I don’t want to keep saying things like, “Hey, remember last season of this show, which was transcendentally good in a way that I can’t imagine having to live up to,” but this season has yet to find its “Who did the dicks?” moment — a recurring question/rallying cry/shibboleth that viewers found themselves asking along with every character who asked it with a straight face. “Did Kevin or DeMarcus make everyone shit themselves?” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. “We’re going through the box of anonymous tips today, so I’m calling it Just the Tip Day” doesn’t either. Worse, it’s a dick joke of noticeably lesser quality than we would have heard last season.
But! I had hoped for some more Peter and Sam, particularly for more Peter and Sam in a way that felt connected to the rest of the action, and I certainly got my wish this episode. I do love the way they play off of one another — they spend the first few minutes composing messages to the Turd Burglar, who’s started DMing them on Instagram after refusing to respond to students, administrators, and the authorities for months. Their sheer earnestness/misguided faith in pure logic/eagerness to support one another before realizing they’ve stumbled onto an incredibly dumb idea is so much fun to watch. “Draft it in the Notes app,” Sam says to Peter while he’s trying to think of a reply. “Don’t let them see the dot dot dot. Be more aggressive. ‘You’ve got something to say, so say it. You’ve got something to say, so say it, bitch’ … That’s too much.”
Pete and Sam are lured off-campus to meet with the Turd Burglar (I’m just going to start writing TB, because it feels damaging to my immortal soul to have to keep writing out the words ‘Turd Burglar’), who never shows, but does lead them to another calling card left in a pile of shit. After staring at it for a moment, Peter says, “I’m gonna text him that we’re here,” in an utterly beautiful and totally misplaced moment of trust and sincerity. Of course, further goading messages from TB lead Peter to forage chopsticks out of a nearby dumpster and dissect the pile for clues. “What was the point of this?” he asks mournfully after the search reveals nothing but, you know. “I think he just wanted you to dig through shit with chopsticks,” Sam says.
The boys’ next move is to go back to the TB’s posts looking for linguistic clues. TB “must be familiar with the student body” because they tagged 40 students in individual videos, which is the sort of thing you say when you feel like you’re making progress but have not actually figured out anything significant. TB writes things like “it’s time to pull back the veil” and “within the confines of these walls,” which Sam thinks sounds more like Kevin than DeMarcus. This kicks off a linguistic side quest into code-switching, and both Sam and Peter seem a little uncertain how to talk about the ways race plays into that conversation: “When [DeMarcus] talks to his Rainier Beach friends, his, you know … city friends,” Sam says he “sounds different.” One of DeMarcus’s friends is able to say what Sam can’t: “I’m not saying that when DeMarcus is at school he talks whiter but … he talks whiter.” DeMarcus talks about the time that he “slipped up” and used the N-word on campus, and seeing how eager his white classmates were to use that as permission to say it next, he’s been hypervigilant ever since.
Crucially, DeMarcus doesn’t use an iPhone and never experienced the glitch, which shows up in a number of TB’s posts, leading Sam to ask: “Why are we investigating him anyways? Because Chloe said she saw the card?” It turns out that Chloe was a member of Horsehead Collective from fifth to eighth grade, and kept trying to hang out with Kevin long after she started experiencing pushback from the rest of her friends. (At one point during this sequence, Kevin appears in a talking-head sequence wearing five layers of shirts and a flat cap; the transmasculine community appreciated the shout-out.) The question then becomes why Chloe waited two weeks to accuse DeMarcus, only after Kevin had been expelled, if her goal was to prevent future attacks, and she doesn’t have much of an answer for that.
But Kevin doesn’t have an iPhone either — “the Android is a superior machine” — and also didn’t experience the glitch, so Pete and Sam start checking other students who’ve been suggested as possible suspects who may have had the glitch at the time. Three names surface: “Diapey” Drew Pankratz, Jenna Hawthorne, and Paul Schnorrenberg, and the subsequent profiles are a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Drew is “in all the school plays,” and all of his friends are theater girls, the kind of Milhousian guy who gets invited to all-girl sleepovers because he’s so nonthreatening. His possible motive? Pictures of him wearing a diaper and holding an oversize baby bottle were anonymously leaked to a school message board. “I was pushing myself as an actor,” he insists. “It was just a diaper, for a character. It’s not some kink like everyone’s saying.” He’s been spending all of his time hiding out in the library ever since, which actually serves as his alibi, since the librarian can vouch for his whereabouts during two of the attacks.
Said library is named after Jenna Hawthorne’s family. She’s the school’s power lesbian with a “perfect Instagram” where she often posts pictures of herself and her girlfriend kissing at sunset on a yacht in Mykonos. Perfect, that is, until she claimed to be “best friends” with Kendall Jenner, only for someone else to reveal that the picture of the two of them together came from a meet-and-greet session where Jenna waited in line for five hours. DeMarcus gets the best line of the episode when he says “I feel like she low-key disrespected everyone Kendall actually has a relationship with,” then goes on to name every single member of the Jenner-Kardashian family in solemn, respectful tones. Her family’s chemical company also produces maltitol, the active agent in the lemonade, but she was interning there during two of the TB’s attacks, so she’s out too.
Then there’s Paul, who’s more Catholic than God (a quick shot of his latest vlog, entitled “Paul’s Musings on the Lord Pt. 6,” shows that it has exactly 68 views, because of course it would be just one shy of the obvious). One of the nuns says he goes overboard. DeMarcus says, “The Bible is so boring,” before quickly adding “no disrespect” and pointing up to heaven (DeMarcus easily leads the show in perfect one-liners). Paul claimed that God “protected some of us from the plague” and uses periods at the end of sentences in all of his social-media posts, which Sam declares, rightly, to be “serial-killer weird.” But he was fighting with Ms. Montgomery about the pope (Ms. Montgomery: “I think he’s kind of like Bernie Sanders”) during the pep rally and couldn’t possibly have set up the cannons.
While I’d happily sit through another four episodes just profiling additional students in the same vein, the great engine of plot keeps on lumbering, and the boys ask whether it’s possible the last post the TB made — a picture of an advent calendar in the faculty lounge — was not a promise of a crime that failed to come off, but an aftermath shot of a successful “delivery device” that the school has covered up. (Sam is incredibly proud of having come up with the phrase “delivery device,” and drops it as often as possible.) If anyone can pull off “investigating Catholic cover-ups” with a shit-joke angle right, it’s American Vandal, but I’m not sure how.