The second season of "Veronica Mars" (2005-06, UPN) isn't as tight as the first, which had the gripping "Who killed Lilly Kane?" plot, but it's nearly as entertaining from week to week as the actors and writers master this show's unique cadence.
The "Who blew up the bus?" plot is a decent emotional hook, and indeed Veronica sometimes has dream visions involving deceased students just as she did with her best friend in Season 1. However, the answer -- as revealed in the season finale -- doesn't totally click, nor does the revisiting of the "Who raped Veronica?" mystery from the first season. Perhaps too much is crammed into the finale; for example, there's an emotional moment when it appears Keith has been blown up on Woody Goodman's plane, yet he shows up just fine a few scenes later with the simple explanation that he disembarked before takeoff.
I also struggled to grasp other threads, including Duncan and Meg running off to Mexico with their newborn at midseason. The shift of Duncan being with Veronica to him being with Meg -- and Veronica being fine with that -- happens too abruptly. Another head-scratcher is the "Who killed the PCH biker on the bridge?" mystery that starts with the season premiere.
These are all reasons why -- upon close inspection -- Season 2 has to rank below Season 1. However, there's hardly any drop-off in terms of my enjoyment of each hour. The reason is the characters. The "Buffy" connection, started in Season 1 with Alyson Hannigan playing Aaron Echols' daughter (and Logan's sister), continues with more of Trina, plus Charisma Carpenter as Dick Casablancas Sr.'s trophy wife and Joss Whedon himself guesting as a rental-car clerk in "Rat Saw God."
The already-deep cast expands even further this season. Krysten Ritter brings an endearing bit of quirkiness to Gia Goodman (Ritter would further embellish her devil-may-care style while playing self-centered Chloe in "Don't Trust the B"). Tina Majorino gets more screen time as Mac, and her relationship with Cassidy is completely adorable week after week (except in the final week, of course). Tessa Thompson isn't quite as good as the rest of the cast, but I like the Wallace-Jackie relationship because it allows Percy Daggs III more of the spotlight, and he embraces every second of it in his oh-so-casual way.
I also like the fact that "Veronica Mars" doesn't totally put Season 1 in the rear-view mirror. Reflecting the reality of the slow-moving court system, the Echols trial continues here. Also, the Veronica-Logan on-again off-again thing continues. Episode 17, "Plan B," might be the moment when the LoVe shipper movement emerged in full force.
So, like I say, it was a hit-and-miss season, but it had some standout moments. Here are my top 10 episodes:
1. "Plan B" (episode 17, written by Dayna Lynne North) -- Veronica volunteering Mac to take Butters to the dance leads to some of the funniest Veronica-Mac material in the series. Plus, the guy who plays awkward Butters nails the role.
2. "Ain't No Magic Mountain High Enough" (13, Diane Ruggerio) -- Indeed, there is a touch of magic to this episode set during a school carnival. The mystery of who stole the cash box is a good one, and the episode-long meet-cute between Logan and Hannah is giggle-worthy.
3. "Green-Eyed Monster" (4, North) -- Episodes like this, where Veronica poses as an airhead to get closer to a suspect, makes me think "Veronica Mars" should've done "Alias"-style undercover yarns more often.
4. "Ahoy, Mateys!" (8, John Enbom and Cathy Belben) -- Veronica's investigation of the River Styx, right up through Logan's rescue of her, is the most intense sequence of the series so far, even featuring our heroine being slammed onto a pool table. Also, the Butters-and-Mac seed is planted here.
5. "My Mother, the Fiend" (9, Phil Klemmer and North) -- Although the titular misunderstanding (Veronica misreads a deaf woman's description of her mother as "fiend" rather than "friend") is hoary, the episode wins points for heavily featuring Hannigan's Trina.
6. "The Rapes of Graff" (16, Enbom) -- As with Season 1's "The Wrath of Con," this episode demonstrates that "Veronica Mars" will easily slip into the college setting (and that, arguably, the show is already too smart to be set in high school).
7. "Happy Go Lucky" (21, Ruggiero) -- "Veronica Mars" continues its trend of using the penultimate episode of a season to resolve the B-plot, in this case the Aaron Echols trial. But the real reason I love this episode is for Mac and Cassidy's attempt to teach algebra to Weevil. Insert Weevil into a scene with pretty much any main character, and it's gold.
8. "Versatile Toppings" (14, Klemmer) -- It's worth a mention simply for the scene where Veronica asks Mac to access the Student Homosexual Internet Postings website and Mac misunderstands the reason for her curiosity.
9. "Rashard and Wallace Go to White Castle" (12, Enbom) -- Wallace's midseason plot of whether he should report his teammates' drunk driving accident is a genuinely gripping conundrum, and it allows Daggs III to shine with a bounty of screen time after being absent for a couple of weeks.
10. "Not Pictured" (22, Rob Thomas and Enbom) -- While I didn't grasp every plot point, there's no denying that the season finale is gripping as it peppers a viewer with revelations and surprises. Plus, there's just something about a high school graduation episode that always works.
Honorable mention: "Donut Run" (11, Thomas) -- This "Unusual Suspects" riff is perhaps too ambitious for its own good, and like the "Buffy" Season 3 episode "Enemies," I'm not sure everything fits together leading up to the revelation that Duncan, Meg and Veronica were planning to trick Sheriff Lamb all along. Still, it's a fun romp.
What are your top 10 episodes of "Veronica Mars" Season 2?