HBO Max's 'Search Party' Ends Season 4 With the Most Shocking Cliffhanger Yet
Series co-creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers get into the decisions behind the jolting and emotional season finale.
This article contains spoilers for the Season 4 finale of HBO Max's Search Party.
The last episode of the fourth season of Search Party would, frankly, make for a very good series finale. Anti-heroine Dory (Alia Shawkat) appears to have been burned alive in the house of her captor the Twink, aka Chip Wreck (Cole Escola), heir to a snack cake empire. Her friends Drew (John Reynolds), Elliott (John Early), and Portia (Meredith Hagner) all gather for a ludicrously attired, but surprisingly emotional funeral also attended by the specter of Dory. Over the course of the event, the various incarnations of Dory that have appeared in the show—captive Dory, sociopathic trial Dory, murderer Dory, and naive Dory—wander in and sit in the back row.
Seems like that's where we'll leave her, right? Not exactly. In the last moments of the episode, Dory, rescued, springs back to life. So this isn't the end after all. "We loved the experience of sitting through Dory's funeral, seeing what the friends were really made of when it came to their feelings about Dory and when you are at a funeral the kind of bygones that you let wash away to really zero in on the soul level connection they had," co-creator Charles Rogers says. He laughs and pauses. "And then in terms of the final, final moment, it's unconfirmed whether or not there's a fifth season, and we wanted to write something that followed in the tradition of the previous seasons where you leave off on something closure-y yet cliffhanger-y at the same time."
The latest batch of Search Party episodes return the show to its original premise with a new spin that's both more absurd and more terrifying than what came before. What began as a show about an aimless hipster who decides to devote herself to finding a missing college acquaintance is now about that aimless hipster, who is also an acquitted murderer, having been kidnapped. Dory is imprisoned in a felt version of her Brooklyn apartment in a Massachusetts basement by Chip, a lonely psychopath who believes he can be her best friend. Her actual friends are now tasked with finding her and, despite everything they have been through, their efforts are somewhat half-hearted.
"I just felt like especially after the courtroom season, which got caught up in so many details, that there would be something about coming back to the basics of the show and then coming full circle. This time the search is for Dory but they've all changed so much, and the tone of the season is more extreme and a little bit more farcical," Rogers says.
At this point, Drew has been working at a theme park, trying to escape his guilt; Portia is starring as Dory in a movie; and Elliott has sold his soul to become a right-wing talking head. They find her, brainwashed, and even after she snaps out of Chip's trance, she escapes their care, running back to Chip in a Stockholm Syndrome haze. That's when he traps her in a burning building and she screams to them for help, except her friends have decided she doesn't really want to be saved. "They abandon ship, and are doing so because they are telling themselves she doesn't want it," co-creator Sarah-Violet Bliss explains. "But it's also of her own making. She manifested this."
Despite the truly heinous actions Dory has engaged in over the course of the series—and the fact that Drew, Portia, and Elliott manage to make everything about themselves—the funeral is surprisingly touching. Rogers says that he and Bliss were aware that by the end of Season 3, the audience that started out strongly identifying with Dory had drifted away from her. They wanted to explore the idea of people who had a "white light" experience and bring the audience back into Dory's point of view as she battles for her life.
"At the end of the day, Chip does wear her down so severely, between brainwashing her and torturing her, that she ends up actually able to admit things about herself," Rogers says. So by the time you get to Elliott turning her eulogy into a stump speech while wearing a tent-like puffer jacket, you can't help but feel a wave of sorrow for this woman who tanked her own life and her friends who lost her along the way.
But Dory appears to not actually be dead. So where does that leave a potential Season 5, if the HBO series were to be renewed? "We think that there's a lot to mine about what it would be like on the other side of death," Rogers says.