We’ve had fun this week discussing Veronica Mars through the prism of her potential suitors. We’ve heard from Team Duncan, Team Piz, Team Weevil, and Team Everyone Else (in the parlance of our times). For Team Logan, I’ll direct you here. But, with all due respect to Team members everywhere, the obvious correct choice is TEAM VERONICA.
A Note on the Subject of “Shipping” and “LoVe“
I welcome any commenters who can provide insight/corrections/concrete information on this topic.
“Shipping” is the term in fandom for the belief that two characters should be engaged in a romantic relationship. It is unclear whether the terminology predates the internet (the concept certainly does, as there were people shipping Kirk and Spock back in the 60s or 70s), but I first became aware of it in newsgroups dedicated to The X-Files. Shippers (originally “relationshippers”) were emotionally invested in the notion that Mulder and Scully either should be, or already were, romantically involved with each other. This alt.tv.x-files thread about the rise Scully/Krycek shippers(!) gets into a discussion of the different kinds of shipping (and discusses it in a way that makes me think that the use of “shipping” as the preferred nomenclature was rather recent). By the time Veronica Mars debuted in 2004, shipping had taken a much more prominent place in fandom and in internet fan culture. This was also the earliest I can remember seeing the now commonplace use of portmanteau names to refer to a shipper’s preferred couple (I tend to assume this is a result of the widespread use of “Bennifer” to refer to the relationship between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez). LoVe was the pairing of Logan and Veronica, while Jate and Skate were the two most common solutions to Lost‘s (also in 2004) primary love triangle. More recently, the culture of shipping, along with everything else in our culture, was forever changed with the advent of Twilight and its Team Edward and Team Jacob. Shipping is an understandable and fairly natural reaction to the chemistry between actors and characters and the way that fiction interacts with our social expectations and desires, but its primacy in certain fandoms tends to reduce complexity and ignore the things that really distinguish the work in question.
For instance, because Veronica is such a great character, nearly all of us who were invested in the show couldn’t help but wish for her to be happy (in fairness, there were also people who wanted her to end up with Logan). The majority of the coverage of this new movie either focuses on (or at least addresses) whether LoVers will be satisfied. But Veronica Mars was not, for the majority of its run, primarily a teen soap opera in the vein of your Gossip Girls or your OCs. While it certainly retained elements of the teen soap, the dominant mode of the show was a noir inflected detective show. And by making the lead PI a teenager, the show’s greatest innovation was in converting the Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style season long Big Bad arc into a season long mystery, converting much of the energy that would have been spent entirely on relationship melodrama in a normal teen show into a different (and to my mind, more exciting) kind of tension.
When the relationship between Veronica and Duncan starts to thaw during the first season, or when Veronica and Logan fall into each other’s arms near the end of that same season, there’s an extra charge to it beyond the feeling of “ooh, he likes her” because they are also connected to (and even suspects in) her ongoing investigation of Lilly Kane’s murder.
Experiment: Quick, name the love of Sam Spade’s life. How about Philip Marlowe? Veronica’s fellow TV detective Jim Rockford has an ex-wife who didn’t particularly factor into the series, and even the married Columbo’s wife never makes an on-screen appearance. Why is it that once the detective is a young woman the focus gets pulled to the question of who her True Love will turn out to be? The most frustrating part of this is that the heavier that the romance elements became in the show, the more it distorted and flattened the show, smoothing over the noir elements (in a traditional noir story, if there’s any romance at all it is nearly always of the doomed variety, not the “epic” on again off again variety). As the fan focus (and eventually the show’s focus) shifted to the Veronica and Logan relationship, it seems like we’ve moved away from the more interesting and unique element of the show. Which is that Veronica Mars is a great character. There are a number of reasons that this is the case.
Reason the First: Veronica is Smarter Than You
My first thought when I think of Veronica Mars is that she’s a good detective. A huge amount of the pleasure from the show comes from watching Veronica go about her investigative business because she’s really good at it. She knows a ton of tricks from her father and she’s got a disposition that seem well suited to the work at hand, but she’s also got her own pretty keen powers of observation, and Kristen Bell is very good at communicating that Veronica is really smart (the show reinforces this with a storyline predicated on the fact that Veronica is a very good student). They use characters like Wallace, Logan, or her clients in the Dr. Watson role, allowing her to explain things she’s already cleverly figured out, and they get a lof of mileage out of the fun to be had in seeing Veronica outsmart the arrogant or entitled people she takes down (bonus points when the person she’s outsmarted is a condescending adult).
