Search Party Recap: The Writing on the Wall

Search Party

The Mystery of the Golden Charm; The Secret of the Sinister Ceremony
Season 1 Episodes 5 - 6
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Alia Shawkat as Dory.

Search Party

The Mystery of the Golden Charm; The Secret of the Sinister Ceremony
Season 1 Episodes 5 - 6
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Alia Shawkat as Dory. Photo: Macall Polay

An interesting aspect of Search Party is that Dory’s friends are slightly freaked out by her sudden enthusiasm for, well, anything. Drew, in particular, seems confused that she’s demonstrating so much agency of her own. Looking for Chantal has given Dory a sense of self-worth.

She isn’t the only to find a sense of purpose in Chantal’s disappearance. Dory’s bored, rich boss Gail (Christine Taylor) hates her life and secretly suspects her husband is cheating. The latest attempt to alleviate her misery is homemade seltzer — “for the environment,” she says, unconvincingly — as Dory scrolls through Chantal’s emails. Turns out, Chantal had a roommate she despised named Penelope. Both Gail and Dory agree that Penelope is a possible suspect.

Gail tastes her homemade seltzer and makes a face. “I can’t make seltzer,” she says, adding with a shrug, “Sorry, environment!” Like most of the people in Dory’s life, Gail’s attempt to be a better person is basically window dressing.

Dory gets a call from Drew saying that the skeevy guy who was hitting on Portia at the vigil — he calls him the Nanny Daddy — is on the subway taking upskirt photos of unsuspecting women. Dory instructs him to follow him. “I’m not built for snooping,” Drew moans. “I’m some tall freak in glasses.” But he does it anyway.

Meanwhile at the pharmacy, Dory sees the lurking man in the cap again, and she quickly confronts him. “Dory, you don’t have to be afraid,” he says, in a soothing voice that should probably make her more afraid. But since Dory’s newfound purpose is to pursue anything Chantal-related, she follows this complete stranger to a coffee house that he claims has the best soup in New York. (It wasn’t Shopsin’s, so his opinion is invalid.)

Turns out he’s a private eye named Keith Powell, who was hired by Chantal’s family to look into Dory. “You made quite a splash in Chappaqua,” he tells her. Honestly, I feel dumb that I didn’t figure this out earlier — and also that I didn’t recognize Ron Livingston, who plays Keith. These two have something in common: They both believe Chantal is alive. Dory enthusiastically volunteers to help Keith out with his work and he agrees, even though I’m pretty sure this is frowned upon by the private-investigator community.

Elsewhere, Drew has followed the Nanny Daddy to his place of work, but gets stopped at the front desk. “Do you have an appointment?” a receptionist asks. Thinking he’s clever, Drew looks down at a package on the desk. “Yes, with … Dotty Reikart,” he reads. The receptionist makes a face — at first I thought the joke was going to be that she was Dotty Reikart. But it’s actually much better: The real Dotty is a paranoid old lady who basically works alone in a storage closet in accounts payable. Not exactly someone who sets appointments. (Anyone else think that was a tiny homage to Garol from Broad City? Or maybe the whole Alia Shawkat/Ilana Glazer doppelgänger thing just put Broad City on the brain.)

Anyway, Drew’s attempt at sleuthing does not go well and security escorts him from the building. Things go a little better for Dory and Keith, who go to Penelope’s apartment, where she is doing some sort of kinky performance piece that involves dressing as a baby, surrounding herself with oversized Candy Land furniture, and stroking live bunnies. After her juice-sipping clients leave, Penelope explains it’s not “sex work” but a “non-interactive intimacy experience.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Like Gavin, Penelope has no compunctions about professing her dislike of Chantal. “The world is a better place without her. Sorry, not sorry.” Then she grudgingly takes Keith and Dory into Chantal’s old room, which is empty save for a box that she refuses to let them take. Keith manages to swipe a tiny jewelry box, though, and they open it once they leave. It’s a wolf’s tooth, hanging from a chain. Dory likes it and Keith says she can have it. (I’m getting a strong sense that Keith isn’t exactly a “by the book” kind of gumshoe.)

The box comes from a place in Red Hook called Bellow & Hare. (It’s such a believable name, I had to Google it to make sure it didn’t really exist.) Dory goes to explore it on her own, and finds a place filled with globes and animal skulls and hand-carved art objects. None other than Parker Posey emerges from the back, playing a character named Brick who is dressed in animal skins, an asymmetrical haircut, and lots of chunky jewelry that says, “I like to slaughter things, but in a trendy way.” Dory asks about the wolf necklace, but Brick artfully changes the subject and invites Dory to a gathering of artists and special customers. She says she’ll try to come.

