One of my favorite genres is the closed-room murder mystery. Get a bunch of people into an isolated location, toss in a dead body, then let the sparks fly. This probably stems from my perverse affection for Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and playing the computer game The Colonel’s Bequest far too often as a youth, but I still get real enjoyment out of watching these sorts of stories. What Archer did tonight wasn’t quite a closed-room murder mystery—since the only suspect, ultimately, was Malory, and we knew that if those three men entered, they weren’t any of the characters we already know—but it used the trappings of one to great comedic effect. That it comes complete with one of the best endings the show’s ever done—as Lana puzzles out what really happens, then decides it probably doesn’t matter to push forward—and the implication that Malory is willing to cause political unrest in Italy just because her annual sex partner had gotten “weird” makes it another great in a season that’s shaping up to be another classic.
Lana and Archer arrive at Malory’s place late on a Friday night, neither of them too happy about being called in by her. That they don’t immediately realize there’s a dead body in a catsuit (no, a zentai suit, Malory is happy to correct them) strapped to a chair opposite them is a little strange, but once they do, the natural question arises: Why is there a dead body in Malory’s apartment, other than, perhaps, Adam Reed’s insane desire to do the world’s greatest American Horror Story homage? (Hey, it looks like next week is a Justified parody. This isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility here.) Things get even worse from there. Turns out the guy’s the Italian prime minister—no, they don’t “use” a king—and it also turns out that Malory’s got a gun and no way to prove that anyone burst in to assassinate the prime minister. The best proof she has is the three bullets in the wall that she fired as they rushed out and the one bullet in her arm.
That should be your first clue right there: The characters on Archer, particularly the central three, never get hit by villains, and the show’s made something of a joke out of this. Bullets will fly all around Archer and Lana, yet they’ll be able to take out the bad guys with two or three shots. And yet as Malory spun her tale, I found myself buying into it. Even though I reasoned that Malory probably could kill a man in cold blood, I didn’t really think she would, or, rather, I didn’t figure a major television network would let one of its characters become an assassin, even of a fictional leader. I was willing to buy into whatever it was Malory was selling, and I expected the episode would go from there to having Archer and Lana have to race against time to find the killers or whatever.
Instead, it continued along in the closed room of Malory’s apartment. The first half of the episode is an exemplary Archer-Malory-Lana story, in which the three all get some great lines and fine opportunities to bounce off of each other. But once Malory decides that the only solution to all of this is to sneak the prime minister’s body out of the apartment and Lana and Archer refuse to do it, the episode gets even wilder and—not coincidentally—funnier. Krieger comes over with his body disassembly kit. He’s also invited Cheryl, Gillette, Pam, and Cyril, and the four of them are just as disgusted and disturbed by what’s about to happen as Archer and Lana were. Then a police detective shows up, and everybody’s forced to pretend like there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on, which includes Judy Greer adopting the world’s most ridiculous accent, Pam insisting Lana needs to serve “from the left,” and Archer using the opportunity to get in his digs at Lana, who’s dressed as a maid and called Calpurnia by everyone present.
As soon as I saw this scene, I knew this episode could botch just about everything else and still be at least a B+. The series is always at its best when it gets all of the characters into one place and lets them chase each other to greater and greater flights of lunacy, and this was no exception. By playing around with the murder mystery motif, the episode gets to wander in and out of all sorts of scenarios. There’s never a point where everything stops dead or where the story wanders off the trail to let H. Jon Benjamin monologue for a while (as there’s been in a lot of other episodes this season). This is just all relentless forward momentum, crammed full of jokes, nearly all of which hit their mark. I still slightly prefer “The Limited” from two weeks ago, but if this is your new favorite season-three episode, I’m not going to disagree too strongly. It does everything the show does as well as it’s ever done it.
And on top of that, it has a terrific ending! After the detective leaves, having not found anything unusual, Krieger distributes the small parcels of prime minister to drop off at locations throughout three different boroughs. (When completed, the pattern will appear to make a smiley face.) It’s a plan even Lana has to admit is pretty smart. But as she and Archer are walking away, she realizes that the chamber in Malory’s gun was empty. It’s a gun that holds nine bullets, too: five for the prime minister, three for the wall, and one for Malory’s own arm. As she and Archer unravel the plot—which includes Malory offering a tip on herself to the police, so they’ll show up and search the apartment, only to find it full of people and spotless—they realize that, yeah, most likely Malory assassinated the prime minister of Italy. And what’s great is that they don’t really seem to care. It’s just another day with their crazy boss.
On top of everything else, this was a great episode for the “backstory” of Archer, too, if you can call it that. Malory gets her revenge because the prime minister gunned down a young man who make the “mistake” of protesting a return to fascism. That young man just might have been Archer’s father. And, what’s more, I don’t know if it will happen, but it’s possible to imagine a storyline where this all comes back to bite Malory in the ass, as previous missions have sometimes returned on this show. “Lo Scandalo” is a heck of a lot of fun, but what makes it as good as it is is that everything hinges on the warped, demented mind of Malory Archer, which is a funny place to be for one or two episodes per year.
- I loved Cheryl talking about who would assassinate the prime minister and saying it must have been “that stupid king.”
- Malory gives the super a potato each year for Christmas, because he’s Irish. Why does she hate the Irish? Well, you can start with how they weren’t on our side in World War II… (And how great would a Very Archer Christmas be? I command this to happen, FX.)
- I have been informed by the folks at FX that there was no product placement in last week’s episode and that the running riff on the Dodge Challenger was just Adam Reed fucking around. I should have assumed as much in the first place.
- “Unless it was the creepy old people sex bondage police, why would anyone break in here and shoot him?”
- “Thanks, Holly Hindsight.”
- “What’s more romantic than a dildo party-slash-murder?”
- “Fortunately, he’s Italian, so that shouldn’t be too hard a sell.”
- “Your version didn’t have coveralls.”
- “Once again, you’re faced with the classic Irishman’s dilemma: Do I eat the potato now or let it ferment so I can drink it later?”
- “No one cares, Figgis. You’re only invited to round out the numbers.”