Reason the Second: Veronica Is Cooler Than You
To emphasize: Veronica Mars was an unlicensed private investigator as a teenage girl. While the show couldn’t afford to get too tripped up in meta stuff about how awesome that is, they wisely acknowledged it up front in the third episode of the series, “Meet John Smith,” wherein a dork hires Veronica just because he wants to get close to the hot girl who moonlights as a detective. She looks like Kristen Bell, dresses the epitome of mid-00s cool (with a bit of edge, since she’s fallen from the rich-kid crowd she’d associated with), and has a pit bull. Her caustic wit and cynicism make her seem cool and unflappable, even while dealing with the mean girls or aggro dudes she’s investigating. She’s terrific with disguises, using her youth or foxiness to get over on people, and smoother than anybody with a lie or cover story.
She’s also best friends with Wallace.
Reason the Third: Veronica Can Be Kind of a Jerk
Sure, she never started a bumfight ring, but Veronica had her own set of personality flaws. She’d been hurt and betrayed by people she trusted, and by the time we meet her she’s got an armor of cynicism that could sometimes make her seem cold or unfeeling. She could be suspicious or jealous in her romantic relationships (though not always without reason). She could be self-righteous and rigid, and because of the power she wields thanks to her avocation, her wrath could be destructive. And her doggedness, while admirable in the pursuit of justice, could also prove self-destructive.
She also could have bad taste in men.
Reason the Fourth: Veronica is a Good Person
In addition to her smarts and her cool, Veronica is also a loyal friend (seriously, you’d want her in your corner) and a good daughter. She can’t abide injustice, and has a real soft spot for the underdog. Beneath her cynicism and snark, her anger and disappointment really comes from a core of idealism that people can and should do better. She’s also able to admit when she is wrong (though she’ll do her damnedest to prover her case first). And really, say what you will about her absolute certainty regarding moral issues, but at least it’s an ethos.
Reason the Fifth: Veronica is Keith Mars’ Daughter
I think even the most die-hard shippers have to acknowledge that the relationship between Veronica and her father, disgraced sheriff turned private investigator, Keith Mars, is fantastic and foundational to the show. They’ve got a warm and witty rapport, with an affectionate intimacy that invites the audience in as the invisible third Mars, united against the corruption of Neptune. With a daughter like Veronica (and having her solve the case that got her father fired), it was entirely possible for Rob Thomas and company to have created a Keith who functioned more as an obstacle (or at least as a dope), somebody we’d thrill in watching Veronica defy or outsmart as she pursued the case on her own. But Keith is a good father and he’s good at his job. Bell and Colantoni have a wonderful, lived in chemistry, and Colantoni is also excellent at giving us the good sheriff and deceptively brilliant detective sides of Keith. He’s smart and competent, and you can see easily why Veronica has many of her best qualities because she’s got Keith as a role model. While they had the occasional falling out or blow up, the show wisely remembered that these two love and rely on each other, keeping their relationship blessedly free of melodrama.
Reason the Sixth: Veronica Mars Can Take Care Of Herself
This brings us back around to the relationship question. One of the reasons Veronica Mars is such a great character is because she’s a beautiful high school girl who doesn’t need a guy to take care of her. This isn’t to say that there’s no room for romance in her life, nor is it just that she doesn’t need a man to save her (indeed, Keith rescues her from dire circumstances at the end of the first season). Rather, Veronica is just really resourceful and resilient. She doesn’t need Logan to go punch a villain in the face, because she’s going to make them pay all on her own. She doesn’t need somebody to defend her honor (as much as we’d like to see people stand by her) because, after her expulsion from the rich 09er crowd, she know who she is and she knows what she considers important. Plus she’s a badass with a pit bull and a taser.
Heck, if anything, we could all use a Veronica Mars to take care of us.