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‘Veronica Mars’ Explores Our Dark Obsession with True Crime

Veronica Mars’ fourth season explores America’s true crime obsession, both admiring and skewering the community in tandem.

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Veronica Mars

*Please note that this article contains spoilers for the 4th season of Veronica Mars*

After a five year hiatus, the long beloved mystery series Veronica Mars returned this summer with one of the only TV comebacks to be actually worth a damn (yes, we’re looking at you The X-Files.) While the Hulu revival has been widely acclaimed by both fans and critics alike, one of the key elements of the 4th season that hasn’t seen much coverage is its stellar exploration, and at times skewering, of true crime culture.

Even these modern marvels, Veronica Mars included, are only really scratching the surface of an obsession that has hid beneath the shiny veneer of modern Americana for hundreds of years.

Over the last decade, there has been a wild resurgence of true crime. While movies like Zodiac and TV shows like The People vs. O.J. Simpson have achieved great success in their respective mediums, it has been the true crime podcasts which have been most responsible for this boom. Wildly popular shows like Last Podcast on the LeftCriminal and My Favorite Murder have blown up to be some of the biggest podcasts in the world, and with so many people listening, fans don’t feel so ashamed or morbid talking about the gruesome details and awful circumstances behind some of humanity’s most horrendous crimes.

Of course, even these modern marvels, Veronica Mars included, are only really scratching the surface of an obsession that has hid beneath the shiny veneer of modern Americana for hundreds of years. If the murder ballad folk songs of the early 20th century or the detective novels of the late 19th century weren’t an indication of this fact, surely the hundreds (or thousands) who might gather to watch criminals being publicly executed in the middle ages (often stealing a possession or lock of hair after the execution) surely is.

However, there is an even darker side to true crime and the public’s obsession with it than a simple morbid souvenir or two. Killers like Ed Kemper (recently made famous by Netflix’s Mindhunter) or BTK have sometimes been known to ingratiate themselves into the investigative process, misleading those searching for them or gathering information on how much the police actually know.

This is the most interesting element that Veronica Mars taps into in its latest season. After a string of grisly bomb attacks rocks Neptune, there’s no shortage of suspects who might be responsible. There’s Big Dick, a real estate maven who stands to profit from the plummeting market values the attacks create, and his Chino cellmate Clyde, a former bank robber. There’s a violent bar matron with a vendetta against sex offenders (who make up some of the victims) and some squirrely frat brothers who definitely seem to be hiding something. Hell even the cartel and a scandalized senator avail themselves as possible perpetrators before long.

With that laundry list of usual suspects, though, comes a lowly pizza delivery man. Penn Epner seems to have little going on in his life, and while he comes across as charming and affable, his true crime leanings hide a much darker secret. As he consistently makes himself the center of the investigation, standing up to accuse people at town meetings, talking to any journalist who will listen, and constantly visiting the police and Mars Investigations, he attempts to direct the focus of the investigation toward his enemies and away from himself.

Meanwhile, Penn is responsible for nearly all of the criminal carnage being perpetrated around Neptune. Though the first bombing is indeed revealed to be part of a real estate scam, the remaining copycat crimes, committed by Epner, are a part of his sick manifesto: to punish the unruly spring breakers who rudely accost him and strike fear in the hearts of the political and financial elite he despises. A brilliant man who was kicked out of college for his part in a sick game that mutilated a classmate, Epner takes a sort of ironic outrage at being teased and berated by today’s students. He also feels unable to utilize his strong intellect for anything truly worthwhile, which causes him considerable frustration in his true crime group, a group which is filled with otherwise very successful people.

Of course, he is only revealed as the perpetrator of the bombings in the final episode of Veronica Mars’ fourth season. Up until that point, he’s the last person you would expect to be responsible for so much death and destruction. Portrayed by the amusing and likeable comedian, Patton Oswalt, Penn is usually the comic relief or the wacky side character to the proceedings, giving viewers little reason to suspect he might be the one behind the crimes he seems so intent on helping to solve.

There’s actually an interesting real-life correlation there as well. Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara, was a very serious true crime enthusiast before she passed away in late 2016. She was instrumental in the final stages of the Golden State Killer investigation, and her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, explores her rich, dark obsession with the vicious killer that she never lived to see unmasked as former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo in 2018. This additional kernel of knowledge leads one to wonder if his role in the 4th season of Veronica Mars is meant as a loving tribute to his late wife, as the background knowledge seems to close for coincidence.

