Let's be real: The college seasons of any TV show rarely seem to stack up to the high school years. That's partly because shows' original settings make such strong impressions, but a bigger reason is that stories about young people are so much more compelling in the social crucible of high school. But Veronica Mars the character always felt constricted by her high school trappings, and the show was always much more about the entire town than it was a particular school. I've only seen the first four episodes of Veronica's freshman year in college, but I already really dig the change of setting. College just seems like a more natural fit for Veronica. She now straddles the line between stay-at-home daughter and out-in-the-world grown woman, which, let's face it, she was already those things and it felt sort of weird before. You know? She's always been so mature that it's hard to believe she was underage for the first two seasons.
So yeah, I'm already liking the college year much more than I thought! And it's not just because of the presence of Chris Lowell and his haircut.
Which brings us to the most obvious changes to Season 3. Because there are a couple! In real life, obviously, Veronica Mars had moved from UPN to CW having escaped the cancellation gauntlet on the strength of its good reviews and word of mouth. But it was clear that the CW was hoping Veronica Mars would become something more in line with their old WB shows. I've intentionally tried to ignore specific commentary from that era so as to not get TOO spoiled, but I am aware that this season was divided into multiple story arcs. Anyway, let's talk about the things that are already different on-screen. In addition to Lowell (who'd been in Life as We Know It with dreamy Sean Faris, and would later go on to Private Practice), a second new regular castmember was added to the opening credits:
Julie Gonzalo (currently on TNT's Dallas revival) played Mac's chipper roommate who underwent a personality-shifting trauma in the season premiere. In addition, both Mac and Sheriff Lamb were bumped up to series regulars (at least according to the opening credits). Oh, and those credits. Gone was the '90s-era notebook-themed montage and in its place was a sleek, dusky fashion shoot set to a slower, lower energy version of "We Used To Be Friends." A strange choice, but it still worked.
So while I expected to put off by the changes to Season 3 (and possibly annoyed by obvious CW meddling), so far at least I like the Hearst setting. It just makes more sense for Veronica to be on a college schedule rather than a daily high school routine. It affords her the independence she needs to do her thing without us becoming highly skeptical of her GPA. Also, aside from the rape plotline (which, by the way, I despise) this season feels slightly more laid back and fun. And not in a show-ruining way either. Also Chris Lowell.
Okay let's pull on some bald caps and get into it!
Case of the week: The season premiere began on what appeared to be move-in day at Hearst College, but for commuter students Veronica and Logan it was just a day to chill out in the sunlight between classes. We first saw Veronica tearing up a class project in which she needed to suss out a particular piece of information before her classmates did, and she set a school record in the process. Clearly she'd be good at this. But the main case of the week involved Wallace's new, excellently coiffed roommate Piz and how all his stuff got stolen out of his car while moving into the dorm.
After Veronica discovered that the same thing had happened to some other people, she traced Piz's stolen guitar to a dude who was selling it on Craigslist. The guy claimed he'd bought it fair and square from somebody else, obviously, but returned it when he found out it was stolen. So the hunt continued.
After realizing that Piz's car had been tagged with the name of a local punk band, Veronica dragged the gang to a rock show and crashed the stage in order to promise the audience a reward for any information about the burglary ring. A trio of teenage hoodlums claimed they'd seen suspicious activity, but it didn't take long for Veronica to discover they'd all been former mentees of the Craigslist seller and they'd all been in on it together. So, you know, not the most shocking or earth-shattering mystery, but it served to help set up Veronica's college dynamic while also introducing us to new characters.
The plot thickens: Remember that awful rape/head shaving plotline from Season 2? Well, that's the full-on mystery for this stretch of episodes. Not only was Hearst still dealing with the rash of rapes from the previous year, the entire drama had stirred up a lot of tensions on campus between the fraternities and, I guess, those against rape.
Here was our introduction to Dick Casablancas, who'd apparently spent the summer skipping his grief counseling and hitting up Zumba classes!
Anyway, the serial rapist plotline took a disturbing turn when at one point Veronica snuck into Mac and new roommate Parker's room while Parker was apparently getting it on with someone, and only later found out that Parker was actually being sexually assaulted by the head-shaving rapist! Yiiiiikes.
