Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

Password To The Shadows

The Search Party finally comes to an end—and in Montreal, the better to demonstrate just how far Dory’s come from that moment on the sidewalk in Brooklyn. When she stopped to assess Chantal’s missing persons poster in the premiere, she was standing in shit, an apt metaphor for how her life was going up until that point. That might be just a teeny bit extreme, though, since Dory’s biggest problem at the time was a lack of purpose. Really, it’s a luxury to allow an existential quandary to consume your life with no real concern for how you will be able to continue to live your life, i.e., pay bills and rent, even as you try to figure out what’s making it worth living. But, setting aside the fact that no one worries about money until they need to pay off a source, Dory’s life is bad enough, relatively speaking. Not to mention that, if anyone had any real problems, this would be a different kind of show.

Dory needed a way out of her malaise, so she looked to a lost person for guidance. It was a spectacularly bad plan, but the results have been endlessly entertaining, and the reveal both shocking and banal. But before we get to Montreal, there’s some unfinished business in Brooklyn. Dory had a way out last episode, even after all the cheating, lying, and obsessing she’s done since learning of Chantal’s disappearance. She seemed to have snapped out of her latest stupor (it’s important to distinguish between her Chantal-induced state and the daze she was in beforehand) and was making plans with Drew, which included riding bikes and going to Dollywood. Falling asleep at Keith’s place, even though there was no sex involved, threatens to spoil everything. To make matters worse, she has reason to believe Agnes Cho knows Chantal’s whereabouts. (Too bad Dory couldn’t have kept her shit together to visit Splash Country.)

We knew she wouldn’t actually give up, though. Dory wasn’t cowed by the threats, but she did balk at the idea of working with another possibly unbalanced person. Interestingly, the non-profit organizer crying over spilt milk (okay, yogurt) was the one red flag she did observe. Now Dory’s so close, she can practically taste Chantal’s discarded cereal bowls, and she isn’t going to be stopped by work or even her relationship. I don’t know how truthful of a person Dory was before all of this (we know she wasn’t honest with herself), but lying’s certainly become easier. She works out a cover story with Elliott—who couldn’t be bothered to answer the phone when Drew called him looking for Dory, but this doesn’t seem to offend her—to explain where she’s been all night. She ends up gaslighting Drew shortly before manipulating him into coming with her to grill Agnes Cho at the zoo.

Dory’s boyfriend was defined by his cluelessness early on, but now that he’s being actively duped by her, I have to say I feel for the guy. Drew’s clearly insecure about their relationship, feelings that we eventually learn are rooted more in the couple’s incompatibility than Julian’s hotness. No one’s thinking ahead, least of all Dory, but when this Chantal thing is over, so are they. But that falling out will have to wait, because there’s no time or interest in “Password To The Shadows” for a state-of-the-union chat about Dory and Drew’s relationship. By now, everyone’s suffered some disappointment, even if Portia and Elliott were a bit late to that party. So they’re primed for an adventure, which “Password” has in spades.

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Creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers handled the scripts for the last two chapters in their comedy-mystery-thriller. Here, Bliss delivers madcap exploits that venture into all of the aforementioned genres, while still maintaining a cogent story. The cast is firing on all cylinders as we head into the home stretch in an episode that sees all the characters prove their mettle, especially Drew.

It’s thrilling to see everyone so caught up in the intrigue, and not just because it makes the coming disappointment that much more crushing. Bliss fleshes out all of the dynamics within the group, including Portia and Elliott’s positions as Dory and Drew’s friends with money. Elliott continues to humor Dory without actually helping her; despite bragging about how great he is with families, his talk with the Witherbottoms comes across as extortion. But my favorite pairing this episode is Portia and Drew, who, despite being underestimated, pull off a sting operation. The WASP-y blonde demonstrates a dominant streak that would make her friends blush, and at the drop of a hat. And Drew makes great use of his “supporting role,” threatening Nanny Daddy with his mastery of the “dark web.” It’s the most effective improv ever: When Portia shouts out the occupation—”FBI’s best hacker!”—he runs with the suggestion, brandishing the appropriate props and helping her put the screws to the guy.

