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Why the ending of the Veronica Mars revival was so shocking

To understand the Veronica Mars finale, you have to understand the Veronica Mars fandom.

The cast of the Veronica Mars show sitting on a couch, from left to right: Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Nicole), Kristen Bell (Veronica), Jason Dohring (Logan), and Ryan Hansen (Dick).
From left, Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Nicole), Kristen Bell (Veronica), Jason Dohring (Logan), and Ryan Hansen (Dick).
Hulu

Veronica Mars is a show so inextricably linked to its fandom that, in some ways, to talk about the show is to talk about its fans. Veronica Mars fans are so passionate and so vocal that they’ve brought the show back from the dead twice now; when it was in its first run, from 2004 to 2007, their volume and enthusiasm kept the show alive while its dismal ratings argued for cancellation. Veronica Mars has long had the kind of fandom that contemporary shows aim to cultivate in the age of social media, and it built that fandom on message boards like Television Without Pity and pre-MySpace social media platforms like LiveJournal.

“Because our numbers were always mediocre on Veronica Mars, it was the thing that made us feel like we were doing a good job, because there was such fervor in those postings,” Veronica Mars creator and showrunner Rob Thomas told Vox over the phone. “If the ratings weren’t making us feel great, [the TV recap website] Television Without Pity was making us feel like we were doing something right.”

I was one of those fans. I didn’t post about the show online, but I read everything I could find: the debates on Television Without Pity about whether season two was better or worse than season one, the romantic fanfiction on LiveJournal, the recaps and reviews and articles that dotted the internet. When I was in college, I was in love with Veronica Mars, the high school noir about a teenage private detective, and I wanted to know everything that anyone was saying about it.

But as I quickly learned, Veronica Mars’ relationship with its fandom wasn’t purely positive. It was always a push and pull between a fanbase that adored the show but often found itself frustrated with the direction it was going — and with a creative team that was genuinely grateful to its fans yet appeared to be growing ever more frustrated with the task of satisfying them.

That fraught tug-of-war would turn out to be a forerunner of the relationships that today’s shows find themselves building with their fandoms. And nowhere was it expressed with quite as much energy as it was in the question of Veronica’s love life and whether she would ever find true happiness with her central love interest, troubled bad boy Logan Echolls.

A large and vocal segment of the Veronica Mars fandom, the Logan/Veronica shippers, badly wanted for the answer to be yes. The show’s creative team, meanwhile, maintained that the answer had to be no, because they believed that otherwise the tension of the story would die.

As a 20-year-old, I loved the love story between Logan and Veronica, but I didn’t necessarily need them to be together. I liked the angst and the longing gazes that came when they were apart. I didn’t mind an on-again-off-again storyline. I just wanted to be able to imagine that at some point in the future, some time far away, after the show was completely over and done with, maybe they would be together.

Now, 12 years after Veronica Mars was canceled in its third season and five years after a movie revival, Veronica Mars is back at last. And in its new fourth season — which came out in a surprise early drop on Friday — Veronica Mars gave the world an answer as to whether or not Veronica and Logan would ever be happy together. That answer is both definitive and pointedly, inevitably final.

Spoilers for all of season four, including the finale, follow.

Seriously — if you haven’t finished the entire season yet — look away.

This new season of Veronica Mars ends with Logan’s death. He and Veronica get married in the finale, and then just before they leave for their honeymoon, Logan is killed in an explosion from one final bomb, a final souvenir from the serial bomber Veronica has spent the season trying to catch and who she finally saw arrested just a few scenes earlier.

It’s a deliberately shocking move. Logan has been Veronica’s central love interest since the end of the first season, way back in 2005. A vocal minority of fans despised him, and they had plenty of valid reasons why, but Logan was still overall the most popular supporting character on the show. In some parts of the fandom, his popularity eclipsed Veronica’s.

And now he’s dead.

Here is the story of how the Logan and Veronica love story built Veronica Mars and broke Veronica Mars, and where we go from here.

Logan and Veronica’s love story electrified the Veronica Mars fanbase

Logan (Jason Dohring) and Veronica (Kristen Bell) share their first kiss.
“Oh my god!”
UPN

When Veronica Mars premiered in 2004, it rapidly established a cult fandom. That fandom was always small, but it was hugely enthusiastic, and mostly it hung out on the discussion forums of the original TV recap site, Television Without Pity.

There, fans could write essay-length responses to each episode. There were dedicated threads for each character where fans could analyze their motivations and debate whether or not one of them was the killer. In that first season, Veronica was investigating her own rape and the murder of her best friend, amid smaller “mysteries of the week” that she could solve in single episodes. On Television Without Pity, fans debated furiously over which characters were real whodunnits and which were red herrings. They could break down the show’s music choices, its costumes, its cinematography — anything they wanted to discuss.

