Psychology has this concept of theÂ hedonic treadmill. The theory basically goes like this: Every human has an average level of happiness. Some people are peppy; some people are dour. Big changes in a personâs life will affect their happiness for good or for ill, but eventually they will get to their standard happiness levels.Â Search PartyÂ was, in some ways, a show about the hedonic treadmill. Throw the craziest shit at these four people, and they will go back to their baseline. Not even the end of the world will have a lasting effect.
Incredibly, Dory and company somehow manage to evade blame yet again. They cause the end of humanity (at least for the Americas), but it happens so quickly that no one ever connects the zombie apocalypse with the Lyte pills. Most people go to their Dory-inflicted deaths thinking she died like four days before shit really hit the fan.
We start the episode mid-shit-hit. Thanks to this scene, I have a new phobia: crowd surfing while the crowd undergoes zombification. Not sinceÂ Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the GraveÂ has the vibe been harshed this brutally. Elliott and Portia find Drew and Dory, explain the jelly-bean switcheroo (âMy egomania saved our lives!â screams Elliott) as well as what happened to the rest of the disciples. âYou did it again,â says Portia to Dory.
They all flee to Marc and Elliottâs place, where they discover Marc has moved on to a new guy. Well, he did think Elliott was dead. They kick this new guy out, presumably to die at the hands of the zombies they created. Truly stunning how little anyone changes in the face of these dire circumstances. The four are insular, emotionally incestuous to the point it kills people around them. Nobody explains the jelly beans to Marc, who eats some that fall out of Elliottâs pockets. Beautiful acting from Elliott, who doesnât express love or remorse verbally but still looks very tenderly at Marc as he begins zombification.
Marc doesnât take his imminent death well. âI was gonna go back to school!â he laments. He also takes a moment to call out Elliott and his friends for being emotionally withholding and not letting him into the group. âItâs normal to not let your friendsâ partners feel included!â Drew yells at a dying Marc. Before he can inflict damage, zombie Marc is hit by the self-driving cop car full of cultists turned zombies. Hey, besties! Welcome back. Faced with the consequences of their actions, the crew runs.
Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge, the gang sees Gavin, Chantalâs ex. They avoid eye contact as they make their way to the visual-inspection checkpoint to get out of Brooklyn. Again, it is stunning how the writers give the apocalypse the same motifs as a party: big fights with your partner, avoiding people you donât like, and eventually the desperate need to flee with your closest friends.
Portia has a scrape, which the military decides means sheâs infected. âThis woman has no brain!â one soldier yells, to which Portia yells back, âIâm just leggy.â When it seems like Portia â the heart of the gang â is going to be left behind, it is devastating. Dory eventually decides that, rather than leave one of the core four behind, theyâre going to rough it in Brooklyn together. Itâs very end of 1978Â Dawn of the Dead.Â A moment of despair, a decision to hang together rather than die separately, and not much hope of ever making it out of this situation. Only theyâre saved! By Chantal.
As we guessed, Chantal used her wifeâs bequeathment to become a zombie hunter. The old key she was given in the previous episode was to a series of underground tunnels, the best place to time travel in and out of. As Chantal explains, time travel is made more difficult by construction. You donât want to appear inside a wall, so better to travel to these disused tunnels that will never change. However, thatâs still a geocentric model of time travel. The Earth spins around the sun, the solar system travels through the Milky Way, and the universe continues to expand infinitely. Theoretically, if you time travel to a fixed place in space, youâre pretty much always going to appear in the icy void of space. But hey! At least Liquoriceâs prepper shit is coming in handy. Who doesnât like Kind bars?
After getting saved by Chantal, Dory has a brief moment of accepting culpability for ending the world. She admits to Chantal that the zombie apocalypse is all her fault, but it falls on delusional ears. She even tries to articulate why any of it happened, but all she can get out is, âI just wanted.â And thatâs always been the thing, hasnât it? Dory sees her want as the trumping force in the universe. She wants purpose; she wants excitement; she wants to be in the center of things; she wants to be a good person; she wants to enlighten the world. Want without boundaries, want without logic. She wanted the jelly beans to work, so she didnât listen to the scientists who said it couldnât. And now those scientists are dead, and sheâs still alive because sheâs Teflon.
Letâs do a quick check-in with whereÂ Search PartyÂ left its players:
â˘ Dr. Benny: zombo
â˘ The coroners: probably dead
â˘ Gemini the rat: at large
â˘ The influencers: zombos
â˘ Tunnel Quinn: probably hiding in a bunker somewhere safe and sound
â˘ Marc: zomb!
â˘ Aspen: liâl freaky zombie
â˘ Gavin: last seen yelling âMen firstâ at the checkpoint, so probably dead
â˘ Chantal: braver and more effective than the troops
â˘ Gail: zombâd
We donât see zombie Gail until the flash-forward, once the hedonic treadmill has really kicked in. New York is allÂ Life After People,Â and Drew and Dory have gotten married. It appears their lives are spent breaking into fancy places from the world before and ignoring all the death and devastation around them. Survivor guilt? No way. The group had already started putting up mental barriers between them and the havoc they caused three minutes after being saved by Chantal.
Elliott talks about moving to L.A., which is down to around 11,000 people. As they idly chat, they walk past a wall full of missing posters. Dory stops, stares, and is able to finally look away. Lovely little parallel with the pilot. If sheâd been able to ignore one missing poster, this wall wouldnât be covered with them now. Bye,Â Search Party.Â You were real even when you were impossibly fake.
â˘ No, but for real, how do we all feel about the sci-fiâhorror twist on this final season? I had fun the whole time, but I worry we lost something by going this far into speculative fiction.Â Search PartyÂ started out somewhat grounded, then got more and more heightened. But even in season fourâs kidnapping and gun factories, it was always a world that could happen. Does the show lose some of its specificity by going so far from our lived experience? Or by going further into the apocalypse, doesÂ Search PartyÂ futureproof itself? The real world is getting increasingly less believable. Maybe this will feel like a documentary by next year.
â˘ The moment Elliott sees an acquaintance in Chantalâs bunker and lies about finally getting coffee sometime soon? Devastating. I really hope weâre not still making plans to make plans by the time weâre in bunkers.
â˘ If this were real life (LOL), there would have been FBI ops among the hippie mourners gathered at Lyte. They should have bagged and tagged Dory before she was able to pass out jelly bean one.
â˘ The news labels zombification as an âunidentified contagious personality disorder,â which is truly a gag.
â˘ Show co-creator Charles Rogersâs character is called Befuddled Ninny in the credits, and I am LOLing.