I know I have my “rules” about being a little cautious about the first part of two-parters, but, man, fuck that. “Space Race, Part 1” was awesome, and because it’s late, and I’m driving across New Mexico (well, my wife is driving), let’s break out a super-hackneyed critical device and make a list of reasons this episode was so balls-out amazing.
1.) Bryan Cranston gets to say “Danger zone.” The running gag about how Archer keeps trying to get Cranston’s character to say “Danger zone” is a lot of fun already, and it works well with the affable befuddlement Cranston plays for most of the episode. But when the full plan of Cranston’s character is revealed—kidnap the ISIS women and take them to Mars to provide the astronauts with a breeding pool—he gets the full close-up, his lips curling into a sneer, then saying, “danger zone,” and it is glorious. It will hopefully be a line reading on this show that will live on forever, never to be surpassed. Already, I’m trying to imagine anything in next week’s episode topping it and coming up short. Fortunately, I’m not the person who has to come up with this stuff. In general, though, Cranston is the very best kind of guest voice, fully inhabiting his character but also having a lot of fun with the jokes. It’s a nice reminder of just how funny Cranston can be, and I hope he gets even more bizarre stuff to do next week.
2.) The episode has so much fun with the concept of “space.” Just the idea of Archer and the ISIS gang heading into space is great, but the episode goes the full science-fiction mile by having a manned mission to Mars, space stations that look more like something out of a ’70s sketch of what space stations would look like in the year 2000, and plasma guns with stun settings. Archer, of course, takes place in a weird blend of past and present, but “Space Race” goes out of its way to toss “future” into the middle of that mix as well. There are so many jokes that come just from the characters hanging out in anti-gravity, for God’s sake, including a ping pong paddle strategically covering Pam’s breasts and…
3.) Archer rides Cyril through zero gravity and makes him eat Lana’s vomit. First, the idea that Lana would be unable to acclimate to space and keeps throwing up (then finds herself throwing up just as much at having to deal with gravity again on board the space station) is awesome, because Lana’s usually so capable. By throwing her outside of her comfort zone, the episode allows Aisha Tyler to have her best comedic moments of the season. Plus, without Lana’s discomfort in space, we wouldn’t get to see the amazing sight gag of Archer riding on the back of Cyril, like he’s a kid playing at mutton busting in a rodeo, forcing Cyril to slurp up Lana’s vomit. (Believe me, if the quality of my screener were at all better, this would be the screencap for this article, spoilers be damned.)
4.) Malory is way too small for her uniform. There’s nothing better than a good short gag, and this one was a peach. I just liked the way that Malory conned her way onto the mission, then found herself barely able to see out of her astronaut helmet. I also loved how when all of the characters are screaming in horror, eyes bugged out, all you can see of Malory are her terrified eyes. Malory, of course, gets plenty of other opportunities to be funny in this episode, but sometimes, a great sight gag is all you need. If nothing else, this whole storyline is great proof of that.
5.) Archer and Pam are back on. After Pam frees Archer from the brig where he’s been locked up, so that he might board the space station and help the crew fight the mutineers, he asks for and receives a quickie. I also like that Ray figures out that the two are sleeping together, based solely on the fact that Archer helped Pam and Cheryl stow away onboard the space shuttle, something that very nearly causes the shuttle to miss docking with the space station. (For the first half of the episode, my only complaint had been no Cheryl and Pam, and then it was like the episode was reading my mind.)
6.) Every single character gets at least one big laugh line. Even Dr. Krieger, the one character who doesn’t get to ride along on the mission, gets a great moment early in the episode when he’s drawing fluids from Archer and is revealed to not have been given permission to hang out around the ISA headquarters. But the folks headed up to the space station were all given great gags, and most of them got multiples. Where last season often provided stories that broke off particular characters in ways that deepened those characters, this season has been much more about the sort of ensemble play that marked season one, only it benefits from those deepened characters. There are parts of tonight’s episode that are just a barrage of jokes, with each character in turn getting a perfectly in-character joke. It’s wonderful.
7.) The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but also makes perfect sense. This is an awfully elaborate way for the true mutineers to get the women they need to start their Mars colony, but it’s just goofy enough—and just enough like the sort of plot that might actually exist in a pulp science-fiction story—that I’m happy to go along with it. Plus, it leads into Bryan Cranston saying “danger zone,” which, as established, is the best thing to have ever happened to television.
8.) Archer’s assholishness finally finds someone willing to punish him for it. We all love Archer being an asshole, but sometimes, it’s fun to see him run into someone who just wants to keep him from expressing his unrestrained id, whether that involves shutting off Archer’s oxygen supply or locking him up so he can’t interfere with anyone’s plans for what’s to come. One of the things I love about Archer is that the guy’s our hero, and that often leads to us cheering for him to defeat other people who are perfectly normal, often very good people. Granted, that doesn’t really apply here, but up until that last minute or so, it sure seems like it does.
9.) The whole thing looks about as beautiful as any episode of this show ever has. The animation on Archer is always great, but I really like the way this one looks, particularly its weird mash-up of various science-fiction styles in the uniforms and space-station décor. Hell, even Lana’s vomit looks pretty good, floating around the plane, and when Archer gleefully gobbles up little globules of Tang (or, rather, some sort of orange drink), it’s also weirdly good-looking. Everything about this one gleams, and it makes for an Archer that will almost certainly look great in HD.
10.) It’s only part one. We still have a full part two to come next week. And even if it’s only half as entertaining as this one, that’ll still probably be an A-. Because, man, you guys, was this a crazy fun episode of television. I can’t wait to see what’s next.