Rob Thomas thinks the passionate fandom developed because of Veronica herself. “The thing that I think people responded to with Veronica Mars was the strength of a character who no longer cared what other people felt about her,” he says. “And that was such a powerful thing for a 16-year-old to have. I mean, how many 16-year-olds have that superpower? She had been through such a grinder that she was going to deal with high school on her own terms and own who she was and stand up for herself. And in that way, she became heroic, admirable, somebody people really responded to.”

Thomas knew all about the fandom because he read the boards on Television Without Pity on a regular basis. He even did occasional minor rewrites in response to what he found there. “We were a few weeks ahead of them [the fans] in terms of what we had written and were shooting, but if people were starting to look at the killer as the lead suspect, we could shine a little light away from him,” he explains. “And if fans weren’t understanding some point, we could spell it out later in the show. It was very handy. We paid a lot of attention to it.”

Fans responded to Veronica herself, to the mysteries she was investigating, to the show’s smart social politics, to its moody California noir vibes. But slowly, as the first season progressed, the Veronica Mars fandom also found itself growing more and more preoccupied with one overwhelming question: Were Logan and Veronica ever going to kiss?

In season one, Veronica was a social pariah at her school, devoted to solving the murder of her best friend, Lilly. Logan was Lilly’s ex-boyfriend, and he was the cruelest and most sadistic of all Veronica’s tormenters. The show’s very first episode saw him taking a tire iron to her car headlights. Veronica referred to him as Neptune High’s “obligatory psychotic jackass,” and fans took to calling him “the OPJ” as a nickname.

Logan also had white-hot chemistry with Veronica. And over the course of that first season, he and Veronica seemed to be thrown together progressively more and more. Logan’s mother died under mysterious circumstances and he hired Veronica to uncover the truth. We learned that Logan was such an OPJ in part because of his abusive father, and we saw that he seemed to regret his treatment of Veronica. Veronica, for her part, seemed open to a reconciliation with him.

The whole situation could have been designed in a lab to encourage fans to root for a romance between the two — or, in fandom parlance, to ship them — and ship they did.

“I think Logan is getting less and less annoying,” one fan wrote in 2004, after the first season’s seventh episode aired, very early on in Logan’s redemption arc. “I’ve also considered him the possibility of the future boyfriend of Veronica but I doubt that will happen.”

“That was awesome,” another fan wrote after episode 14, after one particularly tense exchange between the two characters. “You could see him holding on for dear life to one thread of distance between them, because he’s just not ready to let go of the animosity yet, but it’s just barely there. I loved how he didn’t even tell her he was paying her — he assumed that would be the arrangement. And she didn’t ask, she assumed it was a favor, which she was ready to do for him. ITA [I totally agree] — all their exchanges are electric, interesting to watch.”

Not everyone was so into Logan. “This is a lonely time to not be a Logan sympathizer, but I still think he’s an ass, and that he’s an ass regardless of his mean father and missing/dead mother and current ‘woobie’ status,” opined one fan. (“Woobie” is a fandom term for a character who suffers beautifully and tragically, making the audience want to comfort them.)

But the shippers were loud, and they were numerous. And they weren’t shipping it by accident. The show was deliberately steering its viewers toward rooting for Logan and Veronica to be together, at least eventually.

“Here’s the thing: We were feeling it in the writers’ room,” says Thomas. “The reason we steered it in that direction is all the writers on the staff could feel it. It was not something we had to be told, it was something we saw in dailies [unedited daily footage], it was something we saw in cuts. Those scenes were electric, and we wanted more of that.”

Logan and Veronica weren’t originally supposed to end up in a romance, and Logan was originally supposed to be a peripheral character. But Thomas liked the chemistry between the two characters so much that he switched directions very early on.

“It was gratifying that the audience responded in the same way we were,” he says. “It felt kind of undeniable to us. It allowed us to kind of slow-play that relationship a bit, because it wasn’t supposed to happen. I think the first kiss might have been [episode] 17 or 18? I’m a big fan of those proper British dramas where the romantic leads, like, touch each other’s wrists and it’s like, ‘Oh my god!’”

When Veronica and Logan finally did kiss in episode 18, it was indeed like “oh my god.”

“Oh my god!” wrote one fan. “I could not stop smiling over this episode! The scenes with V and L were too good. I loved the way he rushed to her rescue. And that kiss! It was so sweet, cute, and hot at the same time! I love this show!”

