“After all these years, do you not instinctively fear me?”
I can’t say enough about how well “The Bitch Is Back” functions as the series finale of Veronica Mars—even if it wasn’t intended as the show’s final hour. Given the constraints the show was operating under—lower budget, no major mysteries, the episode not being the planned finale—I can’t imagine it pulling off anything better. We get significant emotional resolution between Keith and Veronica, whose relationship is the core of the show. We get to see Veronica being a badass, which is when Veronica Mars is at its most entertaining. All the supporting characters get something defining to do. The show engages with its history. And most importantly, it’s a fantastic episode.
“The Bitch Is Back” builds an incredible amount of tension by putting the Mars family on opposing sides of a mystery. Both Veronica and Keith are entirely right to deal with the case of the week—the sex video of Veronica and Piz—in the ways they do and with the information they have. But it leads to Keith knowing that Veronica broke into Jake Kane’s new mansion without knowing why. He has to balance his responsibilities as sheriff with loyalty to his family. Veronica charges ahead with her righteous anger, having no idea how dangerous it is to her, her father, or her family as a whole. “The Bitch Is Back” reminds me of my favorite Justified episode, “Save My Love,” in how it uses a few coincidences and competing character motivations to continually improve as the episode rolls on.
For most of the episode there’s no plausible happy ending to Veronica’s break-in. Something bad is going to happen to Veronica or Keith. And it does—Keith sacrifices the election and possibly his future career in law enforcement in order to eliminate the most obvious evidence against Veronica. He seems happy about it, too, in a final scene with his daughter where they reaffirm their bonds, without necessarily knowing why.
Keith’s erasing of the surveillance footage is a meaningful scene beyond the importance of his actions, though. First, it’s a callback to one of the most difficult and important character choices of the series: Logan wiping the tape containing Aaron Echolls having sex with Lilly Kane. That scene helped define the emotions of the second season, and changed the largest effects of the first. This deliberate echo invests the moment with particular gravity.
Second, it’s interesting that Keith is the one breaking the rules here. The members of the Mars family typically operate along a similar moral code, with the key difference that Veronica, being a teenager, is far more likely to bend the rules, especially to defend friends or family. Keith seems to stand for a more traditional law-enforcement approach, but as “The Bitch Is Back” shows, the two aren’t so different after all.
Everyone else gets a nice “farewell” scene (or two) as well. Parker and Piz each demonstrate some personality, with the former breaking up with Logan and the latter dealing with his injuries from Logan as well as Veronica (“You know, you’re adorable when you surveil.”). Logan himself has a more dynamic send-off, as he apologizes to Veronica and discovers another guy treating her poorly. She forces him to not go after the other guy, he accedes, then she turns her back for a second and Logan’s kicking the bad guy’s ass. It’s even faster than a Gilligan Cut, something that the viewers—and Veronica—have to admire.
And then there’s Mac, helping Veronica deal with computer issues and snarking back and forth with our hero. Dick Casablancas helps Veronica despite himself, playing the bro to perfection as ever. Weevil offers Veronica his help and protection, working with her for her nastiest pranks against one of her enemies. Finally, there’s Wallace, having one of his greatest moments on the show, quickly realizing where the sex video was being shot, and immediately and courageously doing the right thing by continuing the process of joining the secret society responsible.
Even two of the lost characters, Duncan and Lilly Kane, receive a visual representation. Before we or Veronica know that it’s the Kane mansion she’s in, we see a giant painting of Lilly. Another, of Duncan, appears soon after. It’s a wonderful way to bring the show’s story full circle. Veronica Mars begins with Jake Kane as the villain, and it ends there as well. This wasn’t even supposed to be the series finale, but serendipity helps “The Bitch Is Back” work as a one regardless.
Season Four Pitch:
Maybe this could have worked. Maybe Rob Thomas tossed in just enough generic-looking bullshit that a TV executive would bite, and then he’d bring back Veronica Mars. But, well, look at that splash screen. Just look at that bland color scheme. Kristen Bell in a pantsuit. Watching Bell suit up in different costumes is as fun as it always is, but it’s not enough. Too many new characters is a big problem, but one of the things that Veronica Mars did so well from the first episode to the last was work with its history. Neptune had a history. Veronica had a history. She had relationships with all these different characters. The season four pitch has no history available. I’d have loved a real fourth season for the show, with Veronica at a better-developed Hearst College, dealing with the fallout from the events of the third season. I don’t think I’d have loved this.
Also, maybe if this gets made, Walton Goggins isn’t available to play Boyd Crowder.
Veronica Mars Overall:
I wasn’t that worried when I watched the pilot, but I’m still impressed by how quickly Veronica Mars won me over as a fan. I expected it to be entertaining, but I had no idea that the show was as smart as it was. It’s easily the smartest American series I’ve ever seen in terms of dealing with class. Neptune had an entrenched upper class, largely unassailable by legal or ethical means.
That put Veronica in the middle, constantly forced to decide between the law, her personal honor, and her emotional response. That level of ambiguity was astonishing for what was a teen drama on a netlet. It happens occasionally on big ensemble prestige shows like Game Of Thrones, bouncing from character to character. On Veronica Mars, it was a regular occurrence for its lone protagonist, and done so within a case-of-the-week framework.
There are other elements that make the show special. For a season and a half, every episode it did was built on a theme of parenthood, an impressive achievement. Its examination of gender wasn’t as strong as its focus on class, but Veronica herself is about as strong a central character as you can get.
Of course, there were some missteps. The first season is inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, despite its thematic and narrative consistency. The second season may be more competent generally, but its wide-ranging, overarching story was sometimes messier than it should have been. And the third season dragged in comparison, thanks to its misguided rapist mystery and difficulty adapting to the new college setting.
Where Veronica Mars truly shined, though, was in certain of its individual episodes. My 10 favorites:
10. “Spit & Eggs”
7. “You Think You Know Somebody”
6. “I Am God”
5. “The Bitch Is Back”
(Note: rankings determined almost entirely by gut reactions and memories. No science here, people, but feel free to post your own!)
With that, we come to the end of Veronica Mars on TV Club Classic. It’s been great traveling through the show with you all. And remember: Veronica Mars is smarter than you.