Season One vs. Season Two

spacecitymarc: So since this place has been deader than Dickens lately, I'm throwing down a gauntlet, and I don't care if there's an actual thread devoted to such things. I'm saying it here and I don't care who knows it. (As evidenced, you know, by saying it here.)

As many of you know, I was pretty disappointed by this past season of VM. There were a lot of reasons for it — the show's insistence on pandering to its audience, the negation on a couple of levels of the achievements of season one, the way-too-convoluted arc, the constraints of being a show with a low budget that constantly has to fight to stay alive — but watching the reruns lately has put a major one into sharp relief: I don't get the sense that there was one single creative mind overseeing the entire thing. The individual parts of the story just didn't seem to fit with one another; it was as though four builders were given the same blueprints for a house and told to each build one side of it on their own. When you bring them all together, they're not going to fit properly, even though they may all be "right" according to the plans.

That's kind of how I felt, like the writers were all given individual portions of the overall story to tell, which nobody bothered to compare to the others. This show has, on a more than a few occasions, shown a mild disregard for detail and continuity, and it felt like I was flipping back and forth between five or six drafts of the same story. The result was that what was supposed to be significant in one episode was never picked up in another and the story (and the clues) never jelled, which put many episodes in the position of clarifying what should have been explained earlier. Season two lacked the sure guiding hand that a story like this really needed.

So that's me. Something I wanted to get off my chest before season three starts and hopefully pulls the ship back in the right direction. Rebuttals?

topanga: I keep returning to this same point, but I enjoyed the season one mysteries more because Veronica (and thus, the audience) cared about them more.

And I agree with your point, marc, that that there seemed to be a lack of creative vision. Veronica's motivations and character development were, at best, all over the map and, at worst, completely absent. The mystery develpment and overall storyline suffered the same weakness.

That being said, I still love the show and loved watching it every week.

misskiwi: I think it's safe to say that's a disclaimer from all of us in advance of some of the bitching we're about to do.

topanga: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: season 1 was an almost flawless season of television. It would have been impossible to match or surpass its greatness.

alliterator: I totally agree. I think they tried to copy the success of season one, but still do something new with season two, which didn't totally work, but it was still good.

misskiwi: I think the audience investment in the mysteries of season one was impossible to top. It was so personal for Veronica that it was easy to draw the audience into caring — you had not one, but four mysteries that cut Veronica to the core (Lilly, Lianne, the rape, and her paternity). Season two's mysteries were a couple of degrees removed from Veronica — the bus crash was just a near miss, Felix's murder centered around Logan and couldn't hold a candle to the pull of Lynn's suicide, and...uh...the fact that I just trailed off there trying to think of the other season-long mysteries kind of proves my point. The other important aspect, I think, is that in season one we met Lilly; we knew Lilly. Seeing her alive and happy, and seeing how her death affected everyone around her, was important in making us care about the mystery. This year, they spent two-thirds of the season drawing out the reveal of the students who died in the bus crash, and the only person that we knew and cared about on the bus miraculously survived, only to be thrust into a storyline straight out of a soap opera that ended in her pointless death anyways. I said this back in the RTR for "I Am God," but they needed to get Veronica (and thus, the audience) involved much, much earlier in the season. If Veronica had been tortured by nightmares and such early on and we had learned about the students who died, we would have been much more invested in the outcome, and we would have been invested earlier. In season one we had so many people still reeling from Lilly's death (Veronica, Duncan, Logan, Jake), whereas this season we only saw the victims' families briefly (Jessie, Marcos' parents), if at all. Now imagine how it could have been if Meg had died in the crash. And what if Veronica and Duncan had found out later that she was pregnant when she died. Angst and guilt much?

Chris: If I remember correctly, Rob said that the studio or UPN insisted on having at least one survivor of the bus crash or it would be too sad.

misskiwi: Oh, for the love of...IT'S NOIR. THAT LITERALLY MEANS "BLACK." "Too sad," my ass. Lilly's untimely demise was sad, hence why it was a compelling mystery! ARGH.

