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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The trial hasn’t begun, but Search Party’s flawed quartet is already being judged

Illustration for article titled The trial hasn’t begun, but iSearch Party’/is flawed quartet is already being judged
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)
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I wish her the worst and I hope it comes true.”

“The Whistleblower”

“The Rookie Lawyer,” the second episode of Search Party’s third season, demonstrated the pitfalls of overlooking people, as Elijah’s assistant Meg, the person he deems “Nobody,” turned out to be the whistleblower. She felt she had to do the right thing, something that’s increasingly lost on the core four. Now Dory and crew have to reckon with the fallout—not just of the anonymous tip, but of basically everything they’ve done up to this point.

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This group has been coming apart since we first met them in “The Mysterious Disappearance Of The Girl No One Knew,” but the reunion that kicks off “The Whistleblower” is still a delight to witness. Drew and Dory, out on bail and with lawyers of varying experience and competence, head to the Hamptons to meet up with Portia and Elliott, who want to have their big talk in the water because the waves will muffle the sounds of their admissions (“It’s smart of us!”). The dip is anything but cleansing for Dory, though. She clings to her distorted version of the truth, telling the group that proclaiming their innocence is “cleaner” than claiming self-defense. “This way, it’s like nothing happened.” That’s not the only story Dory’s rewriting: She also claims she and April came to an understanding after the bribe exchange. It’s not enough for Dory to cover for what she did to April; she also has to tell everyone that April doesn’t actually hate her or think her life is empty.

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That’s not the only sign that Dory is willing to go scorched earth. Dory lashes out when Portia reveals her role in their discovery, calling her “stupid.” But at least Portia has the common sense to know that self-defense was the more viable legal strategy. Also, it’s perfectly understandable that someone would want to unburden themselves, particularly someone who was as unmoored as Portia last season—she even cries out in the car that “no one was there for me.” Cracking under the pressure actually seems like the “normal” thing to do (and Portia’s questions about Dory’s decision to feign innocence are also perfectly reasonable). Even Dory confessed to an unconscious Gail (again, I wonder if that will ever come up). I know Portia is just as entitled as the rest of them, if not more so, but lately, I feel for her as she seems to catch the brunt of everyone’s ire.

Things only get worse for Portia once they’re back in the city, as a group of cops pounce on the new brunettes outside of their apartment building. Elliott and Portia’s parallel interrogations, while equally tense, couldn’t be more different: He calmly waits for his “lawyer friend” Patsy (Chelsea Peretti), who shows up mid-shopping trip, while Portia is suckered by Detective Vasquez’s (Carlos Gomes) good-cop act. Director Jay Duplass cuts back and forth between Elliott’s impassive expression and galling antics to Portia’s spinning out. Portia waits on a lawyer who seemingly never arrives, and caves to the detective’s questioning. She signs a statement that implicates everyone but herself, though I have to wonder if her lack of legal representation in these moments will somehow make it inadmissible.

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Illustration for article titled The trial hasn’t begun, but iSearch Party’/is flawed quartet is already being judged
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)

John Early and Meredith Hagner are both so good in these alternating scenes; Elliott’s story of how he lost his fingerprints because he once put his hand on a hot plate to impress his straight friends is one of the funniest moments in an otherwise tense episode. They’re not the only ones under the microscope: Detective Joy Hartman’s (Tymberlee Hill) own botched coverup has come to light. She swallows nervously as she sits across from Polly Danzinger and two federal agents, clinging to her story, just like Dory. But the jig is up—for 40 years, Franklin Medici was one of the FBI’s most reliable criminal informants, and the audio recordings from the wire he wore the day he was shot completely undermine Hartman’s version of the events. It’s open-and-shut, which just bolsters Polly’s confidence. But Hartman had a similarly low regard for Dory and her friends and their hipster ways, so maybe her downfall is a sign of things to come for Polly, who still wants to lean into the generational enmity.

