“I don’t like how you guys carry yourselves… and I don’t think you should kill people.”
Brunch, once a reliable form of escape for Dory and her friends, is now the setting for their big showdown with April. Yes, April, Drew and Dory’s downstairs(?) neighbor, who it turns out has heard all of their confessions. This revelation doesn’t come out of nowhere, as we’ve seen April take an interest in Drew’s life before, going as far back as season one. And it makes more sense to the viewer as “Frenzy” goes on, even if April’s reasoning still eludes the group. She has the means and opportunity, and as we see over the course of the episode and the finale, the motive. When Portia wails during their fateful midday meal about why April’s singled them out for blackmail, her response is dark and relatable. April doesn’t like what she sees (she also thinks murder is morally questionable). She is judging them, which takes the group aback.
Dory et. al. are stunned that someone like April could dislike them or want to harm them. To be fair, there are probably few people who feel like they deserve blackmail. But as Dory puts it at one point, “I can’t believe this person has power over us.” Who is this person, after all? Well, April is prickly, to say the least. Her job is unknown, as well as her relationship status, though she has been in an abusive relationship (which Dory and Drew spent as much time acknowledging last season as they felt necessary/socially acceptable). She doesn’t keep up with trends, certainly not technological ones, if her Talkgirl is any indication (by my count, it’s been 25 years since the last time such a device factored into an onscreen plot). In short, she’s someone the group would never hang out with, which is why they know virtually nothing about her—not even the fact that she has a twin sister.
Granted, that tidbit is meant to surprise even the audience in “Frenzy,” but the pink clothes, bedazzled headphones, and lack of eyeliner would be a giveaway for a more astute quartet, or at the very least, people familiar with the person they’re all staking out from inside a pet store. Their inability to really look past themselves works against them yet again, with Portia and Elliott following the wrong twin (June) to a store, where there’s yet another distraction: mannequins who resemble them. Actually, to quote Portia, they’re “slightly hotter versions.” And because they must document such an occurrence, they’re startled by June, who cackles about how her twin is the “wrathful, vindictive, evil one” while she’s the “happy” one who hugs cheap backpacks and can’t always remember why she’s laughing.
Meredith Hagner and John Early fully commit to the bit, wrapping themselves in this Mobius strip of self-centeredness and delusion. It’s a joyful but all-too-brief reminder of their former dynamic, which is all but gone now. We see them together again towards the end of the episode, drinking wine and lamenting their problems. Again, their clothes have their own message, as Portia’s now in all black and Elliott’s sporting head-to-toe “No’s.” Portia, who’s already excised one toxic presence from her life, lays the blame entirely at Dory’s door. But even though Elliott previously blamed everything on their curly-headed former friend, including his breakdown, he initially acknowledges they all did something wrong. So, if there is a hell (and there probably isn’t), they’re all going there.
Theirs isn’t the only familiar pairing we see. “Frenzy” also has Dory and Drew conspiring and flirting together as they try to crack a safe in April’s apartment, which is disturbingly full of empty and unopened containers of cat food. What is unusual is for Dory to look to Drew for answers. When she asks—no, begs—for him to tell her everything’s going to be all right, he’s more turned on than he has been since Chantal stroked his ego. The passion that’s been missing from their relationship is back, in part because of all the bad choices they’ve made. The make-up sex they have is desperate, poignant, and rather belated, since they could all be going to jail shortly.
The penultimate episode of the season, “Frenzy” lives up to its title, grouping the friends together for one of their former favorite activities before splitting them into pairs again. It ups the ante quite literally, as April increases the blackmail demand to $100,000 after catching Drew and Dory in her apartment. But it’s just as compelling in its smaller moments, several of which belong to Portia. While under the train tracks, she misses out on the break-in and tail planning; once again, Portia’s the last one to know. Later, her all-black wardrobe perfectly suits her bitterness, as she tries to plead with God (via Elliott) for some leniency as she only ended up involved in a murder because she was being a good friend. Hagner’s performance has perfectly captured Portia’s ongoing disillusionment, and here, she looks ready to cut off Dory for good.
A quick note: Earlier today, you might have seen an interview with Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, the co-creators of Search Party, about the finale. There was an internal scheduling error, but it will be back up in another hour or two, once the West Coast broadcast concludes. My apologies for that, especially if you hadn’t watched ahead and therefore didn’t know about Dory’s fateful ferry ride, Drew’s firing, Portia’s likely confession, and Elliott’s latest impetuous gesture.
The season-two finale is as busy as “Frenzy,” but even more purposeful. “Psychosis” brings the current storyline to its conclusion, with Dory being led away by the police after being ratted out via anonymous tip and Drew getting his comeuppance for meddling with Alan Yang’s marriage. But along with that undoubtedly fleeting closure, there’s Elliott putting poor Marc back on the hook for some emotional support that he’s just going to throw in his face later, and Portia just minutes away from some kind Pretty Woman sex with Elijah that’ll probably include a confession. Additionally, Detective Hartman’s botched stakeout lands her in the same kind of hot water her original suspects were in before she started covering their tracks, but only to cover her own.
There’s much ado about what was once nothing as Search Party proves it’s not just setting up its season-two endgame. The show is already teasing additional stories for its not-yet-ordered third season, but without losing sight of its current game of cat-and-mouse. Bliss, Rogers, and Showalter expertly juggle their present storytelling obligations while dropping all the requisite hints for future chapters. Fittingly, “Psychosis” is a lot—a lot of action, accusations, anger. But what’s still lacking is a greater sense of awareness among the core players. Dory still thinks she’s mostly motivated by a sense of fairness, of wanting to protect her friends. But when she turns on April, it’s after having her own existence berated and threatened.
