But I'd rather start with praise than with censure, and in one case at least I believe that fans' complaints against the show are thoroughly unjustified. Pacing has been on the top of most fans' complaint list throughout the second season--the investigation moved at fits and starts, Veronica didn't seem interested in finding out who crashed the bus, entire episodes went by without any reference to the overarching mystery. Even ignoring the fact that the season hangs together quite well when viewed in quick succession, I think this complaint is unfair. The season's aimless progression is, in my opinion, a deliberate choice on the writers' part, and one intended to prioritize character development over plot.
Like most fans, I had assumed that, in choosing the second season's overarching mystery, Rob Thomas and his writers would attempt to replicate the emotional resonance the the Lilly Kane murder investigation had for both Veronica and the show's viewers. The writers, however, deliberately provided us with a mystery that could do neither. Horrified and bereaved as she is by the deaths of eight people, Veronica is not motivated to investigate the bus crash--nor is there any realistic reason why she should be. The fact that we expect her to immediately launch into an investigation is indicative of a dissonance between the way that the show's viewers see Veronica and the way Veronica sees herself, which in my opinion is the root cause of many of the second season's problems. In other shows whose premise revolves around the main character's occupation or ability, the audience and the characters are on the same page. House knows that he's a doctor. Buffy knows that it's her destiny to save the world from monsters. Veronica doesn't know that she's a detective. She thinks of herself--perhaps quite accurately--as a teenage girl who sometimes does detective things, whether for money or in order to help her friends or simply to sate her curiosity, but it doesn't follow that she will investigate any mystery that crosses her path.
In the past I've called Veronica an instrument of justice, but I now think that to do so was to project my own wishes for the character on a person whose motivations for investigating her friend's death were largely selfish. Some unknown person had, with a single action, demolished Veronica's entire existence, robbed her of everything that made her who she was, and then vanished. Veronica's quest for Lilly's killer was not a pursuit of justice, but of vengeance, and also an attempt to assert control over her life by understanding the reasons for its alteration. The bus crash doesn't affect Veronica's existence in any meaningful way, and she is therefore not compelled to seek vengeance for it.
In the show's first season, Veronica and her peers investigated the past as a way of understanding how they had come to be themselves. In the second season, these same characters seek to escape the past, and to make their own determinations about the kind of people they want to be. The redefinition of the self is a recurring theme throughout the season. Weevil abandons the accouterments of the PCHers, and transforms himself both physically and emotionally from a leader of men into a lone wolf. Jackie seeks to alter not only her bitchy personality but the way in which others perceive her (and as we discover in "Not Pictured", this is actually her second attempt at reinventing herself, the first having taken place before the season started when she went from messed-up inner city kid to spoiled princess). Troy has apparently renounced his evil, duplicitous ways and become a chivalrous good guy. And, of course, the bus crash takes place because Beaver believes that the revelation that Woody molested him will undercut his desperate attempt to remake himself into the powerful, intelligent, sexually functional Cassidy.
Veronica, however, has already undergone this process of redefinition, and in the second season the character is engaged in reevaluating that transformation. Fans dubbed the trusting, virginal Veronica in the first season flashbacks Veronica 1.0, and the aggressive, determined detective she had become Veronica 2.0. The second season's Veronica is somewhere around version 2.4, attempting to reconcile her hard-won, hard-bitten maturity with the more open, more normal person she'd like to become. Whereas her peers accomplish their transformations (and in Beaver's case, fail to do so), Veronica spends the season trying to decide whether she wants to change at all, and if so, into what. "Normal is the watchword," she tells us when we rejoin her after the summer, ostensibly indicating that she has abandoned her role as a detective, but of course money, friends, and curiosity soon draw her back into the detective life, at which point we discover just how thoroughly terrified Veronica is by the person that she has become. "Sometimes when I know someone is bad I do improper things," Veronica tells Father Fitzpatrick in one of her rare moments of emotional honesty--probably one of the most important scenes in the season. The second season's frustrating plot progression is both a mirror and the result of Veronica's uncertainty and fear--the investigation into the bus crash is aimless, unfocused and ambivalent because Veronica is all of these things.
