Let’s Talk About the Ending of American Vandal

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Photo: Netflix

This article contains tons of American Vandal spoilers and will ruin the ending if you haven’t seen it. You have been warned.

American Vandal initially seemed like nothing more than silly satire with a lot of penis jokes in it. But by the time I hit play on the last episode, I was so determined to figure out who was really responsible for the show’s male-genitalia vandalism that I had practically turned into the Columbo of dick pics. I cared very much about figuring out who “did the dicks,” which is a testament to how well series creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda understand the true-crime genre and the degree to which they created deeper layers in a story that seems ridiculous on the surface.

When the beginning of the last episode, “Clean-up,” established that there was no way Dylan Maxwell could have spray-painted all those penises on the teachers’ cars because he definitely was at Mackenzie’s house at the time of the crime, I was very eager to find out who was responsible. And American Vandal finally delivered by … not telling us at all!

Which, at first, was disappointing. But it’s also something that viewers should have expected. Why do I say that? Let’s answer that question first, then address some others about the final episode of American Vandal.

Seriously, isn’t it annoying that we don’t know who drew the damn dicks?
Sure, in the sense that we need closure after watching four-plus hours of dick detective work. But this is what happens in practically every true-crime docuseries, including Making of a Murderer, which, along with Serial, American Vandal most closely replicates. (The fact that Dylan commits the same crime he was exonerated of committing, by vandalizing Mrs. Shapiro’s house, is a total riff on Steven Avery.) To authentically satirize and pay homage to the genre, this show was practically obligated to end on a “but we’ll never know for sure” sort of note.

In addition to being a true crime send-up, American Vandal is also a high-school show, and one that winds up being far more perceptive about that experience than expected. Toward the end of the episode, Peter notes that teens spend a lot of time searching for answers and don’t necessarily find them, which is exactly what happens in our relationships with true-crime shows. When we watch them, we get obsessed with them, at the expense of other things that we should be paying attention to in our own lives. Which is kind of the way most of us operated in tenth grade, right?

The whole thing works so well as a metaphor that I wasn’t too irritated about not getting a definitive answer. Plus, there’s also this.

We all pretty much know who did the dicks: Christa Carlyle, probably with help from Van Delorey, her secret boyfriend who wasn’t really her CPR instructor but was definitely teaching her some mouth-to-mouth. (Wink, wink.) Right?
Peter’s investigation strongly hints that Christa, the Tracy Flick of Hanover High, spray-painted the penises to strike back against Coach Rafferty, against whom she filed an inappropriate-conduct complaint. Christa may have had help from Van because, as the show points out, Van could easily be mistaken for Dylan from a distance, which would explain why Alex Trimboli thought he saw Dylan at the scene. Christa also had access to the video studio, enabling her to erase the security footage of the parking lot.

She’s the logical guilty party based on the evidence, as well as this little nugget noted by EW’s Dana Schwartz, who pointed out that the names Christa Carlyle and Van Delorey practically say it all: CAR VAN-DEL, or car vandal. Someone on Reddit went a step further and noted that their full names are a scrambled version of “Car Vandal is Clearly End Theory,” or, if you prefer, “Clearly is Car Vandal. End Theory.”

But given the emphasis that American Vandal places on not prejudging your peers based on the obvious — its lesson, ultimately, is the same one we learned from The Breakfast Club — do these clues make Christa too convenient a suspect? Perhaps. I’ll also add that the name Van Delorey reminds me of Vandelay Industries, the company George Costanza made up on Seinfeld, which may just be a coincidence, but also suggests that believing Van was involved may be false. Christa sounds pretty convincing at the end of that interview when she says she didn’t draw the dicks. Then again, if Van did the deed at her behest, she wouldn’t be lying.

Ultimately, I think the Christa theory is the one that makes the most sense. But I am only 85 percent certain that she was the one who did it. Unless someone is able to retrieve the security footage, there will never be definitive proof one way or the other.

