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Search Party - The Infinite Loop/The Imposter/The Inferno/The Shadows - Review

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“Search Party” concludes the search for Dory, and its fourth season, with this final selection of episodes – “The Infinite Loop,” “The Imposter,” “The Inferno,” and “The Shadows.” The show loses a bit of narrative steam as it winds through this wrap-up, but makes an interesting choice on where to land, particularly if this is it for the series (it currently hasn’t been picked up for a fifth season).

After Elliott reluctantly reaches out to Marc to confirm where he saw Dory, “The Infinite Loop” sends him, Portia, and Drew to Babyfoot, Massachusetts to reunite with their friend. Also descending on the tiny town (“It’s so small,” Drew notes at one point, “I mean, it took us two seconds to drive around the whole big toe”) is Chip’s aunt Lylah, played by very special guest star Susan Sarandon, who, you know, has been in some stuff. An eccentric grand dame, she’s been asked by Chip’s dad to do “damage control” re: Dory’s abduction. Chip happens to spot Lylah sashaying around town and panics to “Stephanie” that they have to pack up and flee. And then – because of Chip dressing up like Lylah and Portia getting the Dory wig from her movie stuck on her head – there’s a lot of near-misses and cases of mistaken identity among the searchers, eventually culminating in a farcical car chase in a traffic roundabout.

That, though, is when Drew and the others spot Dory in the passenger seat of Chip’s car. But in her altered mental state, she’s not happy to see them. In fact, she’s horrified. “I won’t let you ruin my life again,” she screams as she takes off running into the woods (Chip, rather conveniently, gets stuck in the car and can’t go after her himself). Her friends manage to restrain her, bringing her to a motel room to try and get through to her, but “Stephanie” is unrepentant about how much she loathes this “bunch of self-obsessed, narcissistic sociopaths.” “I think we lost her,” Drew sadly mutters as the shattered friends snuggle up together.

“The Imposter” then interrupts the action so the audience can...catch up with Chantal? Look, I have thought Clare McNulty has been good in this part, first as the season one MacGuffin, and then as a goobery complication to the season two cover-up. But the story has moved so far beyond the character at this point, and Chantal certainly did not need a spotlight episode at this stage in the season. They also really dialed up her annoying awfulness in this one so it was not fun to watch on several levels.

Anyway, Chantal. Chantal hates her family, even though they went bankrupt keeping her ungrateful ass out of jail after her subplot shenanigans last season. Chantal gets high and has a drug-fueled vision (including a random cameo by “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine) that convinces her to write a book. Chantal takes her opus to a publisher (Kate Berlant’s Nia, who, in one nice touch, was Elliott’s editor back in season two) who deliciously rips it and Chantal to shreds. Chantal throws her book away on the street and it’s found by Wendy Williams-esque media personality Wilma (Lillias White, “The Get Down”), who mistakenly thinks it’s a masterpiece written by a ten-year-old. Chantal humiliates herself and Wilma on live television. The end!

The only impact of all this Chantal on the main plotline is that Dory sees her on Wilma’s show and that, to her screaming horror, triggers the return of her real memories. So that’s what Dory is struggling with when “The Inferno” starts. She tries and fails to articulate her trauma to her frustrated friends, and then, after announcing that they “never should’ve looked for [her],” she takes off in their car. After enduring an absolutely bonkers ambush wedding proposal from Drew’s fairyland girlfriend, he, Portia, and Elliott pursue Dory on foot. But after a while, they collapse on the side of the road, wailing about their directionless lives and self-centered choices. And then, taking the very recently unbrainwashed Dory’s words to heart, they talk themselves into not trying to save her anymore. This turn didn’t 100% work for me. I mean, it’s not like being selfish flip-floppers is out of character for these three, but it seems narratively off they would just give up now. Maybe if they had blamed Dory more in their breakdowns for what they feel are their fucked-up lives, I dunno.

So where has Dory gone? Back to Chip. He’s terrified when she confronts him, but once she’s cornered him in her basement cell, it’s clear that she’s not there to hurt him. “Make me forget everything I’ve done,” she pleads, begging to be rebrainwashed. Dory’s desperation to escape her dark side only become clearer later in the episode when we see a flashback of her escaping Chip’s car right after he abducted her, but making an active choice to climb back in and submit to whatever it is he has planned. But Chip, as narcissistic as everyone else on this show, is aghast that she’s only thinking of herself and not about what he needs. He then admits that her transformation into “Stephanie” was a total fluke. “I’m not some evil mastermind…I’m just wealthy and inbred” (and sidebar – oh yeah, Aunt Lylah admitted to Chip in “The Infinite Loop” that she’s actually his mother, making our multi-season antagonist a twinky, cross-dressing, product of incest, which feels like a lot of troubling tropes that the show doesn’t really have time to unpack). Anyway, Chip flounces out, Aunt Lylah locks Dory in the basement and has the house set ablaze to cover her nephew/son’s tracks, and Dory collapses from the fumes.

And given “The Shadows” opens with an ethereal Dory in a black coat, gliding into her own memorial, it certainly seems like she perished in the fire. As other versions of herself – in her courtroom dress from the day she was kidnapped, in her femme fatale look from when she pushed April off the ferry, etc. – sit down beside her, Dory listens and looks on as her besties eulogize her, with some nice sentiments about her mixed in amongst the trademark theatrics (Portia’s “Are you gonna clap?” at the end of hers was priceless). There’s a real sense of finality to this sequence, from the full use of the theme song to the plethora of recurring players who appear – Chantal, Marc, Dory’s old boss Gail, Portia’s mother, even Julian.

After, Drew, Portia, and Elliott retreat to the latter two’s apartment and are creeped out to discover that Chip has left them a box of mementos from his time with Dory and a warning not to pursue retribution against him or his family. Trying to shake that off, the friends share their vision of what Dory’s “best life” would have been (interestingly, nobody thinks she and Drew would have ended up together), have a dark moment where they ponder if they possibly could have saved her, and, after finding a message to them from Dory in Chip’s box, have a cathartic cry. I have to say that one of my favorite things this season has been these actors/characters as a unit. Too often in seasons past, they – particularly Portia and Elliott – would be segregated in subplots so I appreciated the amount of screen time they had together; really let the ensemble chemistry shine.

The final minutes of the episode, though, belong to Dory. We see her spectral figure from the memorial walk out of the basement cell and fall in line with her counterparts, perhaps at peace with all the pieces of herself. And then…she’s being revived in an ambulance, soot on her face and still wearing a pink Babyfoot sweatshirt, screaming that she “saw everything.” This really caught me by surprise, as the episode had done such a convincing job selling me on Dory being dead. In fact, if the show doesn’t return, it’s kinda too bad this coda spoils what was otherwise a very satisfactory ending point. If it does, with no hints from the cliffhanger as to where the narrative is heading as in past seasons, I’d be curious to see where the creators steer the story next.

But either way, that’s the end of season four of “Search Party.” Which episode – “The Infinite Loop,” “The Imposter,” “The Inferno,” or “The Shadows” – was your favorite of the four-pack? And would you like to see a fifth season or would you be okay with this as the show’s ending? Come share your thoughts in the comments section.

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