"Veronica Mars": When Mysteries Aren't That Mysterious

vm0502-3.jpg• I can begin nowhere else but by once again reflecting upon how much my life is tied to this show, for reasons passing human understanding and perhaps discernible only to God. There's some throwaway dialogue between Wallace and Piz at the beginning of one scene, and Piz is telling Wallace about a certain theatrical experience, telling him it'll "change your life" while describing how people throw plastic spoons at the screen. Piz was talking about The Room. The very same cult movie I saw for the first time just the other night, and that I wrote about on Monday. What are the odds? I haven't felt this connected to "Veronica Mars" since Max the "Battlestar" fanboy fell in love with a hooker and bought her freedom. Not that I've ever done that, but I think it could be fun. Seriously, though: Rob Thomas is watching me. • It's moments like that one, as well as the relationship-fueled drama, that I'll take away from last night's episode, "Un-American Graffiti," since the mystery of the week was pathetically uninteresting. It's not that this show (or TV series in general) should refrain from making some kind of political point, though the heated rhetoric about freedom and what it means to be an American felt a little out of place for the gritty Neptune I've come to know and love. The problem is that by transitioning, albeit hopefully only temporarily, from its traditional format of multi-episode story arcs to stand-alone installments here at the end of the third season whose only through-line will be the characters' ongoing relationships (in short, the same stuff that happens on every other drama). But that's bad. • The show's season-long arcs weren't just distractions from the personal dramas in the individual characters' lives, but a direct influence on them. The first year, Veronica sought to find out who killed Lilly Kane, and each successive mystery of the week was often tied to the Kane case, which in turn pushed Veronica, Duncan, et al. down the grueling but rewarding paths they would walk as they changed, grew, fell in and out of love, and coped with the unmitigated hell that is growing up. The second season's main arc, dealing with the school bus crash, managed to top the first year for scope, which was no easy feat. What's more, the second season amplified the symbiotic nature of the mysteries and the characters: The investigation defined Veronica even as she sought to solve it. One of the many fine examples of this was last year's episode "I Am God," which saw Veronica almost lose herself in the story of the crash. The mysteries sharpened the characters because they were so closely related to their lives. • Which is why stand-alone episodes just won't work within the larger framework of "Veronica Mars." This week's story dealt (pretty heavy-handedly) with a local Arab family being tormented by a bigoted little patriot, but the connection to Veronica was tenuous at best: The daughter in the family had apparently been a classmate of Veronica's, which is a pretty lazy way for a show that prides itself on internal references to establish a character connection. But the story had nothing to do with Veronica. Nothing. It wasn't even tenuously related to her through the kind of cheap metaphor a lesser show would use (e.g., the Arab man's tolerance of the bigot's actions would parallel Veronica's growing acceptance of Logan's new relationship with Parker, or whatever). The mysteries only matter when they involve the main characters and give them a chance to change, react, grow, etc. The first two seasons were dazzling in how the central characters' relationships were never really stable, never cemented, much like actual high school (and college, and young adulthood, and, one assumes, the rest of your life). But without a chance to let the characters' relationships change because of the mystery, well, the mystery just kind of hangs there. • That said, though, the relational angst was still pretty stout this week; the MOW wrapped around 45 minutes in just to let the final act play out at Parker's party. The show finally came through on the hint that Piz would go after Veronica instead of just gazing at her and pining and playing with his bangs, and it was good to see him do it. Sure, Logan and Parker just seem to be together because they're killing time, but Veronica/"Veronica" doesn't do happiness nearly as well as pain, which means Veronica and Logan won't be getting back together soon, or easily. • The rest of the party scene was pretty strong, too, from the space elevator reference to last season's alterna-prom to Max's worried inquiry of Mac, "Seriously, did my friends hire you?" But the best was how, once again, the heartbreak played out in front of the elevator, as Logan found Veronica and Piz doing what had been inevitable since they met. But it's a sign of the show's wobblier third season that the moment didn't hold a candle to the morning-after scene in last year's "Look Who's Stalking." As the elevator doors closed on Veronica, I thought: That was good, but haven't I been here before?