It takes quite a bit of work to spot this character arc because, as I've said before, Veronica Mars is a show that speaks loudest by not saying anything. Veronica is closed off emotionally from almost everyone in her life except her father and to a lesser extent Wallace, but she also shuts out the show's viewers. As Joss Whedon so accurately put it, "There is a distance to her, a hole in the center of Veronica's persona." Mars' writers deepen the gulf between the character and the viewers by refusing to spell out, in either dialogue or action, the character's inner turmoil. As in the real world, Veronica's act of transformation is half-hearted and largely unconscious, and she takes a step back for every two that she takes forward. At no point does she spell out her inner feelings for either the viewers or her fellow characters to understand, and at no point does she achieve an epiphany that enables her to leapfrog the long and difficult process of growing up. Understanding Veronica Mars is a process nearly as difficult and as complicated as understanding a real person. We have to watch her carefully, and catch subtle hints and seemingly insignificant acts--something as simple Veronica choosing not to copy Meg's files, but then turning around and sabotaging her relationship with Duncan by repeatedly questioning him about Meg.
The second season's penultimate episode, "Happy Go Lucky", is also the climax of Veronica's emotional arc. At the moment when she discovers that the verdict in Aaron Echolls' murder trial is in, Veronica is faced with the opportunity to turn her back on an investigation that consumed her for an entire year, and focus on leaving Neptune, its depravities, and the person they forced her to become, behind. The first season's Veronica 2.0 never would have considered that her place was anywhere but in that courtroom. The person Veronica keeps trying, however half-heartedly, to become would focus on her exam and on the bright future ahead of her. By giving up on the Kane scholarship and choosing to stay in Neptune, Veronica at some level accepts the person that Neptune has made of her. It remains to be seen whether this choice is a permanent one, and what effect Aaron's acquittal will have on Veronica's acceptance of herself.
An obvious problem with the theory that the second season's aimlessness is meant to mirror Veronica's is the fact that Veronica spends most of the season convinced that she was the bus crash's intended victim. Surely we could count on Veronica--any version of her--to be roused by what she perceived as an attempt on her life? Surely if anything could get her to focus on the bus crash and dedicate herself to finding its perpetrator, it would be the knowledge that they had targeted her? I felt this way throughout most of the second season, and even during most of my repeat viewing of it. It wasn't until I re-watched "I Am God" that I realized that Veronica's belief that the bus crash was an attempt on her life is in fact at the core of her unwillingness to investigate it. Veronica must be aware that her decision to investigate Lilly's murder was motivated primarily by selfish considerations--by her desire to "prove to the world that [the guilty party is] bad and get them punished." If the bus crash was intended as a retaliation for putting Aaron behind bars, then Veronica's selfish quest for vengeance cost the lives of eight innocent people. Is it any wonder that Veronica takes a dim view of her detective skills? Is it any wonder that she refrains from embarking on yet another investigation?
The only instance in which we see Veronica actively and determinedly investigating the bus crash is in "I Am God". Why does she suddenly choose to investigate the crash? Because for the first time she is seriously considering the possibility that it might not have been her fault. Veronica runs herself ragged trying to exonerate herself from the responsibility for her classmates' death--even going so far as to read Meg's e-mails, which she had previously left untouched, and Peter's online postings, which she had promised to burn. At no point during the course of the second season is Veronica's behavior as reminiscent of Veronica 2.0 as it is in this episode--she is snappy, belligerent, single-minded, and even seems a bit younger, more like the first season's combative teenager. Once the investigation peters out, however, Veronica returns to her conviction that the bus crash was her fault, and once again leaves the task of discovering its perpetrator to others.
