'Search Party' Finds a Climax in the End of the World

The final season of the HBO Max show is bananas.


The Season 4 finale of Search Party was arguably—and I've argued it before—a perfect way to end the series. Dory (Alia Shawkat), the millennial sleuth turned murderer, had been kidnapped and was presumed dead thanks to a blaze orchestrated by her captor (Cole Escola) and his overbearing mother (Susan Sarandon). Dory's friends gather for a funeral, which is attended by her fractured spirit: All the different versions of Dory we've met over the course of the series show up. It's funny and bizarrely moving. But then in the last moments of the episode, Dory, on a stretcher, gasps to life.

So what do showrunners Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss do with that blank slate? They blow it all up. The fifth and final season of Search Party is, frankly, bananas. It takes a ridiculous, ballsy, massive swerve, keeping the same familiar characters but plunging them into a quasi-alt-universe version of the Brooklyn they had previously inhabited. What once started as a comment on the kind of self-obsessed gentrifiers you'd spot at brunch in Greenpoint has evolved into an unnerving dystopia, rooted in the real world but disconnected from it.

In Search Party's fifth season, Jeff Goldblum plays a tech guru named Tunnel who invented texting. John Early's habitual liar Elliott Goss and his partner (Jeffrey Self) buy a child from John Waters, who runs a company selling test-tube babies. Kathy Griffin is a survivalist who gets letters from the future. Oh, and Dory causes a zombie apocalypse by attempting to create a pill that causes "enlightenment." The 10 episodes consist of persistent mind-fuck, where you're constantly compelled to think, "Are they really doing this?" They are, and it's a brilliantly chaotic ride that skewers influencer and wellness culture while somehow avoiding typical tropes.

search party

The season starts with Dory in the hospital deliriously talking about coming back to life. Her friends Elliott, Portia (Meredith Hagner), and ex-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) decide very quickly to have her committed. In the psychiatric hospital, Dory becomes further convinced of her own powers as a prophet. She escapes from the facility, starts posting on social media, and reinserts herself into the lives of her pals, whose skepticism soon turns into devotion. Goldblum's Tunnel, intrigued by the bullshit Dory is selling, folds her into his billion-dollar company with the idea that a team of researchers will manufacture a drug that can re-create Dory's enlightened transformation.

To keep the public interested while the work is taking place, Dory and Tunnel recruit a team of disciples, all desperate influencers who crave the kind of attention and love Dory bestows upon them. They all fall into various "types" we've seen pop up on Instagram and TikTok. There's the girl who roller-skates everywhere, the Instagay, the makeup artist, the guy who does goofy science experiments, the astrologist, and the vaguely royal British girl. The disciples, played by underrated comedic talents like Greta Titleman (Los Espookys) and Larry Owens (High Maintenance), are pitch-perfect parodies of the people who flood our feeds, convincing the world that they are special in some way while really just searching for meaning in their own little lives.

From its opening minutes, Search Party has been about that very quest. Dory begins as a disaffected Brooklynite in a meaningless job working for a rich lady, seeking fulfillment by hunting down a missing college classmate she didn't really know all that well. When she finds the girl, Chantal (Clare McNulty), she encounters someone who wasn't actually missing at all. Chantal had just taken some "me time" that went too far.

The characters on Search Party want fulfillment by cutting corners. They don't want to do the work. They want an easy fix—something outside of themselves that will cure their unending melancholy. Dory only gets there by murdering multiple and then quite literally dying. The solution she offers up to everyone else is becoming undead, and in the final two episodes, the show takes a 28 Days Later turn that is shocking, gory, and yet seems completely right. Dory has always been in a hell of her own making, dragging everyone who believes in or loves her down with her. It only makes sense that her next step is causing the end of the world.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.