Meanwhile we found out what exactly Kendall wanted from Keith in the season finale that caused him to miss his flight to New York. It wasn't that exciting, she just wanted to pay him to put her into some kind of witness protection situation. So for most of this episode Keith was dealing with part 2 of that plan, which involved picking up the newly freed Fitzpatrick brother (the one Kendall had done jail time for at one point) and driving him to Kendall's secret location. Where the Fitzpatrick brother promptly MURDERED Kendall and then chased Keith out into the desert. Dang, that's cold! And also hot! Because the desert.
Episode verdict: Great first episode back... There was a lot to accomplish in setting up the new environment and characters, but it still felt really organic to the series as a whole. As excited as I was about the new stuff, it was the old stuff that bummed me out so much: Ugh, that rape plotline. I think I can handle the subject matter, it's how the campus is behaving over it that really annoys me. Um, so a horrifying serial rape situation has caused a backlash against the victims? I realize that Neptune is a cesspit for bad people and their bad decisions, but it's super hard to believe that anybody would be actively mocking the victims of rape like this. Oh well. Trying to stay positive. Piz is charming!
Case of the week: While Veronica's goings-on were firmly in mythology territory, the main case of the week was the Stanford Experiment-esque class assignment that Logan and Wallace participated in. The class was divided into two teams, prisoners and guards, and the prisoners were supposed to use any means necessary to obtain secret information from the prisoners. The entire exercise is obviously designed to see just how low ordinary people will go in order to comply with their chain of command, so the dorky kid who became the instant villain was no surprise. But the main fun of this plotline was that it pitted Logan and Wallace against each other despite them being friends (their reversal of social status was an added thrill). Unpleasant food and bathroom activities aside, it was pretty entertaining seeing each side attempt to outwit the other and in the end the guards won by sneakily setting the clock forward by 20 minutes and then tricking the prisoners into divulging the information believing they'd already won. Oldest trick in the book.
The plot thickens: Meanwhile Veronica was feeling turbo guilty over having sorta been present for Parker's rape and vowed to get to the bottom of this rape plot once and for all.
Just wanted to point out Parker's shirt here. Haha, girls!
Veronica ended up forming an unsteady alliance with the school paper to go undercover as a young co-ed looking to join Theta Beta, the sorority that Parker had been involved in, hoping that by following Parker's party-girl footsteps she'd catch the eye of the rapist. First she showed up and charmed all the busybody blondes (who had their own Greek chorus!) and even seemed to find a genuine friend in a down-to-earth redhead sister. But after pretending to be drunk and making a fool of herself in front of a conspicuously placed security camera, Veronica was asked to leave. Foiled!
In the end it turned out that the sorority DID have a secret: Their house mother, a cancer patient, had been growing medicinal marijuana in the storage closet (hence the camera). Though Veronica attempted to kill the story, the paper's opportunistic editor decided to print it anyway, thus earning Veronica the scorn of the entire campus. Oh, Veronica! But she did learn two things in the process from sorta-impersonating a sorority girl: They confiscate room keys for fun and also provide questionable transportation for drunk girls, two things that were a factor in Parker's assault. So while Veronica still didn't solve the case, she was probably on the right track.
Elsewhere Keith finally made it out of the desert after tricking the Fitzpatrick brother into stepping into an animal trap. Apparently this whole thing had gone down because Vincent Van Lowe, who'd been hired by the other Fitzpatrick brother Liam, had planted a tracking device in Keith's briefcase thus alerting Liam to their whereabouts. Still not sure why the main brother killed Kendall though. I guess he was just a bad person? Anyway, after he got caught in an animal trap Liam showed up and shot his brother in the head. So just a lot of good times out in the desert.
Keith DID eventually make it back, and Veronica discovered him in the living room looking shaken and sunburnt. There was a touching moment where we knew he wouldn't tell her what had happened, and she just hugged him anyway.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
The most put-upon prisoner was played by Samm Levine from Freaks & Geeks. (And Life as We Know It alongside Chris Lowell. Fun fact?)
The most sympathetic member of Theta Beta was played by Rachelle Lefevre, most famous for getting fired from Twilight: Eclipse and also playing a series of doctors on A Gifted Man and Off the Map.
