Each week Joe and Terry discuss the most recent episodes of HBO Max’s Search Party, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episodes 7-10: “The Infinite Loop”, “The Imposter”, “The Inferno” and “The Shadows”
Where to even begin, Terry?!
Leave it to Search Party to pull off a stunning series of final episodes (well…maybe. More on that later) as the Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat) saga comes to an exciting, fiery finish. As always, I had no idea where the series was headed, but the journey – from the arrival of the real Aunt Lylah (Susan Sarandon) to an episode entirely dedicated to Chantal (Clare McNulty) to Dory dying in a house fire – proved to be a wild roller coaster.
I’m happy to say that the uneven balance of comedy and drama (aka our big complaint about the middle episodes) wound up being unfounded in these last episodes. Sure, it’s still plenty dark watching Dory getting locked in the basement – again! – where she is ultimately burned to death, but episodes 7, 8 and 10 brought the funny. Between the sheer idiocy of the interminable chase around the traffic circle, pretty much everything surrounding Chantal’s creation of “Imperfect Ten” and the increasingly awkward/uncomfortable eulogies at Dory’s wake, there was plenty of humour to be found.
It’s hard to get around the impact of the finale, though, isn’t it? There’s a crazy amount of soul-searching and growth by Drew (John Reynolds), Portia (Meredith Hagner) and Elliott (John Early) across these last two episodes as they come to grips with what Dory has become, how lost they actually are and who they are without her.
Setting aside the high camp of Lylah and Chip (Cole Escola) hiring a pair of high school boys to pour gasoline all over the mansion and set it ablaze, the majority of “The Inferno” centers around the millennials’ inability to answer Dory’s questions about what drives them.
They each take a turn at it in the diner attached to the Babyfoot Inn (“The Only Hotel in Town!”) and none of them can convincingly tell her. Portia makes a failed attempt to suggest watching actors recite lines is empowering, while Elliot spins a yarn about representing people he disagrees with before admitting defeat. It’s refreshing to hear him confess that even he doesn’t know what he’s saying.
And Drew…well Drew says you just get up and live because you have to. And while yes, Elliot’s assertion that the whole conversation sounds like a conversation you have in College is correct, it’s also telling that these characters – who have walked through life without responsibility, who have so much privilege that they’re deluded about the realities of every day life, who have literally gotten away with murder – are finally coming to grips with the fact that they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
The tearful crisis that follows as they each have a breakdown on the side of the road is deeply ironic given that Dory is slowly dying nearby (the juxtaposition is pure Search Party), but it’s the closest thing to an adult realization that we’ve seen these characters experience.
Contrast this with past behaviour: last season when Dory and Drew were arrested for murder, Elliot and Portia ran to the Hamptons, dyed their hair black and lost a group of children near the ocean. Earlier this season Drew tried to regress back into childhood by playing pretend at a children’s theme park.
These characters have always been infantile idiots. But here, at what could easily be the end of Search Party’s run, they’re finally starting to face the music and figure out just who the fuck they’re going to be. And in the wake of Dory’s untimely demise, that means leaving the bullshit behind and getting real about what the future holds.
It’s pretty powerful stuff, Terry. I was particularly taken by their imagined “best life” scenario of what Dory would have done. I’m curious to hear your take on this finale, including the (maybe ill-advised) cliffhanger in case the show nabs a fifth season. But I also know that all you really want to talk about is that unexpectedly potent Chantal stand-alone episode. So have at it!
Joe, it took me awhile to get back to you on this one because I felt like I had to process so much in these final four episodes of the season…and probably the series. Honestly, these final four episodes represent Search Party at its best as they combined pathos, horror, hilarity and ultimately empathy for these imbecilic characters.
After forcing us through the horrors of Dory’s plight, these final episodes bring everything this season wanted to say together. It also was a reminder that these characters and actors work the best when they’re able to feed off and play off each other’s energies. Consider the way episode seven (“The Infinite Loop”) staged its missed connection silliness as Aunt Lylah hunted through the city for Dory, mistaking a Dory-wig-wearing-Portia for Dory and all of them getting stuck in the hilarious roundabout where each car thinks it’s tailing the others…it’s hilarious.
But you also brought up the Chantal-specific episode and…yes, you’re absolutely right that I’m dying to chat about this one. Chantal hasn’t exactly been my favorite character on the series. She was an intriguing mystery for season one and the realization that not only was she not kidnapped, but that she’s an idiot made for incredible comic relief through the early parts of season two.
But then her character stuck around and the show didn’t really know what to do with her. She’s not part of the group of four; she’s an afterthought to them. And in a way, her story has always felt like an afterthought for the series.
