“The Wind Cries Mary” is an episode built almost entirely around a guest star’s performance, but since that guest star is Timothy Olyphant, I wasn’t too upset. Casting Olyphant as Luke, a guy who was Archer’s best friend back when he was in training, turns out to be a strong choice. Olyphant’s not exactly known for his comedic chops—as anyone who’s seen The Girl Next Door will tell you—but he’s a lot of fun here as a guy who’s not gay, exactly, but definitely has a singular, same-sex attraction to Sterling Archer. His confession of that goes about as well as you would expect, and while the episode has a little trouble keeping its jokes from being a little too gay panic-y, I must admit that I really enjoyed the scene where he was explaining to Archer that he’d killed a bunch of his fellow ODIN agents, stolen uranium and $10 million, and faked his own death so he could move to Vermont with Sterling to open a bed and breakfast. It’s the perfect plan!
Let’s get back to that gay panic thing, though, because that’s my main objection to the episode. I’m not trying to be all politically correct here—there are some great race-based gags in next week’s episode that know exactly where the line is and just how close they can get without crossing it. I’m just saying that the idea of a super-straight guy being a little weirded out by gay people is an old, old joke at this point, and I’m not sure anything new was done here. The best course of action to make this sort of thing work is to make the joke all about the straight guy in question, to suggest that he’s so blinded by his own fear that he does a bunch of stupid stuff, rather than inviting the audience to share in said gay panic. That becomes a fun joke about our notions of masculinity and male friendships and all sorts of stuff.
To be fair, Archer is very clearly trying to do this in this episode. Sterling Archer is almost always the butt of the joke, and the show goes out of its way (perhaps too far out of its way) to make Luke somebody who’s not gay, just attracted to Archer. Plus, this is a show with the highly competent and deadly Ray Gillette, who’s also an out-and-proud—well, as proud as anyone can be when they work for ISIS—gay man. The episode is aware of all of the pitfalls of doing gags about Archer being scared of having sex with another man, and it even brings up the idea that maybe Archer’s so scared because he, too, has a singular, same-sex attraction to Luke. (Hey, if you’re gonna sleep with one guy, someone voiced by Timothy Olyphant isn’t a bad way to go.)
This, however, raises the issue of, “Am I seriously watching a gay panic joke in 2013?” in the viewer’s mind, while simultaneously piling on the moments when it seems like the show loses its nerve, just a bit, in its desire to outguess the audience and assure it that, hey, it knows just how passé these sorts of gags are. In theory, I like the idea of Luke having just the attraction to Archer, but in practice, it comes off as sort of wishy-washy, as if the show wanted to make him a gay character, then got worried about having Archer freak out at that notion, then didn’t know what to do. This provides for some fun moments in the early going at the ISIS offices, particularly when Lana and Ray are discussing whether Luke was actually gay, but it doesn’t pay off as well as it might. Also, I’m not entirely sure that having a joke about Luke raping a passed-out Archer worked. There was a way to make it work—particularly with that last gag, which was great—but it just felt a little too easy, again. (On the other hand, the way Olyphant puts such relish into his reading of “suntan lotion” makes it all worth it.) Basically, the sexual politics of the storyline are kind of tortured and convoluted, and I wish the show hadn’t tied itself in knots trying so hard to stay true to the character of Sterling Archer while also not offending anyone.
Even though that stuff didn’t really work, however, I laughed a lot more at this episode than the season première, simply because this episode set up some great character pairings the show doesn’t always go to, then followed through on them. I always forget how much fun Lana and Cyril could be back in the show’s first season until there’s another reason for them to share screentime, and having the two of them go after Archer and Luke provided plenty of great moments, as well as the suggestion of a re-ignition of the relationship between the two of them. The episode didn’t do as much with the notion of peer reviews as it might have, but every time Cyril launched back into his review of Lana—which was scathing—there was fun to be had.
There’s lots of good stuff back at ISIS headquarters, too, what with Pam referring to Cheryl’s “dick holster,” the introduction of Rodney down in the armory (who only takes orders from Malory), the dead pig in the break room, and Krieger trying to give himself the proportionate strength of an ant, rather than dealing with cleaning up the mess in the break room. Archer sometimes works best when the gags are just piling on top of each other, rapid-fire, and the scenes back at ISIS definitely had that quality tonight, particularly when the characters were talking over each other, or setting up the story by discussing the history of Luke and how he’d ended up at ODIN, instead of at ISIS. (I like the terrible haircuts everybody has in the flashback, too.) While I don’t mind the spy mission storylines, particularly when they’re fun like tonight’s, I’ve always liked this show best as a weird workplace comedy, and the ISIS scenes very much felt in line with that tonight.
“The Wind Cries Mary” isn’t one of Archer’s finest episodes, but it does build very well, with many of the gags after Luke heads out into the snow in pursuit of Lana and Cyril (with Archer right behind him) hitting and hitting hard. (My favorite was Archer finding all of Cyril’s orange clothes in the snow, then becoming terrified that he might be stalked by an Entmoot. Maybe he’s just gay for Tolkien!) It all concludes with Lana saving the day—“You know what they say. Big hands, big dick!”—and Luke making his confession to Archer. And even if the episode’s attempts to outguess its audience, while staying on the right side of the line, don’t always work, there’s enough other stuff there to keep the episode from being felled by its conceit.
- My apologies if some of the above doesn’t make sense. I accidentally watched the wrong episode and reviewed that one (and it was a good review), only to realize shortly before broadcast that this one was airing tonight. So I just wrote that in, like, 15 minutes. On the plus side, you’ll actually get something worth reading next week! Maybe!
- Cyril wears orange because he doesn’t want to get accidentally shot by a hunter, but, of course, Luke is intentionally trying to hit Cyril and Lana. Unless it’s pumpkin season, Lana sarcastically remarks. “Is that a thing?” Cyril wonders.
- I do love when Adam Reed—who actually co-scripted this one with Justified’s Chris Provenzano—falls in love with a word, and both H. Jon Benjamin and Olyphant offering their takes on “Entmoot” made for a lot of fun.
- Archer explains his absence when he runs off after Luke by saying that he’s dealing with the “shittiest pet ever,” a lemur he’s supposedly adopted. (Woodhouse calls to tell him the little bastard has wreaked havoc, evidently the code to let him know Luke’s around.) When Cheryl hears about all of the weaponry Archer checked out, she chuckles. “That lemur is so dead.”
- Was that Judy Greer filling in as the operator’s voice on Archer’s voicemail message? Also, how much would my friends and family hate me if I switched to Archer’s airhorn message? Maybe that would get them to stop leaving me voicemails!