Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Girl Detective On Her Second Outing: Scattered Veronica Mars Thoughts

Coming a distant second on my list of reasons for being glad about Veronica Mars' renewal is the fact that, had the show been cancelled, I probably wouldn't have had the heart to post this entry. Praising the season's strengths would have been too painful, and listing its faults would have felt cruel and pointless. And, let's be honest, there are faults to list. When judged against any other standard but the impossibly harsh one it had set for itself, Veronica Mars' second season is unquestionably a stunning accomplishment, and still the best show on TV. That impossible standard, however, is the one that matters, and in their second outing the show's writers have clearly failed to meet it.

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[1], 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.[2]

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[3]. 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[4].

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[5], 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[6]. 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[7]. 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[8] 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[9].

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"[10]--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[11], 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?



[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica
[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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."

[8] You know, I was so pleased last season when the writers avoided the let-me-tell-you-what-you-did cliché. Sigh.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

9 comments:

Fred said...

"The writers persisted in undercutting their otherwise superb character work with at least one character whose purpose and appeal failed to materialize."

If this season was much less Veronica-centric, I think that's largely just so that star Kristen Bell could have some time to breathe.

However, the show has always had a little trouble with its cast of characters, and in both seasons the focus has been known to shift from what the writers obviously intended at the beginning and what the show eventually became. Secondary characters (like Beaver or Mac) became integral -- because the writers or audience like them, because of the necessities of plot. Primary characters (like Duncan or Mallory Dent) receded or disappeared entirely -- because they fail to connect, because they become unnecessary or cumbersome to the plot. These shifts tend to keep us focused on the more interesting characters -- are we any worse off without Duncan or Mallory? -- but they also tend to muddle with the plot, leave red herrings out there, and make occasional retcons necessary.

There's no aha! of course! moment at the end of either season's mystery -- certainly not at the end of this season's -- where everything comes together, where the clues finally add up. And I think that's because they don't add up, couldn't possibly add up, not completely, because it's not exactly the same mystery as it was at the beginning.

I think the writers had a clearer destination in mind than, say, the "Lost" writers (where, often to that show's detriment, it seems almost exclusively about journey with no destination in mind). But I do think quite a bit of the "Veronica Mars" storyline was made up as they went along.

Still, I haven't seen either season more than once. So a repeat viewing of each might be in order.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

in both seasons the focus has been known to shift from what the writers obviously intended at the beginning and what the show eventually became. Secondary characters (like Beaver or Mac) became integral -- because the writers or audience like them, because of the necessities of plot. Primary characters (like Duncan or Mallory Dent) receded or disappeared entirely

That's actually the opposite of what I was complaining about, Fred. My complaint was that, in spite of the fact that they didn't connect with the audiences, characters like Duncan and Jackie were kept on board to bore and befuddle the viewers with their presence. It took the writers a season and a half to get rid of Duncan in spite of the fact that he and Veronica never ignited, and Jackie, a completely pointless character, should have been cut out of the season entirely. Read interviews with Thomas and his writers, however, and you'll find them promising us that Duncan or Jackie have unsuspected depths, and that we'll end up liking them. Guess what - didn't happen.

As for flexibility with the season's overarching storyline, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the season didn't progress exactly as it was originally plotted, but I do certainly believe that Beaver was envisioned as the killer from day 1. Which means that the class warfare issues that occupied the show for the first third of the season were nothing but a red herring.

Iain Clark said...

I think you're absolutely spot on in distinguishing between the show being Veronica Mars, P.I. and Veronica Mars, Girl (Who Sometimes Does Detective Things). It's a realisation I also came to this year; it's clearly signposted in the first episode that Veronica does not define herself by her role as a detective, even though for us it's the clearest and most appealing embodiment of her personality.

I'm far less convinced that the level of subtle characterisation you identify is intentional on the part of the writers. Any characterisation that is so subtle as to be entirely unapparent on first viewing is just a bit too ambiguous for my taste. I suspect that in the bus crash the writers picked a mystery intended to have a devastating impact on Veronica and the small town of Neptune in exactly the same way as the Lily Kane murder. Veronica's guilt over the crash was an obvious attempt to invest her in the mystery, but it just wasn't enough. The writers weren't successful in tying it to Veronica strongly enough to retain the necessary emotional momentum, with the result that the story - and Veronica - drifted away from the core narrative.

