Search Party Season-Premiere Recap: We’re Not Murderers!

Search Party

Murder!; Conspiracy
Season 2 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Search Party

Murder!; Conspiracy
Season 2 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Steven Lippman/Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

The second season of Search Party opens as the last season closed, with a closeup of Dory staring at herself in the bathroom mirror, blood smeared down her forehead, lip and eyeballs twitching. Showrunner Michael Showalter described the first season as a “millennial Nancy Drew.” But that iconic girl detective was uniformly courageous and selfless, righting wrongs wherever she encountered them. Dory just helped kill a man. Bye, Nancy Drew; hello, I Know What You Did Last Summer.

For those who need a quick reminder: Last season, Dory’s quest to track down Chantal, a girl she sort of knew from college, ended in disaster. Chantal, it turned out, was fine. (Thoughtless, selfish, and prone to leaving half-eaten bowls of cereal on the floor, but fine.) Chantal’s well-being is now beside the point. As a result of Dory’s investigation, Dory met and slept with Keith — the unstable private eye who trailed Dory and her friends to Montreal — whom Drew then bludgeoned to death with an interior-design award. The drama of season one centered on the emptiness of Dory’s life. Like the amateur detective of Baker Street, she took up her investigation to save herself from ennui. Now, Dory has an entirely different order of problem on her hands: Will she and her friends get away with murder?

In the bathroom, Dory, Drew, and Elliott have a frantic conference about what to do. Chantal, Elliott says, wants to take them all to dinner. Drew and Dory balk, but Elliott convinces them that going to dinner will help conceal the crime from Chantal, Portia, and Matthieu, the dumb but comely local whom Portia picked up at the end of last season. After dinner, Elliot continues, they’ll wait for the others to go to bed, then deal with “the thing” in the closet. He speaks in the slow, measured tones of a preschool teacher proposing nap time to a pair of recalcitrant toddlers. “Right now, I need all of us to do our best to pretend that we are good, normal, non-murdering people.”

“We’re not murderers!” gasps Dory.

“Exactly!” says Elliott. “Very good, Dor.”

Elliott’s plan goes awry almost immediately, because the three innocent members of the party have no interest in calling it an early night. At dinner, Chantal announces that she wants to commemorate her last night in hiding by getting “effing lit.” Dory, leg shaking underneath the table, tries to convince the group that they should go to bed early, but she fails to persuade Portia, who is hoping to score with Matthieu. When the Canadian produces a baggy of cocaine, Chantal squeals with excitement. “This is going to be a long night!” she chants happily. Indeed.

Back at the house — while the coked-up girls play Johnny Whoop with an increasingly frustrated Matthieu — Drew, Elliott, and Dory sneak off to the basement. (It’s an exercise room with blood red walls and a neon sign reading “slay” — a fittingly hellish setting for their frantic conversation.) Their responses to this crisis speak volumes about their various strains of self-absorption. Drew, who has always been earnestly invested in seeing himself as a Good Man, insists that they should go to the police, but his alleged goodness is undercut by the fact that he seems more preoccupied with Dory’s infidelity than with the murder he committed. Elliott, a practiced liar, wants to get specific about the story they’ll spin for the cops. Did Keith hurt Dory? Was it self-defense? “He was attacking me,” says Dory, than pauses, uncertainty washing over her face. “Or maybe he was just talking to me.”

This is a beautiful example of the confused thinking that delivered Dory to this catastrophe. All the clues she painstakingly uncovered last season turned out to mean something entirely different than what she initially assumed. Chantal wasn’t pregnant; there was no cult involvement. Chantal wasn’t in danger at all; she just felt like ghosting everyone she knew. Now, Dory is struggling to discern the difference between reality and her potent fantasy life. “It’s all still very muddled,” she says, drifting off.

Elliott is grounded enough to understand that the police won’t find this answer satisfying. Are Dory and Drew prepared to go to jail in order to live up to their ideals of themselves as “good people?” Naturally, the answer is a hard no, so Dory and Drew head off to buy shovels from a local hardware store with an all-too apropos slogan: “Get What You Deserve.”

If they do get away with Keith’s murder, it won’t be because they’ve mastered the art of the cover-up. At the hardware store, Drew attempts to add a pink baby dress to their cart filled with shovels in an attempt to “look innocent.” (“It just looks like we’re burying a baby,” hisses Dory.) Then they let a crazy man bully them into buying a flashy zebra-print suitcase to bury Keith’s body in — the first of many witnesses they’ll encounter who might later testify about their guilty behavior.

Elliott, with a pained smile slapped on his face, stays behind to corral the others off to bed. He plays matchmaker with Portia and Matthieu easily enough, but Chantal is determined to stay awake to “soak up the last couple hours of my escapism.” Fortunately, Elliott can work with that: He’s got sleeping pills in his Dopp kit, and he sells Chantal on the “spiritual high” of mixing coke with sleeping pills. “You fall down tunnels of light for hours,” he says. “That’s exactly what I need,” she agrees.

