Of all the ways Search Party could’ve wrapped up its excellent five-season run, most viewers probably wouldn’t have predicted a zombie takeover. But that’s exactly what happened: Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) unshakable quest to spread enlightenment goes so awry that the side effects turn people into the undead, summoning a zombie apocalypse. The creative team and cast made Search Party’s series finale one of the most appropriately bizarre endings on TV. The A.V. Club spoke to co-creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers about the show’s pivot to a farcical The Walking Dead, what it signifies about the growth of its characters, and Search Party’s legacy as a cult hit.
The A.V. Club: Season four felt like a logical end to the show. So when you knew you would get one more season to wrap it up, what were the themes you wanted to address?
Charles Rogers: In writing season four, originally there was a moment we felt it could or should be the end, for Dory to die. In retrospect, I’m glad we took that idea as seriously as we did. There was actual weight of that feeling at the end of season four. When we started to conceive five, we liked the idea of the themes of rebirth, enlightenment, and using that as a turning point in the show to see if Dory is on the other side of the journey you’ve watched so far. Ultimately, it’s a test of if Dory has grown as a person, and is she really what she now professes to be. We wouldn’t have been able to lean into it if we didn’t have the seriousness of the previous finale.
AVC: So much happens this season, but we have to talk about the zombies first. When did you know you were going to go down that path? And what does it signify?
Sarah-Violet Bliss: I don’t know if I remember the exact moment we decided it. I know it was in line with how each season we’ve had a “Can we go there?” moment. If we do, it’s always fun, but we have to justify it. Any time we’ve made big swings, it’s worked out in our favor despite the fears behind it. We thought, “Okay, it’s the last season. Let’s really take what we’ve learned and go as far with it as we can.” When an idea lights me up, or if it lights me up at all, I hope it lights up others, too. I have no idea if people will watch the season and say, “Is that awesome,” or “Is it really not,” though.
CR: Whether or not people like the idea of how big we went is one thing. The other thing is, do people understand the metaphors and why the show ends the way it does. I hope people find that the finale feels meaningful to them through the lens of all this heightened chaos.
SB: In following my own compass of it, I don’t feel betrayed by the ending, so my hope is fans don’t either.
AVC: Did you consider turning one of the main four into a zombie or were you certain of how their journeys would end in the apocalypse?
SB: We did. There were versions where we thought we should lose one of them. But we decided to then let that sad moment be Marc (Jeffery Self) turning. It felt good to have the four of them together at the end to reckon with the post-malaise of living in a new zombie world. How they’re adapting to it all felt more like the show than losing any of them.
AVC: Alia Shawkat hinted that she loved the final shot of Dory—when she looks at those missing person posters after her wedding. How did you land on that?
CR: It’s nice to leave off with the closing shot because that’s a visual we’ve repeated before. It felt like the right thing to come back to at the end, but now with all of the baggage, layers, consequences of what’s happened leading up to this moment. There’s something particularly internal about it as opposed to the previous times we’ve done it, where we know what she’s feeling. Alia has an ability to feel richly enigmatic in a way that’s profound. It feels like you’re in her headspace, but you’ll never know her headspace. That was the crux of writing Dory. She’s someone who was slipping away from your ability to fully grasp. We were able to speak about human behavior and psychology if we kept her at a distance. That’s a part of the feeling we want to leave people off with.
AVC: In episode nine, Search Party essentially turns into its own version of The Walking Dead in the arcade. How did you map out where it would take place, and what each character would be doing?
SB: We knew we needed an enclosed space for the set piece that is all of episode nine. We came up with the idea of the arcade by truly thinking about what’s the most fun location for them to be trapped in. We wanted to make a certain version of a zombie apocalypse work for us, and show it against where Drew and Dory are while it’s happening. They have no idea, they’re singing “Aquarius” while driving, they think they’re saving the world. We also knew we wanted to see Williamsburg again with all the millennials to see what it’s like when it becomes a zombie town.
AVC: Tunnel Quinn’s [Jeff Goldblum] wealth and fame brought lots of value to Dory and her friends, and it’s a way to poke fun at tech moguls. But did you want to do more with how his arc ends? He sort of disappears after being forced to resign.
CR: Seasons three and five are our biggest pointed satire moments. In this one, Tunnel is borrowing from Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and these people who claim to herald in a new dawn through technology they control. It felt like the right foil for Dory, who is somebody with a big mission but doesn’t know how she wants it to materialize. What Tunnel was able to bring was this magical Willy Wonka charm that was grounded and believable. In the writing process, there were times we really wondered how to sell the idea that a man out there wants to fund an enlightenment pill. You cast someone like Jeff Goldblum, and 90 percent of the work is done.
We had the idea of Tunnel Quinn, and we pitched ideas for whom to cast in the writers’ room. Jeff was probably the first name we threw out. When it came back to the casting process, it felt surreal to hear, “Actually he does want to do it.” We originally had thrown around a lot of different conclusions his character could come to, but we also didn’t want him to be a big villain. We didn’t want to put so much weight on him to take away from the main characters. We thought of doing a button on his character. The last act of season five was also expensive to film, so we had to make compromises anyway.
AVC: Chantal’s final dialogue to Dory, “You always had delusions of grandeur,” is apt. Why do their worlds collide the way they do during doomsday?
CR: At first it was fun to write Chantal because we love writing for Clare McNulty. We found this pattern where so much importance is placed on Dory’s arc, and so much unimportance is placed on Chantal’s. They are a cosmic foil to one another, so their narratives meet multiple times. Chantal saves Dory’s life, but we love that they’re still living their own selfish point of view for who is responsible for the end of the world.
AVC: Each season of Search Party has felt like its own structured show, with lots of tonal shifts. What was the approach while deciding how serious you wanted to get versus when to comically comment on an issue?
CR: We didn’t really have specific rules that we abide by. One approach that seems to be the anchor for the show’s tone since the beginning is that anything that’s extreme, any situation or behavior, we’re still treating the emotional reality of the characters with real weight. Even at the show’s craziest peak, they’re all reacting in a grounded, emotionally serious way. That can earn you different deviations from what you’ve done in the past.
AVC: What do you hope is the legacy of a show like this one? Is it definitely the end, or would you want to make more?
SB: This is definitely the end. That’s it. I hope the takeaway is that Search Party is something [viewers] really enjoyed it. It’s a lot to sum up.
CR: I hope it doesn’t leave people’s collective consciousness. I hope people continue to think about it. My favorite things have sort of a cult following that stand the test of time. I’d be honored if Search Party had that kind of legacy.