I admire the Mars writers for the subtle, intricate character arc they gave Veronica this season. I admire their willingness to prioritize character over plot, and their boldness in choosing to tell a detective story whose protagonist doesn't want to be a detective. That said, I am not at all convinced that their experiment has been a success. Just because a thing is done intentionally doesn't mean that it was done well, or that doing it was even a good idea. Psychological realism is not necessarily a worthy end in its own right, and the writers' determination to stick to a realistic portrayal of a teenager's behavior while still enforcing a distance between Veronica and the viewers made it very difficult to understand what they were trying to do with the character. It shouldn't have been necessary to watch the season twice in order to understand something as simple as Veronica's guilt over the bus crash, but it was. Furthermore, the sad fact is that, innovative as the decision to have Veronica avoid acting like a detective was, it didn't make for a very good story. Most viewers won't work very hard--certainly not as hard as the Mars writers were expecting us to work--to puzzle out the character arcs of a show whose plot progression is leaving them thoroughly frustrated.
And it's with plotting, not pacing, that Veronica Mars' second season failed. The writers persisted in undercutting their otherwise superb character work with at least one character whose purpose and appeal failed to materialize. Last season it was Duncan, the world's least charismatic femme fatale. This year it was Jackie, the tofu character, who took on the flavor of the plot lines she was given but never managed to demonstrate a personality of her own. I'm frankly surprised that the Terrence and Jackie plotline wasn't dropped entirely, given that the season was crammed with extraneous information and littered with red herrings that sent us, and Veronica, on numerous avenues--boulevards, highways, autobahns--of investigation that ultimately led nowhere. For all its complexity, the first season's mystery eventually coalesced into a single story, the various plot strands linking into each other and forming a single narrative. In the second season, the plot fragments into a million strands, only a few of which end up having any significance to the bus crash investigation. The others are left flailing, or simply ignored out of existence--such as the strong implication, early in the season, that the bus crash was motivated by class tensions. The plot is riddled with holes, and relies on an endless stream of contrivances and coincidences.
And, of course, there's the roof scene in "Not Pictured", and the writers' decision to turn Beaver into a psychopath. Having re-watched the episode and the season as a whole, I think I was quite a bit too harsh in my original reaction, and that said reaction was partly motivated by disappointment that the show wasn't following the script that I had already laid out in my head. The episode actually hangs together quite well, and the only part of it that truly rings false is the few minutes between the end of Veronica's recitation of Beaver's crimes and Logan's arrival on the roof. I can accept coldly calculating Beaver, the person who ruthlessly kills for reasons of expediency, and for whom we and Veronica can have very little sympathy. I can't accept Beaver's sadism towards Veronica and the pleasure he takes in her pain and in her impending death. I have a sneaking suspicion that the scene was written with the sole purpose of arriving at its conclusion--Veronica about to commit murder and Logan demonstrating a glimmer of mensch-liness by talking her down--and that the only way that the writers could come up with to get to that point was to turn Beaver into a sadistic monster.
Perhaps the most significant and troubling problem with the second season's plotting, however, is the fact that throughout the season the viewers almost always know more than Veronica. Whether because we know that we're watching a detective show--it takes Veronica several episodes to realize that the bus was sabotaged, whereas we had assumed as much at the end of "Normal is the Watchword"--or because we are privy to information that Veronica isn't, or because she simply isn't interested in investigating the crash and therefore takes longer to arrive at certain conclusions about it, the show is constantly in contravention of the cardinal rule of detective fiction--the detective should always be smarter than us. Even more disturbing is the fact that the story ends with Veronica completely oblivious to entire plotlines that we know everything about--she doesn't know about Phoenix Land Trust, she doesn't know how Weevil killed Thumper, she doesn't know how Aaron managed to implicate Duncan in Lilly's murder, or who orchestrated Aaron's death, or even something as simple as why her father was visiting the school and going on dates in "I Am God". The detective should be our window to the world, but throughout the second season, Veronica is the least inquisitive and the least knowledgeable of an entire army of detectives--Keith, Logan, Weevil, Beaver, Duncan. Given that she's also the least emotionally available, the audience could be forgiven for wondering why this character is still the show's protagonist.