Finally alone, the trio attempts to load Keith’s body into the zebra-print suitcase, only to be interrupted by Portia, who has realized that her friends are keeping something from her. Elliott and Dory do their best to convince Portia that she should just leave well-enough alone — “It’ll ruin your career,” says Elliott. “If you go in that room, you’re choosing to be part of something very big and very bad,” says Dory — but naturally, Portia is unable to resist. Before long, all four of them are out in the woods behind the house, hacking away at the earth with their new shovels.

By dawn, the gang is finished with their grim task. When Keith’s cell phone rings, a text message from his daughter makes clear that the situation is even worse than they imagined. “Are you with Dory?” Keith’s daughter wants to know.

In the second episode, in the midst of a hysterical monologue about how much she wishes none of this had ever happened, Portia comes up with a strategy for evading the police. They should park Keith’s car at a train station, leave his stuff on a train, and attempt to make it look like he never came to the house at all. “That’s not the worst idea,” Dory admits.

“Yeah, Dory,” Portia snaps back. “Sometimes I have good ideas, too.”

It feels real that scrubbing blood off a kitchen floor wouldn’t be enough to shake Portia out of her insecurity that she’s not as smart as the others. It also seems likely that the group’s friendship will not survive this cover-up. Of course, Dory and Drew are already on the outs, and as they drive to the train station in Keith’s car, they fight about how many times she and Keith slept together. Dory is frantically searching Keith’s car for PI photos, she tells Drew. But what she really seems to be looking for is his keys. Breaking into the apartment of the man you just murdered is probably not a great idea, all things considered.

Once at the train station, Dory racks up a few more witnesses who might be called on later to testify against her — and when she attempts to subtly slip Keith’s cell phone onto a seat, she manages to draw the attention of the entire train car. Ultimately, though, the witness problem pales beside the problem of Chantal’s possible testimony. If Keith’s body is discovered — and it is an essential genre convention that a buried body will eventually be unearthed — the train ruse may prove irrelevant. If Chantal tells the world that they were all at the house together and the police speak to Keith’s daughter, it won’t be difficult to put the pieces together. But what if they could convince Chantal to lie about where they found her and why she ran away? Again, Portia is the one who suggests a way out of this quandary when she asks Chantal a loaded question: Is she scared of what people will think when she comes home? “If I ran away for no good reason, like a child, they would be so mad,” Portia elaborates, in case Chantal is too dense to get her meaning.

Dory picks up on Portia’s lead. “We are here for you, we will literally say whatever you want us to say,” she says sweetly, with the first glimmer of a smile we’ve seen this season.

It doesn’t take Chantal long to come up with the lie she’d like to tell. “I wrote this poem a few years ago that I really thought was going to do the rounds online, but everyone just decided to hate it,” she says. Chantal really is the worst, but that’s not the point of her story. The point is that this poem was about a motel in New Hampshire. “What if we loved that poem?” suggests Dory, her excitement building. “And somehow, reading it, we were able to figure out where you were?” I’m not sure which of these possibilities is more far-fetched, but lacking a better story, the group decides to go with that, and they head for border control.

As the car rolls up to the checkpoint, Chantal casually reveals to the group that she has a fake passport. Fury ensues, but there’s really nothing to worry about: The border agent turns out to be a fan of Surviving Essex, and all he wants is a selfie with Portia kissing him on the cheek. (“Get both of your lips on there,” he instructs her.)

If the gang does get away with Keith’s murder, I predict it will be someone like this who lets them evade justice. In the world of Search Party, self-absorption isn’t limited to millennials: Every character is overwhelmed by their own self-interest, all the time. When the group delivers Chantal back to her parent’s home, her parents and their maid encircle Chantal, weeping, but pretty soon, their conversation shifts to the reward money — the $250,000 that attracted Keith’s attention. “It’s a lot of money,” whispers Chantal’s older sister. (They never hand it over, of course.) Chantal relays the lie they’ve concocted, then seizes the opportunity of her family’s attention to recite the hated poem — “Dirty old motel.” The forced smile on Elliot’s face is pure gold.

As the gang drives back to the city, Portia optimistically declares that everything will be okay. “Thinking back on it, we did such a sophisticated job covering this up,” she says.

“We are good people,” Dory agreed. “Good people subjected to a really unfortunate situation.”

Dory might not seem much like a Nancy Drew anymore. But then again, who is Nancy Drew, really? Since she first uncovered the Secret of the Old Clock in 1930, she has changed with the generations. As Elizabeth Marshall wrote in a 2002 academic paper, Red, White, and Drew: The All-American Girl and the Case of Gendered Childhood, Nancy Drew “is less of a static heroine than a sort of cultural paper doll.” In such a biting show about millennials, it seems fitting that this version of Nancy embodies the sins that millennials are so often charged with: self-absorption to the point of self-delusion and an inability to accept responsibility for the destruction caused.

Search Party Premiere Recap: We’re Not Murderers!