As I’ve mentioned a couple of times so far, this season of Archer seems dedicated to sketching in some of the backstories of the show’s characters. In this episode—maybe the best the show has ever done—we dip into the backstory of one Woodhouse AND get more of an inkling of just why Archer turned out the way he did, as Mallory’s story intersects with Woodhouse’s story. It’s a very fun episode, but, somewhat atypically for Archer, there’s something of a tragic heart at its core. Woodhouse has a great, lost love in his past, and Archer comes to realize—in a very brief moment of self-awareness—just how poorly he’s treated the old man over the years. Not that he really does anything about it (or, rather, the one thing he does about it results in the death of an innocent man), but he still has that moment of realization. If Archer can keep balancing the hilarity of these episodes with Archer’s brief, lucid moments where he realizes what an ass he can be, it’s well on its way to a terrific season.
Woodhouse has been reading stories of horrific deaths of old World War I veterans in the papers, and with every name, he grows a little more fearful. See, these men were all men in Woodhouse’s unit back in the Great War, and they all paid into a tontine, which has become worth over a million dollars in the intervening years. Now, there are only three people left alive in the whole thing, and Woodhouse has one of them over to discuss what’s happening. Meanwhile, Archer’s been given the Wee Baby Seamus for the day, the better for the kid to get some bonding time with his supposed father. When Archer gets drawn into the murder mystery, he turns the Wee Baby Seamus over to his mother back at the office, where the various ISIS drones are getting intrigued by the idea of starting up a tontine of their own. Tontines, as Cyril points out, are illegal, but in an office where field agents die on missions all the time and the facilities are filled with asbestos, why, it’d be a crime NOT to start a tontine.
But all of that is mostly a framing device for what turns out to be the highlight of the episode: the love story of Woodhouse and Reggie. Now, the show doesn’t come out and SAY that Woodhouse and Reggie were lovers, but it’s deeply clear all the same. (It’s in keeping with Woodhouse’s stiff upper lip, British sensibility.) The two were enamored of each other—even though Reggie was also Woodhouse’s boss, which is kind of strange—and when the enemy shot Reggie’s biplane out of the sky, crashing into No Man’s Land, Woodhouse undertook a secret mission into the contested space to rescue his lover and friend. Once Reggie was shot by a German sniper, seeing Woodhouse light a cigarette for the man, Woodhouse apparently snapped, ran over to enemy lines, and killed 50 German soldiers (returning with their scalps!), for which he was dismissed from the military. He wandered the world mourning his lover, then washed up in Tangiers, where he happened to meet a very pregnant spy in need of a drink. And so, he became Archer’s caretaker for the first five years of young Archer’s life.
The above sounds fairly tragic, actually, and it probably could be played completely straight and be a more typical wartime romance. But Archer being Archer, much of this is played for humor, though a lot of that comes from the reactions of others to Woodhouse’s story. In particular, I was amused by the way that Archer seems to dismiss Woodhouse’s story before it begins but is deeply into it by the time it’s over. He never knew his man-servant was capable of THIS. (H. Jon Benjamin—who’s reduced to an observer for a lot of this process—gets one of his all-time best line readings out of “That’s a lot of scalps!”) Similarly, I liked Woodhouse’s old chum, who assumes that Woodhouse and Archer are lovers and that the two have adopted the baby together.
But, as mentioned, there’s a more serious core to all of this that offsets the episode’s supreme silliness. Archer does realize, ever so briefly, that he’s been an ass to Woodhouse all of these years and that he owes it to the old man to save him from being murdered (even if he has to take a baby along to the scene of the crime). And Woodhouse’s story IS pretty sad, but only if you really think about it, and the show plays Woodhouse’s grief realistically, not really for laughs (outside of the image of Woodhouse covered in blood, standing up in the trench and screaming Reggie’s name). Obviously, this show is never going to have a big, dramatic core, but it does take its characters seriously, and it’s nice to see that Woodhouse has a past beyond being the long-suffering servant he seemed to be in season one. If Archer has backstories like this in store for all of its minor characters, then we’re in for some very good television indeed.
- I hope you read Vlada Gelman’s interview with Adam Reed already, as it touches on some of the show’s timeline silliness. Here’s another example, of course: Archer lists Woodhouse as 100 years old (and he’s probably joking), but he’s already in his early 20s during World War I. I, personally, am not bothered by the goofiness of the timeline, but I know some of you guys enjoy trying to straighten all of this out.
- The action back at the office takes up a surprisingly small amount of time—this may be the least Lana has been in an episode ever—but I loved the set-up of the ISIS tontine, which appeared to be structured like an NCAA tournament bracket by Pam. Very funny.
- I’m not sure where the show is going with this whole Archer/Wee Baby Seamus thing, but I do wonder if we’re not being set up for the typical storyline where Archer comes to care for the baby, then has it taken away when Cyril’s parentage is revealed. The show would find a way to undercut that storyline, right?
- Despite his relative self-awareness in this episode, Archer still ends up kicking an old man of a roof and throwing a baby in the air. I don’t think we have to worry about him softening any time soon.
- I hope we see Stinky again.
- "This baby knows what I'm saying."
- "Oh dear God! Are we out of bloody Marys?"
- "And that'll be Stinky." "What? What will?"
- "Nobody is consenting to anything!"
- "You are gonna eat so many spiderwebs." "That's what he said."
- "I can do baby, or I can do geezer murder mystery, but I can't do both!"
- "Baby, you're pear-shaped."
- "That's how the world works, dear, and I'm the only one you can trust." "Wow. A ton of stuff just suddenly started making sense."
- "Maybe. If we had an infinite amount of time and she was someone else."
- "Do as you like with me, but I won't have a swishy party boy backtalk a war hero."
- "And now it seems his chickens have come home to roost. Bowck bowck."
- "Water? Never touch the stuff. Fish fuck in it."
- "German scalps!" "What?!" "He must have had 50!" "That's a lot of scalps."
- "I just killed a man, and I think my water just broke, so I could really, really use a drink."
- "Between my narrow hips, your fat head, and a city full of enemy spies, we nearly died that night."
- "Could his middle name be Reginald?" "No. A little too gay."
- "You want me to take a baby? To a murder?"
- "There's no nice way to put it: Auto-erotic asphyixiation."
- "Here's to you, Choke-and-Stroke!"
- "Unbelievably gigantic ass!"
- "Then tell him he slipped and fell while chasing a terrified Asian prostitute out onto the patio."
- "The fact that the government let you two fruitbats adopt a baby."