Polter-Cow: I think it's safe to say that networks don't give a flying flip about the definition of noir or, nay, even acknowledging that VM is supposed to be a noir show.

maribella: I was pretty lukewarm about season two all along. For season one, I remember counting down the days to a new episode and spinning theories about who it might be, especially near the end. For season two, I enjoyed watching, but I just didn't grab my attention like the first season. Maybe it was because the season two mysteries were a lot darker (not to say season one wasn't dark, but it had fun stuff with Lilly in it to lighten it up). But the season two finale just ruined it. It's not even that they made one of my favorite characters evil, but that they didn't do it believeably. In season one, they made a reasonable case for Aaron being violent enough to kill Lilly, but still left it a little gray, so it was a surprise. (I was gullible enough to think that Aaron might have actually been trying to change after Lynn's death.) But with Cassidy, I felt like they had created this cute, sweet, adored boy just so they could pull the rug out from under us at the end. saying "Ha ha, tricked you all along!" The only real reference we had that Cassidy was capable of violence was the spy-penned reference to Sally.

Season one, like topanga said, was just so tightly plotted that it set an almost impossible standard that the writers failed to dulplicate. I think that since Rob had been planning the first season arcs since his YA author days, he had all the kinks worked out. But when it came to putting an equally complex, interesting, and compelling mystery in much less time, they couldn't do it. Perhaps the mini-arcs of season three will help solve that problem.

misskiwi: I'm inclined to think it will. A lot of the problem, I think, stems from the need to create red herrings and bide your time with revealing clues so that the audience isn't ten steps ahead of you. They won't need to have as much filler or as many red herrings with a shorter arc. And I've heard comments that the pacing is much faster over the first couple episodes of S3.

alliterator: The whole bunch of red herrings in season two did bug me — like each writer wanted their own episode to end with a big revelation, but it ended up the none of them were actually relevant. For an example, look at the end of "The Rapes of Graff": Veronica finds Danny Boyd working at the construction yard, where he has access to explosives. But there was no follow up and it turns out that it had nothing to do at all with any mysteries at all. So there was no reason for it.

Now, I still think most of the episodes are good (and I love "The Rapes of Graff"), but I wish they would stop ending each episode with Big! Revealing! Moments!, because I think that it what screws up the mysteries. I'm a lot more hopeful for season three, since each mystery is going to be shorter, thus there would be less chances for them to screw up or become too complicated.

topanga: The red herrings in season two didn't bother me. There were many in season one — for example, Lianne's disappearance had nothing to do with Lilly's murder or with Keith, which still bugs me. But too many of the red herrings in season two were dropped without explanation or never pursued thoroughly. We had a season full of spy pens, which drove me crazy.

Inigo: I'm fine with red herrings so long as everything makes sense in the end, each strand has its place, whether connected to the main mysteries or not. There were way too many things that didn't connect with anything.

Polter-Cow: Yeah, season two had some of the worst cliffhanger/follow-up executions I'd ever seen. I was actually going to make a post looking at the endings/beginnings of episodes in season one and season two, but I never got around to it.

At first, I loved the red herrings, and I still kind of like them for their enriching power, but they did lend a bit of incoherency to the plot as a whole. I'm not sure whether it was a lack of a guiding hand or simply Rob's attempt to outdo Lost in complication. I think a lot of the disconnects between episodes came from Rob seeing great stuff in the actual filming that he didn't anticipate from the writing and then using it...but not being able to touch up the later scripts to accomodate the addition because of the process of making television. He's talked about how some scenes played more powerful on screen than they did on the page. And you don't want to lose that, but you sacrifice the follow-up that you didn't write into the next script.

alliterator: Yeah, like the end of "The Quick and the Wed." A lackluster episode, but the ending was quite good. Except there was no follow-up, mainly because the ending was improvised by RT when he realized the episode didn't have a good ending. I like the ending, but I wish that the next episode could have been changed to reflect the new ending.