I agree with just about everything else you say, particularly that Jackie was uniformly obnoxious and uninteresting - far more so than Duncan who at least had an air of danger and tragedy in Season 1, and whose violent spells were intriguing. Sadly all the things that interested me about Duncan were gone this year, and Jackie never succeeded in becoming more than a caricature. It doesn't help that the actress has a somewhat mannered acting style, or that her attempts to emote seem to rest largely in her eyebrows. I'd happily have seen her disappear, more so than Duncan. I cling to the notion that the finale was Jackie's swansong, rather than an attempt to radically retool the character and make her more appealing for next season.

(Although given that VM is even worse than The West Wing for having cast in the opening credits who disappear for months at a time, perhaps it's best that she clung on to provide a bit of continuity to an otherwise disjointed year.)

Overall I think that the good outweighed the bad this year, but it was touch and go for a while. I'm one of those people who saw S1 over the course of about three days so I'm pleased to hear that S2 hangs together under that kind of timescale. It certainly wanted for the kind of momentum that regular, uninterrupted viewing would provide.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Veronica's guilt over the crash was an obvious attempt to invest her in the mystery, but it just wasn't enough.

The reason it wasn't enough, however (if we accept that Veronica's guilt was meant to invest her in the mystery rather than distance her from it as I suggest) is that it was only very rarely mentioned. Problematic as this season was, I can't believe that the writers would be so clueless as to think that mentioning Veronica's guilt once every six episodes would be enough motivation for the character (especially when she wasn't doing anything to investigate the crash), and then stood back appalled at the discovery that it hadn't worked. These are, after all, the same people who practically made Lilly a main character last year in an attempt to invest us in her murder.

I cling to the notion that the finale was Jackie's swansong, rather than an attempt to radically retool the character and make her more appealing for next season.

I think Thomas has said that Jackie isn't coming back next year - according to him, she was always supposed to be a single-season character.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis, lots of food for thought. I had a bit of a different take on the character arcs for the season. It seems to me like most of the main characters were trying hard to deny or hide who they really are, even to the point of deceiving themselves. Veronica seems to be trying to reclaim some of the life and personality that she lost in the events surrounding Lilly's death, but in the end she's only suppressing the person those hardships made her. Weevil (while he does have the clearest actual character arc of anyone on the main cast) spent the first part of the season trying to pretend that he still had control over the other PCHers. Logan spend much of the season trying to behave like he doesn't care, about Veronica, Duncan, his father, or even himself, which is difficult for a character who tends to wear his heart on his sleeve. Jackie has blatently created a fictional life for herself. And Beaver of course is trying to protect his identity as a sweet, harmless kid, while at the same time chaffing at being underestimated as such. This seems to tie in with the oft repeated "coming out of the closet" theme of the season, people trying to conceal their own true identies or to reveal those of others.

I do think Veronica's lack of an overall sense of drive or purpose - other than being normal - damaged any sense of urgency the season had overall. It's a pity that the person most driven to investigate the case was Keith and that Veronica seldomly matched him in this. I think in the previous season one of the things that made Veronica so sympathetic as a character was her overall drive to find the truth behind Lilly's murder (for whatever reasons). Her sometimes harsh attitude and questionable actions were much more easily excused with the underlying motivating factor. Hopefully we'll see a return to a more driven Veronica in the next season.

Elsie said...

I just wanted to say how much I loved your analysis. Said everything I wanted to say and much more.

RE: the producers intentions concerning Veronica's investment in the bus crash, I do agree that they'd have to be crazy to think that mentioning it once every six episodes would convince the audience, and that, therefore, it was likely intentional. But those intentions were never made clear.

