The Mystery Of The Golden Charm

When last we saw young Dory, she was yelling at a strange man in an alley (that moniker won’t remain Ron Livingston’s credit in this show) after having yelled at an even stranger one in her own home. This guy’s not just a figment of her imagination, we soon learn, which is vindicating for Dory. It’s also a bit worrisome, because Keith (see?) is a private investigator who’s been hired by the Witherbottoms to eat a lot of great soup, and also look into the disappearance of their daughter. He makes his presence known in the drugstore, but only after Dory confronts him. Even though his shouted offer to get coffee should be off putting, Dory’s intrigued. Like any good conspiracy nut, she’s thrilled that she’s “getting” to them. “They” are actually kind of the victims in this scenario, but still, she’s getting somewhere. And she now has a much more suitable partner, in more ways than one.

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Keith’s involvement is also validating for Dory because it means the Witherbottoms have taken her claims seriously—she’s helping!—even if that information has mostly elicited concern. Though the private dick had trouble tailing Dory properly, he’s perceptive enough to know that Dory had nothing to do with Chantal’s disappearance. But that doesn’t answer the question we’ve all—viewers, Elliott, Drew, and everyone else who knows about Dory’s obsession—been asking. No, the other question: Why does Dory care so much? As he notes, she had no real relationship with the missing girl. When Keith asks her point blank, the preoccupied young woman doesn’t respond defensively as she has with everyone else. She doesn’t make a friendship mountain out of a mole hill in regards to her connection to Chantal, or even invoke any otherworldly forces. What she tells him is much more impactful: “I guess I overlooked her, and I know what that feels like.”

Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

It’s just as her friends (minus Portia, who seems to be the only other person in the central quartet who’s also kind of into the mystery) have been saying all along. Dory’s acting out of less than altruistic motives—boredom, morbid curiosity, a desperate attempt to fill the meaningless void of her life. Take your pick. As viewers (who are maybe not quite as self-centered, we all hope), we’ve been onto Dory from the beginning, of course. And we’ll watch as she spirals out of control right on schedule. In that sense, “The Golden Charm” might be her sanity and/or reason’s last stand. She rightly confronts the lurking Keith, but as soon as she realizes he can help maintain her delusion, she throws caution to the wind and asks to work with him.

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He’s reluctant to take on a partner at first, even though it seems he’s not working with many leads. And Dory did just get her hands on a lot of scandalous emails, which she thought would be used to convict Gavin (Chantal’s family would agree), but instead cast suspicion on an as-yet-unseen person: Penelope, Chantal’s roommate. Even after reading about all the cruel things Penelope did, like throwing Chantal’s oil paintings on the ground or being related to people who say the n-word, the newly paired sleuths can’t really imagine what they’ll come across in the women’s apartment.

Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

Whatever is going on in Chantal’s former apartment—either sex work or, as Penelope puts it, “a non-interactive intimacy experience,” which are both cool—it doesn’t really look like there’s been foul play. The roommates had a contentious relationship, though who the real antagonist was is anybody’s guess. Chantal was either a deadbeat, or Penelope an abuser. Ever sympathetic to the woman she hardly knows, Dory picks Chantal’s side, especially after she learns that they label their burnt CDs the same way.

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After being rushed out by Penelope, Dory and Keith debrief in front of the walk-up. She’s been made giddy by the adventure, even though she’s a little disappointed about the lack of information. Thanks to Keith’s “sleight hands,” they do have a clue—the titular golden charm, which looks like an animal’s tooth. Keith urges Dory to keep the necklace, and there’s a frisson of sexual tension between the two (there’s that Peter Gibbons charm). Again, Dory’s riding high on the excitement, which might be why she’s so amenable to this middle-aged man’s attentions. But I think we can all see where this is going—it’s the beginning of their folie à deux, or shared delusion. There’s the possibility that they’re on the trail of a real evildoer, but mostly, Dory’s just relieved to be herself, even if she doesn’t quite know who that is yet. Which is why Keith is taking advantage of her. But Dory’s still going to rush in headlong, because right now, she needs whatever this is.