All this to say that when she pops up in episode eight (“The Imposter”), I’ll admit I groaned. And when I realized that the entire episode would be devoted to her character…I was annoyed because we were at the very end of the season (and potentially series) and the show hit the brakes to focus on my least favorite character for an entire episode. I can almost hear writer Starlee Kine laughing at me because it turns out that not only is “The Imposter” a fantastic episode, I think from beginning to end it’s the best episode Search Party has produced.
It starts at the very beginning of the episode, as Chantal is counseled by her put-upon lawyer Leonard (Jason Kravits). He’s come up with an obscure defense called the ineptitude clause and all he needs is for her to sign the document. But she doesn’t want to leave jail because the food is yummy and people in jail actually respect her for the crime she (unknowingly and ineptly) committed. Besides, as she tells her lawyer, “I signed my way into this mess. I think I’m going to need to get a lawyer to look over it before I sign it.”
Joe, I died of laughter.
The rest of the episode is devoted to exploring what Chantal has been up to while Dory has actually been kidnapped and The Gang has been searching for her. Naturally Chantal is as out of it in this episode as she presumably was in season one when she decided to just leave town and cause all of this drama. Her privilege and her ineptitude is ultimately what caused all of the drama for Dory and her friends.
Or, at the very least, she is the reason Dory and her friends were forced to confront themselves. She’s the catalyst and “The Imposter” fully sells that dichotomy between being the McGuffin and just being an obtuse character who doesn’t even fully realize the role she’s played in her college acquaintances’ devolution.
It also smartly fills in some plot gaps from season 4. For one, she’s now an aspiring author and her book Imperfect 10 is not only hilariously named but also the reason Charlie Feeny (Chloe Fineman) ends up in the hospital. This is all well and good (not to mention very funny), but it’s the moments towards the end that really sold this for me.
“The Imposter” gives us an inverse of the first episode of the season. Chantal walks past a light pole where a missing flyer for Dory hangs. She pauses, walks back to it, the theme music kicks in and she walks back to stare, framed just as Dory was all those episodes ago. “Oh my god,” she says…reaches forward…and rips off Dory’s missing sign to look at a flyer looking for the author of the book. A flyer looking for her. It’s such a smart role reversal and the kind of moment that Search Party constantly pulls off to hilarious results. But it’s then paid off by the end of “The Imposter” as it turns out that Chantal’s breakdown live and on stage of an Oprah like talk show host named Wilma (Lillias White) and her repeated refrain of “honestly, myself” is the reason Dory breaks out of her brainwashed state.
Because of course the character who has simply glided through the past four seasons of Search Party, the character who is the reason these characters are in this situation and is completely unaware of the drama and trauma happening around her, of course it’s this character who accidentally causes Dory to break free. “The Imposter” is the lynchpin of the season…and yet Chantal, its main focus, is completely unaware, yet again, of her importance in the series.
Joe, this is a perfect episode. It’s so smart, well-written and absolutely hilarious. It made me reconsider my dislike of Chantal.
Briefly going forward, after this triumphant episode, we’re given what’s probably the most traumatic episode of the series in “The Inferno.” You mentioned the fantastic scene of Drew, Portia and Elliott sitting on the curb and being forced to reckon with their choices. It’s such an empathetic scene, absolutely. But it also broke my heart. Not only are they reckoning with their choices and the way they’ve tried to hide from the choices they’ve made…but they’re also questioning whether Dory wants to…or, more traumatically, if she deserves…to be saved. While their friend is presumably burning to death in a candy-coated replica of her New York apartment, they are wondering whether it’s worth trying to save her.
So they don’t.
And Joe that moment broke my heart. Yes, Dory has turned into a sociopath by the time season four rolled around. Yes, she has killed two people and lied and cheated her way into a not guilty verdict. But season four has been haunted by the question of whether Dory can be saved or whether she’s gone down the path too far.
Search Party has always had an empathetic streak running through it, presenting characters who’ve done evil things, then showing just how damaged and in need of empathy they really are. So while Dory has been broken down, tortured, brainwashed and abused throughout season four, I was expecting a moment of reprieve; a chance for Dory to rise above and somehow be forgiven.
Instead, we’re given a scene that’s structured around the three people who know her best, warts and all, unknowingly debating whether Dory deserves to live or not. I was screaming in frustration, Joe! After everything they’ve gone through together and after every fight and duplicitous and self-centered decision they’ve made, they’ve been in this together. And instead of finishing the story together, they’ve determined (knowingly or not) that Dory does not deserve salvation.
