So I have a little confession to make. It’s actually… not much of a confession, because the archives on this site are public, and you can go back and read anything I’ve written here, but that’s not the point. The point is: I didn’t much like “Skytanic” back when it first aired. I just went and reread my review, and after being horrified by how little I knew about A.V. Club style at the time of its writing, I can’t say for certain what I didn’t like about it. I spent most of the time talking about what I did like, before writing off the first two acts as “disconnected.” I then praised the final act, where everybody defuses the bomb, and I specifically singled out the “Mancy” line that everybody remembers. When I mentioned on Twitter that I didn’t like “Skytanic,” everybody got upset and most of you mentioned “Mancy” to me, so at least I got that much right.
Point is: “Skytanic” is one of those episodes fans of this show hold up as a golden example, and I’ve never much thought it was all that great. I just went and rewatched it to be sure of what I thought, and, yeah, I think the last act is amazing, and it’s probably better than my grade for it, but I do think the first two acts were a little loose. They needed a tighter plot driving them forward, to my mind, and that’s where “The Limited” comes in, because “The Limited” is basically a pseudo-sequel to “Skytanic,” as pointed out by Malory when she hopes Pam doesn’t stow away again. But I really, really loved “The Limited,” and when I try to figure out why, I think it really does come back to plotting. This thing is just mercilessly plotted, and that makes everything that much more fun, as incidents pile on top of incidents, and we get one big ball of crazy action.
“The Limited” takes place almost entirely onboard a train traveling 80 mph. There’s a Nova Scotian separatist on the loose, and he’ll stop at nothing to make it back to Canada unscathed, where, presumably, he can continue his fight for the freedom of the motherland. At the same time as Archer, Cyril, and Lana are trying to deal with that, Malory finds out that Cheryl has attached her old-time train cars (including two sleeping cars, a dining car, and a skating car) to the train, leaving her incensed at the fact that her staff is along. (Also, she’s mean to an African-American porter named George—prompting some great “The Archers are racist” jokes—and she’s got low blood sugar, dammit.) Cheryl wants to beat the speed record for the run to Ottawa. Babboo the ocelot gets loose, and Archer wants to find him. And all the while, the terrorist, Bilko, keeps saying that his comrades are going to come and get him. Could they be the Mounties who board the train at the border?
I think the thing that sets apart “The Limited” for me is that it makes the best use of its setting possible. I mean, obviously, this is all going to conclude with Archer and Bilko fighting hand-to-hand on top of the train, but I love the way the episode gets there and the way it’s all set up in the teaser. There’s just something wonderfully weird about all of this happening on a train to Canada, and I love the way that the show wraps in the fact that Cheryl’s family consists of railroad magnates. (Is the record a big deal? Well, it is to people who own railroads, duh.) A skating car in which Pam wants to race Gillette or, barring that, perform a couple’s skate with him? Babboo getting a whole, piss-stained car to himself (or, rather, to share with Gillette)? Bilko being convinced that Malory and Archer are racist, both because he thinks Archer killed George and because they’re Americans? All of this was awesome, and all of it kept paying off for more and more jokes as the episode went on.
I also like the show’s increasing confidence with really weird spy plots. Transporting a terrorist back to his native Canada is just a funny idea, as is the idea of a Nova Scotian separatist movement. (Myles McNutt is almost certainly a member.) The whole problem with figuring out which of the two groups of Mounties was the “bad” group was also a lot of fun, and I liked that Archer kept thinking he was in no real danger from Canadians, who probably didn’t even know what a gun was. (I also liked how being on the train forced Lana to put up with Archer even more than she normally might have, even as both he and his mother suspected she might be ganging up on them with George because of, well, you know.)
And as if that wasn’t enough, Babboo was back! Everyone’s favorite crepuscular cat turned up, and as soon as Archer saw him, it was all he could talk about, usually in the sorts of excited tones men reserve for victorious sports teams or their children winning some big prize. Babboo was easily one of my favorite things about one of my favorite season two episodes, “El Secuestro,” and he’s a lot of fun here, too, particularly whenever he and Archer are sharing a scene together. I just like the idea of Cheryl’s extreme wealth, and I think Adam Reed has only just begun to outline just how insanely rich she is. After all, she owns an ocelot.
Again, all of this worked better for me than “Skytanic” did because the story kept rolling along, adding newer, weirder complications to the mix, in ways that provided great plot payoffs and gave us some really funny jokes. In general, any time you can close all of these characters up in the same space and have them bounce off of each other, it makes for fun television, and “The Limited” was no exception to that rule. This was my favorite of the episodes FX sent out on screeners before the season began, and honestly, it might be one of my favorite Archer episodes ever. There was just something in it for everyone, no matter what you like about the show.
- I hope George comes back. His weary irritation with the Archers was always funny, and I love when otherwise rational people get dragged, kicking and screaming, into the weird, little world these characters inhabit.
- I liked how Archer’s desire to fight on top of a train was rapidly shot down by the reality that… fighting on top of a train would really suck, even if you had night-vision goggles. I also liked how he and Bilko narrated everything they did. (This is something the characters on the show do a lot, and it maintains a weird tie to the kinds of radio shows that you can sometimes feel the spirit of creeping into the proceedings.)
- Cheryl’s train cars come with original gas lamps and everything! Her grandfather really thought of it all, didn’t he?
- The only thing this episode was missing: Krieger. God only knows what he would have done if he had been onboard that train.
- After proving pretty capable in the jungle last week, Cyril is back to being a bumbling oaf, particularly when he leaves Bilko all alone to escape. I suspect I could complain about this if I were so inclined, but I think we all figured Cyril would eventually revert to his mean.
- “Thanks, Freddy Foreshadowing.”
- “Armed with what? Pamphlets about Canada’s reasonable gun control laws?”
- “HE REMEMBERS ME!”
- “If Paul Newman had constantly sprayed piss all over… what was her name?… Patricia Neal! Who I hate.”
- “I’m looking for a terrorist and an ocelot.”
- “Ahhh, those crazy Tunts.”
- “They look just like prints from a housecat, only bigger and awesomer.”
- “Not to belabor the point, Lana, but they’d still be Canadian, i.e., I doubt we’re in real danger.”
- “No offense, but we’re gonna be running around and stuff?”
- “He’s crepuscular! Get him, boys!”
- “Au revoir, sweet man-whores of Montreal.”
- “YES! ALL OF IT! YOU FOX-EARED ASSHOLE!”