List of cliffhanger endings and their relevance:

2.01: Bus crash (relevance: very)
2.02: Dead Curly with 'Veronica Mars' written on hand (relevance: slight)
2.03: Veronica saying that the bus crash was because of her (relevance: none)
2.04: Nathan Woods tells Wallace he's his father (relevance: to Wallace's storyline, very, to the rest, none)
2.05: Wallace leaves with Nathan (relevance: the same as 2.04)
2.06: Keith finds rat under bus (relevance: some)
2.07: Lamb hangs outside the Mannings' house (relevance: none, but was still awesome)
2.08: Duncan reads Meg's letter (relevance: only to Duncan's storyline)
2.09: Meg is pregnant (relevance: only to Duncan's storyline)
2.10: Meg dies. However, there is actually no cliffhanger — the episode ends with Veronica and Wallace on the couch, one of the best endings in the season.
2.11: Duncan goes to Mexico with baby Lilly (relevance: brings Duncan's storyline to an end)
2.12: Terrence Cook is brought in for questioning (relevance: none)
2.13: One of the few episodes without a cliffhanger — it ends with Veronica and Weevil laughing.
2.14: Veronica finds detonator caps in Terrence's garage (relevance: absolutely none)
2.15: Logan tells Veronica that he made a big tiny mistake (relevance: not even any follow-up)
2.16: Veronica finds Danny Boyd working construction with explosives (relevance: none)
2.17: The end of the Weevil-Thumper-Felix arc. Very good. No cliffhanger.
2.18: Cliffhanger is merely Veronica's dream of the bus crash, so not really a cliffhanger.
2.19: Aaron's Oscar with Lilly's blood and Duncan's hair is found (relevance: merely to get Aaron out of prison)
2.20: Logan sleeps with Kendall again and Veronica cries (relevance: none, but still a good ending)
2.21: Aaron is acquitted (relevance: only to Aaron's storyline)
2.22: Veronica is waiting for Keith (relevance: only to next year's storyline)

So we have 11 episodes that end of cliffhangers that have completely nothing to do with the bus crash and we have 4 episodes that end on a revelation that turns out to be nothing. It seems, however, that the endings where there is no cliffhanger are the BEST endings.

misskiwi: Not that I don't agree with you, alliterator, particularly about the cliffhangers that don't get followed up right away, but I bet you could say the same about season one episode endings.

alliterator: I don't know. Season one seemed more tightly plotted to me — mostly because everything revolved around Lilly Kane's murder. Let's see:

1.01: Veronica waits at the Camelot and gives voiceover (relevance: sets up Veronica's determination all season, so yeah, pretty relevant)
1.02: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica, Troy, and Wallace talking and laughing)
1.03: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica hugging Troy outside his house)
1.04: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica swimming in the ocean before the dance)
1.05: No cliffhanger (ends with Lianne calling Veronica on her cell phone)
1.06: Veronica shows Keith the picture of Lilly's shoes (relevance: slight, only done to bring Keith to her side)
1.07: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica pondering in voiceover)
1.08: Abel Koontz tells Veronica that her real father is Jake Kane (relevance: none, since it's not true, but it sets up a great scene in the finale)
1.09: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica shredding DNA test results)
1.10: Aaron is stabbed by jealous lover (relevance: plenty. Sets up Logan-Aaron-Lynn storyarc)
1.11: "Two words for you, Clarence Wiedman: game on." (relevance: not that much, besides setting up who Clarence Wiedman is, but it still FUCKING AWESOME)
1.12: Lynn commits suicide (relevance: sets up Logan and Aaron's storyline throughout rest of the season)
1.13: Logan shows up at Veronica's house wanting her to find Lynn (relevance: begins the Logan-Veronica friendship)
1.14: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica telling Abel Koontz that he's dying of cancer)
1.15: Veronica finds Lianne in a bar and Clarence Wiedman is there (relevance: some, sets up scenes in next episode and finale, though Wiedman being there is never explained [why is he there exactly?])
1.16: Veronica finds out Abel Koontz has a daughter (relevance: slight, only affects next episode and one episode next season)
1.17: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica imagining if Duncan killed Lilly [this is the "I Am God" ending — awesomely creepy, but not technically a cliffhanger])
1.18: No cliffhanger (ends with Veronica rallying the journalism class)
1.19: SPY PEN! (relevance: NONE! this is practically the only ending where there is absolutely no follow-up and the plot point is just dropped)
1.20: Veronica finds out that Logan supplied the GHB during Shelly Pomroy's party (relevance: some, sets up the whole next episode)
1.21: Veronica's mom is home (relevance: some, sets up scenes in the finale)
1.22: Who's at the door? (relevance: many, sets up storyline in season 2)

