If the 2014 film revival was a nostalgic tour of Neptune, replete with cameos and heavy-handed callbacks, this second resurrection removes those rose-colored reunion glasses, picking up five years after the story left off. Veronica is still working as a P.I., barely making rent and keeping Mars Investigations afloat with her father, Keith (played by Enrico Colantoni). When she was a teenager, being a detective made Veronica a persnickety wild card, a troubled and talented outsider at Neptune High. Now she calls herself an “addict” to her toxic town. She’s just another alumna who failed to leave, someone who tasers a would-be mugger during her early-morning run with the ease and the boredom of accomplishing a chore.
Keith, who was injured in a car crash that figured in the plot of the film, limps and walks with a cane these days, and his memory is becoming worryingly spotty. Veronica’s boyfriend, Logan (Jason Dohring), gets abruptly called away on Navy duties every few months. As for Veronica’s friends, Weevil (Francis Capra) has backslid into crime, Wallace (Percy Daggs III) is a family man, and Mac (Tina Majorino) is out of town. No wonder, then, that Veronica bristles when her past gets brought up. “They did an article on you in Vanity Fair, right?” a new character asks her early in the season. “Eight column inches,” she responds sarcastically. “As you can see, it set me up for life.”
The season’s overarching mystery begins with the bombing of a local motel just as what Veronica calls the “month-long bacchanal” of spring break begins. Four people are killed, and the crime attracts the attention of several different groups in and around Neptune. A local gang wants to capitalize on the chaos. A Mexican cartel seeks revenge. A powerful political family tries to protect its reputation. And a group of true-crime-obsessed “murder heads” led by Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), a pizza-delivery guy hit with shrapnel from the blast, competes with the Marses to solve the crime.
Some of the resulting story lines are classic Veronica Mars: Matty Ross (Izabela Vidovic), whose motel-owner father died in the bombing, is a teenager seeking retribution. At the local nightclub, Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a woman with a keen business sense and a mean right hook, presides over good old-fashioned Neptune debauchery. The town’s wealthy set—embodied by the real-estate magnate Richard “Big Dick” Casablancas (David Starzyk) and his right-hand man, Clyde (an unnerving J. K. Simmons)—is up to its shady dealings. That’s a lot to juggle for one P.I.; luckily, it’s been a long time since Veronica did this as an after-school activity.
A grown-up Veronica Mars, in the hands of the showrunner Rob Thomas, also means a grittier, more violent Veronica Mars. The upgrade doesn’t always work. The eight new episodes feature decapitations, a shootout, and even a particularly gruesome collar bomb. One ongoing subplot focuses on a pair of bloodthirsty assassins hired by the cartel to find the bomber—and no spoilers here, but the season finale leans especially hard into the show’s newfound penchant for brutality. These developments feel outside of Veronica’s wheelhouse. While the show’s original run led to some jaw-dropping turns (a bus carrying high schoolers plummets off a cliff; a plane explodes in midair), it never lost sight of Veronica’s actual skill in planting trackers and outsmarting criminals. She’s not a female Rambo; she’s a careful sleuth, and her most engaging cases were always grounded in insightful character development.