For fans of Veronica Mars, the noir drama that's really a high school soap opera in a trench coat (or is it the other way around?), 2019 was an emotional year. The show earned a devout following during its original 2004-07 run — enough dedicated fans that when creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell launched a Kickstarter to fund a Veronica Mars movie, it met its $2 million goal in less than a day. The 2014 film Veronica Mars was then followed by two tie-in novels, but several years of radio silence followed. So, when Hulu announced a new mini-season airing in the summer of 2019, fans were hopeful that this would mean the beginning of a new era.
It took approximately the length of an eight-episode binge-watch for many of those fans to reverse direction hard. When Hulu declined to order another season, there was no outcry from Marshmallows, no #saveveronicamars social media campaign. Thomas reportedly has ideas for future storylines, but right now, things look grim for Veronica. Though the teen detective (turned adult detective) would tell you she's come back from worse.
Fans were infuriated by the sudden death of Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Veronica's on-again-off-again love interest, mere minutes after the two were finally married. In a show that began with Veronica reeling from the traumas of her best friend's murder and her own sexual assault, seeing the slow work of healing shattered by more devastation felt to many viewers like a betrayal. But Logan's death happened in the last few minutes of the season's final episode. There were problems with Season 4 right from the beginning, and most of them can be summed up thus: not enough Weevil (Francis Capra).
What made Veronica Mars more than just a teen drama with a mystery twist was its sharp awareness of class and power imbalances. Its fictional setting, Neptune, California, was deeply divided between the one percenters in the tech and entertainment industries and the precarious working class that serves them. As a friend and girlfriend of the rich and powerful, Veronica once had an honorary place in their world — a place which, as a pretty, able-bodied, white woman she can still access at times, if only temporarily and conditionally.
To truly get into the class struggles of small town America, Veronica, with her implicit upward mobility, would not be enough. Thomas introduced Eli "Weevil" Navarro in the 2004 pilot as a sort-of-antagonist, sort-of-friend. As the leader of an extremely safety-conscious motorcycle gang (full-face helmets and leathers at all times), Weevil didn't always love Veronica's confrontational approach to investigating crimes, but they often teamed up in the face of common enemies. Weevil, like Veronica, made enemies easily.
It's a character that easily could have been cliché, and Capra saw him that way at first. "I had this chip on my shoulder about always being the guest star gang member," he told TV Guide. "But [Thomas] wanted so much more than that."
Weevil was not a gangster with a heart of gold; he was as flawed and misguided as everyone else in Neptune. And while Weevil's flaws were often a mirror for Veronica's, Weevil wasn't afforded the mobility Veronica was. Where Veronica dabbled in illegal activities as a PI, she always had the resources and support to leave the criminal world behind and stood, relatively, on the right side of the law. Weevil, on the other hand, was mostly stuck where he was: an underprivileged kid being raised by his grandmother, with no explanation of why his parents weren't in the picture, and no opportunity to leap across the massive wealth gap that defines Neptune. His brown skin and birth into poverty railroaded him onto one of the few paths of financial security available to him, emblematic of systemic failures in education, policing, and the criminal justice system. When Weevil and Veronica's goals intersected, Weevil's involvement put societal stakes on problems that to Veronica, were personal.
At the end of the original series, Weevil and Veronica's complicated friendship brought them both to a better place in their lives. For Veronica, Weevil was a necessary reminder of the human costs of inequality and corruption, never allowing her to become completely numbed by her privilege and access. For Weevil, working with Veronica and her dad at Mars Investigation gave him a path to stability that allowed him to care for his family, his community, in a way that didn't put them directly in law enforcement's beady gaze. But, even more importantly, watching the characters grow side-by-side highlighted how much farther a beautiful, smart white woman could go than a Latinx man despite accruing basically the same rap sheet.
Unfortunately, the continuation of the series moved further and further away from this delicate balance. In the 2014 film, a wealthy white woman shot Weevil and pleaded self-defense, with the help of a gun planted on him by the racist, corrupt sheriff's department. The 2015 novel Mr. Kiss and Tellpicked up the thread with Veronica's father Keith working to build a case against the Neptune law enforcement. Their diligence came to nothing when Weevil accepted a settlement instead.
Though Weevil did appear in Season 4, his role was much smaller than before, and the animosity between him and Veronica was at the forefront. His rare moments of screen time mostly involved being berated by Veronica for taking the settlement and returning to gang life.
For viewers who didn't read the novels, Veronica's shift from supporting Weevil to scorning him was certainly jarring. But for those who did, what hurts worse was her hypocrisy. Veronica's sense of betrayal was understandable; it was notable, however, that her grudge against Weevil carried into the 2019 revival, while the corrupt cop storyline was long abandoned. In other words, Veronica cut Weevil out of her life for giving up a fight she was no longer pursuing either. She seemed to expect Weevil to play the part of the long-suffering martyr for justice, but Veronica of all people should've known that things are never so simple.
