Though not as relentlessly entertaining as “Part 1,” “Space Race, Part II” is still a terrific episode of Archer, and it’s a great way to end the show’s third season. Where season two ended with some deliberate drama—and the death of Archer’s wife—season three ends in much higher spirits, even though there’s a moment of something like actual character growth for everybody’s favorite asshole (before that growth is wiped away by the constant need to feed his own ego). The ISIS gang manages to escape the space station Horizon—after leaving Barry behind to wait for someone to come pick him up—and return to Earth, but it’s not without cost, as Archer’s attempts to land leave everybody at least mildly injured (but for him, of course). Gillette’s back in a wheelchair, and I sort of perversely hope the show waves that injury away as well next season.
There isn’t a big action climax to “Space Race,” which somewhat surprised me. Sure, we get the ISIS crew—with the nearly naked Lana—racing through the halls of the space station, firing away at whatever gets in their way (up to and including the walls), but the actual final showdown with Drake involves Pam putting a gun to his head and Tony putting a gun to Archer’s head. In truth, it’s a little lackluster, but I admire the show for then having the guts to not force a huge climax with a fight between Archer in the spacebot suit and Barry. That’s something I think any fan of the show would have loved to have seen, and I’m amused by the way the show pushed it to season four—if we ever get to see it. Archer, like all comedies, needs to leave its status quo mostly intact, so that means Barry must always be lurking out there. This was a funny acknowledgement of that.
Bryan Cranston is, once again, terrific. I loved how he comes more and more unhinged as the episode goes on, until Drake is essentially just gibbering about Mars onboard the space shuttle. (And then he blows his head off because he won’t get to be the king of Mars.) Closing Drake up with Pam and Cheryl ended up being a strong choice for the show’s comedy, and I loved the scene where Cheryl insists she is the Queen of Mars, before realizing she is probably going to have to have babies if that was the case (and they are not clawing their way out of her vagina). Honestly, Drake descends into your garden-variety madman in this episode, and that’s a little disappointing, but Cranston is able to sell it so well that I didn’t care.
Our other characters, meanwhile, try to fight their way back to the space shuttle, using Lana’s very attractive form to distract their guards, opening fire in the middle of hallways, and refusing to dive through the wall into a garbage compartment of some sort. (I liked how the episode tipped its hat to Star Wars here and there without being too blatant about it.) Along the way, Cyril and Gillette get to sing the praises of their spacesuits, Lana obsesses over whether her breasts have gotten saggy, and Archer finally admits he’s read Animal Farm in one of the episode’s funniest gags. (The only one that made me laugh more was when Pam asks if Malory and Cheryl knew what happened when the bank came to repossess the family farm.) Keeping the group separate doesn’t always work, but it works well here, with the two sides fighting to get back to each other and the ticking clock of Drake needing the shuttle to push the Horizon off on its voyage toward Mars. (I have no idea if his plan makes any sense. Any astrophysicists out there?)
Oh, also, it was nice to see that the ISA has its own version of Bilbo from back at ISIS headquarters, as the “involuntary laborer” forced into cutting open the door insists it’s a combination of adamantium and mithril. (“If you say dwarven technology one more time… ”) Just in general, having those who are held against their will forced to become unpaid laborers makes for some funny jokes, as Archer keeps trying to point out ironies and referring to himself as three-fifths of a person. And it was also nice to see the show making room for Krieger again, even if he is left back on Earth with his computer-generated girlfriend (whose mother apparently hates him) and the sweet new painting on the side of his van, paid for with the funds he received from giving Drake Lana’s medical records. (What a great gag that Lana’s the perfect woman in every single way and, thus, the only person who can be taken to Mars to found the new Utopia.)
If I have a complaint, it’s one that mostly centers on how much I like Malory, less than anything the episode did or didn’t do. Even though Malory gets some good gags—I liked her talking about entering stasis—I still wished she’d get a little more to do than stand around and drink. It’s been a strong season for the character, but this isn’t her greatest episode. That doesn’t reflect on the episode as a whole, really, so much as it reflects on how every character on the show is so reliably great at generating laughs, but I still could have done with a little more of Archer’s mom to round things out.
All in all, it’s a funny capper for a funny season of television, one that doesn’t really have a lot of lowpoints, as far as I’m concerned. Archer’s second season was so tight that I wasn’t quite sure the show could improve on it, but I’d argue this season did, taking the strong foundation of that season and building something even better on top of it. From the “Heart Of Archness” arc opening the season to the terrific standalones around the season’s midpoint to this two-parter finale, this was a season packed with great comedy and great moments for all of the characters on the show. Even Lana finally got her showcase in these final two episodes—and she doesn’t appear to be pregnant, as some of you insisted she must be last week. If any one character perhaps got a bit of a short shrift this season, it’s Woodhouse, but I suspect the old man will have plenty to do come the next year.
This season of TV wasn’t a perfect season, but it was about as close to one as I can think of in recent years, with very little fat to trim. Indeed, if you remove the only episode I didn’t like—that spy-car half-hour that many of you found incredibly amusing nonetheless—you’ve got a season I never gave less than a B+, something I’m relatively certain wouldn’t hold true for any other season of comedy I’ve graded. Does that set a high bar for the show going forward? Of course it does. But after seeing the way the series tackled the problem of topping season two, I’m not so worried about it figuring out a way to top season three. And even if it never does, we’ll still have episodes like “The Limited” or “Lo Scandalo” or “Space Race” to talk about and laugh over for years to come. It sort of snuck up on me, but this is the season Archer took the title it’s been building to for a while now: the best comedy on TV.
Episode grade: A-
Season grade: A