“Sea Tunt: Part II” is a silly, weightless episode to close off a silly, weightless season. It’s also very, very funny, with enough laugh lines to keep everybody floating along happily until January of 2014. It features Jon Hamm getting crushed by a soda machine marked “GOZ,” if you were concerned it wouldn’t have enough Sealab 2021 references for your taste, and it also has a fairly major revelation to close everything out—though if you’ve ever watched television before, it’s pretty clear Lana is pregnant early on, and the episode has a little fun with the predictability of this. It’s a fun, exciting episode of the show, and it’s the perfect way to close out a season that’s been a touch shaky but mostly very enjoyable.
We pick up where we left off last week: Captain Murphy (Hamm) has his missiles trained on the Eastern seaboard, intent on firing nerve gas directly into the heart of New York City, Washington, and Miami. (Of the three, Malory only seems really concerned about New York. Her South Beach condo has enough insurance on it that she might actually make out of a Miami attack like a bandit.) Cecil and Tiffy, fortunately, have a submersible onboard their boat, which means that Archer, Cyril, Ray, and Lana, posing as a news crew, can head down to Sealab to stop Murphy before he fires anything on anyone. The only problem is that Murphy’s got two… score men with him, so everybody’s going to have to fight their way through a pack of Sealabbers to get to the missiles and disarm them. Thus, the plan shifts: Get Murphy alone with the missiles under the guise of interviewing him in front of them, then force him to disarm them.
Now, if you’ve ever seen an episode of Sealab 2021, it’s fairly hard to imagine Captain Murphy as someone who might pose a legitimate threat, and the episode very quickly plays around with this. The rest of the crew is imaginary. The missiles are as well. The script lets the audience in on the imaginary nature of the crew fairly early on, but Lana catches on as soon as Murphy’s first demand is that all fishing cease for 50 years. This guy isn’t going to kill anybody; he’s crazy, sure, but he doesn’t have the means. I can see where that would be disappointing for someone who might have wanted the season to go out with a big, world-ending spectacular (or someone who wanted Barry and Katya to get back in on the action), but I found it weirdly fitting. This whole season has been about ineffectuality—particularly the ineffectuality of ISIS—so why not close things out with the world’s most ineffectual villain? Plus, the episode closes with Archer dying for two minutes that everybody else might live. The season finales usually have a rare moment of selflessness from Archer, and this might be the best yet.
One of the things that’s suffered in season four compared to some of the earlier seasons is the way that the show depicts the relationships between the characters. Oh, sure, they’re all still present and accounted for, but it doesn’t feel like they’ve grown or changed, really, at least not as much as they did in previous seasons. Archer’s not a show about heartfelt, warm and fuzzy moments, but it’s always been a show where the characters changed and revealed more of themselves as time went on. Look back at some of the show’s earliest episodes, and the evolution of the characters over the first three seasons was fairly remarkable. I don’t know that we’ve had nearly as much of that in season four, and that may be why it’s felt a touch weaker to me here and there.
What’s more, the pairings of the characters have settled into a sort of “we know what the audience likes, and we’re going to give them that” groove. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. I’m all for watching Pam and Cheryl dick around, particularly if Malory is there to get involved as well (her mixing drinks for the other two with Pam’s Kentucky moonshine was exquisite), but part of the fun of seasons two and three was that the show fell back on its most classic pairings but also made room for the occasional odd coupling that made for some inspired humor. This is one of the reasons, say, Pam has evolved into the great character she is, but the show’s doing less and less of it. It’s felt almost as if every episode this season aspired to the Platonic ideal of being an Archer episode—certain characters out in the field and certain characters left behind. (It’s one of the reasons I slightly preferred last week’s installment of this two-parter to this week’s, though they were both great.)
What ends up being great about “Sea Tunt” is that it recognizes all of this, even as it tosses a wink toward the fact that it’s a television show, and things like Ray ending every season in a wheelchair will happen. I don’t expect Archer to ever change, but the moments when he realizes that someone else might be in more need than his immediate wants are immensely satisfying for that very reason. The relationship between Archer and Lana has felt curiously muted all season, even when the series tried to make it the focus of an episode or two, but the bit where he tells Lana that she’s going to be a mom and he hopes she’s better than his mom is, dare I say it, surprisingly sweet. And by making the father a donor, the series leaves itself open for all sorts of shenanigans next season, including the possibility that Archer’s the father, something I’m sure the series will play around with at least once or twice. Making Lana pregnant could have felt cheap, a way to give her a storyline that a million other shows have done before, but it somehow feels like a vital part of both her and Archer’s character evolution. (Also, whatever happened to the wee baby Seamus?)
Like most episodes this season, “Sea Tunt: Part II” is more notable for the fun glosses on the edges of the story, but the show is so good and operating at such a high level that it can get by with only glosses. Things like Pam telling us about her sister Edie—who once stabbed her in the neck and whom I am sure we will see at some point in the next few seasons—or even ranting about the peak-oil hypothesis are funnier than the central jokes on most other sitcoms, and when the whole ensemble really gets going, as it does in the early moments here, there are few shows that can match up to it for sheer laughs per minute. Archer enters next season with some promising storylines, all the better to carry it to a brand new network. I know I’ll be going in search of it, wherever it might end up.
- Though I realize the rights issues were almost certainly prohibitive, I was a bit sad that there weren’t even more winks to Sealab 2021. I wouldn’t have minded hearing that theme song one more time.
- Hamm is terrific as Murphy, finding so many of the goofy laughs in the character’s obviously insane shtick. I always enjoy Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, too, and I hope both return at some point next season.
- Tonight’s obscure reference I knew for some reason: Cheryl asks Malory if she thinks she’s Earl Butz, referring to the sponsor of the 1973 farm bill, which created the huge corn subsidies that currently prop up the American agricultural industry. Nifty!
- Archer and Ray competing over who was the better fictional kite-surfer was really funny.
- I think I complained last season when the finale ended with Ray losing the ability to walk again, but at this point, it’s become a deliciously sick joke that this keeps happening to him. I hope it happens every season!
- “Something something Danger Zone.” Even Archer seems tired of his catchphrase (which, honestly, I don’t think he’s said all season; wasn’t the last person to say it Bryan Cranston?).
- Finally, this is, in all likelihood, the last time I’ll cover this show regularly. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s one I’ve loved talking about with all of you, but I think I’ve run out of substantive ways to tell you how I feel about it, and I know we’d all rather I not just turn this into the proverbial list of what was funny. We’ll still keep covering this show, though, and I hope you’ll be nice to my replacement. I’ll see you around!