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“The Whistleblower” also catches us up with Chantal, who has joined an entrepreneurs group called Femmployers, led by Lusia Strus as Melissa Miracle. Last season, Chantal shamelessly blew through the reward money for her own rescue, even though her abduction was a sham and so was her rescue, facts that have come to light in the investigations against Dory and Drew. Chantal’s storyline still feels separate from everyone else’s, but the way she decides to once again monetize her heartbreak (this time, by creating a “shelter” for recently broken-up people) does seem of a piece with season three’s critique of professional victimhood.

Illustration for article titled The trial hasn’t begun, but iSearch Party’/is flawed quartet is already being judged
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)
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Dory and Drew continue to work on their legal strategy, unaware that Portia’s given them up. We meet Drew’s lawyer Bob Lunch (Louie Anderson), who is confused by the sprawl of New York City (“in Chicago, there’d only be one Dory and one Drew”), suggesting he may not be up to the task of defending someone against murder charges. Cassidy is on the ball, though, rightly pointing out that Dory has tied her hands with her little statement to the press. If they pivot to self-defense now, it’ll look like they were scared by the evidence against them. “I just need to know if I can trust you,” Cassidy says, which is the wrong thing to say to Dory at that moment. “I need to trust you,” Dory bites back, slamming the ice cube tray on the kitchen counter.

The pressure isn’t getting to Dory, but her belief in her innocence is still tenuous enough that she’s angered by anyone who questions it. She reverts to her old self long enough to smooth things over with Drew, who admits rather resignedly that he needs her. But, he asks, “Why did you say that we were completely innocent?” “I don’t know,” Dory responds. “It just felt like the truth to me” (how very George Costanza of her). And for the first time in a while, she’s actually telling the truth.

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“A National Affair”

Looming trial aside, things haven’t actually been that hard for Dory this season. Drew is back on her side, even if it’s only out of necessity; after Portia’s bombshell statement, he’s probably only going to cleave to Dory harder now. She’s out on bail, and the media is obsessed with her. She’s not the only one—the friends’ faces are plastered all over TV, from news programs to talk shows. In its opening moments, “A National Affair” invite us to judge Dory and Drew (and, by extension, Elliott and Portia): Are they merely fashionable youths, or cold-blooded killers?

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One thing that’s not up for debate is how betrayed Elliott feels by Portia’s statement. Early on, he rails at her for ruining his reputation, because that’s the kind of thing he usually does for himself. Portia tries to smooth things over by telling him that the police don’t even “think he’s worth charging,” which is also the wrong thing to say to someone like Elliott, who seemed to enjoy himself in that interrogation room. Portia shrieks, “Your reputation was already bad!,” but Elliott just walks out, leaving her lonelier than ever.

Illustration for article titled The trial hasn’t begun, but iSearch Party’/is flawed quartet is already being judged
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)
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Last season, Portia was like a ticking time bomb. Lacking Elliott’s penchant for lying and Drew and Dory’s sense of self-preservation, she confessed to the first person who made her safe—Elijah, who also proved untrustworthy. She briefly feels better after spilling her guts, but once it’s clear that her friends won’t forgive her, Portia is adrift again. She wanders the streets, looking for a place to charge her phone, and she finds one: a church, where she is also temporarily reinvigorated by the clergyman’s offer of spiritual comfort. It remains to be seen whether or not a full conversion will happen, but Portia might just be lost enough to do it. She’s in desperate need of guidance; she has no family or work to turn to, and she’s supposed to take the stand against her friends. Hagner’s wide-eyed performance makes us feel for Portia, but things could also be considerably worse (for her and the rest of the group), a fact that Starlee Kine’s script reminds us of throughout.

As distraught as she is, I don’t think Portia really understands what her friends are now up against. Not even Elliott does, though self-delusion has always seemed to be a greater part of his personality than hers. Faced with his own legal troubles, Elliott proceeds with his wedding plans. Over lunch, his parents Audra (Blair Ross) and Wallace (Richard Poe) fawn over Marc. Audra and Wallace rich but introspective braggarts; moments after mentioning their dueling butlers, she owns up to having some misgivings when Elliott first came out. They’ve spoiled Elliott rotten, but while their permissiveness undoubtedly contributed to Elliott’s issues with honesty, it doesn’t seem like the root of them, either. “A National Affair” adds another piece to Elliott’s puzzle, but it’s a border piece that doesn’t actually reveal much. That’s not a knock against the show, which has made limited backstory just as illuminating as a more fleshed-out background.