The would-be detective’s not over the precipice just yet, though. She’s doing some research of her own, dropping by Bellow & Hare, the jewelry store that sells what turns out to be a wolf’s tooth necklace. Proprietor Brick (the reliably loopy Parker Posey) may saunter over to greet her, but it’s clear that she’s viewing Dory as her prey. “I’ve always been drawn to wounded things” she says, albeit not ominously enough for Dory, who decides she’s going to infiltrate the cult. That’s right—the shop owner whose aesthetic is part Auntie Entity, part GOOP is also involved in a cult that claimed one of Elliott’s friends.

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Elliott, fresh from his trip to Africa to shill water bottles and build homes with his ex-again Marc, warns Dory to stay away from Bellow & Hare. She’s not going to listen to him, though, a fact that dawns on Drew over dinner. Poor Drew had a helluva day himself—he engaged in some snooping of his own, even though his height and glasses make him poorly suited to the task. But what else can he do after running into Nanny Daddy a.k.a Chuck a.k.a Herman Brooks snapping upskirt photos on the train? Drew’s right—he’s so conspicuous that security in Chuck’s office building easily tracks him down. But good job sneaking into some kind of equity firm to hang out with Dotty Reikart, a lonely accounts payable woman with a Prince Charles desktop. Her outsize response at the intrusion includes destroying said desktop and then yelling that she was “just doing what I was told.” Given Drew’s boss’ reaction to his visiting Quince Capital, we’re probably going to loop back to this. (Or, maybe we won’t.) Despite Drew giving in and indulging her, Dory ultimately leaves him hanging to spend time with Keith. They’ve been growing apart, but Keith might cut their remaining ties.

“Golden Charm” was another darker entry for the series—not sure I’ll ever unsee those creepy businessmen sipping from tea cups in Penelope’s parlor—but Bliss and Rogers’ pacing is more even here than in “The Captive Dinner Guest,” so it works. The characters and story benefitted from the developments, even Portia, whose portrayal of a Latina cop finally earned her some of the attention she craves. The episode was discomfiting, but with a purpose, which is an agenda I can get behind.

The Secret Of The Sinister Ceremony

“What was wrong with how things were?” Drew asks Dory early on in this half hour. Whether that’s a rhetorical question will remain up for debate. We don’t know just how long Dory had been unhappy before she began “acting out,” but there’s probably no going back now. We’ve seen Gail a couple of times since the premiere, so Dory’s presumably still employed. And, despite her sudden interest in cults, she hasn’t cut off any of her friends or even Drew. Still, she’s on the verge—she’s “decorated” one of her walls with all the evidence she’s found. This conspiracy collage comprises the requisite string to tie things together, including Herman’s headshot, which looks more like a work photo than the Tinder profile you’d think they’d have had more ready access to. It also includes handwritten notes about his hobbies—criminal photography and possibly adultery—on graphing paper.

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Drew persists in his questioning, not because he really wants to know the answer, but because it’s his passive-aggressive way of trying to alter her behavior. By asking Dory what’s wrong, he can show that he cares. But by feigning ignorance (or just professing it), he’s shifting all of the responsibility to her. She can either tell him what’s wrong and be responsible for hurting his feelings or even their break-up; or, she can lie and say everything’s all right, in which case, Drew will want her to actually behave that way. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone, and the fact that he can’t see that just underscores their problems.

Trying to go back to their old ways won’t work even in the short run, but that doesn’t keep the couple from trying. Their relationship was probably never very passionate (again, I’ll refer you to the premiere for some of the least romantic sex ever). They’ve always been friends with benefits, but in their case, those benefits involved splitting rent, bills, etc. And sure, companionship. It’s hard to tell just how much they like each other with Dory just so dissatisfied with her life in general, but Alia Shawkat and John Reynolds certainly look adorable together. They perfectly depict a precocious couple, made up of two people who mistake routine for compatibility, to say nothing of chemistry. They’d both be right to want something else.

