Spoilers for all of American Vandal Season Two coming up just as soon as I buy seven more hats and a snow globe…
One of the bolder choices Vandal Season One made was to clearly tell you who drew the dicks, while maintaining the tiniest shred of deniability about it. All the clues in the first finale point to Christa being the dick-drawer (with help from her boyfriend), yet she denies it and the boys have only a pile of circumstantial evidence against her. It’s not really an ambiguous ending, but it leaves just enough wiggle room for the audience to have fun arguing (I have a friend who still insists, at least half-seriously, that Ming did it).
Season Two, in addition to leaning into the melancholy side of the series, takes a different approach to resolving its mystery. There’s no question this time of whodunnit, but it plays out a bit like Murder on the Orient Express, by revealing that all the suspects kinda did it.
That Jenna seems to be revealed as the Turd Burglar is a surprise, if only because this comes with an episode and a half to go. But her confession just sends Peter and Sam down a rabbit hole involving “Brooke Wheeler” (a catfishing account using stolen pictures and videos from Oregon State student Abby Samuels), expelled student Grayson (the blackmailing mastermind of it all), DeMarcus, poor Diapey Drew (or, if you prefer, flexible Diapey Drew) and the computer science teacher. And just when it seems like things are all wrapped up neat and tidy, the finale hits us with two more twists: 1) Kevin really did do the Brown-Out; and 2) Kevin didn’t need to be blackmailed to do it, since he was so desperate to cling to the connection he had made with “Brooke.” (“We bonded over the same critiques of Rick and Morty” may be the most spot-on line of a season that feels painfully real about the life of somebody like Kevin.)
It’s a bittersweet conclusion. Kevin is still expelled, but the experience reconnects him with Tanner and Chloe (and the Horsehead Collective does play the Gilbert bar mitzvah), and everyone seems to have rediscovered the value of IRL friendships. A lot of the season’s sharpest material comes in these final episodes, as talk turns to the difference between the lives everyone curates for social media and the ones they’re actually living. Jenna, for instance, turns from a figure worthy of scorn for using professional photographs on her Instagram to someone who’s just as lonely and insecure as everybody else. And DeMarcus reveals himself not as the braggart with the mimed violin (an idea he and his crew came up with specifically to go viral), but someone desperate to be loved for who he is rather than how well he can dribble and shoot. There’s a lot of nifty and powerful emotional material at the end, just as there was in the first season.
And the resolution of the mystery feels even more rewarding this time out — not because it’s more definitive, but because it reveals most of the season’s red herrings as actual clues. Virtually everyone Peter and Sam investigate turns out to have been involved, Kevin included. The school really did cover up the teachers’ lounge incident to protect its reputation. Etc. This is a comedy and a sociological study, but it’s also a mystery. Serialized TV mysteries can run into the problem of having to generate fake suspects to fill time (The Killing says hi), but in this case, everything tied together in impressive fashion.
So no, not nearly as funny as finding out who did the dicks. But incredibly satisfying on every other level.
A few other thoughts:
* Parts of Season One inspired people to wonder how a high school AV club project could afford some of the technical flourishes. Season Two explains that pretty quickly: Peter and Sam made a much cheaper version for Vimeo that went viral, prompting Netflix to buy it and give the boys money to redo certain sequences like the CGI hand job. This provides cover for anything the new season does that would otherwise seem beyond their capabilities or access. (The various talking-head experts they get, for instance, seem more likely to give up their time to be part of a popular Netflix series.)
* Peter and Sam’s more muted presence was definitely the biggest issue I had with the new season. They’re barely in the first half of it, and they have no character arc to speak of, especially compared to how well Season One explored their motivations for making that film and the impact it had on them and others. A lot of this season could have featured an entirely new documentary team, or even not showed the filmmakers at all, and little would have changed. And because Kevin is inherently a much less comical character than Dylan Maxwell was, the new season could have used a lot more of Peter and Sam being hyperbolic about the investigation. I laughed long and hard at stray moments like Sam’s obsession with whether Kevin shat himself (and, later, how Drew was able to bend that way), or Peter declaring, “There was still a dingleberry of information we didn’t have.” The season just could have used more of that humor to balance out the sadness of the story.
* In running down the list of recognizable cast members this time out for my original review, I omitted Elisha Henig, who here plays Kevin’s younger new bandmate, even as he’s the underage killer on The Sinner Season Two.
What did everybody else think?