As much as we talk about remakes and revivals in the context of the film industry, it’s a trend that’s nearly as prevalent in television. Especially in the streaming era, there have been TV revivals both transcendently great (Twin Peaks: The Return, on Showtime) and laughably terrible (Fuller House, on Netflix). And while there’s no perfect formula or guidebook that showrunners must adhere to when rebooting a show, it’s never a bad idea to move beyond nostalgic fan service in favor of bold and purposeful new direction.
It’s been 15 years since Veronica Mars debuted on the now-defunct UPN, and five years since creator Rob Thomas put together a Veronica Mars movie-slash-sequel that, at the time, became a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign thanks to the show’s ardent fan base. Perhaps because the fans literally helped fund the project in the millions, the film was fun for Marshmallows (the endearing term for Veronica Mars diehards) and heavy on the fan service, while bringing very little else to the table. But the fourth season, surprise-released a week early on Friday by Hulu, goes to great lengths to demonstrate the importance of moving on, and how damaging it can be to be trapped in old ways.
The fourth season—and if you haven’t seen it yet, please stop reading; we’re about to address some huge moments—comes with a bitter, cynical new edge, even for a show that once began with a best friend’s murder and a sexual assault. One colleague aptly described the direction of Veronica Mars’ fourth season as going from “Nancy Drew to Jack Nicholson in Chinatown,” a comparison that somehow checks out. (The new opening credits are also extremely True Detective–esque.) The series has always cast Neptune as a beautiful yet tricky place to live, a coastal California town always teetering on class warfare between the 1-percenters and the regular people (like Veronica and her dad) trying to make an honest living. But it’s one thing to explore socioeconomic divides from the vantage point of a high-schooler navigating her hometown, a mystery, and the occasional crush—it’s another to see her as a 30-something adult willingly trapped in Neptune rather than trying to escape it.
Veronica (Kristen Bell) doesn’t welcome change this season. Her father, Keith (a charming Enrico Colantoni), is hobbled by a car accident—a callback to a plot from the movie—and concerned that his memory lapses are an early sign of dementia. Keith wants to retire, and encourages Veronica to live her own life instead of continuing the family private eye business if he calls it quits. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Logan (Jason Dohring, whose only preproduction notes were apparently “How jacked can you get?”), is now a chill, reformed Navy intelligence officer. In the premiere, Logan spontaneously proposes to Veronica, which she immediately rejects and freaks out about; he’s very calm and understanding about it, in a way that is antithetical to what we’ve come to expect.
Logan’s transformation from a prototypical high school bad boy with a penchant for uncontrollable outbursts of rage into a guy who keeps telling his girlfriend how much therapy has helped him is, indeed, a pleasant turn of events. The original series run always gave you the impression that Veronica and Logan were destined for each other—even when other flings got in the way—but that their romance was tragically bound by toxic, self-destructive behavior. Season 4 begins optimistically: If Logan is capable of envisioning a possibility where they’re both settled down, married, and one day possibly having kids, maybe there’s a future where he and Veronica live a normal, happy life.
Unfortunately, for Veronica Mars to continue being Veronica Mars—and theoretically keep going for more seasons, which is TBD—that can’t happen. Not with Logan in the picture. That narrative fact is realized in Season 4’s tragic finale, after Veronica uncovers the culprit behind a string of bombings in Neptune. While the initial bombs were engineered by “Big Dick” Casablancas (David Starzyk) to forcefully run mom-and-pop shops out of business on the boardwalk, the bombings were continued by Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), a pizza-delivery guy and true-crime junkie who leveraged the situation—he caught some shrapnel from the first bomb and became an internet sensation—to get revenge on spring breakers because … a bunch of frat bros once tossed him in the ocean because their pizza order was wrong. The questionable evolution of his character (from “I hate drunk college kids” to “I will now bomb my hometown”) aside, Oswalt gives a pleasantly layered performance, recalling the resentful, occasionally funny, and ultimately dangerous trio of nerds from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately, as a final act of revenge against Veronica, who puts him behind bars, Penn places a bomb in her car—which Logan enters before Veronica can put the pieces together. And just like that, Veronica’s life blows up right before her eyes.
Killing a major character is always a bold decision, and there will undoubtedly be a legion of Marshmallows enraged at this outcome—particularly after Veronica and Logan finally got hitched right before his death. Despite a couple angry (albeit brief) outbursts, Logan came across this season like a genuinely good dude. Fans used to ship Veronica and Logan even though he was kind of a fuccboi—now, he’s finally committed to having a healthy relationship, and he’s dead. And unlike Stranger Things, Veronica Mars seems very committed to Logan being dead, and to a future in which Veronica is fundamentally changed because of it.
Again, most TV revivals don’t go there. The initial conceit of Veronica Mars—Veronica’s best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfriend) is murdered, and Veronica investigates the case—was clearly influenced by Twin Peaks. And now, like Twin Peaks: The Return, Veronica Mars isn’t as concerned with nostalgia and giving fans what they want as much as weaponizing those feelings against the viewer. Perhaps because Marshmallows already got the full fan-service treatment with the 2014 movie, creator Rob Thomas wasn’t afraid to let Veronica Mars go to darker lengths than ever before. Killing off one of the show’s most beloved characters is one way to make that statement, but it’s evident: The new Veronica Mars isn’t content to play the greatest hits. It wants to evolve.
There were certainly easier ways to get to this point—and I’m not advocating for what happened!—but Logan’s death has forced Veronica’s hand. A year after his death, she’s leaving Neptune. The Mars private eye business is booming—the bomber case got tons of national attention—and Veronica is pursuing a new investigation outside town. Whether more seasons do happen remains to be seen, but Logan’s death is the most outsized statement that Veronica’s story isn’t over. Neptune or not, there’s no settling down for Veronica Mars. There’s always a new case to crack.