The only cliffhangers I can really see that aren't exactly relevant are Abel telling Veronica that Jake Kane is her father, Clarence Wiedman being at the bar spying on Lianne, and the Spy Pen. And the first two both had follow-ups (though we never found out exactly why Clarence Wiedman was there) the very next episode. So the only thing unresolved was the Spy Pen. And we all know how Polter-Cow feels about that.

misskiwi: I guess it's less a matter of relevance than overuse of a "Dun dun DUN" cliffhanger-type ending in season two. Which is understandable, given that they wanted to retain new viewers, and I actually don't mind cliffhangers (even if they don't end up being relevant), but look at some of the cliffhangers from season one. At the end of "Like a Virgin," Abel tells Veronica that Jake Kane is her father. The next episode opens in the prison parking lot where we left off with Veronica considering the information. And at the end of "Lord of the Bling," Logan shows up at Veronica's door; we pick up in "Mars vs. Mars" at the same moment. "Ruskie Business" ends with Veronica finding her mom, and while "Betty and Veronica" was a bit of a cheat what with the flashback resolution, there was resolution, and that's the key. If they left us hanging in season one — with the notable exception of the spy pen — there was usually some immediate follow up. So many episodes in season two ended on an unresolved note that was never resolved. It's like the writer of each individual episode decided on a good, suspenseful ending but forgot to pass the memo to the writers of the following episodes, which comes back to what marc was saying about a unifying creative influence.

grim squeaker: I agree on the irrelevance of the many cliffhangers and red herrings. To paraphrase para (who, if I remember correctly, said this in a discussion on TWoP at some point, but I don't remember when or where, because I suck, so I'm just quoting her in this completely unorthodox way. Sorry, para): In the end, it didn't matter if you knew that Kendall wasn't really Kendall, or what her connection to the Fitzpatricks was, or that Terrence had a gambling problem, or who killed Felix: you only needed to know that Woody was a pervert and that Beaver wasn't really sweet. So, the only episodes really relevant to solving the main mystery were the premiere, episode 17 and episode 22. That's not a lot.

And I'm aware that not everything will always be connected in mysteries, and that the first season also had its share of apparently hastily resolved plotlines (Lianne anyone?), but the sheer number of irrelevant storylines and the lack of any coherent thread holding them all together simply makes season two a lot less awesome. Even though I probably would have forgiven a lot of that if there had been some actual emotional impact in the ending, instead of it simply being a lame punchline to a not so awesome card trick; and if things like re-adjusting the grayness of "A Trip to the Dentist" didn't give me the feeling that TPTB probably sold out a little too much.

