When Chantal (Clare McNulty) went missing, Dory (Alia Shawkat) looked for her. Never mind that she wasn’t actually missing, or that everything’s gone sideways for Dory and her friends since. Dory did what most people would probably hope someone would do for them if they went missing: care. She saw Chantal’s missing poster and wanted to find her, even though they’d barely spoken to each other in college.
In season four, Search Party comes full circle, except this time Dory is missing and “The Twink” (Cole Escola) who died at Elliot’s wedding is her kidnapper. He didn’t die, of course, and his real name is Chip. But instead of attending Portia (Meredith Hagner) and Elliot’s Happy “You’re Not Guilty” Party, Dory spends the night of her acquittal for murdering Keith (Ron Livingston) in the trunk of a car being kidnapped by her alleged “best friend.”
Suddenly Dory is in the same position Chantal was — except for real — and the question is will anyone look for Dory or will Dory’s worst fear (at least back in season one, when everything was “simple”) come true? Will her friends not notice?
For three months, at least, the answer is yes, and while plenty of TV shows are about murder and being on trial for murder, the “what’s next” stage after getting away with murder doesn’t always get as much attention. It’s like how TV tends to view happy marriages as too difficult to write about long term. Which isn’t to say Portia and Elliot’s (John Early) lives after being acquitted are equitable to a happy marriage, but because Search Party has Dory’s kidnapping to contend with, the show is able to be less flashy with how the others are dealing with their guilt.
The show especially nails it when it comes to Drew’s (John Reynolds) post-trial life. He’s working as a costumed character at an amusement park and it’s very believable that he would want to escape and be around kids to try and forget all the lies he’s had to tell in the aftermath of Keith’s death.
Portia auditioning to play herself in a true crime movie about Dory is also pretty spot-on, and the show’s costume and makeup department (Matthew Simonelli is credited as the costume designer and Christina Grant is head of the make-up department) deserve all the recognition in the world for their work in making Portia look like Dory. When I was choosing a press photo for this article, I didn’t even realize the one above was of Hagner and not of Shawkat until I’d seen the episode.
While Elliot, by nature, is an exciting character, his arc is the most continued from season three. He’s still co-hosting a political talk show with Charlie Reeny (Chloe Fineman) and his storyline feels the most like a retread of what we’ve seen before.
The show has always been able to take dark subject matter and find humor in it, but the things Search Party gets away with this season are scary, especially because at the end it’s like “oh wait, that happened, too” and these shouldn’t be forgettable things. Every time you think the series is going to hit a wall, it surprises and the guest stars — from Lillias White to an actress whose name I won’t say because it’s better if you don’t know — are on par with the talent this show has always cast.
The first three episodes of Search Party Season 4 are streaming now on HBO Max. The next three will start streaming Thursday, January 21st, and the final four will start streaming January 28th.