Whether or not that’s Keith for Dory (even temporarily) remains to be seen. I’m not sure how old he’s supposed to be, but Ron Livingston is 22 years older than Alia Shawkat, so yeah, that skeeves me out a bit. And private investigators are usually just bad news (on TV and in movies). But Keith mostly sits this one out, even though he does exchange some flirtatious texts with Dory. “Secret Ceremony’s” focus returns to the central quartet, which is split into two groups: Drew on his own, making excuses for his girlfriend to his family; and everyone else trying to do some recon at Bellow & Hare. Narratively speaking, it highlights the widening rift between Dory and Drew. But for more immediate gratification, the separate stories give everyone a chance to be in their own element. That means Elliott telling self-aggrandizing stories—”If someone named Patricia Arquette calls, come get me immediately”—and Portia mostly just missing the point. I know I haven’t given Meredith Hagner her due yet, but her effervescent blonde regularly lightens the mood, providing a necessary counterpoint to some of the grittier moments. Portia’s still plenty self-obsessed, but her breakdown during “acute intimacy” reveals just how much insecurity is bubbling beneath the surface.

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The cult infiltration appears to go swimmingly at first—the three give up their phones at the door to witness “the moment,” but immediately feel gauche about not having brought wine to what appears to be a dinner party. (Nice going, Dory.) They separate to cover more ground, which is how Portia ends up talking to someone even more disturbing than Gavin and Chuck combined. And despite all the circles he runs in, Elliott is at a loss for how to behave at this particular party. All his questions about ”the moment” either annoy the other guests or elicit annoying responses, like one pregnant woman’s braying laughter.

But Dory shows an admirable amount of restraint—she waits until they’re all seated at dinner (or “bounty”) to bring up Chantal. Unfortunately for her, casting aspersions on someone else is against the rules. (Blowjob technique criticism and confessing to wanting to harm women are not, though). Too bad, because she’d been doing so well, too. She’d had a revealing conversation with Brick, who says what we’re all thinking: ”Your freckles are exquisite.” Dory doesn’t even realize it, but now she’s the one being questioned. Brick’s saying all the right things, asking all the right questions about Dory’s desires. Then she cuts through all the bullshit by telling her young guest to cast off her modesty, which just comes from shame, doubt, and “intense” pain.

And that’s how cults get you, I guess. (And really, who wouldn’t want to regularly hang out with Parker Posey?) Dory was warned, though, when she first walked into the store—by Brick, no less. The hunt for Chantal isn’t successfully disguising Dory’s other search. And Brick’s exactly the kind of person who can sniff out lost souls. I don’t know if it’s Posey’s presence, but there’s nothing that menacing about the B&H group. It looks to be some kind of fertility cult, maybe?, which could be bad, too. Edwin is kind of a dick (and virile, apparently), and the way he shut down Dory’s querying suggests he has something to hide. But again, he could just be a dick. We don’t know enough yet about Chantal to understand why she’d be drawn into the cult. Elliott previously dismissed her as contributing nothing to the world, but through Dory, we’ve learned that Chantal was a gifted poet and singer. She also had a loving and supportive family. What sent her astray? At just past the halfway point, Search Party’s central mystery is becoming almost as compelling as its comedy.

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Stray observations

  • Gail pledging to save the Earth and then promptly giving up because she can’t work her Sodastream was a nice touch. Christine Taylor is making great use of her limited screen time.
  • Dotty Reikart is bound to come up again, right? The fact that she asked for a lawyer suggests Quince Capital’s got some shady dealings. That, and she assumed Drew was in her office because she’d missed a payment. Add Chuck’s very presence to the mix, and I think you’ve got something.
  • “I literally built a house.” Oh, Marc—for our sake, I hope you’re not really gone. But for your sake, I hope you’re done with Elliott. Now you can get back to watching Hitch.
  • “Leave your money in the crib by the door.” *shudder*
  • Brick telling Dory she has the arms of a potter felt a little bit was such a Parker-Posey-character moment that I really hope it was written with her in mind.
  • I know what I said about Keith being real and not just someone Dory made up, but: Penelope asking her who she was talking to makes me wonder if he isn’t a figment. And in that case, is Chantal? We see her bolt upright at some point at the sound of someone moving around—since we didn’t view that through Dory’s eyes, does that mean she’s alive?

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