Thoughts on Season 1 of Veronica Mars
This post contains spoilers and discussions of sexual violence.
I watched season one of Veronica Mars on the strong recommendations from some of my friends, and I came away with mixed feelings. I did like it on the whole, to the extent that I'm pretty eager to start watching season two, but it definitely falls into the category of "a show that I like while acknowledging its flaws."
I want to start off with what I liked about the show, and what I liked most was the plotting. Different viewers have different things they appreciate about television shows (and media in general), and one thing I appreciate a lot is plot. I love shows that have intricate plots with many interconnecting pieces, especially when this arises from the characters' goals and motivations coming into concert and conflict. This is really hard to pull off well without succumbing to plot holes or overdoing it and having everyone's allegiances shift dramatically every episode, and few shows pull it off gracefully. This is a lot of what puts shows like House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy among my favorites.
Veronica Mars does a fantastic job of this. The whodunit that drives the season's arc holds together very well, with many layers of deception and clues unfolding (for the most part) very smoothly through the course of the season. The eventual revelation of the culprit is well-seeded throughout the season, avoiding the opposite pitfalls of either making them someone completely unfamiliar or making them obvious to the viewer long before the characters see them.
The one quibble I have is that, especially towards the end of the season, the show casts suspicion on character after character in such an overt way that it's hard for a genre-savvy viewier to take the possibility that they may actually be the culprit seriously. It's a classic issue with mystery shows -- the suspect halfway through can never be the culprit, since there's too much time left to fill.
I was by and large fond of the characters in Veronica Mars. Veronica and her dad are my favorites, but the secondary characters are pretty delightful as well. I wish Wallace got more of his own stuff to do... other than a couple Wallace-focused episodes, he was mostly relegated to being Veronica's sidekick and (poetically) complaining about how all he does is be Veronica's sidekick. There's the potential for a Buffy-like level of character depth for Veronica's friends, but that potential is only realized for Duncan and Logan, leaving Wallace and Mac sort of on the sidelines.
Speaking of Logan, I really didn't buy his relationship with Veronica. Sure, he's cute as a button, but this is the same person who viciously tormented Veronica for months and who's loudly racist every time he's within earshot of Weevil. His only redeeming feature seems to be his willingness to do violence to people threatening Veronica, which is a characteristic seemingly in abundance in Neptune.
The source of most of my mixed feelings about the show come from the way it handles rape and other sexual assault. I want to be clear, first, that this is far from the worst handling of rape in media; that said, it's also far from the best. And I'm not sure I'll ever really be comfortable with media created by a guy dealing with women and rape.
In the first episode, we learn that Veronica believes she was drugged and raped. It turns out much later that this wasn't entirely accurate, but the viewer, like Veronica, believes it was for the bulk of the season. It feels this just exists to help explain Veronica's bitterness and cynicism; it does set up an episode down the line in which Veronica figures out exactly what happens that night, but that episode itself isn't tightly connected to the overall plot. It seemed gross and unnecessary.
It's made worse, too, by the fact that this isn't the only time sexual assault comes up. There's an episode about a teacher seducing his students and one about a young woman being drugged and filmed doing compromising things. It's strange and uncomfortable how often this sort of thing comes up in Veronica Mars. It feels like it's being used as a tool to make the show seem deper and more serious, without being treated as a real thing.
This impression is reinforced by the fact that the numerous characters who are revealed to either attempt, encourage, or tacitly support various instances of sexual assault are effectively let off the hook. They may be treated to rolled eyes and snarky words, but it's completely diproportionate to what they did.
No media exists without any flaws, which means that it's important both to acknowledge the flaws in the media you enjoy and to be able to enjoy media that has flaws. Despite being flaws, I liked Veronica Mars a lot and I'm eager to continue watching. People who are more uncomfortable than I with the imagery of sexual violence may want to give it a pass, but people who are similar to me in their delight at intricate, well-crafted plots should definitely check it out.