The classic structure for an Archer episode is to mix a mission storyline—usually involving Lana, Archer, and a third—with an office-based storyline, with occasional moments when Malory drops in and levels everyone with perfect putdowns. Three seasons in, this should be getting boring, but “El Contador” relies on this very formula—to a T!—and it’s as fresh and funny as if it had come along in the show’s first season. To a degree, that’s because the dialogue remains as sharp as ever, but I also think it speaks to the way the show has been using these storylines to flesh out the characters. Tonight, we get to see a Cyril Figgis we’ve never gotten to see before, yet he feels as if he emerges almost perfectly from the Cyril Figgis we already knew. He’s smoother and more confident, and he’s the guy who can get the job done. But he’s also a weak-willed idiot, easily defeated by a drug lord in hand-to-hand combat.
The secret formula to make good TV often involves coming up with a set of good characters, then throwing them into new situations (or throwing new situations at them) and seeing what they will do. At the same time, there’s also something to be said for characters behaving exactly as you would predict they would. Krieger’s herbal cleansing remedy prompts extreme hallucinations in those who drink it because of course it does, and Pam is resistant to the part that makes Gillette and Cheryl black out because of course she is. But the fun here comes from waiting for what you know is going to happen to happen. Archer is far enough along in its life span that its characters are well-developed enough for us to be laughing in anticipation of how they’ll respond to situations (being lost in the jungle, being hunted by a drug lord, having to take a drug test) as much as from wild and new moments that are completely unexpected.
“El Contador” is pretty simple, all things considered. ISIS needs some cash flow quick, so Malory sends Lana and Archer into the field to track down a drug lord and bring him back dead or alive. The fee the DEA will hand over for this service is $1 million. There’s a catch, however: The two need a third, and where Gillette was often the guy to come along on adventures, he’s not in any position to do so anymore. And that means that Cyril is getting promoted to field agent, something that seems to result in him being uniquely Cyril-y as soon as he gets to the jungle, dressing in brand new, Teddy-Roosevelt-on-safari-style clothes and reading up on the file that will tell him everything he needs to know about the drug lord. Meanwhile, back at the office, Malory insists everybody will take a drug test, something that leads Pam (smoking a joint), Cheryl (gnawing on “groovy bears”), and Gillette (obviously a user of ecstasy) to turn to Krieger for his homemade remedy.
Where I think the episode is smart is from reversing what we think will happen with Cyril, even as it gives us exactly what we expect. Cyril, of course, heads into the jungle like a doofus and nearly gets his nuts ripped off by a trap that will shoot steel balls at them. But when he gets to the drug lord’s house—quite accidentally—he bluffs his way in through an elaborate story about how he can increase the amount of money the drug lord keeps, instead of him having to send so much on to his boss. By reading the file, Cyril is able to successfully operate in the field, and his plans only get sharper from there. He figures out a way to turn the drug lord’s hunt of Archer and Lana to his advantage. He uses Archer as bait. He… gets pummeled by the drug lord in a fight. (Also, seriously, has this show not used a “Most Dangerous Game” plot before? Surprising.)
Of course Cyril oversteps his bounds. Of course he treats Lana poorly and she doesn’t bother to save him when he most needs saving. And of course when the agents hand the drug lord over, they don’t get the reward. (Malory witheringly asks them if they got a certified receipt.) All of these things have to happen to get us back to where we were when the episode started. But often, the secret to good character growth is all in having things happen slowly, in increments. Seeing Cyril like this will change how we think about the character in future episodes—but not so much that the show can’t go back to treating him like a buffoon. It’s a tricky balance to pull off—and it’s one the show has had trouble pulling off with Cyril before—but I think “El Contador” just about aced it. (Less exciting to me was that long stretch where Archer was wandering around. Some of this was funny—H. Jon Benjamin can make just about any lengthy rant amusing enough—but it felt a little like a dull patch before getting to Cyril and Lana bursting back on the scene. Weird that I would be so eager to see Cyril, but there you go.)
The hijinks back at the office were, as always, a lot of fun. Perhaps Gillette and Cheryl’s hallucinations—that Pam was melting and that the bathroom was made of lava, respectively—weren’t as immediately awesome as Pam’s hallucination (that Gillette was a Decepticon), but they didn’t need to be because, well, Gillette as a Decepticon. (There’s really no way to top that.) I also really enjoyed how the little bits about Krieger stalking Pam through the offices played off of the drug lord stalking Archer and Lana through the jungle, and as much as I knew it would happen, I loved that Pam’s monstrous strength and ability to withstand just about any form of substance trying to take her down both came into play, particularly when she wrenched that toilet out of the ground. This might have been the characters acting exactly like we’d expect them to, but there’s a certain comfort in that all the same.
Also, Gillette as a Decepticon. Right?
- I was actually a little sad when the drug lord shot that tiger in the face. I can see why Archer wouldn’t be able to have sex but would totally be cool with Lana masturbating while he watched.
- I was amused by all of the things he was going to track down to kill, too. I mean, I can get tracking down a tiger, but it doesn’t seem like a panda or two lemurs would present much of an obstacle. (Note: Those may have not been lemurs. I am not a zoologist, dammit.)
- Remember: If someone tells you to “check your six,” they’re not telling you to check your gun. They don’t actually mean to check your “ol’ six-shooter.”
- I love when Archer derisively laughs at Gillette about being confined to a wheelchair. I can’t decide if I love that or Malory mocking his abilities in the field more. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…
- Next week’s episode might be one of the funniest this show has ever done. Get ready!
- "Some offense." "Some taken."
- "Unless we need someone to go undercover as a shopping cart…"
- "A.) He's invisible." "Not totally! He has a telltale shimmer."
- "If I had a nickel for every time I heard a guy say that… I'd have eight nickels!"
- "I'm gonna die in a toilet stall. Just like the gypsy said!"
- "Jai alai?"
- "I thought those were yeti hands!"
- "Crocodiles? On a three-wheeler?" "Right? How scary would that be?"
- "For the love of God, seal the exits!"