In any case, Veronica Mars‘s exploration of true crime isn’t all doom and gloom. The rest of Epner’s true crime obsessive group, dubbed The Murderheads, are more or less well-adjusted and useful members of society. Ranging from a librarian to a political consultant, the other Murderheads seem to be intelligent and analytical thinkers who genuinely want to help law enforcement find the person responsible for the Neptune bombings. Like in real life, the majority of true crime aficionados in Veronica Mars are people who are just as fascinated by the dark underbelly of society as they are troubled by it.

Epner, though, remains a vivid portrayal of the real-life criminals who return to their crime scenes, taunt law enforcement, or purposely direct the flow of an investigation. While they may not always be as nefarious or calculating as their fictional counterparts, these people do exist, and the latest season of Veronica Mars serves as a welcome reminder to keep our eyes open for them.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

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Greatest Royal Rumble Matches Casket Match

Royal Rumble 1998

WWF World Heavyweight Championship

The 1998 Royal Rumble was the eleventh entry in the annual pay-per-view event. It took place on January 18, 1998, at the San Jose Arena and is remembered best for two things: Stone Cold Steve Austin winning his second Royal Rumble by eliminating The Rock– and the thrilling Casket Match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.

Unfortunately, it is also remembered as the match that temporarily ended the career of Shawn Michaels.

It was ‘The Last Outlaw’ Undertaker versus Mr. WrestleMania a.k.a. The Main Event a.k.a. The Heartbreak Kid a.k.a. The Showstopper. After costing him the Championship in a match against Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart at Summerslam 1997, The Undertaker was out for revenge.

Shawn Michaels was the champion heading into the match, and he was also the favourite thanks to ample support from his fellow Degeneration X members Triple H and Chyna standing ringside.

Undertaker and Michaels had previously met in an outstanding match at Ground Zero: In Your House before going on to star in the first Hell in a Cell where Undertaker beat the hell out of Shawn, only to lose in the end no thanks to Kane interfering. This time around, however, Kane and Undertaker were now on good terms— or so we thought.

Needless to say, expectations were high for this one!

Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

Despite his age, Shawn Michaels was in the prime of his career, and every one of his matches with The Undertaker during this era became legendary. Unlike many other rivalries in WWE history, every time these two men went toe-to-toe in the center of the squared circle; fans knew they were in for something special.

The match itself isn’t necessarily their best work but it’s arguably the best Casket Match ever and it culminated with a truly unforgettable ending that had many fans glued to their seats.

The Undertaker controlled most of the match despite the constant interference from Triple H and Chyna, which in retrospect makes sense since early in the match, Shawn Michaels herniated two disks in his back and completely crushed another after receiving a back body drop on the side of the casket. Being the champ that he was, Michaels continued to wrestle, and Undertaker eventually began to lose his dominance as things moved outside of the ring with Michaels delivering a piledriver on top of the steel steps. Following a high-flying elbow drop and Sweet Chin Music, Shawn Michaels seemed to have the match finally in his control but as all good heels do, he blew the opportunity to seal the deal and instead chose to taunt his opponent, giving Taker enough time to recuperate.

Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

The rest of the match saw the two men go back and forth, rolling in and out of the casket and delivering their respected finishers. Eventually, the two men made it back to the ring where Undertaker gave Shawn Michaels a chokeslam before dragging him to the edge of the ring and hitting a jumping tombstone piledriver into the casket. The match looked to be over but before Undertaker could close it, the New Age Outlaws and Los Boricuas ran in and collectively pummeled Undertaker until the lights went out in the arena. Kane’s music played and the Big Red Machine made his way to the ring to save the day.

Only he didn’t…

Kane instead turned on Undertaker, and choke slammed his own flesh and blood into the casket thus allowing Triple H and Chyna to shut the lid, and end the match.

Royal Rumble 1998 Casket Match HBK Undertaker

As mentioned above, the match itself isn’t the best match we would see from HBK and The Phenom but in my eyes, they are two of the ten greatest superstars in WWE history and even their worst match is still far better than 90% of the other matches the WWE offers. But what really made the night memorable was the ending!

With the Undertaker trapped inside, Paul Bearer came to the ringside carrying giant padlocks and with the help of Kane, they locked the Undertaker inside the casket and proceeded to roll it to the top of the entrance ramp where Kane took an axe and began to dispatch the coffin before dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire. And the entire time, Undertaker was supposedly inside.

If you were a young fan watching at the time, the ending of this match might have given you nightmares. It was like something straight out of a horror movie and it was an ending everyone was talking about for months.

