The twisting, turning and unexpected saga of Search Party will reach its final destination when Dory, Drew, Portia and Elliott return in the dark comedy’s last season, which premieres in its entirety on Friday on HBO Max.
From creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, the comedy starring Alia Shawkat took viewers on a wild ride that started with a true crime spin and veered into the realms of legal and psychological thrillers – all while comically handling the existential imperfections of young adult life and morality. Now for its final lap around the course, Search Party taps into big tech, cult ideology, horror and sci-fi to gather all the threads into what Rogers thinks may be a “polarizing” and not-so-tidy finale.
“I think the show ends in the same way that it always operated, which is to say that things are really complicated and it’s never about morality and it’s never about punishment or reward based on how you conduct life,” Rogers told Deadline. “It’s just about how complicated things are.”
Season five picks up immediately after Dory’s (Shawkat) near-death experience of just barely escaping from the blazing remains of her kidnapper home. With a new lease on life, Dory enlists Portia (Meredith Hagner), Drew (John Reynolds) and Elliot (John Early) on her next purpose – spreading love and enlightenment. She teams with tech CEO Tunnell Quinn (Jeff Goldblum) to achieve her mission in the series’ final chapter that’s more surprising and twisted than those that came before.
In separate interviews, Rogers and Bliss, and Shawkat spoke to Deadline about what fans of the cult favorite can expect in its final “polarizing” hours, how former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson played into Dory’s psychology, and what the search party was really all for. Read the interviews, which have been compiled and edited for length and clarity, below.
DEADLINE: News that season five would be Search Party’s last came as a surprise for some. How did the decision to end the series now come about?
CHARLES ROGERS: It was truly difficult because you could always argue that you could make another season with a show that leaves off in such crazy ways. Part of us was still sort of grappling with possibly making another season, but at the end of the day this show should never outstay its welcome. This show should always have something to say and this season really feels like it puts a punctuation mark on the whole series.
This season is so big and so heightened as well. If there were to be another season after this, it feels like it would shift the tone in such a dramatic way that it would no longer feel like the show. It’s kind of good to leave off with a bang instead of like trying to figure out what happens after the bang.
SARAH-VIOLET BLISS: We all were sort of ready to move on. It really feels right that this is the last season and the story feels that it’s complete now.
ALIA SHAWKAT: We thought [the Season four finale] was way too gloomy a note to end on, especially with the gang not being back together. It just didn’t feel like the end. [Bliss and Rogers] talked about what the fifth season would be and the kind of arc, it just kind of made sense that this was the way to get out while the party’s still going, creatively. To wrap up this world while destroying it at the same time.
DEADLINE: Can you walk me through the process of coming up with this enlightenment arc for Dory?
ROGERS: Because she dies for a few seconds at the end of season four, season five has to be about rebirth and it has to be about being on the other side of this entire journey. It’s a little bit of like an epilogue to the entire series in that regard. If this person, who’s gone through so much and caused so much pain and chaos, is reborn or says that she is, what happens next?
We talked to people who are experts in near-death experiences and compiled hundreds of accounts. We also borrowed from other genres like we always do. This season features a cult element, so we looked at cult documentaries and movies and shows about cults.
DEADLINE: What specific works or figures did you rely on for Dory’s spiritual reawakening?
BLISS: When thinking about different spiritual leaders like Eckhart Tolle and like Byron Katie, they often have a storyline that was like, “I was in the depths of despair, I kind of wanted to die, and then I had this white light moment and now understand the universe in a way that no one else can.”
Dory’s motivations in season one is that you know she’s thinking what she’s doing is for a better purpose. The idea of altruism comes full circle in this season, where she honestly, at least consciously, wants to believe that she has finally found her purpose and is going to spread joy across all of humanity so that we can finally be at peace. If she’s not able to do that then bad things are going to happen. But in doing so, she then becomes a Jesus figure. It’s commenting on altruism, mixed with fame, and plays with the idea of when you’re trying to be the best you can be, but it then inevitably circles back into a narcissistic narrative.
SHAWKAT: Last season was so heavy with Dory kidnapped and in fear the whole time with the shaved head. It felt really nice to play someone with a lighter kind of energy. So, I studied a lot of Ram Dass and Marianne Williamson, who ran for president or whatever. Dory is always so concerned and is thinking about everything so much. From being lost to being scared to being kind of evil, it was just like, she’s just gone back and forth. It kind of felt like she ended this season in the center, finally grounded, forgiving herself, and just having a moment to enjoy her friendships and enjoy her life.
DEADLINE: Throughout the seasons, Search Party always subtly touched on larger cultural conversations – whether that was through Elliott’s stint with a conservative news outlet or Dory’s gig under Mary Ferguson. This season seems to take on tech and the idea of creating our own reality. What else can viewers expect?