At the bar, Dory shares the news of her day. For the first time, it seems that she’s the one with the interesting story to tell. But when she mentions Bellow & Hare, Elliott — freshly back from Uganda and having dumped poor hapless Marc yet again — recoils. “That place is a cult!” he says. Then, he adds with dramatic solemnly, “I lost a very good friend to that place.” The episode closes on a shot of Chantal, alone in a bare room, singing to herself. She hears a noise and jumps out of her skin. Why is she so afraid?

As the next episode begins, Dory has devoted an entire wall of her apartment to Chantal, a TV shorthand for obsession since, well, forever. (See: Mathison, Carrie.) Drew expresses concern for this investigation, and a desire for things to return to normal. But Dory, who’s never felt more fulfilled, cheerfully tells him not to worry.

She, Portia, and Elliott head to the gathering at Bellow & Hare. Drew can’t come because he has to meet his enormous family at the theater. (I was wrong about Drew’s two moms, by the way. He’s got a mom, a dad, and a whole lot of neurotic siblings and in-laws.) When they arrive at Bellow & Hare, the door lady ominously collects everyone’s phones. “If someone named Patricia Arquette calls, find me,” Elliott says.

Inside, it seems like a fairly standard party … except for the surprisingly high number of pregnant women. Elliott runs into an old (pregnant) friend, who keeps talking about something called “The Moment.”

Meanwhile, Portia does something very unexpected: She actually tries to get clues about Chantal, although the guy she buttonholes is reticent and weird and she doesn’t make any progress. At the same time, Dory is being doted on by Brick, who calls her “kind, stunning, and important.” Dory knows that this place might be a cult, but she can’t help but be flattered that Brick singled her out.

When they all gather for dinner, a commandingly handsome man named Edwin joins the table with a baby monitor in tow. He turns to a woman named Pia, who was gossiping about a crappy new coffee shop in Brooklyn where they recycle yesterday’s coffee as “cold brew.” Elliott perks up — at last someone he can relate to! — but Edwin immediately scolds Pia. “Gossip is a contaminant,” he says. “It’s not gossip,” Pia says. “It’s truth. You always say you should speak your truth.” But Edwin tells her that she should stop gossiping.

“If you have a problem with someone, you should tell that person. For instance, Pia, you gave me the worst blow job of my life last night.” (That escalated quickly.) Then Edwin adds, “So now you have two things to work on.” (Um, meow.) Pia quickly excuses herself from the table.

From there, everyone is encouraged to share something called “acute intimacy,” which honestly sounds like a thing I’d want to have surgically removed. Liam, the weird guy sitting next to Portia, shares that he wishes he would stop having brutally homicidal thoughts about bashing in women’s heads. “We hear you,” the table says rotely.

Portia immediately tries to flee the table, but Edwin tells her to share her truth. She mutters something about how she can be both girly and smart, and saying so doesn’t make her conceited. “We hear you,” the table responds.

Then it’s Dory’s turn. Of course, she starts talking about her newfound confidence. She explains that it’s about her search for Chantal. “I will find her.” As she talks, her eyes scan the table to see if the name Chantal triggers anything. They all remain pretty inscrutable, and Dory is scolded for not talking about herself. When she tries to explain that talking about Chantal is talking about herself, a primal moan emits from Edwin’s baby monitor. “The Moment has arrived early!” someone says. Brick yells at Dory and her friends to leave. Elliott and Portia can’t grab their phones from the phone basket and get into a cab fast enough, but Dory is full of investigative fervor. Although she’s way late for dinner with Drew and his family and although only a certifiably crazy person would go back inside the store, that’s exactly what she does.

She makes her way to the back, where all the cult members are in a circle surrounding a woman, who’s on the floor with a wooden plank in her mouth. Edwin is between her legs, delivering a child. Dory’s phone goes off and they all turn her way before she apologizes and dashes out.

She gets to dinner after everyone’s finished and then grovels in front of Drew’s family at his request.

When they get home, the door is unlocked. They tiptoe in. “Hello?” Drew says. “Hello?” That’s when Dory sees it — her wall of obsession has been ransacked. The photos and notes and connective string were torn down, then replaced with a simple piece of white paper bearing the words: STOP LOOKING FOR CHANTAL.

“It’s the cult, Drew,” Dory says. “I gave them my name and now they know where we live.”

Raise your hand if you think this will deter Dory. Yup, right there with you.

Search Party Recap: The Writing on the Wall