I loved the show too, and I especially loved Logan and Veronica

I fell in love with Veronica Mars in college. It was the second TV show I ever fell in love with, after Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I loved all of it. I loved prickly teen sleuth Veronica, with her hard-as-nails exterior and marshmallow heart. I loved the way every frame of the show was so awash with color that it seemed to vibrate off my crappy mid-2000s laptop screen. I loved the way the show melded its gritty and cynical noir mysteries with a deeply emotional teen soap opera. Even when I didn’t like Veronica Mars, I loved it. Whenever I thought it was bad, I didn’t stop watching; instead, I kept watching and hoped it would get better.

And Logan and Veronica’s relationship was one of the storylines that made me fall in love with Veronica Mars as hard as I did.

I recognized the issues with their love story. Logan is an asshole who repeatedly spouts classist and racist insults at other characters, and in one particularly vile moment he sets up bum fights. He’s violent, never to Veronica but sometimes in Veronica’s general direction. (He smashed in her headlights!) He’s not really the kind of character you would want to see held up as an aspirational romantic lead, especially not for a show with a lot of young women and girls in the fanbase.

But, I reasoned, Logan and Veronica weren’t exactly supposed to be aspirational. The show was noir, Logan was a gender-flipped femme fatale, and the reason their relationship was compelling was that they were both deeply messed-up people. And Veronica, in fact, was drawn to Logan in large part because he is so messed up. That, I thought, was the point.

What appealed to me about their relationship was the idea that they were two people who had both been broken by the tragedy of Lilly’s death, and that maybe their respective broken pieces could fit together. Maybe they could develop a relationship, and even if that relationship might never be healthy or stable, maybe it could be redemptive anyway.

It wasn’t something I would root for in real life, but on a TV show, where everything was fiction and all that really mattered was that whatever happened should be interesting — in that context, I was with the shippers. I was all in.

Fans grew increasingly irritated with Logan and Veronica’s storyline after season one

Kristen Bell as Veronica and Jason Dohring as Logan walking through a college campus.
Look, season three is no one’s favorite season.
CW

The relative accord that Veronica Mars had with its fans in season one didn’t last. A backlash was inevitable.

And although the show would continue to focus on Logan and Veronica as a love story, after the first season, there was a tangible difference in the way scenes between those two characters played on screen.

In large part, that difference went hand in hand with the issue that plagued the show as soon as it solved the big season one mysteries of Lilly’s murder and Veronica’s rape. What makes Veronica Mars’ first season so elegant is that every single character has an emotional connection to one or both of those mysteries — including Logan, who emerges late in the season as a major suspect for both.

That is a huge part of why the ship is so electric and holds so much tension in late season one: Even while the dynamic between Logan and Veronica is becoming more and more romantic, it still feels plausible to the viewer that Logan might be a murderer and/or rapist — or that at the very least Veronica might think he’s a murderer and/or rapist. (And she does! She accuses him of both! He feels so betrayed! Those scenes are great.) It’s an incredibly fraught, nerve-wracking set of episodes, and shippers adored them.

“I don’t want to believe it,” wrote one fan when Veronica began to suspect that Logan might have been the one who drugged and raped her. “I’m such a huge fan of Veronica and Logan. I want them together dammit!”

“That was so good, I think I may GO KILL MYSELF along with the other LoVe shippers,” wrote another. (LoVe, a portmanteau of the first two letters of Logan and Veronica’s names, was their ship nickname.)

An episode later, Logan was cleared on Veronica’s rape, only to become a suspect in Lilly’s murder.

“Please let Logan be innocent....please!!!!” wrote one fan. (He was.)

But once Veronica had solved those two giant cases, it became impossible for Logan to work as a suspect for the mysteries she had to solve in later seasons. No one would believe it for a second.

“In Season 1, the whole cast was built around that mystery; everyone was integral to the plot. Subsequently, it’s been tougher to involve people in the mystery,” Rob Thomas explained in an interview with Television Without Pity in 2007. “For one thing, we know these characters better — for example, I could play Logan as a red herring in Season 1, but not now.”

Logan was still a major part of seasons two and three of Veronica Mars. He had his own B-plot mystery to handle in season two, and in season three, which downplayed the overarching mystery stories to focus on the relationships between the characters, Veronica and Logan’s relationship was the primary plot engine.

But some fundamental tension had bled out of their relationship. It was starting to feel less integral to the show and more obligatory, like it was just being written in because it had to be, because so many people shipped Logan and Veronica. Some fans started to become resentful.

“I honestly believe RT dropped the ball with the Veronica/Logan relationship,” wrote one fan in mid season three. (RT is Rob Thomas.) “They aren’t fun at ALL. Not anymore, anyway. The chemistry that should have been there (USED to be there) was replaced with contrived roadblocks and petty jealousies.”

