Veronica Mars Season 4 Spoiler-Free Review: A Great Return to Form

(Image credit: Hulu / Michael Desmond)

July 19 Update: Veronica Mars Season 4 is now available to stream on Hulu, as Kristin Bell just revealed at San Diego Comic-Con.

Private investigator Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) has been on a stakeout that keeps changing its location: first UPN, then The CW, then a Kickstarter-backed feature film, and now, Hulu. Here, for her fourth season, Veronica's facing trouble everywhere she looks, from her dad dealing with the pains of aging to the latest chapter of one of her troubled romances. 

Also: A series of bombings in her hometown of Neptune, California force Ms. Mars to deal with all of her trust issues. Safe to say, Veronica Mars's fourth season does a good job of rekindling the spirit of the show, and provides nearly all of the fanservice we could ask for.

About spoilers

This review explains the broad strokes of the storylines that take place in Season 4, but it dances around the major moments that will hit you right in the feelings. As a fellow Marshmallow (the term for VM followers) — one who chipped into the Kickstarter-backed film — I want fans to experience this season with minimal exposure to its surprises. 

A long time apart, they used to be friends

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Let's cut right to what fans want to know: Veronica's old boyfriend is back and he's more ripped than ever. Yes, Ms. Mars's on-again/off-again beau Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) stayed true to his promise from the movie, and he's spending every second he can with her (which isn't many, as he's enlisted in the armed forces). 

What's different this time is that Logan's in a much different emotional place than Veronica, at least when it comes to how they view their relationship. The friction between the two comes and goes, building up tension that erupts in some steamy on-screen scenes. But eventually Veronica must rethink her path, especially when another former love interest returns to Neptune. 

The progress made between Veronica and Logan two doesn't come easily, but the growth exhibited in the show is incredibly gratifying. Yes, we all like to see our favorites return for more episodes, but character development beats emotional stasis (or, at least, that's the lesson one character needs to learn). This season showcases some of both actors' best work, as they deal with some of their toughest moments yet in this relationship.

We also run across Eli "Weevil" Navarro (Francis Capra), who's embroiled in the criminal element again, and his decisions from the film continue to haunt his tenuous friendship with Veronica. As the two lash back and forth at each other, with increasing viciousness, you might see some truth in both of their arguments. That tension brings me back to the best days of the show back on UPN, where the line between right and wrong often blurred in realistic ways. 

Other friends of Veronica return to aid her, too, but they don't spend as much time with Ms. Mars as I'd have liked. Hopefully a fifth season will find time for that.

Back with a boom

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The central mystery in Season 4 is another whodunit. Ms. Mars and her papa Keith (Enrico Collatoni) try to figure out who's behind a series of deadly bombings that threaten to destroy Neptune during its busiest time of the year: spring break. At first, I was a little suspicious about this premise. It didn't feel especially true to the previous seasons of the show, which focused on mysterious deaths close to Veronica, and causes dear to her heart.

Fortunately, I was wrong. The explosions occur as Neptune faces an identity crisis: Old money is trying to wipe out parts of the city that it deems too debaucherous and immoral. Ironically,  Richard "Big Dick" (seriously) Casablancas (David Starzyk) leads these forces. You might remember Richard as the father of Neptune's most sex-driven himbo: Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen). 

As the season's eight 50-ish-minute episodes speed by (you could watch the whole thing a day), the explosions and mystery give the show a chance to explore modern class warfare, one topic that few teen dramas cover very well. The show even manages to get a few relevant political jabs in, which will likely make the show's core audience smirk.

Dear old dad's dealing with the pains of aging

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Veronica's relationship with her father Keith continues to be at the heart of the show, as the two continue to banter like old veterans. It's like what would happen if Statler and Waldorf carried pepper spray and remote cameras. But Keith's mind is starting to fail him, which tests their relationship. 

Enrico Collatoni continues to bring his A-game as Keith, playing the character with an increasing fragility. This time, though, Keith gets a new friend in the form of Clyde Prickett (J.K. Simmons), an ex-con who befriended the elder Casablancas in jail. Keith and Clyde become pals, even while Keith is skeptical of whether his new buddy can stay clean outside of jail.

While Keith's decision to hide his mental issues from Veronica would just be cause for concern for any normal father and daughter, things are different here because the two work on cases together. As Keith bumbles his way around Neptune, his half-truths continue to put them both at risk.

A great supporting cast

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This season's biggest success stories come from its new faces. 

The best of the bunch is Matty Ross (Izabela Vidovic), a teen who suffers a tremendous loss and subsequently become connected to the Mars family. Vidovic's got great delivery and timing, and feels like she might get a much larger role in the show if a fifth season happens. 

Another potential permanent cast member arrives in the form of Nicole Malloy (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who has an immediate rapport with Bell. She also breathes humor into dark moments, as she beats up scummy guys who try to take advantage of drunk women. 

We've also got Patton Oswalt here, chewing up a lot of scenery as Penn Epner, who delivers pizza and tries to solve cold cases with his crew of true crime fanboys and fangirls. To say his reaction to meeting the Mars family — whose reputation in Neptune precedes them — is both hilarious and annoying is an understatement. 

My favorite "Is that who I think it is?" moment came when Clifton Collins Jr. (The Rules of Attraction, Westworld, Crank: High Voltage) showed up as a hitman for a Mexican drug cartel magnate. Collins played this role a bit more subdued than I expected, but it was well done. 

Where the season doesn't hold up

Speaking of the Mexican drug kingpin, that section of the season doesn't provide as much gravitas or reward as you might hope. It's tied to a politician who needs protection, a priceless family heirloom gone missing and kids who get blown up on spring break. 

I'm also not a fan of the show's new theme song, as they've got Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) to cover "We Used to Be Friends," the Dandy Warhols song that was the original theme. This version is just too chill. Hopefully, they can get a new artist to cover it for season 5, like The Wire kept getting new musicians. 

Bottom line

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If I hadn't watched the fourth season of Veronica Mars via press screeners, I would have paid for a Hulu subscription to see it, and it would have totally been worthwhile. This season blends mystery and relationships so well that it's convinced me to consider Hulu's other original programming. 

I want to talk about how this season hit me right in the feelings, with a series of big, shocking moments, but I'll leave that for you all to see (the new season just debuted 1 week early). After the cast and creator made it through their third season and feature film (neither of which worked perfectly), Season 4 has reinvigorated the show, in ways that make me hope there's a Season 5.