There’s also an elaborate Pat Micklewaite theory that sounds kinda cool.
In that same EW article, Schwartz — who is apparently the Jessica Fletcher of dick pics — proposes an elaborate theory suggesting that Coach Rafferty was actually involved with hot student Sarah Pearson, who previously hooked up with Pat Micklewaite, who was so incensed that he teamed up with an already motivated Christa to shaft the teaching staff.

This sounds plausible, but when Schwartz brought her theory to Perrault and Yacenda, they politely declined to confirm or deny. So again [spoken in hushed docuseries voice-over tone]: We may never know the real truth.

Is anyone else thinking that maybe Peter is guilty?
I keep going back to that theory, too. It didn’t make sense that he was so determined to make this documentary, especially since he didn’t like Dylan that much in the first place. But as Mackenzie implies, Peter may have been motivated because he wanted to be a somebody, and making this movie turned him into one.

I don’t see any credible evidence that he was covering his own tracks by making the documentary, though. The facts simply don’t add up. But I do think that Peter is guilty of something else: engaging in really shoddy journalism. He and Sam consistently put people on camera without permission, misrepresent themselves in order to get information, and share private conversations that, as Sarah Pearson points out, aren’t germane to Dylan’s plight. During the post-prom party, after Sarah rips into Peter, he says he realizes he needs to do better. But then a few seconds later, he records audio of a private conversation between Gabi and Sam. He doesn’t know how to stop documenting things, and the kids around him can’t stop watching it.

In addition to being a true-crime spoof and a high-school dramedy, then, American Vandal is also a commentary on the navel-gazing consumption of media and the eroding of ethics in modern journalism. Again: kind of a lot for a show that seems to be about doodles of male diddles.

Here’s a question I never thought I’d ask about a true-crime series, or about anything in general: Why did Dylan draw a dick with no ball hairs when he vandalized Mrs. Shapiro’s house?
The show is very clear about Dylan’s dick-drawing aesthetic: He always includes ball hairs, which is one of the reasons why the vandalism didn’t seem to be his handiwork. (The presence of ball hairs: also often used to distinguish the work of Banksy.) But when Dylan goes to Mrs. Shapiro’s house, after doing all that work to clear his name, he spray-paints a dick with no ball hairs. Why? Well, for starters, he was trying not to get caught and didn’t think security cameras would be filming him. Going hairless was a way for him to credibly deny that did it.

As to why he did the dicks at all, it was clear that Dylan felt so aimless by the end of the series that he decided to just give up and lean into everyone’s low expectations for him. Which turned this bro-doofus into a legitimately tragic figure.

Aren’t there a number of threads left dangling at the end of American Vandal, aside from the reveal of the perpetrator?
There are, including the following:

• Peter makes a point of noting that Sam’s digression into hot moms research was actually important to include, and he also promises to come back to the fact that his mother was listed as hot mom No. 1. But he doesn’t. We still don’t know what the deal is with Peter’s mom or whether she, too, had some involvement with Coach Rafferty.

• We don’t find out who Mackenzie’s video-game paramour is. She disrobes for the benefit of some guy on Twitch and suggests she plans to see him later, but we never find out more.

• It’s also unclear whether the damage done to Coach Rafferty’s office was indeed inflicted by Mackenzie or someone else, or what the meaning of the message, “Stick your dick somewhere else” actually means. (Yes, it was probaby Mackenzie and the message was probably about her mom’s relationship with Coach Rafferty, but we don’t know for sure.)

• This isn’t a dangling thread so much as something that nagged at me: Why were people so willing to do interviews with Peter? Especially the members of the staff and Mackenzie, although feelings of guilt might explain the willingness in her case. Aside from Kraz, who is an idiot, I think most teachers would have declined to speak, especially once the documentary turned into such a hot-button disciplinary issue. The fact that Rafferty is so willing to talk, for example, wasn’t totally believable to me. But it was necessary from a storytelling perspective.

There are surely other questions you’re still wondering about, perhaps most notably this one: Is there going to be a second season of American Vandal?

Netflix has not announced one yet, but Perrault and Yacenda told Mashable that they would love to keep the show going. Given all the unanswered questions and mysteries generated by a can of spray paint and an obsession with mildly pornographic artwork, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we wind up getting a season two.

Let’s Talk About the Ending of American Vandal