It was as though show and fandom were at war. Veronica Mars couldn’t drop Logan; he was the most popular character it had; the fans would riot. But it also couldn’t really figure out what to do with him.

I love Veronica Mars like a fan and not like a critic. For me, there’s a big difference.

Becoming a culture critic means that I can’t quite love a TV show in the same way that I did as a fan. I fell in love with Veronica Mars 10 years ago as a fan. When I fall in love with a show today, I’m falling in love with a show as a critic. That’s a very different experience.

Fans are critical, true, and TV critics love their shows, sure, and maybe for some people in those groups it feels the same, but for me it’s not. Emotionally, it feels different.

When I love a TV show as a critic, I want to live inside of it. I want to live inside specifically the material that was put on my TV screen and absolutely nothing else. I need no supplementary material. I might even resent the idea of it.

But when I love a TV show as a fan, I want that show to live inside my head. I want it to go on and on and on in my head in every possible direction — and to help my imagination open up all the avenues that it possibly can, I devour supplementary material. I read fanfiction. I watch fanvids. I want every possible future to exist all at once within my mind.

That’s the way I loved Veronica Mars when I was 20, and that’s the way I still love it now.

The Veronica Mars movie was fan-funded. That means it exists to service fans.

Jason Dohring as Logan and Kristen Bell as Veronica, sitting peacefully in a bar.
Look how healthy and stable!
Warner Bros.

Veronica Mars ended in 2007 after that troubled third season, but despite the resentment fans felt toward that final season, their love for the show was still strong. When Thomas announced in 2013 that he was launching a Kickstarter for a fan-funded Veronica Mars movie, fans went immediately for their pocketbooks. Thomas asked fans for $2 million. They contributed $5.7 million instead.

The resulting 2014 Veronica Mars film plays like it’s set up specifically to give fans what they wanted. “Look, it was a fan-funded movie,” Thomas told Rolling Stone in 2014, “and I felt the need to bring back old characters, cross-reference the old show and throw in some Easter eggs.”

And Thomas knew exactly what the fans wanted to get out of the movie, because they were telling him all the time on social media. “I did read a bunch of the things people tweeted at me,” he told Vox. “I did have an idea of things people wanted to see, characters I wanted to get an appearance in, whether it felt extraneous or not.”

“There’s no way in the world we would have had a fan-funded movie and I would have killed Logan,” he added. “That would not have happened. That would have been too big of a blow.”

What happened with Logan in the movie instead carried a faint note of fan service. Movie Logan has cleaned up his act. He no longer seems to have anger issues or any real emotional problems. He’s stable and healthy. He’s inexplicably in the navy.

Veronica spends the movie clearing Logan’s name after he’s falsely accused of killing yet another girlfriend, and by the end of the movie they’re together, apparently for good, in an apparently stable relationship. In their final scene, they reprise a season two moment particularly beloved by shippers in which Logan tells Veronica that their relationship is “epic.”

The movie’s ending did not serve what I personally found interesting or appealing about Logan and Veronica’s relationship. It didn’t explore the things that I wanted to explore about those two characters as a fan, like the ways they had both been hurt by the world and the ways they had hurt each other and the ways they could maybe possibly redeem each other.

But it was fine. It was a satisfying-enough ending. And it meant that they were still in each other’s lives, which meant that I had plenty of opportunities to imagine other endings for them inside of my head, endings that I found more interesting. That was all I really wanted.

The new TV revival of Veronica Mars doesn’t have any interest in servicing fans at all

Jason Dohring as Logan in the Veronica Mars revival
On the plus side, he doesn’t do the bum fight thing any more.
Hulu

Hulu’s Veronica Mars season four is a kind of inverse of the movie in its attitude toward fandom. Instead of catering to the desires of a vocal and energetic fanbase, it almost willfully avoids giving fans what they want.

I asked Thomas if he found it freeing to not have to rely on fan funding for these new episodes. “I think it’s probably a better way of doing things,” he said.

The movie ended the way it did, Thomas says, in part because at the time he believed it was going to be Veronica’s last bow onscreen. He structured the whole thing to give everyone closure, and finished it off with Veronica taking her seat at her father’s private investigator desk, accepting her destiny as a private detective at last. “If we had never seen her again onscreen, then seeing her sit down at her dad’s desk, and her relationship with Logan being back on, I was totally fine with that ending,” Thomas says.