Portia’s sexy-yet-steely performance aside, Drew’s really the MVP this episode. Not only does he help get the $5,000 Agnes Cho demanded in exchange for Chantal’s location, but he’s a surprisingly good leader. When Elliott and Portia try to go off mission, Drew yells at them to stop being “selfish dipshits” and focus on the task at hand. He even manages to pack properly for a quick jaunt to Montreal and a confrontation with another potential psycho. That would be Keith, who we learn wasn’t hired by the Witherbottoms to find their daughter. In retrospect, Dory thinks he may have known his way a little too well around the cult’s headquarters, but she still enters his apartment on her own to try to trick him into traveling to Miami to find Chantal. There’s a brief, unnerving moment where he pins her wrists to her side and complains about her “preoccupation” with Drew. It brings the fun to a screeching halt, and effectively sets up the final piece of the puzzle.

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The House Of Uncanny Truths

As we moved toward Search Party’s denouement, I braced for disappointment. Not for myself, because this strange brew of mockery, mystery, and millennials has made for one of the most enjoyable binge experiences ever. But Dory was headed for heartbreak from the beginning. If she’d somehow been spared the particular devastation in store, she was still bound be let down by something. If Chantal were found dead, she’d feel responsible for her death as well as Lorraine’s. But, as we’ve been teased throughout, Chantal‘s very much alive, and not too familiar with Dory. So even if Dory had managed to rescue her, she might have been greeted with a “Her?” Dory does get most of the answers surrounding the disappearance, but they don’t really satisfy her. After everything she’s been through, I doubt any could. She finally committed to something, and it cost her everything.

Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

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What I wasn’t prepared for was just how shattered her life would end up. Although I eagerly scanned clues right along with Dory, I could also see how she might be denied a resounding conclusion to all of this madness. It was all a little too convenient, yet random. The tragic heroine, a somewhat nefarious cult, and the cynical detective are all elements of distinct genres that could have served as an escape for Dory. In any of those other stories, she could be anything other than herself, which she was desperate to do. To her credit, she showed more agency than ever before in her pursuit of the truth, and even convinced herself she was doing some good in this world. But this was no selfless act, no matter how many bags of trash she went through. Dory was centering the story of Chantal’s disappearance on herself. In the premiere, she even imagined herself as Chantal when she asked Julian if anyone would care if she (Dory) disappeared. After Julian rightly pointed out that she likes to play the victim, any unrequited love vanished. She all but avoided him after, even though Julian might have been able to help her find Chantal much earlier on.

The two women end up having more in common than either could have thought, though we don’t get to see if Chantal happens to have also committed murder. An affair with a married man is, however, one of the skeletons in her closet, and is in fact the thing that set off this whole chain of events. That’s presumably why Chantal was reading Anna Karenina; she might have highlighted the phrase about the joy in searching for truth, but as Drew pointed out before, she also singled out the first sentence in the book (which, to be fair, is a killer opening.) If that’s not enough for Dory, Lorraine threw herself onto the train tracks, just like a certain despondent Russian character.

Chantal relates this and other details of her not-so-tragic story in a huge house in Montreal, but Charles Rogers, who handled the finale, reveals other key info in flashbacks. We don’t know if it’s Dory who’s piecing these things together, à la Dave Kujan in The Usual Suspects, or if these realizations are dawning on someone else. They’re probably just an economical way to tie up loose ends, like how Keith got involved in the first place if he wasn’t contracted by the Witherbottoms. He seems to think Dory knew something about the reward money, because he yells at her in the home to stop lying to him. She’s unaware of the $250,000 reward, though, because the poster she saw in the pilot didn’t include that info. Besides, she thought she was looking for someone helpless and scared. Chantal turned out to be only one of those things.

