The misfortunes that have befallen Dory and her friends could have happened to nicer people. They could have happened to verifiably good people, who don’t feign concern for a missing former classmate over a nice meal, or need to believe that an “endangered adult” needs them in order for their lives to have meaning. You could probably turn a corner in your own neighborhood, and bump into someone far less deserving of having their lives ruined—of living under the constant threat of discovery, which in turn, would probably lead to imprisonment. But what would be the fun in that?
In addition to finding the right mix of tone, Search Party has also had its characters veer from risible to likable to detestable (some more so than others), and back again. But there are obviously still plenty of issues with the core group, issues that have been voiced from the beginning by Julian. The up-and-coming reporter was positioned early on as their counterpoint, someone who was nowhere near as privileged but infinitely more self-aware. Julian took down Elliott, and this season, he’s intent on exposing Chantal’s lies. But beyond being more mature (and smarter) than Dory and the rest, we don’t have much of an understanding of why Julian is so focused on this particular group. Maybe it’s convenience; they did all go to school together. He seems to be more of a features or culture writer than a hard-nosed investigative journalist—could he be trying to make his way into that world? I’m not sure multiple pieces about social media-obsessed youth would put him in the same echelon as Woodward and Bernstein, but it’s been enough to get him multiple bylines at The New Yorker.
It is a smart choice to avoid making Julian someone who’d just had his nose pressed against the glass, who was just waiting for his chance to tear down the fabulous four. He was briefly an antagonist in the first season (though a lost reservation would have probably been deemed just as troublesome for the quartet last year), and now that he’s back with another incendiary piece, it briefly looks like he’ll just keep showing up to throw cold water on the proceedings. But Search Party adds some dimension to this party pooper in “Denial,” as Julian deals with the fallout of the Witherbottom exposé. The article isn’t making trouble for Dory and her friends (yet), but it has pissed off virtually everyone Julian works with.
There’s some timely material in the objections to Julian’s article, “Playing The Victim,” especially as the real world deals with a flood of allegations (and consequences) against serial sexual abusers. His colleagues at the Ferguson campaign HQ advise him to believe women. They’re a bit less diplomatic than that, hence the initial quote in this review, but they raise a good point. Why does Julian care so much? Even if he’s getting the clicks, he could probably do so by writing about other millennials and their dumb choices. There are bigger fish to fry than a misguided woman who, sure, seems to be growing more unhinged by the day, but who isn’t guilty of much beyond a dumb lie, and maybe some added financial strain to the taxpayers of Westchester County (they’re still probably okay). By focusing on his peers, is Julian also engaging in a form of navel gazing? Or is he, like his ex and her friends, looking for an easy way out?
Julian seems to be the only one really in “Denial,” as the episode takes an unflinching, but still humorous, look at Elliott’s recovery process. His revelation that he was looked to as the “leader” when it came time for everyone to get their hands dirty suggests Elliott feels taken advantage of in some way. This goes beyond the usual “woe is me” or “they hate me ’cause they ain’t me” lines from Elliott. He’s realizing that his friends expected him to know how to cover up an awful deed—and he proved them right. Now he has to deal with that.
There’s also an impromptu trial of Mariel Davenport (Christine Ebersole), who probably never expected to be judged so harshly at a fried chicken joint. Portia cutting off her mother would be more cathartic if she didn’t look like a ventriloquist dummy next to Elijah (Jay Duplass), her “best friend.” But Hagner plays this so well; her performance has been full of so many wonderful little moments, and tonight, when she starts over in her script after mistakenly saying “happy” instead of “unhappy,” it’s clear how well she understands her character.
Despite doing so at Elijah’s prompting (which is bound to have unsavory reasons), Portia is right to confront her mother for being so cold and unsupportive. Mariel makes her own bed when she tells Portia that, as her daughter, she has to put up with her shit. Abusive relationships come in all forms, including sexually harassing a subordinate, as Mary Ferguson does to Julian (bonus asshole points for making it racist). Chantal is obviously very much outside of this circle, though, having made up everything about her abuser, who turned out to be a married man who wouldn’t completely shirk his familial obligations.
The ending of “Denial” strikes a note very similar to that of “Obsession,” as it yanks us out of the family drama to remind us of the mystery that makes up the second half of season two: Who is out to get the gang for getting Keith?