Episode verdict: Anytime Veronica goes undercover as her polar opposite is just a good time, you know? Seeing her in the sorority girl costume and then later acting a fool at their party was a total pleasure. And as much as the Stanford Experiment thing was low-stakes and standalone, I enjoyed its unpredictable twists and reveals. Perfect early season plotline.
Case of the week: After a football-player-with-a-heart-of-gold lost his team playbook, he enlisted Veronica to help him get it back (or discover who stole it) before he'd lose his scholarship. A number of people served to benefit from the jock getting kicked out of the program: His best friend and on-field rival; his girlfriend's jealous ex; and even the special teams coach who'd had it out for him from day one. But the true culprit ended up being the football player's girlfriend, who'd decided that playing on the team wasn't good for his soul, or whatever. But once she'd stolen it, her ex had stolen it from HER, and then the ex's roommate got in on the act by keeping the thing hidden so he could clean up in some well-placed bets. Ultimately Veronica recovered the playbook, but the football player decided to hightail it back to his hometown anyway, clearly having become so disgusted with Neptune that he couldn't handle it anymore. Fair enough!
Meanwhile, Veronica had a new authority figure to bump up against: Dean O'Dell. After her school newspaper exposé alluded to the fact that a faculty member had provided marijuana seeds to the Theta Beta house mother, O'Dell threatened Veronica into naming names or else she'd be expelled. But Veronica ducked the issue by helpfully investigating the vandalism to the Dean's car and revealing that his own son had done it. That, in addition to getting the car repaired for free by Weevil, meant that Veronica was now on the Dean's good side and would probably not be naming names anytime soon.
The plot thickens: Meanwhile Piz got a job at the most expensive-looking college radio station in history and his hot button issue-oriented talk show meant he was now mediating between the anti-rape feminists of the campus and the comedy newspaper who'd decided to lampoon them. (Ugh, this campus.) Oh, and another person got raped. Otherwise not a ton of progress was made in solving this thing.
Weevil made his first Season 3 appearance here, and it was business as usual for him. By business I mean punching everybody in Neptune. First his manager at the car wash, and then after Veronica got him a job at Keith's office, Weevil went on to punch out someone he was supposed to be staking out. Typical Weevil! But because his probation was contingent on staying employed, Veronica took it upon herself to find him yet another job. So by episode's end he was a janitor at Hearst. Congratulations?
A recurring theme in these episodes has been whether or not Veronica and Logan's relationship would survive into college. Except for a few highly romantic scenes (like the above incident that ended the episode), it's looking pretty bad in my opinion! Veronica was having trust issues, particularly because Logan was keeping secrets from her. Also, the fact that he'd fallen in with Mercer Hayes—a kind of college gambling kingpin—meant that maybe Logan didn't have the best educational priorities just yet.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
The Social Network's Armie Hammer played the good-hearted football player. (Sigh.)
Ed Begley, Jr. appeared as Dean O'Dell, in a remarkably dickish performance. He usually seems so nice! But not here.
Episode verdict: Not gonna lie, I am more than ready for Weevil to be written off the show. (Can he be sent to Australia also?) But I really enjoyed all the football-related intrigue, especially the character reversal of the football jock being the only decent person in his circle. As for the Logan stuff—and if I'm being honest here, I am not as die-hard about this character as a lot of you hardcore fans are—I'm getting slightly tired of his storylines. He seems to be alternating between woe-is-me hangdog and shifty bro liar. I don't know. Don't be mad at me for saying this, but Logan is not my favorite, and whenever there are scenes of Logan and Veronica gallivanting around campus together (she in expensive shades and he with his shiny Range Rover), it makes Veronica look like the exact kind of snobby girl that she claims to abhor. Call me crazy, but I kind of wish Veronica was a single outcast again. But back to this episode, I liked it overall!
Case of the week: After Logan learned that his trust fund was depleting much faster than he'd thought (um, maybe move out of that penthouse?), he hired Veronica and Keith to track down where his parents' missing funds had been going. As it turned out, at some point Aaron Echolls' business manager started up a fund called "Aaron's Kids," allegedly a non-profit that provided services to the underprivileged. But in the recent past, Aaron's Kids had been shut down and started up again as "Aaron's Kidz" and the money had been funneled to one person and one person only: Aaron's kid! Well, his other kid. Because yup, Logan had a secret half-brother he'd never heard of!