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Before the big letdown, Rogers dismantles what remains of Dory’s life. Drew finds out she cheated on him, and tells her the meanest thing he can think of: “I don’t know honestly if you’re just now becoming a terrible person, or you’ve always been terrible and I couldn’t see it.” Damning words from someone Dory probably comforted herself by thinking she was better than. Alia Shawkat and John Reynolds (with help from an appropriately sinister Ron Livingston) carry the dramatic current of the episode, which makes sense since their characters, while having plenty of funny moments, have served as the more earnest half of this quartet. Everyone sticks to their strengths here, with Meredith Hagner and John Early breaking up the tension with perfectly ridiculous statements, fashion and otherwise. Elliott is a walking, snidely talking interruption in his “Anyhow” sweater, poised as ever to turn the focus back on himself. Portia’s more diplomatic but just as distracted after she meets a handsome French Canadian.

Chantal lives! Mystery solved (Screenshot: Search Party/TBS)

But these final moments are all about Chantal, who seems to have ended up in Montreal after throwing a series of tantrums. There are multiple fakeouts, like Chantal sobbing that she can’t bear to relive the trauma, Portia gently encouraging her to share it, and the missing-now-found woman leaving a pregnant pause between “I’m scared…that someone is going to come in and clean, or sublet.” Ultimately, though, she just decided she “had to ghost” everyone. When Dory asks “What were you hiding from?”, Chantal replies “Honestly, myself.” It’s a sincere response, and one that would be meaningful in a different context. In this situation, it devastates Dory. But on the bright side, all the time away from social media has done wonders for Chantal’s mental wellbeing.

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Dory wanders away from the group in a fog, smudges of Keith’s blood still on her face. This ridiculous conclusion was portended on a couple of occasions, most recently at the bar they stopped in before going to house. “What are you imagining is going to happen when we find Chantal?” Elliott asks Dory, who still doesn’t have a good answer. If they’d forced themselves to stick with that line of questioning on that or any other occasion prior, they might have avoided all of this. But they were unable to focus or unwilling. They were simultaneously giving each other too little and too much credit. Portia and Elliott teased Dory about her involvement, but they mostly went along with her plans. And when Elliott asked surprisingly insightful questions—as he did when Dory first brought up Chantal’s disappearance—they were waved off because, well, Elliott’s always talking.

As for Drew, he probably came closest to redemption, even though he’s technically on the hook for Keith’s murder. But Dory is right back to where she started, as we see in the final frame. I’ve commended this show before for its deftness in genre switching, but this finale really put the writers and actors through their paces. It was a disturbing yet fitting end to a series that transcended its oddity status.

Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

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Stray observations

  • I’ve heard the idle chatter (which, to be clear, isn’t coming from anyone involved in the show, as far as I can tell) about a reboot of the series, but I don’t get how that would work. Cast another group of navel gazers to find someone even more clueless than they are?
  • Having said that, I’d be into a show about Portia and Elliott in a kind of Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels-like spin-off, where they try to one up each other’s lies.
  • Keith’s Walden-quote fridge magnet peeking out over Dory’s shoulder on multiple occasions also teased Shantal’s desire for seclusion, in retrospect.
  • That was Kate Berlant as Elliott’s editor, so happy The Characters reunion!
  • “All your busy energy is upsetting Amelia Earhart.”
  • “We emotionally abused a man to get that”—Drew, attesting to the validity of Chuck’s check.
  • Speaking of that check, Chuck cut it from his Quince Capital account. Too bad for Agnes, although if she does get in trouble, she’ll kind of deserve it for basically extorting some acquaintances.
  • “We have crayons, and we’re smart.”
  • Drew asking for the “fastest” bus home from Montreal is such a Drew thing to do.
  • Thus ends TV Club coverage of Search Party. Thanks for reading (especially since these were double reviews!), and providing your insights.
  • [Note: I scooched this bit down to Stray Observations, because I didn’t want my concerns about a second season to appear to diminish my enjoyment of the series.] There’s technically room for another season, but I really hope the creators decide to leave well enough alone. As much as I enjoyed Search Party, running with any of these threads would unravel what they’ve accomplished here. Dory becoming a detective would miss the point, just like following up on Keith’s death. Mystery solved.

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