So they call an Uber and go home, leaving her to choke on the fiery fumes. Scared and alone. Without a single friend by her side.
Oof. It broke my heart, Joe. I have so much more to say but I’ve gotten carried away because these last four episodes are meaty!
I want to turn it back to you. What did you think of the Chantal-heavy episode and the way it played into the series as a whole? Did you laugh at the flashmob created by Drew’s girlfriend Cindy (Rebecca Robles) to propose to him? And let’s dig into the finale, the way it chose to say goodbye to Dory…and the way it kind of took it all back. Were you confused how it ended, particularly with Dory waking up, looking straight through the camera and shouting, “I saw everything!”?
Whew, I’m debating whether to charge you for therapy because you are working out your issues, Terry!
I’m not surprised that you had such a visceral reaction considering how much of a roller coaster these last few episodes are. And yes, we keep hinting about the end of the season vs the end of the series, but in all of our conversations throughout S4, we’ve always described it as the ramp up to a series finale and I choose to refer to it that way, despite the final (tacked-on) scene of Dory in the ambulance.
Because that moment honestly made me groan. It’s the television equivalent of letting the air out of a balloon: it completely deflated all of the good will and hard work this season, and particularly these final episodes, have done.
I’ll confess that I appreciated the Chantal episode, but hadn’t given it the same heavy lifting treatment that you did. I’m a sucker for a stand-alone, character-based episode and you warned me that it was coming, so I was prepared to spend the whole half hour with Chantal, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.
“The Imposter” is unquestionably a stand-out episode of the series and a true testament to how clever (and well plotted) it has been. In addition to all of the elements you’ve described, it’s also a masterclass in subversion – from the moment that Chantal is given the “get out of the jail free” card and refuses it, to the disastrous meeting she has with the publishing team who seemingly only want to trash talk her, all the way through to how this privileged, deluded millennial comes out on top thanks to the machinations of a greasy applause button.
None of this plays out exactly how you expect, but it all works perfectly. From the awkward cringe comedy* of Chantal appearing on stage when Wilma expects (or is it demands?) a developmentally delayed ten year old, to the Charlie Reeny pay-off, to even small moments like Chantal’s sister trying to connect with her about her miscarriage which Chantal naturally can’t even be bothered to acknowledge, “The Imposter” encapsulates pretty much every defining characteristic of the series. You’re absolutely right that it is the quintessential episode of Search Party’s run.
*Speaking of cringe comedy: Cindy’s flash mob marriage proposal may have been the most uncomfortable moment of the entire series. I just had to keep focusing on Portia’s delighted face as Drew quietly tried to let the deluded princess down. Of course Portia – the woman who kept singing long after it was obvious that Marc (Jeffrey Self) wasn’t coming to marry Elliot last season – would encourage Drew to marry a random lunatic who ambushes him with his family in a motel parking lot.
So to swing from the film noir/screwball comedy beats of episode 7 to that delightful one-off to the pathos of Dory’s friends giving up on her to the exquisitely beautiful and moving and funny finale…what a run, Terry!
I loved a lot about the finale, but its most clever conceit is the recurring visual of the different Dorys appearing. The episode actually opens on another subversion as ultra-glam Dory, rocking her bald head and a long black trench coat struts along the NY streets en route to her own funeral. It took me a beat to understand how this device was being used, but as she’s joined by Femme Fatale Dory in her iconic red dress, then finally “Regular” Dory – it’s such a perfect way to reinforce the different sides of a single person. Dory wasn’t any of these people; she was all of them, and even that doesn’t truly encapsulate all that she was.
There’s a recurring theme throughout the eulogies and the conversations throughout the finale that no one truly knew who Dory was. Gail (Christine Taylor) tries to forge a bond with Drew and Julian (Brandon Michael Hall) because they all kissed Dory, while Chantal admits that not only did she not know Dory, but that she doesn’t truly know any of them. This all comes to a head when Drew, Portia and Elliot retire to their apartment and wind up envisioning a fictitious future for Dory: a kind of perfect “what if” that actually only reinforces who Dory was to them, not who she actually was.
And that’s why the final shot, as Bald Dory struts through a dark room (not unlike Chip’s episode 6 diorama) to stand behind her counterparts, is so impactful. As the camera slowly pans, the different figures line up and disappear behind Regular Dory, the fresh faced girl that we were introduced to back in S1 before everyone’s life went to shit.