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Unlike her potential witnesses, Cassidy is very much aware of how dire their circumstances are. In one of the funniest moments of the episode, she holds a focus group to assess Chantal’s viability as an alibi witness. The group tears Chantal apart—“She’s all shadow side, no light.” “I wish her the worst and I hope it comes true!”—before turning on Cassidy: “Shame on you!” Chantal might have won over a group of Femmployers, but her “lost girl” act isn’t going over on the general public.

Illustration for article titled The trial hasn’t begun, but iSearch Party’/is flawed quartet is already being judged
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)
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Later this episode, Dory learns a similar lesson, but first, let’s talk about Drew, who runs home to Chicago (or the suburbs?) to recover a damning video and ends up revealing just how long he’s been going along to get along. He schemes his way into the home of Chris, an old “friend” from middle school who remains disconcertingly interested in swords and in choking Drew out. Chris (Connor O’Malley) seems awful, especially compared to mild-mannered Drew, but a video proves Drew was capable of real cruelty at a young age, all at the behest of a personality more dominant than his. As he runs out of Chris and Kelsey’s (Lane Moore) home with a sword and the DVD in his hands, Drew yells “I’m not Drew bitch anymore!,” which might not be as accurate a statement as he thinks. He still bows to peer pressure; but as an adult, he can’t use that as an excuse.

The title, “A National Affair,” refers to the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of murder trials, and Dory’s briefly favorable relationship with the press. She briefly protests too much about the reporters swarming outside her home, and fans who she believes are stealing her Keds. Dory puts on a bold red lip to go to the gym, and not even a visit from June (Phoebe Tyers), April’s unrelentingly cheerful twin, dissuades her. April’s ghost no longer unsettles Dory, who now just seems inconvenienced by the visions. She even strikes a pose next to her Uber after being asked by a photographer. But Dory’s trip to the gym does earn her some flesh-and-blood disapproval; a female member spits on her, screaming “whore” and “slut.” The woman points out that the only reason Dory hasn’t been locked up is because she’s “pretty,” which is only the half of it. But just like that, Dory’s love affair with the press is over—when she returns to her apartment, they swarm and mock her, trying to goad her into lashing out. Dory doesn’t really need much prompting, though; as her comments about her Keds and keys show, she is starting to lose her grip. The final moments of the episode suggest she has reason to be concerned, though, as a hooded individual, who has “Dory” tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, adds another picture to their disturbing Dory shrine. Looks like Search Party didn’t leave the paranoia in season two.

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Stray observations

  • I don’t care what Detective Gallian said, I think she enjoyed being made over by Elliott and Patsy. Plus, it looked like she got to keep the top and necklace.
  • Elliott’s lack of fingerprints, which would ordinarily confirm his identity, is an intriguing bit of info. It speaks to why it’s been it’s been for him to reinvent himself over the years.
  • Elliott is totally going to do Charlie Reeny’s show, right? He’s not one to miss an opportunity to promote himself, but this is a chance to rebrand—and he needs it.
  • Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall) returned in “A National Affair,” as did J. Smith-Cameron’s Senator Ferguson, which is… fine. Julian’s storyline kind of petered out last season—admittedly, Hall working on another show at the timeso I’ll have to wait and see how it’s worked in this year. His phone, however, is still MIA.
  • The introduction of the stalker character could throw off the balance of the show, which already has a lot to juggle—and the trial hasn’t even started. That said, the wide shot of the wall of Dory photographs does mirror the way the press has plastered her face all over TV screens, smartphones, and print newspapers.
  • The first three episodes of this season have the same off-the-walls energy of the first season (and, to a lesser extent, the second), but “A National Affair” is a more somber, er, affair, which could be a sign of what’s ahead.
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