Spoilers ahead for the fourth season of Veronica Mars.
One of the worst things you can tell somebody is that they haven’t changed.
Yes, it sounds like a compliment. On the surface, it seems like an acknowledgment of eternal youth or a testament to somebody’s extensive skin-care regimen. But those who’ve said it don’t tend to mean it that way. So, Veronica Mars? Girl, you haven’t changed a bit.
Of course, when we meet up with Veronica at the top of Hulu’s new revival season, she’s the first to admit this — sort of. She tells us she’s still stuck in the same town she’s been condemning since the early 2000s and doing the same type of PI work she did then, too. She resents the coastal elite, side-eyes the annual influx of spring breakers, and she condemns the corruption that plagues the town’s, well, everything. And who wouldn’t? This season alone, Neptune is the backdrop for multiple bombings, several attempted sexual assaults, political blackmail, rampant racism and white supremacy, and a surprising number of flourishing criminal empires. No city is perfect, but going by everything that’s happened there, Neptune may actually be cursed.
But where Veronica is the first to attest to her own surface-level unhappiness, it’s what she doesn’t say that alludes to her refusal to evolve. Similar to her high-school self, she avoids communication by throwing herself into work. And while she’s now living with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Logan Echolls, Veronica chooses to continue clinging to their once-toxic dynamic by belittling Logan’s newfound commitment to therapy. More damaging? She’s seemingly so afraid to move their relationship forward that Veronica dismisses not only Logan’s marriage proposal, but Logan in general, every time he tries to talk to her beyond banter or case work. She emasculates him by championing his explosive bursts of anger because they once fueled their sex life, and patronizes his “sanded down” self, as though he’s only ever allowed to exist in extremes — or within the box she placed him in.
Which isn’t to say that Veronica and Logan getting married would signify real or permanent character evolution. Frankly, getting married for any reason outside of “I’d like to marry you” tends to be a fast track to the dissolution of a relationship. But that’s the thing: This isn’t a conversation Veronica and Logan seem to have ever had. From their back-and-forth, we can glean that Veronica has consistently expressed her disinterest in marriage (fair), Logan proposes anyway (yikes), Veronica avoids talking about it at all costs (no!), and then they tie the knot at City Hall because Veronica realizes how much Logan means to her. (I mean, sure, but also, maybe try visiting Jane the Therapist™ together, y’all.)
The thing is, Veronica’s tendency to avoid really talking — and listening — to people she loves is a technique she’s perfected over the course of her young life. At Neptune High, grappling with her own traumas and without much emotional support, she shut down and let only a small number of friends into her inner circle. And that’s understandable because, as a teenager, few of us can escape the ground zero of our worst memories, and even fewer can articulate what it feels like to be stuck, lonely, in pain, and scared. So, like Veronica, most of us do our best until we are older. We tell ourselves that in a few years we’ll be grown-up enough to find our own way, and we throw ourselves into anything else (school, work, relationships), hoping to outrun what’s hurt us, to no longer be fueled by angst and anger.
Veronica’s never-ending reservoir of anger is what has always kept her awake, sharp, and in high school, determined to clean up the town she’d come to hate so much. In 2019, Veronica obviously still has reason to be angry. But where her 2000s-era limited understanding of poverty, race, and (at times) gender could be attributed to the ignorance of privilege, her current anger toward Logan’s prioritization of mental wellness, her saltiness toward Wallace and his wife for having friends she doesn’t like, and animosity toward Weevil connotes even more stagnation. Which we see in an all-caps moment when Weevil tries to explain to Veronica that he’s returned to his criminal dealings because he’s desperate for money. Her response? To shame him further, to remind him that his wife and child left him, and to remind him repeatedly of his worthlessness. Sure, organized crime isn’t a banner choice on career day, but for someone so well-versed in the messiness of our broken world, Veronica should understand Weevil’s mentality. Or even more importantly, that he’s right: She’s sitting on two degrees from Ivy League schools, and she’s choosing to be miserable in Neptune. He, alternately, is just trying his best.
And therein lies the truth behind Veronica’s character in season four: She is older, and that is it. But the lack of evolution between her teen and 30-something selves doesn’t take away from this latest installment of Veronica Mars. In fact, it makes it better. Because while I’d love to have watched her championing therapy, communication, and shutting up when Weevil explained this lack of choices, I love even more that we’ve been set up for a complicated, “What the fuck, Veronica?!”–type of relationship traditionally set aside for male leads of prestige TV shows. Especially since, while rooting for Veronica, we’ve never been shielded from her at-times problematic nature nor her mistakes. She’s not an antihero, but we’ve been given a front-row seat into the realities of a person whose coping mechanisms aren’t effective or helpful anymore. In fact, they’ve tethered her to a life she isn’t happy with at all. And, because she’s never learned to communicate, she lashes out and clings to old habits despite how damaging both things can be.
Which is so frustrating to watch, but it’s also an opportunity for redemption. Because as we’ve learned from the characters we tend to remember and romanticize and bring up the most, it’s the question of whether someone will grow or whether they will continue to self-destruct until they hit rock bottom. The end of Veronica Mars’s fourth season alludes to the arrival at said bottom. Meaning that come season five, which creator Rob Thomas says he was actively pursuing with said ending, Veronica finally has nowhere to go but up. Or at least nothing to do but evolve.