The new revival, however, isn’t built for closure. It’s built for longevity. While no fifth season of Veronica Mars has been announced, Thomas hopes that if the fourth season does well enough, Hulu will renew the show and let him keep making more episodes. And to that end, he’s rejiggering the format.

“What I really want to do, and the intention in these eight episodes was sort of a bridge to that, is to make Veronica Mars more a strictly mystery show,” Thomas says. “I fear that leaning into the high school soap that the show started out as is a losing proposition, that it will start feeling nostalgic rather than vital. If Kristen [Bell] and I want to make more of these Veronica Mars mysteries, I think it’s going to survive best as a true mystery show with a badass PI at the center of it, and I think that works better if the PI doesn’t have a boyfriend.”

In a way, the fan service of the movie seems to have left Thomas with little choice. What do you do once Veronica Mars and a stable and mature version of Logan Echolls are together at last?

“I think there’s a reason that shows are over once the two romantic leads get together happily. That’s because there’s very little to mine there. Fans don’t like it if I break apart a marriage, but where’s the stuff of drama?” Thomas says. “And if I’m going to send out Veronica on these cases, what am I doing with Logan in these episodes? Unless you’re playing a soap, what do I have to do with the husband or boyfriend of my detective? Even in these eight episodes, I had to work pretty hard to get Logan even tangentially involved in the case. I think if I keep trying to do that in future installments, it would feel phony.”

In theory, it was probably possible for Thomas and his creative team to keep Logan around and still turn Veronica Mars into a true mystery show. Logan could have become, say, a recurring character who would blow through town periodically to have a tumultuous on-again-off-again affair with Veronica and then immediately leave whenever he didn’t serve the story, in the same way that various Sherlock Holmes adaptations are always doing with Irene Adler. I would have enjoyed that version of the show.

But with that said, Thomas and the rest of the Veronica Mars writers’ room have been writing Logan as though they are bored with him for quite some time now. They write him like a character they feel they have to instead of like a character they feel is essential to the story. I can’t force a writers’ room to be interested in a character just because I am interested in that character as a fan.

Thomas’s argument is that keeping Veronica Mars going now means, in a sense, breaking it apart, separating the teenaged girliness of it all from the noir: keeping the PI and losing the boyfriend. That’s a dangerous move, because the alchemy between teen soap and neo-noir is part of what gave Veronica Mars its distinctive electric spark back in 2004 — but the new series makes the argument that change has to come.

In Veronica Mars season four, the characters who have grown, like Logan, are adults. They are aspirational. Veronica has remained static, and that is a tragedy for her, and the show knows it.

And if Veronica Mars the show wants to continue, it seems to be arguing, it has to change, too. That means ditching the relationship that anchored the show’s devoted fandom, the fandom that brought it back from the dead not once but twice — and the relationship that at times threatened to swallow the rest of the show whole. It means ditching the love story that built the show and broke the show.

I can understand Thomas’s argument with my critic brain. But my fannish heart still cries out against it.

I found out about Logan’s death while watching my Veronica Mars screeners a few weeks before the premiere. I put on the finale to watch before I went to bed, because most of season four had felt so low-stakes to me that I couldn’t imagine anything truly upsetting happening at the end, and anyway if it did I could handle it. I watch upsetting TV all the time.

But after I realized that Logan was dead, really, definitively, they-definitely-aren’t-bringing-him-back dead, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking, “Oh god, I wish everyone had already seen this,” because all I wanted was to process his death like a fan, with other fans, everyone writing in capslock and posting anguished GIFs and talking about how the show was ruined now, completely ruined. But I couldn’t even talk about it with other critics, because no one I knew had watched their screeners yet.

I spoiled Emily VanDerWerff anyway. (Sorry, Emily.) I wrote five paragraphs of feelings and sent them to my editor as a pitch, and they evolved into this essay. I went into work the next day and wrote about other things, but all I could think about was that death scene.

I couldn’t figure out why the death was affecting me so strongly. It was just the death of a supporting character, a supporting character who hadn’t even had a good storyline in years. And anyway, characters I actively and currently like die on TV shows all the time, and usually it’s sad when I’m watching the death, and I might even cry a little, but then I get up and I move on with my life. I don’t keep obsessing over it for days on end. I haven’t done that since I started working as a critic.

But I fell in love with Veronica Mars way before I ever even thought about becoming a culture critic. I fell in love with it as a fan, and I still love it as a fan.

And that means I want all the possible futures of its characters to keep unfolding inside of my head, forever and ever, as long as possible.

Killing Logan closes off a huge number of those potential futures. That’s why this particular TV death hurts me. Veronica Mars is the last show that I loved like a fan and not like a critic, which means it’s the last show left that can hurt me quite like this.