But who is she really, Terry? My fave thing about this visual device and this final scene is that it challenges viewers to acknowledge that we have similarly projected and created a Dory in our own minds over the course of the show. And as she stares at us, without expression, we’re free to project all of our thoughts about Dory Sief one last time. It’s the perfect way to wrap the series.
Sadly there’s one more scene.
Terry: did you like the final scene in the ambulance? How would you rank the three eulogies (my one complaint was Drew’s, which didn’t quite land for me)? Were you surprised that Chip didn’t make a physical appearance aside from a (not filled with birds) briefcase? And did you well up when the group cried over their fantasy future for Dory?
I’m going to take us back for a second, Joe. Back to the very first episode of Search Party where Dory goes into the temp agency only to be told that the temp agent has absolutely nothing for her. She’s not equipped to do anything. Dory, reeling from this information, is at a loss of words and tells the agent that she didn’t even really want to do this program. But that “it’s just like…everybody can tell me what I can’t do. But nobody can tell me what I can do.”
It’s a refrain that has hung over the show from season to season. No one thought she could find Chantal. But she did. No one thought she could solve her murderous problems. But she did. The court thought she could possibly evade conviction. But she did.
The entire world has underestimated Dory Sief and each time she proved them wrong.
I bring this up to answer your question of ranking the speeches because I think Portia understood her the best. Sure, she hilariously took awhile to get there…and I don’t want to tell you how many times I had to listen to her eulogy to get her tongue twister written down correctly (“We just kind of, like, are the way we are. We don’t really know why the way we are the way that we are but we are the way that we are and that’s the way that we are”). But her eulogy brings us full circle as she ultimately says, “A lot of people underestimated her.”
Then comes Elliott, the demagogue in training. Somehow, through his speech, he managed to incorporate the United States’ dark history and, ultimately, a god bless America moment among his idea that Dory was, like most of us, complex and not just one thing. I liked this because I agree with you, Joe, that Dory is kind of like a tabula rasa that we project upon. She kind of is America at this moment, with all of its ugliness and loveliness.
I, too, thought Drew’s was the weakest because while Portia and Elliott’s eulogies were still incredibly selfish (Portia’s final statement “…are you gonna clap?” had me rolling), they at least projected back on Dory. For Drew, it felt completely about him and not about the person he was eulogizing. Even his part of their Dory Future Fantasy felt selfish, asking that in this fictitious dream he could have a perfect partner, too.
In a way, it was never about Drew and Dory together. Up until the end, he saw what he wanted to see in their relationship and I don’t think he really knew Dory at all.
As far as Chip goes…I’m a bit upset that he didn’t get his comeuppance, though in typical Search Party fashion, his letter confirms that he has Portia, Elliott and Drew’s families in the crosshair should they attempt to pursue him. It feels like a plot thread that could be continued if Search Party were given a fifth season.
But I just wished that it would have ended so perfectly as you described above. If only from a logistical standpoint, not a thematic one. Dory waking up and proclaiming “I was dead. I saw everything” implies that she saw the entire episode. The funeral. The crying. The box. Everything. And logistically it doesn’t make a lick of sense unless we’re to believe that the final episode was merely in her mind while she was being revived. A near death experience that would show her the world were she not in it.
And that feels disingenuous. Especially because I believe we’re lucky we’ve been given four seasons of this show and the chance of it being renewed feels very low. It’s a critical darling with a cult following…but let’s be honest, it was never burning up the charts.
Which is a shame, Joe, as we’re nearing the end of this recap. I have loved each season of Search Party from the very beginning. Each season it defied the odds of being a specific show about a literal search party and, instead, took that phrase and reinvented it every season.
Season four was a rollercoaster that kind of lulled a little in the middle section only to come roaring back for these final four episodes. But like a rollercoaster, you need that middle section for the end to have a meaning. And while I wish it had ended on the thematically weighty final image of four Dorys merging into one complex person, this season gets a solid A from me.
So I’m going to turn it back to you one last time, Joe, before we say goodbye to Search Party. Do you have any lasting thoughts on these final four episodes? And what do you think of the season as a whole? Finally, kudos to us for never once making a Finding Dory joke this entire season…
Well almost, since you just made it, you bastard!
Yeah, I agree that these final episodes work well as both a capper to the season – and the series – but they also almost need the messy middle episodes of the season to work as effectively as they do. Like a lot of Search Party, you need to see where it goes to appreciate how it got there!
For that reason I am a little more mixed than you, Terry. I enjoyed a great deal about this season (no small part of that was doing these recap reviews with you), but sometimes the work of digging through it was more meaningful than the episodes themselves. For that I give the (final?) fourth season a solid B.
Search Party is now available in its entirety on HBO Max.