And, see, here's where all of Archer's work building its characters and relationships starts to pay off. The first four episodes were fairly self-contained, so the show could set up the relationships and running jokes that it needed to start building the kind of goofy world that will take it from just a funny show to one of the better comedies on TV right now. There's a looseness and willingness to play in this episode that serves the series well, as it uncorks a sheer, rolling ball of catastrophe that escalates hilariously out of control. Everything about the episode pays off in the last five minutes, and it makes for what might have been the best episode of the show yet.
Right from the start, the episode shows that it's going to mix up the usual usual. Malory and Lana are the ones who are headed off on the mission, while Archer's going to be sticking around to take part in whatever shenanigans get up at the office. At the same time, for a series that's been sold a lot on the strengths of its voice cast, this episode shows just how much the series is building up all of the incidental characters in the Archer world, from Krieger to Pam to Nikolai, who turns out to be, uh, Archer's dad. The episode's also willing to call back to some of the gags from earlier episodes, particularly Carol/Cheryl's sexual preferences, and that gives the whole thing a sense of belonging with what came before that the series has occasionally lacked.
I think the thing I liked best here was the way the editing grew almost ridiculously chaotic toward the end of the episode, cutting almost free-form between the office and the mission, as someone in the office would make a comment that would set off a payoff joke back at the mission that would set up a payoff joke back in the office (and so on). Example: Archer calling Cyril "Mr. Cling" only to cut to Cyril hanging on to a door frame and screaming for dear life as he contemplated the fact that Lana didn't was still in love with Archer (since he was her life insurance beneficiary and all). The jokes crashed up against each other in this section of the episode, as the editing grew more and more frantic, creating a pace that might have been difficult to sustain but somehow kept going and going and going.
Anyway, I'm going to start with the office because that's what I was most amused by tonight. In the grand tradition of the best workplace comedies, the actual task at the office - which has something to do with rebooting the server or something - is mostly unimportant in the face of showing how the characters deal with another damn day on the job they all kinda hate. And the way they deal with it is mostly by going out of their way to avoid work by sharing secrets, drinking and hanging out to complain about everything they hate about their jobs. It's here that stuff like Cheryl/Carol's sexual desire to be choked pays off with the others mocking her.
Having Archer back in the office turns out to be a good way to keep all of this fresh. His asshole-ish nature ends up being the perfect way to play the characters against each other, and he gets under every one of their skins, particularly when he tries to goad Cyril into smothering Lana even more. The Cyril and Lana relationship is one of those things the show hasn't really explained, beyond the fact that it's obvious that she's just with him because she's running away from Archer as fast as she can. But seeing how desperate he gets when Lana's not around shows just how much that's the case and just how much he knows it. (Also, everyone makes drinks with his phone.)
The office stuff is actually not a huge portion of the episode, as much more of it is taken up by the mission, which, of course, Archer is called on when he hears from his mother that Lana has been captured. It's while writing this review that I realized just how much the spy missions on this show also fit into that old workplace sitcom template. Every week, Archer and Lana are chasing after some bad guy who's stealing some sort of weapon, but this is never as pressing as it would be on another spy show. It's mostly just a setup to put the characters in conflict, so they end up making jokes at each other's expense. It's a clever way to do the show, if not exactly unprecedented, and I'd like to see the series head even more in this direction. It's the character interplay that makes this series work, and I'm hoping there will be more episodes to come that take this storytelling technique to even more of a minimalist place.
At the same time, the show finds some good comedy from its baddies, like the overweight, way too hairy Skorpio in tonight's episode, who has the bead on Archer and Lana from the first but plays along because he enjoys hanging out with Lana. Naturally, he also ends up sleeping with both of them, in a way that seems likely to pay off down the line (hopefully hilariously). By making the bad guys just as bizarre and weird as the main characters, the series has found a way to keep what could be fairly stereotypical spy missions fresh and fun.
I feel like, in some ways, I overanalyze this show, where the appeal is largely due to the fact that every week, it just comes up with new and fun ways to make fun of its characters, its milieu and the world it takes place in. And it's a very, very funny show, something that's hard to convey in one of these reviews or recaps, short of just reproducing the script en totale in the stray observations section. Suffice it to say that I think nearly everything Archer is doing is working, and I'm hopeful that it will only get better from here.
- The show's also starting to play around with more serialized plotting, with things like Cyril sleeping with Cheryl/Carol sure to pay off again in the near future.
- "If I did, I'd just scrape all your previous mishaps into a big pile and knit a onesie for it."
- "I moved in with my last girlfriend after four weeks!" "What are you? A lesbian?"
- "Your authority is not recognized in Fort Kick-ass."
- "Which hopefully explains my shock at ending up aboard the Chum Guzzler."
- "If there's one thing women totally love, it's to be smothered by men."
- "Cyril, c'mon. Worst case scenario, her cover got blown and Scorpio's raping her senseless before he chops her corpse up into fish food."
- "The secret ingredient is phone."
- "Wak-ka! Karate sound."
- "And that's the reason I never have sex with my coworkers. That ... and no one ever lets me." "I've had good results with ether."
- "I am just now again reshaving my balls again!"
- "Bartleby the Scrivener? Not a big Melville crowd, are we?"
- "How you say ... Wa-wa?"
- "Every single noun and verb in that sentence totally arouses me."
- "These corporate bag munchers owe me $630 for my GODDAMN FLEX ACCOUNT."