When HBO Max dropped all of the episodes of season five of Search Party last month, fans had no idea what kind of terror Dory (Alia Shawkat), Drew (John Reynolds), Portia (Meredith Hagner), and Elliott (John Early) would be unleashing onto the world. In 10 hilarious, horror-filled episodes, the series goes deep into Stephen King territory – including a hilarious It homage – until it reaches its bloody conclusion.
The first season of Search Party – created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter – began with a lost and listless Dory wanting to make a difference in one woman’s life, her missing college acquaintance Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty). By the final season, her delusions of grandeur have her setting her sights on enlightening the entire world, one jelly bean at a time. Much like her season one mission, things quickly get out of hand.
Warning: Spoilers will be discussed from this point forward.
Season five begins where the Misery-esque season four left off, with Dory emerging from a near-death experience. Drew, Portia, and Elliott have no patience for her newly enlightened lease on life and ask a nurse – played by Rebellious Magazine favorite Joyelle Nicole Johnson – to have her committed. Dory soon gets herself out of that jam and hooks up with tech billionaire Tunnel Quinn (Jeff Goldblum) to develop a bliss business, LYTE, and sell illumination to the masses. Dory enlists the help of Drew and Portia – both of whom wholeheartedly drink the Kool-Aid – as well as a more skeptical Elliott, who later exploits the situation for his own personal gain.
LYTE recruits a handful of influencers to serve as guinea pigs and infect the world with glimpses of their new program. Soon enough Dory and Tunnel have a disagreement that leads to a hostage stand-off, a daring escape, and a heist of the yet-untested enlightenment jelly beans.
As Dory and her cult reach safety, they take the life-changing jelly beans, which Elliott has switched with plain-old normal jelly beans for his own benefit. Everyone believes that they have reached a blissful state until one of the influencers starts acting violently and Elliott realizes that he missed one of the enlightenment jelly beans and it apparently has the power to turn people into zombies. Yes, zombies.
Believing that the jelly beans are a miracle, Dory and Drew set out with a bagful to share with their followers. Elliott and Portia rush to stop them from distributing the monstrous medicine, but it’s too late. The damage is done and society has already begun to devolve into flesh-eating mayhem.
The carnage ensues, but a savior rises from the streets. It’s Chantal, now married to a survivalist and conspiracy theorist – played to perfection by Kathy Griffin – who is under her own delusions in regard to her place in the world. At least she’s armed with a flame-thrower and a plan, ready to save the day.
Cut to a dystopian, not-so-distant future, where the gang is subjected to decontamination and testing at check points while the National Guard wrangles rogue zombies. The friends seem nonplussed by their new reality, debating their futures and a potential stay at the newly sanitized Ritz.
“It is what it is,” Drew says as they walk past a wall of missing people that Dory takes in with a blank, unaffected stare.
“It is what it is,” could be the motto for Search Party’s millennial melancholy. Whether facing unsatisfying and underpaying jobs, a desperate hunt for meaning, climate change, heartbreaks, kidnappings, and even murders, Dory and her friends roll with the punches – never getting to hopeful or defeatist – while trying to find a sense of purpose. This is America in 2022. It simply is what it is.
The first three mystery-comedy genre seasons of Search Party are spectacularly watchable with jokes in every scene and cliffhangers at the end of each episode. In seasons four and five, the plot dives deeper into physiological horror while still finding moments of hilarity like when Elliott and his on-again, off-again partner Marc – so hilarious and likable as played by Jeffery Self – are picking out their genetically-modified son.
Elliott explains what the couple is looking for to the adoption agency representative (John Waters), saying, “It would also be good if he could make us feel protected like a dad, like a son that feels like a dad.”
The gang’s quest for purpose and protection highlights the cruelty of the modern world. In the end, they look to each other for fulfillment, but even that resulted in a zombie-fueled bloodbath. As they move forward into the future, they may not have careers, homes, or a functioning society, but at least they have an apocalypse-withstanding friendship.
All five seasons of Search Party can be streamed on HBO Max.