Search Party gang breaks down the destructive and 'bittersweet' finale
Warning: This story contains spoilers from the entire fifth and final season of Search Party, which launched Friday on HBO Max.
The end of Search Party nearly ended the world.
In the pop culture devouring, HBO Max comedy's fifth and final season, Dory (Alia Shawkat), who has a newfound sense of purpose following her near-death experience, Drew (John Reynolds), Elliott (John Early), and Portia (Meredith Hagner) teamed up with flamboyant billionaire Tunnel Quinn (Jeff Goldblum) to create a pill that would make people feel as enlightened as Dory. In typical Search Party fashion, they failed spectacularly and the situation spun out of control because the resulting pill actually created a highly contagious virus that turned people into zombies. In other words: Dory and the gang started a zombie apocalypse in New York City and the show went full horror movie in the final episodes. Who could've imagined season 1's Nancy Drew-like mystery would've led here?
In EW's lengthy oral history about Search Party's five seasons, co-creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers explained that they came up with this ending while shooting season 4 in 2019.
"Before COVID became COVID, like as we were finishing up season 4 and getting excited about the idea of season 5 and what that could be, our idea was like, 'Oh, Dory is responsible somehow for like a pandemic disease,'" said Bliss. "What we liked about her and the friends ultimately causing like the apocalypse [was the idea that] starting from their seed of narcissism and their search for their worth in this world, like the meaning of who you are and your place in this world, could become catastrophic."
"It just made sense [for a] story that's about somebody starting in total darkness about their idea of themselves that Search Party was ultimately about self-actualization through extreme circumstances," said Rogers. "[Dory] is self-actualizing but it's ruining the world."
Furthermore, the zombie twist also made sense because the show loves to play with genre. After the initial mystery-that-wasn't-a-mystery, season 2 drew on Hitchcock, season 3 went full courtroom drama, and season 4's abduction storyline was inspired by Misery. "In the end, it's like genre overtook the show, which is a kind of fun idea," said Rogers.
The cast found out about the apocalyptic ending during season 4 and had a blast when it finally came time to shoot last summer, even though it was hard work.
"Those final episodes were really fun to shoot because it was like we were in a whole different show," said Shawkat. "We were just being like, 'Do you remember when we used to do brunch scenes, sitting there talking, just a four-seater?'"
"I was worried that the kind of zombie-ness of it all might take you out of it, but I actually think it cranks up the stakes in a very immediate way," said Early. "That's how it felt to act it. We didn't have time to try and rationalize what was going on. You just had to run. It's really, really hard. I don't know how anyone can be on a show like The Walking Dead for so many years. We did it for three episodes, and I literally had back surgery afterward. It hurt my body so much, just like running down streets in my crazy-ass shoes." He added. "We're like the little show that could. It's been a relatively cheap show, but we were doing epic kind of action sequences, tons of background [actors] and crane cameras."
Surprisingly, Dory and company managed to survive the apocalypse. In the finale's epilogue, which was set in a post-outbreak New York, Dory and Drew got married in an abandoned Broadway theatre with Portia and Elliott as their witnesses.
"It doesn't really feel great that Dory and Drew are together, whereas like other TV shows where your two leads finally get married that's like a joyful occasion. Watching them, they seem happy, but it doesn't really feel happy," said Bliss. "And then Portia is like, 'I made it to Broadway.' Like, really that's not exactly how we all thought that would look. And just having to continually cope with what life throws at you and see where you want to end up."
"Tonally we wanted it to feel a little bittersweet and a little like in reality, you would be dissociating if you had caused so much destruction globally or metaphorically in your life," said Rogers. "So there's a little bit of like a Wizard of Oz vibe that we wanted to bring into the finale, and there's also something fantastical about them being in these wedding clothes and it being apocalyptic."
As they return to the safe zone, they pass by a wall of missing persons posters. The last shot of the show is of Dory looking at the wall, which is a direct callback to the moment she saw Chantal Witherbottom's (Clare McNulty) poster in the series premiere.
"That final shot, in particular, speaks to the idea that this has always been Dory's story," said Rogers. "She's always been seeking and everything has moved around her in her pursuit to have some understanding of self. And that that's ultimately like narcissistic and tragic, but also what the show embodies, which is that life is cringey and humiliating but also beautiful. And it's not something when you step back and look at it and you look at the consequences of your whole life and all of the elements that you can actually make real sense of it. So we like the idea that final look doesn't have any sort of one particular note that it's reducing the whole show down into, it's about her processing it internally. And we only have so much access to what that would mean for her."
For more inside information about the final season and the show as a whole, check out EW's full Search Party oral history.
All 10 episodes of Search Party's final season are available to stream on HBO Max.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.