The following includes spoilers for Search Party Season 4 Episodes 1 through 3 on HBO Max.
Search Party is back with Season 4 and darker than ever! After a quick seven month turnaround (which is basically unheard of for television in the times of COVID—but they did finish filming before the pandemic), the HBO Max adopted series comes full circle from its initial premise as its main character now goes actually missing.
It’s a twist that would make sense if a show were entering its final season. This detail has not been confirmed or denied, but I have a strong suspicion this may be Search Party’s final showing, and with that in mind, perhaps my expectations are a little higher for the series.
The first three episodes are a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what pushes us along narratively, what makes for a satisfying bit of satire, or what feels like an overall statement on something in our society. There are still laughs, but they are fewer than what I’ve become accustomed to. The bulk of the energy so far is a looming presence of danger and darkness this season, dissimilar from the waiting for consequences of previous seasons, the danger and consequences have arrived in the form of Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) stalker (and now abductor) Chip (a terrifyingly good Cole Escola).
“I’m Allowed to Hate Myself, It’s In the Constitution”
But first, let’s check-in on “the gang” (as Chip refers to them in his letter impersonating Dory). Everyone (except for Dory) is doing relatively okay, minus the whole searching for their next chapter thing.
Elliott (John Early) has a budding political left vs. right show with Charlie (Chloe Fineman) which seems to be a fun and influential way for Elliott to feel like he’s making a difference while gaining notoriety, until the network throws a curveball and asks him to change his political views since no one really wants to listen to his POV on their network.
In exchange for this, he asks for a 40% raise, a hotel room at Columbus Circle, childcare (which no one is allowed to ask about), and a zip-line from his parents’ trailer to the town’s post office, which is all granted. He does his first segment denouncing his past, and after it feels surprisingly okay since he convinces himself that it’s just a role that he’s playing. For most of our main characters this season, they are able to acknowledge the lows that they have participated in before, and use that to justify continued bad behaviour because what they’re doing now is not as bad.
There’s also something to be said for a reputation being branded to you, and not being able to escape that once the public eye establishes you in a certain way. It also makes me question how you internalize that and what that does to your overall perception of yourself. We’re too early in the season to have any succinct thoughts on that, but that could be something interesting to explore here.
“I’m the Actor of the Friend Group!”
Elsewhere, also playing a role, is Portia (Meredith Hagner) who spends the majority of the first three episodes fighting to get cast as herself in “Savage: The Dory Sief Story.” Search Party knows our fascination with true crime and flashy biopics (see: all the Tiger King movies and series soon to grace our presence), so I’m looking forward to seeing what this tale will include.
In a twist of fate, Portia is actually given the role of Dory, which will surely give us some good comedy and satire bits (and also Busy Phillips in some capacity? I can’t figure out who she will be playing, but she’ll be there in some role!)
I do hope for a bigger connection to the action for Portia, or some sort of bigger shift or raising of stakes. I feel like so often she is just a victim of circumstance, and never quite the master of her own destiny. I see her either leaving “the gang” for good in the end, or having a sort of Dory-esque outburst of violence. (I’m probably wrong on both accounts but you can’t blame a guy for dreaming.)
“I Was a Good Boy…I Ate All My Vegetables!”
Elsewhere in some Long Island or New Jersey theme park that looks eerily similar to the one where Greg throws up in a mascot costume in Succession is Drew (John Reynolds)…or Andrew as he now prefers to be called.
Sans glasses and with an on-again-off-again South African accent, Drew is literally the same except to himself—because he’s fooled himself into thinking he’s different. He’s even dating one of the park princesses, which is going lovely and fine until she does some googling and he sheepishly asks “is this about my murder trial?”
I can’t say I’m particularly enthralled by this plot-line for Drew, I kind of wish he had been forced to move home and hang out with his parents and brothers. They always have a lovely out-of-touch-with-reality quality (see: the “you’re not guilty!” cake) that adds some particularly zany moments. I can see what Drew is trying to do by connecting with a place that brought him happiness as a child, but I wonder if his narrative time would be better spent doing something with Chantal (Clare McNulty). I do miss her, I’m excited to see what she’s been up to soon, and I’m curious why they omitted her for (at least) this portion of the season. (I mean, she does show up in the briefest of flashbacks at the beginning of Episode 2, but I digress.)
Also remember that Drew literally lied about the hospital saying Chip was dead last season? Yeah, he’s definitely on my sh*t disturber list.
“I’m Not Afraid to Kill People to Get What I Want!”
Finally we have our missing protagonist who is somewhere in Massachusetts (according to Chip’s license plate) stuck in a basement in a carbon copy of her apartment. (Side note: remember Chantal’s “Dirty Old Motel” poem that started with: “somewhere between Massachusetts and Maine”.)
Anyway, the apartment looks fresh off the set of Kidding and would be totally quirky and adorable if it wasn’t for the fact that Dory was trapped, gets food through a doggy door, and that at the top of the basement stairs lies a steel door with an unknown passcode.
Dory does eventually escape in Episode 3, which is welcome and seems to move her plot forward in a satisfying way up until the man who picks her up gets in a car accident after recognizing who she is. It’s a cruel irony because he had always believed she was innocent and now he’s probably dead (unconfirmed but foreshadowed for sure). Who arrives to assist Dory in the flipped car but Chip himself (dressed as his Aunt Lila). It’s a little predictable and frustrating, especially for such a cyclical plot-line of Dory just being isolated, and paying the consequences of her past actions.
I wish a little bit more of a hook or a twist existed thus far in the fourth season. I’m of course still invested because I’ve been watching this series for almost five years now, but I’m not exactly enthralled by the plot-lines presented so far. As I’ve recently (again) rewatched the earlier seasons, I wish they had given us more of a twist in the ending here as we’re about one third of the way into the season.
By this mark in the first season, we were given the twist of Chantal’s abortion; by the second season, Chantal had discovered the obelisk/murder weapon in Drew’s apartment; and by the third we had been given the first knuckle-tattoo-only appearance of Chip, so why was more of a twist not given to us here?
Chip was the obvious choice to show up after Dory’s failed escape, but what about someone different from the past that Dory had wronged? June, Keith’s daughter, or anyone related to the people she has killed? Surely there will be a bigger “bad” to arrive (and I suspect it’s Susan Sarandon’s character based off of the trailer) but I do wish the overall beginning arc was a little better crafted here. On the bright side, the pacing can only go up from here! So, see you next week to discuss that.