I hardly know where to begin! Let’s start with the positive: Once again, the actors playing DeMarcus, Kevin, and Jenna are doing absolutely incredible work, Peter and Sam, as always, are the moral center of my universe, and Kevin’s grandmother pops up one last time. And I have an affection for this show that exists on a level beyond conscious thought or even will. But this finale is … not great! It involves, among other things, replaying some old Brownout footage (God, I can’t wait to never watch videos of 40 people shitting themselves ever again), this time with sad, “what have we become” music playing over it, in a way that’s not quite straightforward and not quite a joke. In my mind, the weakest part of the first season was when Sara Pearson confronted Peter at the party and reamed him out for publishing her hookup list. Not because it wasn’t a real violation the character had a right to be angry about, but because it was written and shot in an aggressively po-faced, “now things are getting Serious” way that took away from its impact. (Plus it felt a bit like the show’s attempt to make up for not having as many lovingly detailed female characters as it did male. Don’t include a heavy-handed “slut-shaming is wrong” sequence for that. Just write more lovingly detailed female dirtbags.)
Part of the reason Kevin and DeMarcus have both, at various times, seemed totally guilty is because they both are. Kevin did do the Brownout, DeMarcus and Lou did the piñata in Ms. Montgomery’s class, Jenna did the T-shirt cannons at the pep rally, and computer teacher Mr. Gesualdi tampered with the Advent calendar in the teachers’ lounge, all because they’d been catfished by “Brooke Wheeler,” who was actually Grayson Wentz, the guy profiled briefly in an earlier episode who’d been expelled for posting jokes about chlamydia on other students’ Twitter accounts when they’d accidentally stayed signed in after using the computer lab. Yes, ever since trading his St. Bernadine’s uniform for a cell phone repairman’s polo and khakis, Grayson has been stewing in self-pity and posting on 4chan before choosing the most literal of revenges — he repeatedly tells his catfishing victims that they, and the rest of the student body, are “full of shit”; this guy is a PG-13 rated Scooby Doo villain. I don’t doubt there are dudes like this! My objection isn’t that a lot of stalkers/harassers/catfishers are depressingly one-note, overly maudlin, and self-sabotaging, and think “using actual shit to remind people I think they’re full of shit” is incisive and keen-eyed social commentary. It’s not even an objection so much as a “Oh, is that it?”
Earlier that year, Abby’s phone broke and she left it overnight at Grayson’s kiosk. From there he was able to use all her pictures and videos to trawl dozens of students from St. Bernadine’s, eventually hooking Mr. Gesualdi, Drew Pankratz, Jenna Hawthorne, and DeMarcus Tillman into confessing their vulnerabilities and sending suggestive photos of themselves (sometimes extremely suggestive, in “Diapey” Drew’s case). Of those, Grayson was able to manipulate everyone but Drew into participating in his revenge scheme. (Drew, bless him, simply refuses and goes on to live his life as the diaper kid.) In a throwaway bit toward the end it’s revealed that Mrs. Wexler resigned after her cover-up of the faculty lounge incident was revealed, but it’s never made clear how much she knew about Mr. Gesualdi’s involvement or why he was never charged with taking nudes on campus with school property. DeMarcus tells Peter that he fell for Brooke because she didn’t watch sports but cared about “the real me,” which, sure, we’re spending a lot of time with everyone’s loneliness in this episode.
In one of the scene transitions, by the way, Peter’s voice-over includes the phrase “There was still a dingleberry of information that we didn’t have,” which I believe is firmly beneath the show. Being juvenile isn’t beneath the show in the least, but being obvious is. The information is this: Kevin and Grayson used to be friendly before Grayson’s expulsion, and Kevin is the only one who didn’t have to be blackmailed into participating — he was still catfished by “Brooke” (which doesn’t seem to land with him, exactly; he’s clearly devastated that she didn’t love him back but doesn’t have much of a response one way or the other about the fact that she was in fact an old friend of his trying to manipulate him), but all she had to do was suggest it, rather than threaten to leak screenshots of their conversations to the student body.
So when Kevin withdrew from the documentary and tried to confess in the last episode, he was telling the truth. And Tanner wasn’t imagining things; Kevin really did knock over Brother Buckley’s lemonade and replace it with horchata on purpose because he was old and Kevin didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I love the swiftness with which he cycles between being worldly-wise and a total kid: he goes from implying that his expulsion is a sort of graduation (“I’m an adult now, I’m no longer in high school”) to painfully trying to explain why he didn’t really think poisoning the school’s most popular drink would have real consequences. (“I had no idea so many people drank that lemonade. You know, it’s not even made with real lemons.”)
Kevin further confesses that he’d been secretive at Dawsey’s because he’d been buying condoms (“Adult paraphenalia. Prophylactics.”) for a rendezvous with Brooke post-Brownout, but she never showed, and he’s visibly distressed at the thought that all of this was for a girl who never existed, never loved him. All Sam wants to know in that moment, however, is if his early theory was correct, that Kevin had been straining rather than clenching in the footage. Did he really shit his pants on purpose? There’s a long pause. “Yeah,” Kevin says, and that is a beautiful example of something juvenile but complex and earned.
The rest of the follow-up is rushed and gentle; everyone besides the villain ends up a little better off than they started. Chloe and Tanner forgive Kevin once they realize the extent of Grayson’s manipulation, and he’s optimistic about finishing his senior year at public school once his nine months of house arrest are up. Grayson is tried as an adult and sentenced to two years. DeMarcus and Jenna both get community service. DeMarcus is inspired to make his own decision about college and chooses Villanova, and the last we see of him is teaching younger kids how to play basketball. Kevin has decided to be slightly nicer to his grandmother, Tanner and Chloe re-join the band, and he hopes that Peter and Sam “keep in touch. On social media, or — in … in real life.” The obvious comparison between Kevin and Grayson here seems to be that Grayson has suffered from total and possibly irreversible Internet Poisoning, whereas Kevin has suffered just enough to make different choices and log off every once in a while. Some of it’s genuinely sweet, and it’s certainly nice to see the band quite literally get back together, but the strongest feelings I can muster about this ending is “Well, that’s nice, I guess.”