The following contains spoilers of Search Party Season 4 Episodes 4 through 6 on HBO Max
Miley Cyrus recently released a new album with a track called “WTF Do I Know” which interrogates her past choices, and also her audience’s obsession with them. In its particularly relevant chorus she asks “what the f*ck do I know? / I’m alone ‘cause I couldn’t be somebody’s hero / you want an apology? Not from me / had to leave you in your own misery.”
There are a lot of parallels that could be drawn towards this snippet and Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) situation. You’ll recall she found herself back in the company of Chip’s (Cole Escola) captivity friendship after her grand escape attempt proves futile. Elsewhere, Elliott (John Early) had begun his ascent to conservative media fame, Portia (Meredith Hagner) had begun production on the gratuitously soapy Dory biopic (in which she plays Dory), and (An)Drew (John Reynolds) had begun to see the cracks in his happy-go-lucky girlfriend at Merry, Merry Land, and also the cracks of irregularities in Dory’s euro trip through Chip’s curated Instagram posts.
In Episodes 4 through 6 of Season 4, Search Party goes to its darkest, and grittiest narrative territory yet. It presents a reckoning of consequences for all of its characters (often leaving characters in their own misery, like Miley says). In doing so, though, it also implicates and interrogates the desires of the viewer of this show and the overall cultural fascination with anti-hero content.
“…And It’s Always Loaded!”
In Elliott’s world, he starts to see success and feels the overall love of the network—for being who they want him to be. He gets his own branded guns, which becomes something of an undoing for his co-host Charlie (Chloe Fineman) as she chases him through the entire building. The bizarre but comedic moment ends when their chase continues outside only to be cut short by Charlie getting hit by a book (and dying).
This plot-line is not quite finished by Episode 6, but there is something here projecting Elliott into increasingly lonelier territory in order to gain success. And with all that, the “success” is at the cost of him completely abandoning his morals (and some of his ethics, honestly).
Last season I dove a little into colour theory and the changing of the title card of the series from blue (yearning), to red (rage), to yellow (attention span)—and what that exactly means for what it’s exploring in terms of the millennial experience. This season the title card fades to a white—which I believe is exploring themes of millennial isolation (and how fitting during a global pandemic).
In Elliott’s case, it is clear that he’s sacrificed parts of himself—and any sort of genuine public support—in favour of financial success and notoriety. He shuts out any form of criticism for his actions, and moves forward with his choices regardless of their impact. The price for this is of course a sterile loneliness. He will now never truly be known or remembered for who he originally wanted to be (which was still flawed, but less overtly flawed). He even faces further isolation since he shuts out any negative discourse about his choices from his friends.
“I Thought That Portia Could Always Be Chewing Gum…”
Also beginning to face some sort of isolation is Portia who we see on set finally beginning to actually film Savage. The script is Riverdale-esque and the pacing is all over the place. Portia does a fine job of playing Dory (given the script) but is singled out by the director for not playing Dory in the way that she is publicly perceived to be.
Portia begins to be something of an outcast on set, which is interesting given that she is the lead and this should objectively skyrocket her to some sort of success. I know this storyline and the moments are played out for kicks (and they are funny) but there is a genuine sadness beneath all of this as Portia has no one really rooting for her here—but at the same time shouldn’t you also reap no reward from profiting off of a narrative that isn’t really yours? It’s a complicated question at play here, but it was really the only option Portia had job-wise.
I do wonder what will become of Portia after everything in this season. I know I’ve previously said my piece about kind of feeling bad for where she gets put in the story—and being the least involved in terms of all the murders—but there is something to be said for how complicit Portia also is in her friends’ business. I do wonder if Portia should’ve dipped out of this group a long time ago.
“Now I’m On This, Kind of, Speech Tour”
In Episode 3, Drew made a big (half-assed) declaration of love to his Merry, Merry Land girlfriend after she said “I love you!” and they both agreed that they would no longer lie to one another. This was after she also told him about this one time where she accidentally threw a baby down the gutter, but I digress.
Anyway, Drew leaves to go back to New York after obsessively trying to piece together something that was off about Dory’s Instagram, and lies to the baby-thrower about having to go give a high school graduation speech in Chicago (how he previously lied about murder I’ll never understand). And thus “the gang” is back together again as a search party, but now for Dory.