Polter-Cow: That's an interesting point, although you could probably say the same thing about the main mystery in season one: the only episodes relevant were the pilot (not really), episode 6, episode 19, and episode 22. Maybe episode 12. Aaron is violent and enjoys sex with women: murderer! Rob and Co. have a fine line to walk in terms of not showing their hand, and both seasons now, I feel like they've stuck their hand in their pocket and said, "La la la, you can't seeeeeee me!" It's tough, though, because you don't want to be too obvious. With Beaver, they went out of their way to pull the wool over our eyes by making him all adorable with Mac, but the signs were scattered and more subtle than with Aaron. When Beaver "accidentally" exposed Big Dick, some people did suspect that he did it on purpose. Then you have his whole real estate scheme, followed by the "Remember Sally?" takedown of Dick. Finally, you can add in, if you want, our first exposure to him, when he seems like he does enjoy doing the sort of things Dick does in Mexico. They did pull the rug out from under us, but I think they at least showed us glimpses of the floor. Really, my criticism of the way they handle villains is not so much the focus on surprising the audience but the way they become over-the-top psychopaths as soon as they're revealed.

This is all away from my initial point, which is that clues to the villain in season one were only in key episodes as well. Of course, a lot of the investigation involved the cover-up, which opened the door for a non-Abel Koontz villain in the first place. There's no question that the major mysteries in season one were more personal and better entwined with more satisfactory payoffs. I think all the red herring plotlines in season two served more as parallel stories to illuminate the seedy underbelly of Neptune rather than help solve the main mystery or, well, have any emotional resonance for Veronica.

alliterator: Ay, it be once said that while season one be about Veronica herself, season two be about Neptune and the scallywags that live thar. [alliterator is writing in Pirate-speak because the day he wrote this, it was Talk Like a Pirate Day. And because he loves pirates. You know who doesn't love pirates? The terrorists. And ninjas. But mainly the terrorists.]

grim squeaker: That is the best description of the differences between season one and season two I've read so far, alliterator. Yarr! Ahem. You're absolutely correct, Polter-Cow, and I think this totally wouldn't be a problem for me if the rest had worked a little better. Perception is unfair like that — up until the finale I would have said this was a good season, flaws aside, and I'm not even saying it is not good because I dislike the solution, I'm saying it because of the specifics of the solution. (Beaver as the culprit? Wouldn't have been a problem if it had been played out as more than Evil Overlording 101, as you've said above.) The way it is it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I can't even say: "Well, yes, earlier elements in the season weren't that great, but..."

misskiwi: I'm pretty sure I said something along these lines in our RTR of "Not Pictured," but I would have found the resolution much more...not necessarily satisfying, but more intriguing, maybe, if Beaver had been more "My name is Cassidy!" and less "MWAHAHAH I raped you and killed your father and ran over three puppies on the way here to taunt you!" The vulnerability, the abuse from Woody, the way he was treated by Dick and Big Dick, all but abandoned by his mother...he was one twisted kid, and it would have been nice to see some remorse, or at least some desperation. I would have liked to see him try to get Veronica to understand why he had to do it before finally jumping off the roof when he realizes there's no way out.

grim squeaker: Polter-Cow, I can also see your point of saying the parallel storylines serve to illustrate the tawdriness and corruption of Neptune, but I still wish that the storyline concerning Felix's death had amounted to a little more than a means to use up Jason Dohring's contractually guaranteed episode order.

Inigo: And ultimately misuse it. There's no cohesion in that story. Thumper is well set up as this Iago figure, collecting information and manipulating others around him to advance without getting his hands dirty, then in the end he kills Felix himself? Why? What was the point in getting up the blood of the Fitzpatricks when he could just have offed Felix himself to become Weevil's deputy. And there was no sense to the background moves to get Logan convicted when the police weren't even looking for another killer. Gagh!

grim squeaker: Of course, it propelled the arc of Weevil's downfall, and that one I liked immensely, but it's not as if we concentrated much on it, either. Most of the Felix stuff was a lot of hot air and hot Irishmen. Not that this would usually bug me, given the fact that I'm normally the queen of ADD TV and don't mind meandering storytelling whatsoever, but the whole thing could have been a little more poignant, especially for Logan (who, as far as I can see, took nothing from this other than probably feeling slightly queasy for using Hannah).

Polter-Cow: Besides, Cervando killed Felix.

grim squeaker: Exactly!

Chris: Great, like season two wasn't confusing enough already.

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season Overview