I suggested above that there existed a dissonance between the show's characters and its viewers, but now I wonder whether it isn't the writers who are not quite on the same page as the rest of us. I've been watching Veronica Mars under the assumption that it was a detective drama, but in the second season, Rob Thomas and his staff seem to be writing a drama about a girl who does detective things. This is not necessarily a bad choice, but I do feel that the writers should have worked harder to indicate this shift in their focus to the audience, and to bring the viewers into the main character's head. I remain hopeful, however, that the teething problems that plagued this season as the show transitioned from a single, standalone concept to a continuous story (I've said before that the first season was a novel, and that the second season is an attempt to see whether that novel's main character was compelling enough to support a series) will be dealt with. As I said above, Veronica Mars is still the best show on TV. No other series packs as much into 42 minutes, and does so as effortlessly. No other show can get my heart racing one minute, and break it the next. Few other shows have a cast as uniformly talented, and very few other shows are as willing to challenge and frustrate their viewers in the quest for a good and meaningful story. I don't know if Rob Thomas can strike a balance between subtle, realistic character work and the rigorous demands of a detective plot, but I have every intention of coming back next year to see him try.
Only, if it's not too much trouble, could we bring back Backup?
 Like, I suspect, many of the show's fans, I discovered the series late in the first season's run. As a result, I watched most of the first season--18 episodes, if I remember correctly--in quick succession. I suspect that a lot of the disappointment that fans have been voicing about the second season is rooted in the fact that very few of them had previously experienced the show with a week, and sometimes more than one, separating one episode from the next. This is not to excuse the writers, however. Like it or not, their medium is a television serial, and they should tailor their work so that its appeal is not diminished when viewed at lengthy intervals.
 Of the main cast, only Wallace and Logan don't make an attempt at redefining themselves over the course of the season. Wallace, who in the first season was a locus of stability, spends the second season playing catch-up--it's his turn now to investigate his past as Veronica and the other characters have already done. Logan, on the other hand, has no character arc to speak of. A great deal happens to him, but these events do not accumulate into a coherent narrative. Before the second season started, fans were expecting Logan to spiral downwards or to rise above his difficulties, and although he has made some movement in both directions, the end of the season finds him roughly the same person as he was at its beginning. This is my main reason for disappointment at the reconciliation between him and Veronica. Logan is still an arrogant jackass. Veronica is still emotionally unavailable. We already know how a relationship between them turns out, and I see no reason to experience it again.
 I'm ignoring the 'epiphany' that leads Veronica to sleep with Duncan in "Driver Ed" because a) there really wasn't anything stopping her from sleeping with him before and b) Duncan is boring.
 Although sometimes the writers take pity on us, and sprinkle helpful hints in the soundtrack. In "Rashard and Wallace Go to White Castle", Veronica is inspired to help Logan and Weevil by the karaoke singer who serenades her with Elvis Costello's "Veronica", which includes the lyrics
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her One question that I haven't been able to answer is why Veronica sticks so steadfastly to this theory, even in the face of convincing alternate theories offered by Keith.
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica
 For an interesting comparative study of successful and unsuccessful characterization on the show, contrast the emotional reactions ellicited by Jackie on a repeat viewing of the second season with the ones that Logan elicits when re-watching the first. Logan's excesses early in the show's run are a great deal worse than Jackie's cruel pranks, but the nuance and complexity that he gains in the season's later episodes permeates the viewer's perception of him--we can't hate him as completely as we did before getting to know him. Jackie never gains that level of humanity. As much as I liked her towards the end of the second season, when I went back to its beginning I found myself hating her just as completely as I had done the first time around.
 Perhaps we should have worked out that the class issue was a red herring in "Ahoy Mateys!", when Keith blithely announced that "most crime is personal, not these weird conspiracies."
 You know, I was so pleased last season when the writers avoided the let-me-tell-you-what-you-did cliché. Sigh.
 I still believe, however, that the rape retcon was an awkward and unworthy storytelling device. As the saying goes, it's alright to con your audience, but not to lie to them, and by turning Beaver into the rapist the writers cross the line into outright lying.
 I think the writers must be aware of this issue. They've already taken the time to establish the third season's first mystery--the serial rapist on the Hearst campus--so that Veronica and the audience can go into the story with the same amount of information.
 My best guess about the contents of the suitcase is that it has something to do with Phoenix Land Trust. In "The Quick and the Wed", Cassidy is quite certain of his ability to control Kendall, and even tells her that he's counting on her being his adversary, which to me suggests that he left a surprise for her in the event of his death.