Dory Sief is dead.
That’s not a spoiler. But the Dory (Alia Shawkat) that we met in Season 1 of Search Party is certainly long gone by the Season 4 premiere which released today on HBO Max. She can never undo what she’s done, unhear what people truly think of her, or unsee the person she became.
Season 4 picks up with Dory (Alia Shawkat), cleared of murder charges, isolated from her friends, and kidnapped by her stalker Chip (Cole Escola). Chip insists that he is Dory’s best friend, her only real friend, and she learns soon enough that the ultimate validation she can give him is to agree with this. Meanwhile, the recovering remains of “the gang” are scattered back to their lives; Elliott (John Early) becomes a full-on conservative talking head, Portia (Meredith Hagner) is set to play Dory in a movie, and Drew (John Reynolds) hiding away from the city before he calls them back together to track Dory down.
This is not Dory’s redemption: it is her undoing.
I’ve written before about Search Party‘s exceptional incubation of some of the best comedy and drama on television, but it is worth repeating again and again. Not only is this season outrageously funny, but it is simultaneously a 10-hour horror thriller that will make your blood run cold. Escola and Shawkat are at the top of their game in Dory’s kidnapping arc, both giving entirely unique and untethered performances. This is not Dory’s redemption: it is her undoing.
Even as a top-tier dark comedy, Search Party continues to experiment with genre. We get a standalone episode about the original missing girl Chantal (Clare McNulty) and the deliberate use and recall of previous Dorys — old versions of the character indicated by Shawkat’s hair and dress meant to illustrate her journey and how it led her to this point.
Putting Drew, Portia, and Elliott together without Dory alters the group chemistry, and the aching trio provide consistently howling punchlines (and share the responsibility — Reynolds in particular gets some noticeable space to play). We also get some increasingly unhinged cameos, from Busy Phillips as the actress hired to play Portia (“We’re not the same age”) to Ann Dowd as a local bothering Chip, to Susan Sarandon chewing scenery to a pulp in her two-episode arc.
The season illustrates yet another art of which Search Party never failed to flex its mastery: escalation. Few shows succeed at the task of inflating or complicating conflict (dark comedies are notably adept, like HBO’s own Barry), but we see this with every season, every episode of Search Party. This started as a self-involved girl on a twisted scavenger hunt, then it became a covered up killing followed by a courtroom drama.
Season 4 leaves Dory alone with her most nefarious demons, inner and outer. We watch as they exact a toll on her mind and body, leaving us in shock or suspense at every turn. This was never a party that went how we expected it to, but we plan to stick around until the end.
The first three episodes of Search Party are now on HBO Max, with new episodes Jan. 21 and Jan. 28.
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