In this instance, like so many others, Weevil paid for his wrongdoings in ways no one else had to. In the early seasons, Logan spouted racial slurs, burned down a hotel, and paid homeless people to fight each other for his amusement. Logan's best friend Dick (Ryan Hansen) was an outright sexual predator; Veronica's sexual assault in Season 1 happened after she was handed the drink with which Dick was trying to roofie his girlfriend. But there were no long-term consequences for their misdeeds, and even Veronica didn't hold their pasts against them. Weevil, on the other hand, was publicly humiliated when the racist sheriff arrested him at his own high school graduation for his role in the death of a rival gang member. The scene, wherein Weevil pleaded to be able to walk across the stage and receive his diploma before going to jail, still makes me cry 15 years later.
While Logan and Dick were given chance after chance to redeem themselves, Weevil carried his mistakes like an albatross around his neck. Season 3 saw him struggling to hold down a job, hindered by his criminal record. By the 2014 film, he'd managed to establish a stable life for himself, but one unlucky night was enough to undo his years of hard work building himself from gang leader into family man. Even when he was the victim of a violent crime, he was immediately a suspect. When he accepted the badly-needed money from the settlement, Veronica was quick to remind him of his place in the social order, calling him a "hoodlum" and a "thug." Logan's past could stay in his past, because he was white and wealthy. However, Weevil's class and race were reason enough to keep turning the page back to his lowest point.
At its best, Veronica Mars grappled with the question of justice: who gets it, and who decides what it means? Veronica's version of justice was often at odds with that of the police and courts. The 2004 pilot opened with the understanding that the establishment in Neptune couldn't be trusted. Keith lost his job as sheriff for tenaciously pursuing a murder investigation a wealthy family wanted closed; later, Veronica was laughed out of the new sheriff's office when attempting to report her rape. If wrongs were to be put right, Veronica would have to do it herself, but at what cost?
The mysteries of the early seasons were tangled knots of misguided or malevolent people, but when you unpicked all the threads, they almost inevitably led back to the vast imbalance between the wealthy and the impoverished. Class disparity in Neptune was a bit like the Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- not necessarily the root of all evil, but certainly inspiring and encouraging it. While individual crimes could be solved, that underlying tension means Neptune would never truly be a safe place to live. And Veronica liked it that way. In the 2014 movie, we saw a Veronica who'd grown up and gotten out, but when she returned to Neptune she was drawn back into its chaos and did not want to leave.
By 2019, though, the scope of the show had narrowed. Maybe it was the condensed run time — Veronica Mars was at its best in Seasons 1 and 2, with plenty of room to explore side plots — but instead of revealing the webs of corruption and deception at the heart of Neptune, Season 4's mystery unraveled into a lot of people being in the wrong places at the wrong times.
So, maybe it's no surprise that Weevil got so little screen time. Rather, Capra was surprised to be in the new season at all. "Looking at the story the way it was, there was really no reason to see me again," he said. He has a point: if Veronica Mars is a story about Veronica, it makes sense for Weevil to be out of focus. Their lives hadn't so much pulled them in different directions as they had each circled back to the same point so many times, they were stuck in their grooves, unable to move forward with their friendship. The final scene between them, a long, wordless look exchanged across a distance, was beautiful, but it didn't feel like enough to repair their damaged bond.
Sidelining Weevil deprived viewers of a crucial perspective that Veronica couldn't provide, and ultimately, this is where Season 4 went wrong. In stripping the supporting characters of their own story arcs and inner lives, it left the viewer stranded with Veronica, looking at her more closely than we ever wanted to. "That's what upsets people," Capra said. "It's the glaring reality that Veronica Mars is flawed." Of course, she always was, but she used to be capable of growth, surrounded and supported by people who had their own growing to do. Her friendship with Weevil in particular led her to look more deeply at cases law enforcement, and even her own father, wrote off as closed, as when she exonerated Weevil for credit card fraud in Season 1. In Season 4, Veronica was systematically isolated, through circumstance or her own actions, from anyone whose perspective she might've taken to heart. By the end of the finale, Veronica was very much alone, heading for the horizon and the next mystery, completely done with Neptune and the people she used to fight for.
But the Veronica Mars I loved wasn't just the story of one tiny blonde detective taking on the world. It was the story of that world — of what it meant to be hurt and survive, what it meant to seek truth or revenge, where that quest will take you and who you'll leave behind in the road. In that story, Eli Navarro was indispensable. And that's the story I hope will one day find a way to continue.
Veronica Mars Seasons 1-4 are streaming on Hulu.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)