Search Party: “Murder!” / “Conspiracy” Season 2 Episodes 1 and 2 Review

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A darker tonal shift makes for some promising new storylines for Search Party‘s second season.

A compelling case can be made both for and against having a second season of Search Party. Sure, the season 1 finale concluded on pretty significant cliffhanger, but the rest of the episode—with its reveal of Chantal’s whereabouts and why she disappeared—was a perfect encapsulation of the season-long examination of aimlessness and these characters’ selfish pursuit of purpose. Given that the show was shot like an extended indie film, could Keith’s death just have been a karmic footnote at the end of Dory’s hapless adventure? Or is it really enough to sustain a second season?

The answer, it seems, is much more on the side of the latter, because the first two episodes of season 2 are highly engrossing and point towards exciting things to come. By pivoting the overall tone of the show in a darker, but still very entertaining direction, series creators Sarah Violet-Bliss, Charles Rodgers, and Michael Showalter are able to fully embrace the higher stakes of their narrative, while giving their ingenious characters some interesting new arcs to follow.

While season 1 was positioned as a millennial take on Nancy Drew, season 2 appears to be inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock. The show’s vintage, color-blocked marketing materials evoke the look of a lot of his movie posters. The episodes now have sinister, one-word titles. Oh, and there’s a dead body to be dealt with in the opening scene.

This tension-filled crime thriller aesthetic would feel over-the-top last season, but now it suits the plot and the characters quite nicely. Dory didn’t have any serious problems until she created them, and now that she’s involved in a legitimate murder, her life has gotten very, very real very, very quickly. It’s only appropriate that she wishes things the whole thing would just go away.

“Murder!” is a tightly constructed, delightfully irreverent premiere that focuses on the immediate aftermath of Keith’s untimely demise. Dory, Drew, and Elliott barely have time to come to terms with what just happened before getting whisked away to a group dinner, mainly at the behest of Chantal who’s experiencing low blood sugar.

From there, the show focuses on each person’s way of processing the horrific act they’ve just committed. Dory is a jumbling mess of nerves, practically unable to get through dinner without shaking. Drew firmly believes they should just go to the police. Elliott, on the other hand, knows they’re already in way too deep.

An excellent sequence between the three of them—which hilariously takes place in a red painted room in Chantal’s house that has a neon “Slay” sign hanging on the wall—sees him spring into action. He questions whether Dory can truly claim self defense when she initially tasered Keith, orders both Drew and Dory to go pick up shovels and cleaning supplies, and then distracts Chantal, Portia and Matthieu while they’re out.

If all of this seems a little heavy for show like Search Party, I should point out that the Dory & Co.’s very serious task of hiding a dead body is interspersed with the biting sense of humor that made this show such a hit in the first place. The gang might be forced to deal with an extreme situation, but that doesn’t mean they’ve all suddenly gained a sense of self-awareness.

The most prominent—and hilarious—example of this is Portia, who only finds out about Keith’s body because she gets upset that she got left out on a big group secret. Meredith Hagner continues to be an absolute scene-stealer in season two, going from misplaced jealousy to total shock and immediate regret with aplomb.

The premiere ends with the foursome burying Keith’s body in the woods, a task that causes Elliott to have a wonderfully hysterical freakout. It also leads to the season’s first big bombshell: Keith’s daughter texting his phone to ask if he’s with Dory. The difficulties of digging a hole in the woods are just the beginning of their problems.

“Conspiracy” picks up right where “Murder!” leaves off, with the gang heading back to the house to scrub the house clean of additional evidence. One of the most interesting things about the season so far is that, while these characters seem severely unequipped to handle this situation emotionally, they do each get flashes of genius that allow them to at least get through the next few steps.

Elliott experiences this in the premiere when he hatches the plan to bury the body in the woods. In “Conspiracy,” Portia comes up with their next plan through tears, after uttering the gut-bustingly funny line “should we just text back, ‘I’m dead?'” in wondering what they should do about Keith’s daughter. She suggests that they try to make it look like Keith was never even near Chantal’s house by moving his car and putting his things on a train somewhere.

All goes according to plan, until Dory gets stuck on the train and has to take it to the next stop. This gives Drew and Elliott time to go back and get Portia and Chantal, and Dory time to sit and stare at Keith’s phone and let the agonizing guilt sink in.

On top of this, Portia inadvertently instigates Chantal’s anxieties about returning home and having to tell her parents why she really disappeared. This is, surprisingly, where Dory gets her own flash of genius. She convinces Chantal that she can make up a lie about where she’s been—in fact, it’s probably best that she wasn’t anywhere near Montreal at all!—and everyone will go along with it.

This, unfortunately, ends up being another band-aid instead of a permanent solution. Chantal’s homecoming is the teary affair you’d expect it to be, but it takes a disquieting turn when she blames her black eye on the abusive boyfriend she ran from…something none of them had discussed on the way there. “I would never lie about abuse, and I’ve lied about cancer” Elliott later says. From how self-involved Chantal has seemed since she was introduced, it’s doubtful that she knows anything about Keith. Still, this sudden twisting of her story is concerning, and definitely a reason for Dory to be wary of her in the future.

Between Chantal’s new narrative, Keith’s daughter, and a dead body that we all know won’t stay buried for long, there are a lot of intriguing elements in play for season 2. Dory went from being a girl with nothing to lose and no dreams to pursue to a girl who’s whole world could be upended in a second. Not to mention the fact that Drew has kicked her out so she has no place to live.

There’s a moment on their drive back to America when Chantal cries, “I hate change!” at the thought of having to face her parents again. She isn’t aware of how deeply this resonates with everyone else in the car, who have all just gone through of the of the most drastic changes a person can go through.

As a viewer, however, I have to disagree with Chantal. Change can sometimes be great. Search Party made some significant changes going in to its second season, and they’re already starting to pay off. I can’t wait to see what happens next. “Murder!” Grade: A- / “Conspiracy” Grade: A

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Chantal’s real name is already Chantal Witherbottom, but she chooses an even more ridiculous alias for her fake passport—Margaret Wartime. The back-and-forth between Elliott and Portia in this scene (“Margaret Wartime is a hitchhiker. We picked her up because we’re good people!” “And we let her sit in the front seat?!”) is amazing.
  • What is the deal with Chantal’s brother-in-law Chip? He’s a little creepy towards Dory, and then tries to make Chantal’s disappearance about himself? Something is definitely up with him.
  • This is also a super minor detail, but during the digging sequence Portia freaks out at a Mrs. Potato Head-esque face that’s been glued to the tree near them. I don’t know if this will come up later, but it’s worth noting since last season had so many clues that were found in seemingly uninteresting objects.
  • I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but it was very obvious that Dory’s trip on the Montreal train system was actually just the LIRR. Or it could’ve been Metro North. Either way, it was not Canadian.
  • Welcome to season 2 reviews of Search Party! The airing schedule for this season is different (2 episodes per week on Sundays), so check back here for double reviews each week. As much as I liked binging the entire season online last year, I think this schedule makes a little more sense for TBS in terms of drawing out the show more and keeping people tuned in to the actual broadcasts.
  • That being said, they could certainly do without previews for the season during the middle of the show. I don’t want to know what’s coming up next week when I haven’t even gotten through this week!

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

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