As we watched various emergency officials extinguish the fire, Commissioner Slaughter and others desperately tried to break open the casket to free Undertaker. And when the casket was finally wedged opened, Undertaker was nowhere to be seen.

Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

Regardless if you agree this is one of the greatest Royal Rumble matches, the match itself is historically significant for many reasons. It was the match that forced Michaels to take an extended hiatus due to a legitimate back injury and it also marked the last time Undertaker wrestled Shawn Michaels before their historic WrestleMania XIV match. Meanwhile, Kane’s interference set up an o ongoing rivalry between the brothers of destruction. In the end, the 1998 Royal Rumble Championship Match delivered a great story complete with stellar performances from everyone involved.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

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Podcasts

The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast Episode 3: “Big Space Energy”

On this week’s episode, Randy and Sean exit the atmosphere to examine the state of space science fiction in today’s TV landscape.

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Lost in Space

On this week’s episode of The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast, Randy and Sean buckle up and head into the great beyond of space-based science fiction on television, and what happened to a genre that used to be an American institution. After a larger discussion about cultural attitudes towards exploring the stars, and the impact of changing TV habits and the proliferation of superhero stories on the genre, our esteemed explorers have an extended conversation about The Expanse and Lost in Space, the two most prominent non-Star Trek or Star Wars outer space shows on TV.

Opening Track: “Main Title Theme,” Lost in Space OST, Christopher Lennertz (original theme by John Williams)

Shows discussed: Star Trek: Discovery, The Orville, Other Space, Avenue 5, The Expanse, Lost in Space (2018)

The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast is a weekly show hosted by Goomba Stomp and TV Never SleepsRandy Dankievitch and Sean Colletti, with new episodes debuting every Wednesday.

Listen here on iTunes, YouTube, follow us here on Spotify, or listen/download using the embedded player below.

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

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First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

Royal Rumble 2000

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz

The 2000 edition of the Royal Rumble, which was held at the Madison Square Garden on January 23, is without a doubt one of the best WWE pay-per-views ever! It’s an absolute classic filled with memorable moments such as The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win and the street fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack. It also featured the first-ever Tag Team Championship Tables Match between two of the most significant tag teams a the time.

The WWF WWE has always had some truly amazing tag teams— from The British Bulldogs to The Rockers to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express— but it was at the turn of the century that the tag team division really started heating up with competitors taking it to a whole new level in jaw-dropping hardcore matches, table matches, ladder matches and of course, TLC matches.

Leading this resurgence were The Hardy Boyz and the recent ECW defectors, The Dudley Boyz and at the 2000 Royal Rumble, the two teams would showcase their stuff in an unforgettable championship match that featured high-flying, no holds barred action.

The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

It was the second match of the night and it was a match that would foreshadow the legendary TLC series between The Hardyz, The Dudleyz and fellow tag team competitors Edge and Christian. Taking the opportunity to impress a large pay-per-view audience, the two teams delivered a phenomenal showcase filled with several high-octane stunts and high-risk maneuvers.

In order to win the match, you had to put both members of the opposing team through a table. This meant that fans would be treated to seeing at least three tables smashed before the end of the match. However, these trailblazers wouldn’t settle for just three; by the time the bell rang, at least nine tables had been destroyed.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble 2000

The match only lasted about twelve minutes, but it was an astonishing tag team match no less, and one filled with plenty of highlights including a mid-rope Powerbomb that sent Matt Hardy through a table. At one point, the Hardy Boyz gained the advantage with a double superplex to Bubba Ray and after a devastating chair hit across Bubba’s forehead, Matt and Jeff Hardy simultaneously performed a diving leg drop and a diving splash, sending their opponent through the table.

The match eventually carried onto the entrance as the Dudley Boyz stacked two tables on top of two other tables under a balcony. In a moment that would define what the tag team division would like over the next several years, Jeff Hardy dove off the balcony and delivered a Swanton Bomb to seal the victory.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble Tag Team Championship Tables Match

There are many reasons why wrestling fans remember the Attitude Era as the peak period of the WWE. Not only did it have edgier, controversial storylines, often pushing of the boundaries of what could be shown on national television, but the Attitude Era also featured a plethora of incredible performers, and yes, that includes many legendary tag teams. In the eyes of many wrestling fans, the Attitude Era featured the best tag team matches — and you’d be hard-pressed to find any other era in the WWE that had as much talent in the division.

The match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz at the Royal Rumble not only put both teams on the map, but it set up one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the WWE. It was the first-ever Tag Team Tables Match, and in my opinion, it is also one of the most underrated matches of the pay-per-view.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

  • Ricky D
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