That said, however, I also felt for much of the first half of this season that the producers had to be aware that Duncan and Veronica were an unengaging couple and Duncan a black hole of a character. (How else do you explain the choices they made in portraying that relationship? The reunion montage? The sex epiphany? Duncan's complete inability to sense what Veronica's feeling?) I kept expecting an acknowledgement or resolution to arrive, something to show that it had all been to plan, that they had not been foolishy forcing ten episodes of tepid romance on the audience and calling it true love. Such a payoff never arrived. (I finally stopped expecting one after "One Angry Veronica.") Instead, they rode the inexplicable "Duncan and Veronica 4-Ever" rainbow until Dunn's departure at mid-season. It was both unsatisfying because it rang so false and frustrating because I couldn't fathom the writers' motivations in pursuing the relationship. (Part of me feels they chalked up a great deal of the Duncan/Veronica opposition as sour grapes on the part of Logan lovers, which wasn't the case.)

Coming back to my point (sorry about the rant), I feel that while Rob Thomas and his writers are the most brilliant creative team on television, they do have their blind spots. Especially when it comes to Teddy Dunn.

So while I really like your theory concerning Veronica's reluctance to investigate, I'm hestitant to agree completely because I feel Thomas & Co. have made other significant(and seemingly unintentional) missteps this year.

Elsie said...

I just wanted to add that, while the producers stuck steadfastly to their vision of Duncan and Veronica as a great couple, they also chose to write Duncan out of the show, which suggests they had at least an inkling that he wasn't working. And that really just adds to the confusion.

So, in conclusion: Huh?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

You're right, Elsie, that the Veronica/Duncan relationship was one of the more frustrating and unsuccessful aspects of the season. It's been a problem since day one - as I said, the writers were deeply invested in Duncan and kept assuring us that we were going to fall in love with him, and it just never happened. And yes, I had the same problem you did with "Donut Run" - I had been assuming that the relationship was going to implode (and indeed there was every indication that Veronica had little or no investment in Duncan beyond the comfort factor that he represented and the opportunity to regain something of her former self), and the writers wrote Duncan out of the show as if he and Veronica were soulmates. Frankly, I'm so happy that the Duncan millstone has been lifted off the show's neck that I'm willing to accept that interpretation.

So yeah, the Veronica Mars writers have some troubling blind spots, and as I say in my review a lot of the problems the show has been having can be traced to a gap between the writers' perception of the show and the viewers'. But I still can't believe that they intended Veronica to be invested in the bus crash - it's one thing to like a character but not be able to instill that affection in your audience. It's quite another to completely forget a vitally important aspect of your main character's personality.

Elsie said...

Abigail,
I totally agree there’s no comparing the Duncan/Veronica relationship arc to the bus crash mystery. I think the former sticks in my craw a bit more because, even if you accept their interpretation of things (Duncan and Veronica as soulmates), the choices they made are still confusing and seemingly at cross-purposes to their intent. Whereas with the bus crash, your interpretation of the writers’ intent makes the season seem, if not a success, than at least an interesting and reasonable failure.
While I never felt any particular desire for the show to re-visit the Duncan/Veronica relationship, if they had to, I felt there were other, far more interesting routes to take. Thomas once described one of his YA novels, “Satellite Down,” as closest in spirit to Veronica Mars, as both dealt with the notion that “innocence is a difficult, if not impossible, thing to reclaim.” And what does Duncan represent, if not innocence? For all their attempts to convince us of the steamy nature of his relationship with Veronica, it was never portrayed in the flashbacks as much more than puppy love. And had their renewed relationship imploded as you and I and most VM viewers were expecting it to, I think that would have been far more poignant than another instance of True Lovers Torn Apart By Cruel Circumstance. (Nor would the implosion preclude Veronica from helping Duncan escape with Baby Lilly. I feel certain she still would have been willing to help, if out of nothing more than residual loyalty to him as one of the few vestiges of her old life. Though I would have preferred the entire baby storyline had been scrapped and Meg left alive.)

So, I think that’s all I’ve got on the subject. Mostly I just wanted to tell you how awesome I thought your analysis was. And if you’re bored, I did write about my problems with Duncan back in February here:
http://grinandbarret.typepad.com/weblog/2006/02/i_dream_of_donu.html

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