If you haven’t finished American Vandal, currently streaming on Netflix, stop reading here, because if the title wasn’t enough a hint, this post contains spoilers.
If you have finished American Vandal, you’ve probably been asking yourself the same question over and over since the final credits: who drew the dicks? Although his girlfriend Mackenzie’s Twitch video officially exonerated Dylan Maxwell and our documentarians Sam and Peter feel fairly certain about who the real culprit might be, the show itself never confirms their suspicions.
As a television connoisseur and fan of Sherlock, I’ve become obsessed over the past 24 hours with the full explanation. American Vandal is dense with unanswered questions and lingering threads, but there’s also plenty of background material to provide clues. Is there an underlying mystery that the creatures planted for eagle-eyed viewers to actually tease out? Or is the inconclusive ending purposeful, reinforcing the story’s central theme that all stories are incomplete and attempting to pin a narrative onto an individual will cause more pain than good?
Either way, I’ve gone full Benedict Cumberbatch on this. Please, join me on the descent into madness as I go suspect by suspect to discover the truth: who drew 27 dongs on 27 cars?
The case against burnout Dylan Maxwell is established pretty well in the pilot: he has a history of drawing phalluses, Alex Trimboli claims he saw Dylan do it firsthand, and Dylan has no consistent alibi.
But as Sam and Peter pointed out, the car penises weren’t in Dylan’s classic drawing style: no hair on the testicles and the tips were totally different. Alex Trimboli is a known liar, with a history of exaggerating to raise his social standing (I mean, there’s no way he drank 11 beers, he definitely didn’t get a hand job from Sarah Pearson, and was he even friends with that kid who died?). It’s more plausible that Mrs. Shapiro coerced Alex into saying he saw Dylan Maxwell so he could bring back senior lunch privileges.
And the case against Dylan Maxwell completely falls apart once we saw his girlfriend’s Twitch video: he was actually at her house when he said he was. Case closed. Not enough time to draw the penises.
Over the series, Mackenzie develops from an afterthought into a complex and dynamic character, one who would be capable of tagging the cars as a way to punish Coach Rafferty for dating her mother and, in her eyes, destroying any chance of her parents getting back together.
It seems plausible to imagine that Mackenzie was the one responsible for trashing the Coach’s office. It is, however, almost impossible that Mackenzie was the one who filed the complaint against the Coach for “inappropriate conduct”: the complaint was filed in October, and he didn’t begin dating her mother until February or March.
It’s definitely in character that Mackenzie — who strings Dylan along, using him for attention and validation and breaking up with him when she wants him to pull a big gesture to get her back — could talk Dylan into helping her with a revenge scheme, either the phalluses or the office trashing.
But Dylan seemed genuinely surprised when Peter revealed that Mackenzie’s mom had been dating the Coach — he would have had to have known to be onboard with her revenge plan. And more importantly: the timestamp on the Twitch video gives her an airtight alibi: she was topless on the internet, and then Dylan came over bearing dog food.
So Mackenzie might have been the one to destroy Coach Rafferty’s office, but she definitely didn’t draw the Ds.
Although Mrs. Shapiro almost certainly coerced Alex Trimboli into false witness testimony, it makes the most sense to believe that she genuinely thought that Dylan was the culprit and saw herself as ridding the school of a menace, even if it meant bending the evidence.
Sure he had no alibi, but he also had no motive. He did drink a ton of beers at Nana’s party: in some of the videos, you can hear people in the background saying things like, “That’s his ninth beer!” and so it’s plausible that Ming got super drunk one night and tagged all of the teachers’ cars. But, dude. It’s Ming. He’s Canadian and super nice. Ming wouldn’t do that.
Alex Trimboli is described as a “little bitch” — something confirmed by all of his various lies. But he’s on security cameras getting his books out of his locker, and then running when he sees the vandal. Alex Trimboli might have lied when he said he was positive the person in the hoodie was Dylan, but he isn’t the culprit.
The case against Peter is interesting: he is the one who had the most to gain from the documentary. It afforded him social cachet and acclaim, access to seniors he never would have hung out with otherwise, and viewers for his work. Also, we know his mom is super hot—maybe Coach Rafferty dated her too?
But aside from having an alibi, he wasn’t at Nana’s party and so wouldn’t have been able to pick up the spray can that was used for the cars after it was used on Gabi’s promposal towel.
Mr. Kaz is a sketchy character and definitely a terrible teacher, but there’s not enough evidence that he would have wanted to tag a bunch of cars — including his own. It’s clear that Kaz doesn’t like Coach Rafferty — he implies that he sleeps with students, and Kaz leaves the Teacher of the Year ceremony when the Coach wins — but there’s nothing else linking him to the vandalism.
Christa Carlyle (with Van Delorey)
Christa Carlyle is the primary, and most likely, suspect in the case. I mean, she is in the vague and suspiciously-named Strategy Club.
Here is the case against her, as Sam and Peter present it in the documentary’s final episode:
Christa has a history of public protests and political action — a big demonstration isn’t out of her wheelhouse, even if it seems like drawing a bunch of wangs on a car would be out of character for the senior class president.