ROGERS: The satire gets larger this season and it’s mainly about how it feels like we’ve been at like a fever pitch of dark insanity in this country for a few years. Whether it’s Chantal’s storyline where she gloms onto this conspiracy theorist who is spouting nonsense, but it all makes sense to her, or Dory becoming this figurehead of this newfound ideology. It feels like the stage gets bigger for all of the characters, and it is kind of truly like a parallel for where things are at today.
SHAWKAT: I think all the stuff, especially with the Jeff Goldblum’s character, is a beautiful comment on just, what are we going to sell nowadays? People are trying to sell an identity. They create these characters online and then people are trying to buy happiness, which is kind of the theme of the season is – buy enlightenment. Like, you can do it.
DEADLINE: Charles, you said this final season is very much a punctuation mark to the series. Would you say it’s a period, a question mark, an exclamation point or anything else?
ROGERS: In true Search Party fashion, it’s all of them at once because it’s everything on the keyboard.
DEADLINE: Can fans expect a tidy, all-threads-tied type of finale?
ROGERS: No. I think the show ends in the same way that it always operated, which is to say that things are really complicated and it’s never about morality and it’s never about punishment or reward based on how you conduct life. It’s just about how complicated things are.
SHAWKAT: It’s pretty from left field. I don’t think anyone’s really expecting where it goes. All I can say is the world is really destroyed. It gets really kind of fantastical and surreal, but also with the way reality is, it never feels as crazy. You read it on paper and you’re like, “This is nuts. This would never happen.” And then you turn on the news and you’re, like, actually it is kind of already happening. The writers have always created such inventive stories that are also such strong commentary and omniscient of what’s happening in the world in this kind of creepy way. I like to think people will be surprised with the genre switch halfway through the season.
DEADLINE: What are you taking away from Search Party? How do you think your time on the series will define your future work?
BLISS: It really led us toward the genre in a way that I don’t think either of us sought out. It’s really showed me how much I enjoy delving into that world. I want to expand myself beyond it and the goal is to continue to expand and grow and get better and better at whatever we’re doing together or doing individually. I think we challenged ourselves so much with the show each season and I feel very like hey, I can get through anything. If I can get through season two, I can get through anything else.
ROGERS: I think that that show is like a guiding light for me for projects from here on out where I feel like I want to keep expanding myself creatively. I think if the show had only stayed in this sort of like true crime genre/commentary, I would probably be feeling disappointed on some level right now, but I’m really happy that there is such an imaginative engine behind the show because I think that that’s kind of a through-line that I want to see continue in my life.
SHAWKAT: What I learned so much on Search Party is that every moment mattered. I was so involved in how it came across and the casting and the way the set looked and the job. We were all just so involved in it and I took every scene super seriously. Everything just had a lot of weight to me to make sure it worked. I just want to carry that on and surround myself with likeminded, talented people so that we’re all kind of together. The other thing is that we all are around the same ages, so we really have a similar sensibility. We all are kind of like, “we know what we’re doing but we don’t know,” and that creates something really magical. I want to be able to carry that on.
DEADLINE: How have you been processing the fact that it’s the end of a nearly six-year journey?
BLISS: The last day on set was really powerful and we were all sobbing and realizing that this beautiful thing we made was coming to an end and we didn’t want it to end, even though we were ready for it to end. At the same time I’m feeling like I haven’t fully processed that. I had a dream like a month ago where I was processing the end of Search Party and I was crying, but I still haven’t fully processed it in my conscious life. Maybe it’s denial.
ROGERS: It’s just impossible to process really because you don’t nearly even know what it’s going to mean for the way your life looks in the long run to not have it. The show has just really structured my life in so many ways like in terms of where I’m living and what I’m doing and what I’m focusing on. I bet in like a year’s time it’s going to hit me like, “I wish I was in New York right now shooting Search Party,” because that’s what I would be doing right now. There’s also a lot of relief in knowing that you’re not beholden to that structure anymore, too. I think probably it will hit me in a really huge way like the extent to which the show has been extremely depleting.
DEADLINE: What do you hope fans take away from the final season?
BLISS: I hope they enjoy it and feel less alone in the world. I hope that it just feels like something that they want to share with other people, and with their families, and their children and that it resonates with their spirit.
ROGERS: We’ve always intended for the show to operate on a few levels – for entertainment value and for comedy. But there’s something really meaningful and existential at the core of the show. The show has always been kind of like an exploration of what it means to be human, and how complicated that is and how many aspects and sides to ourselves in our brains and our existence there are that we don’t want to admit. Or that we think we are but we really aren’t and just how infinite and complex the path of being human is. I hope that at least the series ends off in a place where people feel like that show was really meaningful, ultimately.
Search Party was Dory’s search for meaning. It was her search for herself. It was her search for understanding. I think it’s a journey of thinking you know who you are, completely losing sight of who you are, completely fragmenting and breaking your sense of self into a million pieces and then, in the phoenix archetype, coming back to life reborn with a fresh and evolved understanding of yourself.