Hijinks ensue, and they get robbed of their clothing and phones at one point, but they eventually stumble upon a clue in the search for “the twink” (aka Chip) which leads them to a cinnamon bun factory called Lil’ Sticky’s. It’s nice to see Drew step up and act as more of a leader, but I do also think it’s guilt motivated given that he lied about the whole twink-dying-phone-call last season. As Elliott finally asks this season: “why would they call someone who wasn’t family to let them know that a complete stranger had died?”
I think Drew is in his own territory of isolation similar to Elliott’s in that he’s unable to really discuss the truth with even those seemingly closest to him. I also think there’s something to be said for Drew’s feelings, and maybe even PTSD, coming up later after everything that they’ve gone through. While everyone else has seemingly moved on, he’s left to process, but without any sort of support. This could be viewed as a statement on the treatment of men’s mental health, but I do think it’s a bit more nuanced and complex than that. Time will tell, I guess.
“We Found a Clue!”
In Dory’s corner of the universe (which is confirmed to be Massachusetts) she finds brief concern from Chip’s neighbour Paula Jo (actual Massachusetts native Ann Dowd) who eventually gets locked in the basement with Dory when she tries to intervene. She has various illnesses which require medication at exact times, and a peanut allergy which complicates Chip’s one-meal repertoire.
Shortly after, during an escape attempt, Paula Jo eventually dies due to an allergic reaction. It’s the beginning of a particularly disturbing descent for Search Party as Dory eventually rehashes the past in an attempt to get Chip to see her for who she actually is and what she’s done. No longer is this put-together Dory carefully calculating what version of a story to give—she is terrified and badly injured, spitting the words out at Chip, now begging him to take the truth for what it is.
In the next two episodes, we see Dory’s descent into seemingly losing her thoughts and herself, as Chip hypnotizes her into thinking that she didn’t murder Keith or April. That it actually was Drew, and Portia, and Elliott that did it, and it was blamed all on her.
It’s a ghastly set of punishments doled out to her, and undoubtedly incredibly isolating. It’s almost unwatchable at points, but I think that’s intentional. We, the viewership, created a hunger for these anti-hero characters, and with their glowing complexity and overall descent into darkness also started to crave punishment or some sort of reckoning for past bad behaviour. Dory, too privileged (and cunning) to be prosecuted by the (flawed) legal system in place, is instead punished in an unthinkable social way, and now in unthinkable psychological ways. But it is the viewership who created some sort of stan culture (represented by Chip) that thinks certain icons can do no wrong (see: Lana Del Rey fans recently), and it’s also the viewership who craves a reckoning of consequences.
Strangely enough watching Dory repeat back all the bad stuff she has done now has more weight given the gravity that she now seems to understand, and the guilt that she now so clearly has been given now that the punishment has come for her.
It’s a strange kind of meta-commentary on what we as viewers crave and what twists and turns ultimately drive the narrative. There’s this hunger for complicated, unsavoury, anti-heroes who are complex, disturbing, and yet deeply human. But there’s also a hunger present to now give this character consequences for their actions in some sort of way. In Dory’s descent into seemingly losing her mind there is almost a wink from the creators as if to say: “you did ask for this, didn’t you?”
It’s ultimately a reckoning for the anti-hero trope, now put through the lens of the millennial trope. It’s messy and there are a lot of thoughts at play here, but I do think these episodes leave a lot of interesting thoughts to chew on once they’re unpacked. I don’t think they’re necessarily fully formed, but I think there’s something interesting in the rawness in the questions produced: what is the millennial anti-hero allowed to do? And how does that extra lens complicate things when the millennial generation becomes more in tune with reckonings and consequences?
I’m excited for the last four episodes, but also worried that what will be its concluding thoughts won’t be quite as formed or as interesting as what has come before. But maybe that’s part of it. Maybe what was interesting about the plot and its endings in previous seasons were inherently part of my flawed desire for anti-heroes on TV—maybe there’s truth in messy, complicated endings that will take longer to unpack. See you next week to find out!