Christa and Coach Rafferty butted heads in the past: first, when she scheduled her Rosh Hashana walkout on the same day as his pep rally, and then when he put her in a tackling drill during football tryouts even though she was just trying out for kicker. In that video of her getting tackled, you can see Coach Rafferty saying something to her as she was lying on her back, something that Christa didn’t want to repeat in her final video. Sam and Peter believe she was the one who filed the complaint against the coach for “inappropriate conduct” and then vandalized the cars when, months later, the complaint against him was dismissed and he won Teacher of the Year.
From the after-prom party, it’s obvious that Christa was lying about an alibi, CPR training in a class led by her boyfriend, Van Delorey. Maybe he was in on it, helping her fake an airtight alibi so she could sneak to school with him, and then delete the video footage of him spray painting the cars.
It’s important to remember that Carlyle needs an accomplice — she broke her foot in her “detergent down the stairs” demonstration and was wearing a boot, meaning she wouldn’t be able to get all of the cars and delete the footage within the timeframe.
Although some internet detectives have pointed out that two photographs of Christa show her boot on different feet, it doesn’t seem likely that a straight-A student and all-around overachiever would fake an elaborate injury and then make that dumb of a mistake. It’s more likely that one of the photos was mirrored, or that it was a continuity error on the part of the show.
But either way, if Van was able to help fake her alibi, there’s no reason he wouldn’t help her spray paint the cars. And Alex Trimboli did see someone in a hoodie with the hood up—he could have confused Van for Dylan when it’s far less likely he’d confuse him with the tiny Christa. And, as one of the Morning Show 9, Christa easily had the access (and intelligence) necessary to delete the security cam footage.
Plus, Christa CARlyle? VAN DELorey? It’s right there in their names: CAR VAN-DEL. Car Vandal.
But is that the whole story?
To me, it doesn’t make sense that Christa would file a complaint against Coach Rafferty for “inappropriate conduct” based on something that happened to her in football practice, whether it was putting her in the tackling drill or whatever he said when she was on the ground. Christa didn’t quit immediately after tryouts: she made the team—and an Instagram photo shows her on her first day of practice. And Christa is incredibly outspoken: if Coach Rafferty did something inappropriate towards her, it seems like Christa would be the first to make it a massive, public social issue.
Unless… it wasn’t her secret to share.
What if Coach Rafferty’s inappropriate conduct was actually against a different girl?
What if Coach Rafferty sexually harassed or assaulted Sarah Pearson?
Suppose Mackenzie wasn’t the one who trashed Coach Rafferty’s office. Remember, the destruction was documented on a flash drive, with photos, and hand-delivered it to the AV office. Only 10 people had access to that office (yup, the office, not the files, check the tapes) — and one of them was Christa. It doesn’t quite follow that Mackenzie would photograph her handiwork and deliver it on a flash drive to a room that’s difficult for her to get to, but it does make sense if that was the work of Christa, who’s both incredibly organized and works in that office.
Maybe the message “stick your dick somewhere else” wasn’t about the Coach dating Mackenzie’s mom.
Sarah Pearson has been at the heart of this story since Alex Trimboli lied about her hand job, but her full importance was never fully explored: after all she was in San Diego with her family at the time of the vandalism. But Kaz implied that Coach Rafferty was sleeping with a student — maybe that student was Sarah Pearson, the girl who’s only thought of as hot, a sexual object. Isn’t the moral of the documentary not to cast people into stereotypes, lest they grow into them?
Maybe Coach Rafferty was having an affair with Sarah Pearson, and Christa found out about it but wasn’t willing to bring the issue out publicly, lest she embarrass Sarah (you know, like Alex and Peter did.)
And maybe, when the issue was quietly dismissed a few months later, Christa was furious about the school’s lack of a conviction. Maybe she wanted to make a point about how ill-equipped the school was for handling a criminal investigation, how willing the board was to take the easy way out and forgo digging deeper. Maybe she wanted the 27 penises, and the paltry investigation into them, to make a point.
Who else would have had a motive to help Christa in a revenge scheme against Coach Rafferty and the school that enabled him? None other than fellow Strategy Club member Pat Micklewaite.
Yes, the only other member of Strategy Club hooked up with Sarah Pearson at summer camp — you can see his initials, PM, carved into wood next to hers and their hookup is confirmed by Sarah’s texts to Paige on her iPad. Whether he was jealous of the Coach, or protective of Sarah, or just a proponent of vigilante justice, Pat could have easily been the one who spray painted the phalluses while his partner-in-strategy, Christa, deleted the footage.
I reached out to the co-creators of the show, Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, for confirmation on my Pat Micklewaite theory and here was the response:
“We’ve had so much fun with people’s fan theories. Most are not true, but we would never shoot any of them down, mostly because we love reading them so much. As for Pat Micklewaite, we love Pat Micklewaite. No comment on the Pat Micklewaite fan theory, but then again, no comment on any of the fan theories.”
Maybe the point of American Vandal is, we’ll never know. We can try to pull the pieces together as best we can, but maybe we’ll always be left with an incomplete picture and the lingering guilt for having made assumptions about people whose stories we don’t fully know. But, when it comes to searching for penis-related justice, we should at least have the balls to try.