Over its two seasons, Search Party has taken a swipe at just about every sacred cow of liberal millennial culture. It has mocked social entrepreneurism (the bottled-water start-up), feminism (“leading women to lead”), and diversity in hiring (Julian and Dory’s job offer). In “Denial,” it turns its merciless gaze on the taboo against sexual misconduct. In a sense, this development couldn’t be more timely. But the episode was written before the #MeToo moment, and I wonder if the writers would have pulled their punches if they had known what was coming.
Julian finally publishes the article he’s been working on, and it reveals Chantal was lying about sexual abuse. (For some reason, this is a big enough deal to make the cover of New York Magazine.) His colleagues are furious. “We think it’s really cool that in your spare time you’re writing articles about lying bitches,” one sneers sarcastically; another desperately pleads for someone to switch desks so she doesn’t have to sit near him. They seem to think that it’s wrong to cast doubt on a woman’s claims of sexual abuse, which is hardly a novel opinion at the moment. But “Denial” pokes fun at this attitude, as though it’s just another example of how millennials can be so thin-skinned and self-righteous. If some Breitbart types were to write a satire of liberal “snowflakes” in New York, it would be a lot less entertaining and well-observed, but the main ideas might not be so different.
When Julian’s colleagues finish digging into him, Mary calls him into her office and tells him he’s on thin ice. He tries to defend himself, arguing that he wasn’t implying that all women who claim they’re abused should be doubted. “I’m not that guy,” he insists. “I’m a good person with very high moral standards.” I’m not sure why, exactly, he thinks that Mary cares about moral standards. When she offered Julian his job, she said she needed to make her campaign staff more diverse, but it was clear she only wanted to look like a good liberal, and didn’t actually care about diversity itself. Turns out, she’s not only cynical, but an abuser in her own right. And a racist. After explaining to him that he’ll never get a job anywhere else now that he’s an “abuse denier,” she comes onto him with a racist cliché. “Is it true what they say?” she asks him, her eyes fluttering coyly below his belt.
When Julian balks, Mary pressures him with a tactic out of Harvey Weinstein’s playbook. “If you care about this job and your reputation, perhaps you should just let go of your hang-ups and answer the question.” Given what we know now about so many men, it seems odd that this part is played by a woman. Unless a flood of accusations emerge against women in powerful positions, it feels absurd just for the sake of being absurd.
Mary isn’t the only predator, though. Elijah now has Portia under his control. Jay Duplass plays a convincing sociopath, and it’s a pleasure to watch him work unencumbered by the emotional baggage he drags around on Transparent. While they paint a bathtub in fake blood in preparation for the LaBianca-murder play, Elijah needs just a few short sentences to tear apart Portia’s relationship with her mother: “She doesn’t love you,” and “You know what you have to do, right?” Elijah accompanies Portia to the fried-chicken place to break things off with her mother, and shakily explains that she’s been “happy for a very long time.” Which may be true. But if it is, there’s no need for Elijah’s coaching. So he corrects her. “Unhappy,” he whispers in her ear.
Meanwhile, Dory attends Keith’s wake and pretends to offer his family condolences while sneakily pressing them for information. Right after Keith’s death, Dory told herself that he was a miserable loner who wouldn’t be missed by anyone. But at his Hawaiian-themed wake, dozens of people mill about in leis, sharing warm recollections of him. Dory is ostensibly trying to learn more about the police investigation into Keith’s murder, but really, she just has nothing better to do with her time. The saddest moment comes when Keith’s young daughter approaches Dory to ask if she’ll find his murderer. Dory says she’ll do her best, and then she just walks away.
Unlike Dory, Elliott is attempting to come to terms with the crime. At Hallways, he tells his therapist in a rambling confession that he helped bury the corpse. But then he quickly adds that the corpse belonged to a seal. The therapist doesn’t seem to really grasp what Elliott is talking about. He asks Elliott how old he was when he came out of the closet, as if that has anything to do with anything. Still, Elliott does seem to have some sort of breakthrough. Over lunch, he bursts into tears. “I’m so full of shit,” he wails. “I can’t live like this.”
In episode eight, Elliott returns to his publishing house and announces that from now on, he needs to be honest. And then he finally tells the truth about Keith. Just kidding! His big confession is that he doesn’t want to write the book anymore. He doesn’t need the money, and he doesn’t want to go through with it if they hire a ghostwriter. “Working feels bad and I don’t ever want to work one more day in my entire life,” he exclaims with a laugh. “Oh my God, it feels so good to say that!”
Drew is trying to figure out who sent the threatening note. His interrogation of Chantal reveals that she didn’t send it, although as Chantal points out, he looks both confident and hot while whispering, “Don’t fuck with me.” Unfortunately for those of us who are into dark Drew — Twitter reassures me that I’m not alone here — his newfound bravado crumbles fairly quickly in “Hysteria,” when Detective Joy shows up to talk to him and Dory.
Drew puts on a pretty good show at first. When Joy finds him and Dory in the midst of scrubbing “murderer” off the front door of their apartment, he comes up with an elaborate excuse on the fly: something about religious tenants and rituals and cultural differences. Then, when Joy prods Dory to explain how, exactly, they used the lines of “Dirty Old Motel” to locate Chantal, Drew recites the relevant verse, about the place on the highway between New York and Maine where the roads look just like two hands clasped. But when Joy suggests that Drew had a motive for the crime, he loses his composure and drifts into excruciatingly awkward silence.
Joy asks all the right questions: Did Dory have a key to Keith’s apartment or the login to Keith’s email? Does she realize that Fat Frankie sounds like a made-up name? Did Keith ever mention Montreal? Will Joy even need to figure out where they bought those Party Town shovels to get a conviction? Maybe not. Towards the end of their conversation, a new potential witness saunters into Drew and Dory’s apartment — their crazy downstairs neighbor, April. Turns out she’s the one who sent the flowers and painted “murderer” on their door. “Can you guys keep it down when you fight?” she says tauntingly, “I can hear literally everything.” Drew and Dory are so self-absorbed and clueless that they’ve been screaming about murder in an apartment building where anyone can hear.
After Joy leaves, Drew and Dory rush downstairs to confront April. As usual for these two, their actions don’t make a whole lot of sense. What’s their plan, exactly? Do they intend to kill her too? She doesn’t come to the door, so we don’t know, but something interesting does come out of their attempt to talk to her: When Dory is pounding at the door and screaming for April to stop fucking with them, Drew smiles down at her for the first time all season. “I forgot how crazy you can get sometimes,” he says, with soft admiration. Will they rekindle their romance? If so, they probably don’t have much time. When Joy calls up a colleague after leaving the interview, her takeaway is unambiguous: “Those hipster kids did it!”