Life after Mars

Just finished Veronica Mars last night. Really dug it. Always liked that show.

Am going to avoid really specific spoilers but probably watch it with fresh eyes if you haven’t already.

It never had a really great visual style, and outside of the snazzy credits, it still doesn’t, though there’s one nice long Steadicam take reintroducing a great supporting character… but that fizzles out in a standard set of shot-countershot cuts. I’m always of the view that the longer a shot lasts, the more important its ending should be.

No, the appeal of the show was always, in no particular order, plotting, characters, dialogue, performances. I was in awe, during the first two seasons, of how Rob Thomas and his gang managed to cram into each episode one fully-developed mystery plot, one mystery subplot, and one development for the overarching series-long central mystery.

As with Nancy Drew, the key relationship was always between Mars (Kristen Bell) and her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and I hope that’s going to continue if the series continues (and it seems harder to destroy than its unstoppable, battered-about protag). The love-hate story with boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) was one for the ages.

These virtues survive intact into the new series, along with the political pessimism (the town of Neptune works even better as a microcosm for the US now — the show has the nerve to draw out plotlines about zoning laws). The eight episodes of season 4 explore one convoluted mystery which spirals off into sub-mysteries, all rounded off in satisfying finishes, but introducing characters perhaps susceptible to further investigation. The dialogue is as snappy, and saltier, than ever, since the original teen audience has grown up with the show. There were always old-timers like us watching, since we’re around the age of the series creators (and only a little younger than Keith Mars) so we felt in tune with a lot of the references.

So we really enjoyed it. Then we looked at the online reaction and Holy Shit. Rob Thomas, shrewdly, is avoiding Twitter. He fully expected an explosive reaction to the final episode’s tragic conclusion.

To me, this feels like the inevitable result of an audience reared on focus-grouped pap — you can’t feed them tragedy because they have no stomach for it. Every time a character they care about is killed, they get resurrected. Audience surveys ask “What was your least favo(u)rite scene?” and everyone cites the scene where something bad happened, and the market survey idiots don’t realize that that scene is where the audience FELT something — “pity, fear and catharsis.”

I could relate this to the audience response to the end of Game of Thrones, except we couldn’t take that show seriously and only watched one episode. Tolkein with tits. But it seems like a similar phenomenon. Social media gives fans the power to talk to creators and they feel ownership of the show. How dare the people who create the show do something that they don’t like? Does this also tie in with all the millennial-bashing stuff about how kids these days are hypersensitive and can’t handle touchy material? Well, that isn’t universally true — I find my students just as hardy, on the whole, as those I taught nearly thirty years ago when I first started — but to the extent that squeamishness and inability to deal with moral complexity or scenes of an adult nature may be on the rise, I would connect it to the feeding of market-tested pablum to the audience.

There are objections to Veronica Mars S.04′s ending that seem to make sense — “It wouldn’t happen, the police would have stopped it” — but are the same as the objections to the ending of SE7EN. The fact is, both endings WORKED in that they caused the audience to have a strong emotional reaction, one apparently intended by the creators. (David Fincher said that he persuaded the key producer to allow the bleak-as-hell ending by asking him to imagine some random TV viewer of the future catching the movie one night, and being forever unable to shake it off.) Quibble s are certainly possible but they don’t take away from the rightness of the overall concept.

I am disturbed at the idea that the media is evolving an audience that can’t bear strong emotion. That’s what you get if your diet is Marvel adaptations, I’m afraid.

I was reminded of this movie’s ending, the only really human moment in a Bond film, and one that would be inconceivable today.

2 Responses to “Life after Mars”

  1. Since you bring up Marcel, is the end more inconceivable than the end of Infinity War? Sure, Mrs. Bond was never resurrected, but Bond wasn’t changed either. And I’m not sure how tragedy relates to “moral complexity” either.

  2. Infinity War was, no doubt, strong stuff for the kids in the audience. But the next episode cancelled it all out, and I think the grown-ups all knew something of the kind would happen. It was very well acted, and I did feel something, but I knew they weren’t playing for keeps.

    James Bond isn’t ever really going to be capable of change, except when they recast they can alter the emphasis and tone. Maybe a second Lazenby Bond would have built on the events of the preceding film, but as he never got to come back, the opportunity was lost, and when Bond meets Blofeld next time it’s like they have zero personal history.

    Moral complexity is something else, I freely admit, but it’s something else a lot of modern audiences seem to struggle with. And I think it’s because they’re unused to it.

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