Sitting with Portia (or Julian, or Elliott) a bit longer would have been nice, but the priority is clearly the guilty group conscience. After tonight, we’re just two episodes away from the conclusion of season two. But while gripped by “Hysteria,” we find out who’s been tormenting the group. That reveal is obvious and shocking, which just underlines how well this show has married its suspenseful and comedic elements. Of course, Dory and Drew’s downstairs neighbor overheard their not-at-all discreet shrieks about having murdered a man, and of course, she’s going to torture them with that knowledge.
We don’t know much about April, aside from the fact that she was in an abusive relationship in the first season, hit on Drew pretty aggressively, and doesn’t appear to think highly of any of them. Her return in “Hysteria” isn’t all that sudden, either, since she accosted Drew in the foyer a while back, showing a little too much interest in his tote bag and Agnes’ Aunt Noni’s obelisk. As another possible audience stand-in, will April be more or less forgiving than Julian?
The other pressing question is whether the group will even keep it together long enough to be ratted out. As Search Party moves towards its season-two end game, there’s another round of reversals. Drew, who was looking more capable—and devious—by the episode, is now struggling to make a non-incriminating statement. He can’t even make normal conversation, though it’s hard to blame him when he and Dory find themselves entertaining Detective Joy Hartman in their apartment after trying to scrub the word “murderer” off their door.
That little MacBeth-inspired scene comes right after “Hysteria,” and before we learn that it was April who managed to get her hands on some red paint. It’s also the site of a strange exchange between the detective, Drew, and Dory. Detective Hartman has appeared jumpy since her introduction; she was startled by the sound of the car door she herself slammed. As she makes her way toward D&D’s apartment, she starts at the sight of them, suggesting she might not be cut out for homicide investigations. Her concerns about caffeine only heighten this feeling, but once she has D&D in front of her, she proves what a good interrogator she is (not that these folks would that hard to crack).
The storm clouds are gathering, but Elliott sits pretty in his publisher’s office. It’s a brief exchange, but full of ambiguity, which means it’s one of my favorites. As Elliott sits in front of his “team” and tells them he’s committed to honesty before admitting he just doesn’t want to work at all, it’s hard to know how much of that to believe. I don’t doubt that he doesn’t like to work, but his obvious discomfort at Nia’s urging to write about his breakdown means he’s not ready to bare his soul again. A renewed Elliott dazzles the publishing industry folks, but his expression also grows shuttered, leaving the extent of his transformation up for debate. After the screamfest that was Elliott’s dinner breakdown last episode, John Early sucks that all back in, offering just a hint of inner turmoil.
Dory was once clearly the heart and conscience of the group. She was the one wondering about the emptiness of brunch, bottomless mimosas notwithstanding. It was Dory who urged her friends to get involved in the search for Chantal, to lend the Witherbottom family emotional support when they feared something terrible had happened to their daughter. She had ulterior motives, but there was also something more sizable than a kernel of genuine concern for Chantal, who proved herself to be so abominable and utterly undeserving of their help that Dory’s victory would have turned into misery even if they hadn’t killed Keith in the process.
Her friends, in turn, represented parts of her own personality, including calculation (Elliott), complacency (Drew), and obliviousness (Portia). But over the course of the first season, they definitely were spun off into more fully realized versions of themselves. And now, in season two, they’re as close to mutli-faceted beings as they’re likely to get. Before, it was Dory, and by extension, Alia Shawkat, who carried the dramatic and emotional heft of the show. Now, Elliott or Portia is just as likely to deliver the gut punch. As for Drew, up until recently, he was the most pragmatic of the bunch. He was looking toward the future, even if it was in Shanghai. But he’s currently not capable of cutting anyone, not even Dory, out of his life that way. As Search Party continues to be generous in its characterization, it only adds to, not hinders, the fun and suspense.
- Keith’s luau-themed wake is… not what I was expecting from that character. But it’s worth it for Deb’s assessment of Dory, who’s the only mourner in black: “You look crazy.”
- “Fat Frankie” isn’t particularly imaginative, but it is alliterative.
- I wanted to hear more of that lunch debate about mental illness and art, and having to suffer to feel alive, to be honest.
- “I need a minute to recover from that.” Elijah is going to turn out to be such a dick, right?
- I’m enjoying Brandon Micheal Hall’s expanded role this season, and while I wish him well in his series lead work, I hope he still finds time for this bonkers little show.
- For those of you who have watched ahead, thank you for keeping the comments section free of spoilers!
- The flower motif has been a subtle and clever nod to the flower children who were swayed by Charles Manson. Portia’s clearly in thrall to Elijah, but who is leading Elliott, Drew, and Dory?