Veronica Mars Was Way Ahead of its Time (Yet Crazy Dated)
Editorial Note: TRIGGER WARNING for descriptions of sexual assault and SPOILER WARNING for Veronica Mars Seasons 1-3.
Veronica Mars was basically UPN and later The CW's Nancy Drew for the 21st century. (Uh, until The CW's actual Nancy Drew show, premiering this upcoming season.) But while Nancy spent her time poking around creepy mansions, uncovering creepy staircases, and putting up with creepy Hardy Boys, Veronica was forced to grapple with real crimes in her town of Neptune. That is, until the show was unceremoniously cancelled after its third season back in 2007, when a bleak finale ended with a depressed Veronica trudging through the rain.
Thankfully, in 2014, the series was revived in the form of a movie, thanks to the show's fans and its creators, who were more than happy to take a bunch of money from said fans. And following the success of that film, we've finally got a whole new season of Veronica Mars that doesn't end like a sad anime intro. With the fourth season, a lot of folks are probably going to revisit the original series. Which is kind of an odd experience in 2019. In a lot of ways, the show was way ahead of its time. In other ways, it super wasn't.
Veronica Mars tackled a number of issues before they became more mainstream talking points. Take Jake Kane, father of Veronica's friend Lily and her tragically early-2000s-haired boyfriend Duncan. Jake is the head of Kane Software, and is a shadowy villain for most of the series. While hating on tech moguls for their ethical inscrutability is widespread now, Veronica Mars debuted in 2004, right when Facebook was first being founded by Lex Luthor and Justin Timberlake. Today, big tech companies are routinely feared and criticized for violating users' privacy, and we eventually learn that Kane has been secretly harvesting people's secrets for his own personal gain. It's through a Skull-and-Bones-like secret society, but still.
The show also featured a storyline wherein the father of Veronica's ridiculously named classmate Dick Casablancas, was arrested for fraudulently inflating real estate values, years before the 2008 financial crisis. Later, there was even a shifty political candidate looking to put a metaphorical wall around minorities: Mayor Woody, who planed to incorporate the town with a border excluding black and Latinx neighborhoods.
But most saliently, the show dealt a lot with rape. Sexual assault is a focal point of all three seasons, which wasn't only rare for a teen show, but for basically any show not starring Ice-T during that time. In the very first episode, we learn that Veronica was drugged and raped at a house party. Horrifyingly, she's mocked by her classmates, on top of being cruelly dismissed by law enforcement.
This isn't some lazy meaningless backstory to motivate Veronica's behavior; it's the real-life reason more than half of sexual assaults go unreported. Just last year, the country's reaction to one woman's story of an attempted rape at a high school party became one of the most significant political moments in recent history. So it's hard not see an extra layer of significance in Veronica's battle against those in power attempting to blame and discredit her. Even Veronica herself learns a lesson about believing victims in the episode "Mars vs. Mars." She goes to bat for her teacher, Mr. Brooks, after a student accuses him of sexual assault. Why? Because he's cool and funny and all Adam Scott-y.
Veronica uses her sleuthing skills to get Mr. Brooks off the hook, but in the end realizes that he's totally guilty. And that's not the only example of powerful Neptune men using their charm to hurt women. Most significantly, the twist at the end of Season 1 revealed that movie star Aaron Echolls seduced and then murdered Veronica's aforementioned BFF Lily. In the midst of the Me Too movement, we're not even sure if discovering that a beloved celebrity is secretly a sexual predator even qualifies as a twist anymore.
Meanwhile, much of Season 3 finds Veronica tracking a serial rapist at Hearst College, highlighting what remains an ongoing "epidemic" of sexual assault on college campuses.
But for all of these steps forward, the show makes some weird creative choices that ... don't really hold up well today. In that same story arc, the campus feminist group actually fakes a rape in order to implicate the fraternity they believe to be guilty.
Showrunner Rob Thomas stated that this storyline was influenced by the Duke Lacrosse case, the famous trial in which three college athletes were falsely accused of rape, which was happening at the same time. Which is a problem, because this kind storytelling ultimately helps perpetuate a false narrative. Fraudulent accusations of rape are crazy low, between just 2-10% of reported cases, but stories such as the Duke case generally end up receiving far more media attention.
And giving a platform to such incidents isn't without consequence. Notorious neo-Nazi Richard Spencer claimed that his "life would not have taken the direction it did" without the Duke trial. The ickiness of this particular Veronica Mars twist didn't go wholly unnoticed at the time. In their episode recap, The A.V. Club noted that such storylines help "to support a culture whose defense against charges of rape is to say the woman was just trying to get revenge."
Then there's the Dick of it all. Veronica finally discovers who raped her in Season 2: Cassidy "Beaver" Casablancas, younger brother of Dick (we swear we're not making these names up). We see in flashbacks that Dick orchestrated the worst moment of Veronica's life, encouraging his brother to take advantage of a "cute piece of ass."
This is just one kid's account of what happened, so there could be some Rashomon-esque funny business going on. Still, regardless of the details, Dick was absolutely instrumental in Veronica's rape. And we also learn that the only reason Veronica was drugged in the first place was that Dick slipped GHB into his girlfriend's drink, and then she unknowingly gave it to Veronica. Meaning we can safely conclude that Dick himself is also straight-up rapist.
Yet despite the fact that she spends the majority of the show crusading for women and punishing toxic dudes, Veronica is oddly OK with Dick, for some insane reason. It's not like there's some huge redemption arc involving the two of them coming to terms. He pretty much remains true to his first name throughout the rest of the series and the movie.
Regardless of the missteps, we're still hyped for the new season, which hopefully features a thrilling mystery, witty banter, and Dick randomly getting run over by a dildo truck.
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