Right now, Pete and Sam have two options: Either Kevin is the Turd Burglar, in which case all the attacks were brought on by bullying and alienation, the act of a disaffected and resentful outcast. Or DeMarcus is, in which case they were pranks. Still gross and destructive as hell, obviously, and the fact that he would have escaped detection and punishment for so long a sure indicator that members of the school’s highly profitable basketball team operated by a separate set of rules, but with a totally different sense of emotional scale.
It’s two different potential forms of cruelty, one personal and intimate, the other indifferent. And not to be all, “You know, the show is faced with a similar dilemma,” but I think the show actually is! They’re sort-of addressing institutional Catholic cover-ups, the license afforded to star athletes at elite schools, racial and class divisions in private school, the pitfalls of hyperconnectedness, but the tone doesn’t quite suit the scale a lot of the time. The first season took on a number of different subjects at the same time too, but I think with a clearer vision in mind, and it was better for it. It could shift suddenly and without warning from being flippant to mordant to deeply sentimental, but it was done deftly, with a careful and appropriate sense of calibration. This season has flashes of that, absolutely, especially when the focus is on either DeMarcus or Kevin, but it’s no longer the rule.
Also, I’ll say it: Dick jokes are inherently and consistently better than poop jokes. Not every dick joke is better than every poop joke, probably, but there’s a lot more to build on, more directions to go in, more sustainable. You can build a legacy on a really good dick joke. I’m not convinced the same is true of shit.
In the last episode, Kevin convinced Sam and Peter to set up a camera in his old locker since he had a great view of the teachers’ lounge, and they catch Lou coming out. Coach Devlin says Lou uses the lounge once a day to heat up DeMarcus’s prepared food because everything about DeMarcus’s life is strictly regulated, including his meals. Suspicion obviously falls to Lou next, who does everything for DeMarcus. Another student describes their dynamic thusly: “Lou thinks they’re like Batman and Robin, but it’s more like Batman and Alfred.”
I feel I’ve been less-than-generous for the last couple of episodes, and I’d like to give the show credit for spending time with story lines that could be read as either maximally dark/unloving/manipulative (DeMarcus uses Lou as a lackey and gets away with anything he wants, Kevin has no real friends and is the butt of everyone’s jokes) or as complicated/shifting/nuanced (DeMarcus needs and uses and genuinely loves Lou, is both self-centered and genuinely loving; Kevin has a few close friends and a sometimes-prickly, sometimes-affectionate relationship with the rest of the student body). Sometimes that means the tone feels jumpy and inconsistent, at least to me, but it’s ambitious and open-ended and seems like a choice that makes sense for the show’s format.
Kevin is absolutely fantastic this episode, by the way; during one of his interviews at home I noticed a plate of Totino’s-style pizza rolls on a plate on his bed, and it was such a beautiful clue about the state of his emotions. This is a 17-year-old with a dedicated tea vlog, who wears an average of three shirts and two scarves with each ensemble; when he microwaves a plate of pizza rolls to eat in bed, things are looking bleak. Peter shows him footage of Skip Day that proves he couldn’t have been the one who called the cops — and also shows Chloe and Tanner, Kevin’s last two remaining friends, making out like it’s the end of the world.
“Oh, so… okay. With — tongue. Okay. This doesn’t concern me,” he says bleakly, before stuffing a pizza roll in his mouth and immediately burning his tongue. Nobody does bathos like American Vandal does bathos.
It turns out that Lou is the one who called the cops on Skip Day to keep DeMarcus from hanging out with Perry Coleman, his former idol; apparently both DeMarcus’s dad and Lou want DeMarcus to play basketball at a college in Washington, and fear that Perry will influence him to go to Southern California. Another student complicates the Lou/DeMarcus dynamic further by claiming that Lou runs DeMarcus’s life — he “pulls all the strings.” Moreover, he’d “never let” DeMarcus do something like the Brownout, because DeMarcus is his meal ticket.
That loyalty runs deep; even when Peter and Sam show DeMarcus incontrovertible evidence that Lou’s the one who called, the most he’s willing to say is, “He was probably just trying to help me out.” It’s hard to believe that in 2017 a young black man would call the cops on a party he was at just to prevent a friend from spending time with a rival, even if that rival potentially jeopardized some of his professional aspirations. At the very least, it’s hard to believe that no one would acknowledge it, but nobody on the show does; DeMarcus and Lou don’t end up fighting about that, or about anything else. DeMarcus is in fact struck by Peter and Sam’s inability to present a united front. At one point, Pete absentmindedly says “Shh” to Sam when Sam interrupts him, and DeMarcus, astonished, says, “Did you really just shush him? Outside of a library?”
It’s a friendship-heavy episode: Tanner and Kevin appear to take steps toward reconciliation when Tanner shows up with some Darjeeling White (2017 harvest; Kevin tries to stay angry because he’d talked about wanting the 2016, but has to admit that the 2017 “is supposed to be good. I’ve heard it’s better, even”) and an apology. But the complication introduced in the last five minutes is a big one: Trevor Gonzalez returns, this time willing to admit that DeMarcus did have the TB card in his wallet and that Chloe had been right all along. He’s also sporting a black eye, courtesy of Lou, and shows the guys an email from the captain of the basketball team, Tyler Ramsden, urging all the players to say DeMarcus and Lou were at the pre-pep rally walkthrough, even though Trevor says they showed up late — presumably replacing the T-shirts in the T-shirt cannons with, well, you know. Not dick jokes, that’s for sure.