After Veronica informed Logan of this news and urged him to contact the guy, pretty soon we met a blonde charmer who seemed to have just the right amount of sun-kissed smarm to seem like an Echolls. Unfortunately Veronica had a nagging suspicion that all was not right, and discovered that this was an impostor; the real half-brother was a teacher up the coast. The impostor turned out to be a Vanity Fair reporter using one of the more questionable journalistic tactics I've ever heard of. After feeling understandably betrayed, Logan came to suspect the real half-brother was in on the scam, but after the story of the hidden half-brother went public, Veronica convinced Logan that the brother was indeed an innocent bystander. The episode ended with an increasingly troubled Logan finally giving the real brother a call.
Meanwhile in a case of the week that seemed to be promise drama in the future, Keith agreed to help a casual acquaintance Harmony find out whether her husband was cheating on her. The twist was that it sort of seemed like she was hoping he was, and if Keith's flirtations were any indication, it seemed like Keith was hoping this was the case also. But after tailing the husband and planting a bug under his necktie, it turned out that he wasn't cheating and seemed to be a pretty decent guy to boot. Cue guilt, relief, and disappointment, not necessarily in that order. But regardless of the false alarm, it definitely seemed like Keith and Harmony had a spark between them, so I'm guessing we'll be seeing more of them.
The plot thickens: After Dick's frat house became a hotbed of suspicion in the serial rape case, Dick hired Veronica to exonerate them. Because she herself was skeptical of their innocence, she took the opportunity to roundly grill all the brothers and do her best snooping around the house. Unfortunately word got out that she was helping them, which did NOT make the campus anti-rape activists happy.
Ultimately Veronica obtained some ATM photos that seemed to suggest the most recent rape victim had been hanging out with a guy who wasn't in the frat, thereby convincing her that Dick's frat house probably wasn't the home of this particular serial rapist. Seemed like a leap to me (couldn't the rapist have been standing outside of the frame?), but fine.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
Logan's faux step-brother was played by Matt Czuchry of The Good Wife, Gilmore Girls, Friday Night Lights, and... Dang, this guy has been on so many shows! I bet on his resumé under Television it just says "ALL OF THEM." (Also, is this season way more beefcakey than before? So the move to CW wasn't ALL bad?)
Episode verdict: Top quality stuff. I loved the moment when Veronica realized Logan's brother was an imposter and in the next scene we saw the two guys surfing together. So much suspense! Plus how despicable was that guy? They'd been trading stories about Aaron and it seemed like Logan was really moved by the knowledge that he had more family out there somewhere. Aw. But yeah, good episode.
Okay, I'm definitely sold on Season 3 not being as weak as I'd heard. In fact, for now it seems just as strong as anything I've seen. I like the slightly sunnier tone and it's nice having new locations to explore. But my one major problem—and I'll try not to make this too much of a rant—is the presentation of the feminist group on campus as some kind of humorless group of killjoys that everybody seems to hate. It makes no sense! There is a serial rapist on the loose and it would've made national news already. FBI agents and the state government and even frat houses would've joined together to put a stop to it already. I seriously don't believe this issue would be treated so flippantly by the student body, and I definitely don't think the anti-rape activists should be presented as just another over-reacting faction. Everybody should and would be on the same page here. I mean, I get it, Neptune is a hellhole. But it really takes me out of the story every time the show seems to present the anti-rape activists as a bunch of shrieking harpies. Even Veronica seems weirdly blase about everything. I know she's trying to find Parker's rapist (their scene together where Veronica revealed her own assault was nice) but lately she's just been grimacing in the direction of the activists like they're misguided or something. I don't know. What do I know? Nothing. The presentation of the campus factions just makes me uncomfortable, and I'm not sure it's in the way the show intends.
Typical Veronica Mars, though. Despite the elements that nag at me as being NOT OKAY, I still really enjoy it. That's just how it's going to be, I guess.
... Did you find the Season 3 changes welcome or jarring?
... Did you go to college in your hometown but still live in the dorms like Mac and Wallace?
... Were you rooting for Veronica and Logan?
... Be honest, how bad did you miss Jackie at this point?