Pushing April off the ferry is a clear act of self-preservation for Dory, and it’s far from her only one. She’s forged emails to throw Deb off her trail, and lied to a police officer about Keith’s death and her own whereabouts. In “Psychosis,” Dory even tries to capitalize off Julian’s sexual harassment at the hands of Mary Ferguson. She steals his phone to give April the ability to blackmail Mary Ferguson in lieu of handing over $100,000. And until she’s being walked out from the fundraiser in handcuffs, she protests all along the way that she’s just trying to protect her friends. But at this point, no one is really buying that—not Portia, who walks away from the group early on while saying they’re no longer a team. Elliott, who looks so disappointed at Dory’s lack of ingenuity over another abbreviated brunch, speaks ominously of getting “their affairs in order,” which is how he ends up proposing to Marc while at a deli. And Drew appeared to have done a 180 (or at least a 150), returning to Dory’s side as they broke the bad news to their pals. But now that he’s been fired and lost his chance at fleeing extradition, he might want some distance again.
Another person who doesn’t believe Dory’s concern for her friends is April. But then, even if she did buy it, she wouldn’t give a shit. The wrathful twin cuts Dory and her friends down to size, calling them “pointless, entitled, empty idiots.” She observes that they were all born with “everything [she] wanted but couldn’t have,” including a bed at the age of five. “If your conscience doesn’t haunt you, I will forever,” April threatens. So Dory resolves to get April out of her life for good.
There’s little hesitation now that Dory’s already shown she’s willing to take someone down to avoid punishment. Look at her face immediately before and after she shoves April off the ferry. In both cases, her expression is more determined than anything else.
Bliss and Rogers make a lot of smart choices in “Psychosis.” They’re able to tie some of the threads, including Detective Hartman’s pursuit of the “hipster kids,” while leaving some slack for these resolutions to come undone on their (possible) next outing. I want to see how Elliott screws things up with Marc again, as well as how Portia will deal with being in a one-person cult. But their treatment of Dory and April is something that begs rewatching. It’s not just their final confrontation, though Alia Shawkat and Phoebe Tyers establish real enmity in a relatively short time. Go back to the first season, and note how little contact Dory had with April. Then jump to “Frenzy,” where she dismisses April to her face (“No one would believe you”) and behind her back (“I know she’s done something bad. Just look at her lifestyle”). And check out Dory’s expression after April sets a meeting on the Staten Island Ferry, which must have felt like early exile for a Brooklynite like herself. All these little knocks add up to the kind of entitled asshole that April despises, and who Dory refuses to acknowledge being.
There’s a sly thematic inversion, as Dory finds another double, though it’s a version of herself that she bitterly rejects. Instead of being a lost girl or “endangered adult” (sorry, that will never not crack me up) like Chantal in season one, Dory’s proven she’s just as willing to hurt people as April is. She also judges their worth, though her assessments are inversely proportional to April’s. Everything Dory finds meaningful is nonsensical to April, which could mean she also secretly believes it’s bullshit. And if that’s the case, then what is she even doing with her life?
That remains the question (or quest) of Search Party, something that will hopefully be answered along with who made that anonymous phone call in a prospective third season. Although the second season traded some laughs for more dramatic heft, I still found its reworking of the murder-mystery drama clever and successful. There was a bit of a slowdown after the midseason mark, but season two nails the landing with stunning revelations that both answer a lot of questions and open up all kinds of new possibilities, starting with what the hell a nervous Nellie like Joy Hartman is doing in the NYPD in the first place (R.I.P. “Fat” Frankie Medici).
Season grade: I’m really wavering between an A- and a B+ right now. A great final act can forgive all kinds of things, especially nitpicky ones, but I feel like I have to sit with this a little longer.
- One of the smartest things Search Party did this season was to make Chantal a red herring again. She looked poised to set off on a Fatal Attraction-like bout of revenge on Drew, but instead, she rented a sailboat.
- “If I could get $60,000 in two days, I would get $60,000 every two days!” John Reynolds’ reading of this line is the right amount of exasperated, while his face in response to Portia’s obliviousness under the train tracks is perfectly incredulous. So much great, subtle work from him here.
- Having said that, I think this was Meredith Hagner’s season. She handled Portia’s wide-ranging arc with aplomb, summoning anger in flashes while maintaining some of her naivete. Her narrowed eyes, combined with her still sticky-sweet voice, effortlessly portrayed Portia’s fury with Dory at the end. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was Portia who turned her pal in.
- But John Early and Alia Shawkat, as I mentioned above and throughout my reviews, were no slouches either. Early’s Elliott remains the most quotable, and Shawkat took us on a dizzying journey as part of Dory’s decline. And they all continue to play so well off each other.
- “Frenzy” and “Psychosis” are gorgeously shot, and full of their own vintage movie poster moments, including Dory’s red dress moments and April stalking through her apartment, taser in hand, awash in blue lighting.
- Kudos to Bliss et. al. for maintaining the show’s moral complexity, which we see not just in Dory and her friends thinking their lives are every bit as valid as those of others, if not more so, but also in whole Julian-Mary Ferguson situation. In some ways, she’s supposed to be a better person than Dory & co. because she’s working for others, but a) she sexually harassed Julian and b) what was it she said about the importance of appearing to do good?
- The parallel pursuits of “Frenzy” played well off each other even as they also echoed earlier moments in the show.
- Lastly, I apologize again for that early publishing time on the interview, and want to thank you for reading! See you next season (maybe)!