In the article “These Questions Need Answers: An Essay on the Veronica Mars Pilot,” Jason Mittell deconstructs the narrative qualities of Veronica Mars in order to make sense of what he claims is an exceptional, “remarkable piece of television.”
What I think is the most essential and outstanding device in the Veronica Mars narrative machine its “erotetic narrative,” which Mittell defines as the “framing of the story as a series of questions and answers.” The title character is the daughter of a shamed and humiliated ex-cop private investigator, which already creates a dichotomy of episodic and serial elements. The family P.I. business encourages open-and-shut, 22-minute cases. Meanwhile, Veronica serially investigates the truth behind her family’s past. The pilot introduces several questions for Veronica to begin tracing: the location and motives of her mother, the identity and motives of her rapist, and the actual cause of her best friend’s death. As if juggling all these mysteries was enough, Veronica Mars is also a proud, intelligent, and somewhat sassy student in high school. As shown in the pilot, she still has to deal with the average drama of the average student in Average California Beach Town High School, including staying one step ahead of the dumb mean jocks and the overbearing school administration.
The icing on the narrative cake is the combination of the film noir style first-person narrative, and the “How We Got Here” narrative device. An example of this is the (intended) opening teaser for the pilot, where the inner monologue asks the question, “So how does a girl end up surrounded by a motorcycle gang at four in the morning on the wrong side of town? For that answer, we’ll have to rewind to yesterday.” In addition to having questions about factual uncertainties regarding the many mysteries surrounding the protagonist, the viewer is also subjected to the Tarantino effect, which, in itself, is a question, as explicitly asked in the teaser, or more subtly later, like when we rewind to see what Wallace did to get on the biker gang’s bad side.
Veronica Mars uses a deep, layered plot, and inherently inquiring narrative perspective and devices to create an “erotetic narrative,” and the result is a surprisingly concise show that injects a film noir aesthetic into a UPN high school melodrama.