ve followed the father.”
    Alonzo: “So you could bitch about how we should’ve followed the daughter? Just be where you are.” Alonzo and Dodie’s power as a pair truly has elevated the closer they get to the action. Which is why they can go from Alonzo’s bit about Neptune’s paper straws and knocking on Veronica’s door to tell her to move her car (street cleaning!) to being downright intimidating on their way to kill her and Keith. It’s been a hell of a journey for these two characters. And one of growth, as they finally realize that following Veronica and Keith will lead them to finding the bomber, not just watching the news and waiting for something to happen.
  • Veronica: “Here, talk to Pony. I need one sec.”
    Logan (via Skype): “Hi, Pony.”
    Pony: *groans*
    Logan (via Skype): “Good talk.” I’ll have to admit, while it’s disappointing Pony isn’t as much of a go-getter as Backup was, he has an energy (all the groaning, drooling, and laying about) that really draws me in.
  • I’m pretty sure this season of Veronica Mars has had the most Wallace/Logan interactions that any single season has ever had. And in this interaction, we learn that the school district offered him a varsity coaching job… at Kane High School. (Apparently, there’s a Kane High School now.) Naturally, Wallace is afraid to Veronica.
  • Wallace: “So… What is a Murderhead?” I’ve mentioned how this season, unfortunately, couldn’t be full of classic Veronica and Wallace mess arounds, but at least we get one more for the road at the Murderheads meeting. And it’s true to the spirit of the original Veronica/Wallace friendship, as Veronica deceives Wallace to get him to do her a favor. (Of all the times Veronica has gone into something dangerous solo, it’s interesting that both times she goes to Murderheads, she makes sure to have a companion.) Wallace even gets to be the face of disapproval in Veronica’s sex dream about Leo!
  • Don “Hey, if the desire to murder spring breakers is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. … Oh, lighten up. Everyone who’s ever lived in Neptune has thought it.”
    Wallace: “Yeah, I thought it. Damn, did I say that out loud? For the record, I’m not the murderer.” The look Wallace gives an amused Veronica after that pretty much says, “I swear, if you get me accused of murder by this pizza boy….” That’s why I had to make it the image for this review.
  • At the Murderheads meeting, Veronica clocks that Penn and Carol are an item not (which is necessary for finding him later), and by the power of Adderall, Herc’s able to provide more dirt (despite it being the guy Penn was supposed to look into) on one of the Pi Sigs they’re looking into. Specifically, the emotional musician Pi Sig who clearly would’ve broken last episode had his other two frat brothers not kicked her out.
  • Veronica: “So what does one do in a motel room with no electricity?”
    Matty: “Eat. Sleep. Entertain revenge fantasies.” And by the end of this episode, she’s decided to act on said fantasies, infiltrating Big Dick’s home.
  • The Veronica/Leo scenes in this episode are dangerous. (After seeing them together the night before, Nicole tries to get dirt on if they did hooked up. Because that’s how dangerous these scenes are.) It definitely reinforces Veronica’s love for Logan that she doesn’t act on the obvious tension. Leo’s pretty much the James Marsden of this situation, the guy Veronica’s never going to pick, even though he would be no one’s second choice in any other circumstance.
  • Keith: “God, I love having you around the office. That contagious smile, that youthful enthusiasm. How many people get to work with an actual ray of sunshine?”
  • Keith: “If you’re sure about her, the next time you’re at the bar just take back the bug and just go on having your, uh, whatever the female version of a bromance is.”
    Veronica: “A friendship?”
    Keith: “A friendship, that’s it.” I’ve personally always wanted to call it a “homance” because of the “bros before hos” saying, but it hasn’t caught on. I supposed I’d settle for “womance,” but I’m not in love with it.
  • Keith: “What’s his motive?”
    Veronica: “Uh… He calls spring breakers ‘heathens’ on the recording.”
    Keith: “They are heathens. We’ve called them worse.”
    Veronica: “Much worse.” This is one thing I wish had been different about this mystery: As this season’s made clear how much Neptune natives (even the ones who aren’t NUTTs) hate the spring breakers, it seems like there should have been far more bomber suspects. Especially when both bomb perpetrators end up being the new regulars who have gotten as much screentime as they have. Maybe that would have muddled the story, but the story pretty much has always played the fact that Big Dick/Clyde were responsible for the original bombs, and considering how much screentime Patton Oswalt has gotten, you kind of have to purposely ignore it to not at least think Penn was responsible for the others.
  • Matty: “Is it okay if I hang out and charge my cell? I can just answer the phone and whatnot.”
    Veronica: “Yeah. Just, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
    Keith: “And most of the things that she would do.” Obviously, Matty is going to go off and do something she shouldn’t do, but since Veronica knows she’s been conserving her phone battery at the motel, there is some plausible deniability.
  • Keith: “Maybe the squirrely cuss made a mistake with the first bomb.” For all the issues with the predictability of this season’s mystery—and unlike usual, the audience is eventually told who one the perps are before Veronica or Keith officially uncover it—one of the highlights of this season is Keith and Veronica spitballing back and forth, coming up with theories. Here, for example, Keith is absolutely right about the mistake with the first bomb, just not the who and why.
  • Was Hector trying to convince Weevil to join Weight Watchers?
  • Veronica: “You still have that ring?”
    Logan: “I do.”
    Veronica: “Well, look at that. You already know your lines.” While this is very sweet, this sweet moment is almost ruined by Veronica’s voiceover explaining it beginning with, “When I woke up after my Leo sex dream…” It’s ultimately saved by her talking about how her brush with death only made her think about Logan, but it is one hell of a start.
  • Keith: “Veronica. Please.” It goes without saying that Enrico Colantoni also kills it this season, but the way he fights back tears at this moment—after having to admit that he could’ve gotten Veronica killed because of his screw-up and telling her he’s done with this life—is absolutely crushing. Veronica once told Keith, “This is what we do. This is how we survive.” But Keith can’t do it anymore and he almost got them both killed as a result of that. (I admit, I cried.)
  • Clyde: “You’re a good man. Consider me in your corner. That is, unless you’re going against me. To the good times.” Keith has a friendship breakup with Clyde too, but he has opposite issue of Veronica because his friend is very guilty.
  • As the Maloof storyline has to be wrapped up, we see Daniel in a hospital room, high on morphine and saying he deserves this, while Amalia tells Veronica to ignore him. She doesn’t even care when Veronica tells her she doesn’t think Penn’s responsible for the original bombs, and she’s already using Daniel’s shooting as a way to get him elected to Senate. This is sweet merciful release from this storyline, but it’s still not good.
  • Fun fact: The voice during the Spondoolie production card is difference with each episode.
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About the author

LaToya Ferguson

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.