Archer: "Tragical History"
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Archer: "Tragical History"

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Archer

"Tragical History"

Season 2, Episode 6

After such a long string of utterly terrific episodes, there had to be one episode that broke the streak, and that’s “Tragical History,” which is funny here and there but suffers from doing an entire episode based on Cyril and telling us nothing new about him. His backstory—neatly described in one scene, where he disappoints his father by being unable to spell onomatopoeia in a high-stakes spelling bee—is pretty much just the story of Cyril, transplanted to his youth, and while the plot of the episode proper mostly confines itself to the ISIS office, setting for many of the best Archer episodes, it doesn’t attain the kind of high-energy comic momentum that this show has at its best. It’s not a bad episode of television, by any means, and there are laughs aplenty in it, but it doesn’t hang together nearly as well as the four episodes that precede it. Oh well.

While out drinking and throwing darts with the gang from the office, Cyril loses the darts tournament for the guys after he’s unable to score two measly points on the final three throws. Naturally enough, this leads to everyone giving him not just a hard time but utterly berating him, as only drunken assholes can do. (Cyril, for his part, appears to not be drinking.) Gillette tries to comfort him, but even he’s turned off by Cyril’s gross incompetence. (On the other hand, his riposte here about "vinegar and water" is very funny.) Cyril, in his lowest moment, is approached by a debonair British man (voiced by comedic great Peter Serafinowicz), who asks him to upload a teeny tiny program to the ISIS mainframe. Then, the next day, Cyril can save the day by uploading the cure for the computer worm that he installed, appearing to be the hero. For just one day, all will be well in Figgis-ville.

Except, of course, that’s not to be the case. To make this episode work, you have to accept that Cyril’s dislike of public humiliation is so strong that he would do something so self-evidently idiotic. One of the things I like about Archer is that few of the characters are traditionally stupid. Cheryl/Carol may not be the brightest bulb, but she’s able to pull out a reference to Elisha Otis on a moment’s notice, all the same. But out of the group, Cyril has always been both the smartest (at least in a traditional sense) and the neediest of the ISIS gang. And I suppose in that sense, he could fall prey to the whims of someone like that British man, but it still seems like an immense stretch to me that he’d be THIS stupid. I don’t think it’s a massive character error or anything like that, but it does feel like the show is pushing the limits of what Cyril would realistically do for the sake of kicking off the story.

From there, the episode is amusing enough, though there are a curious number of dead spaces where things aren’t quite as funny as they probably could or should be. Sure, Archer’s obsession with the Asian twins is amusing, here and there, but the whole sequence where he and Cyril confront the British dude probably could have worked just as well trimmed down to just Cyril. Archer just gets in the way. (Though then we wouldn’t have discovered that Archer apparently has a personal shoemaker and likes to take a bath after a dose of fighting.) The resolution—where Cyril shoots the server, then bluffs his way out of trouble—is pretty inspired and true to the character, giving him a minor win when he most needs one, but it’s still one of the more cluttered action sequences the show has done, curious for a show that usually keeps these sorts of things clean. (Notice how many times the story shifts from who’s fighting who in the space of about 45 seconds. It’s not poorly executed, but it does feel a bit too stuffed.)

Fortunately, as always, everything back at the office is filled with funny gags and great character interplay. Krieger’s got a virtual girlfriend in his computer? Of course he does (and I liked the way he was kneeling before her on one knee before Lana took out the computer housing his anime lover). Cheryl/Carol’s solution to the crisis is to dump a bunch of computers down an elevator shaft, leading the elevator to creak and moan as it tries to move? Works for me. Pam and Cheryl/Carol get weirdly addicted to the little pirate’s jaunty sea chanty? Funny every time. Even in an episode where the script doesn’t work as well as it might, the interplay between the characters is so perfectly conceived that it almost doesn’t matter. If the whole episode had taken place at the ISIS offices after the worm outbreak, I might have liked it a little better. 

That said, even a terrible episode of Archer (which this was not, mind) would have more funny lines than a good episode of lots of other shows. “Tragical History” has more than its share of great moments and funny stuff, but in a season where Archer has proved it can move beyond that to also tell deep, twisted, interesting stories, it’s a little disappointing to have the show come up with something that ultimately feels so rote. Cyril’s an interesting character, and the central idea of the episode wasn’t a bad one, but “Tragical History” left me wishing there’d been another draft or two of the script, to improve the episode’s core.

Stray observations:

  • For a show that so often makes such nuanced references, having Krieger go all Heston from the end of Planet Of The Apes was a little too broad. That said, if anybody on the show can get away with that, it’s Krieger.
  • It’s not every show that can work the words “legerdemain” and “bailiwick” into a joke and use them accurately, so Archer has that going for it, at least.
  • Two little runners I enjoyed very much: “Who am I? (Insert name of obscure inventor or scientific figure)” and “I can’t believe you (undertake this ridiculous action)!” “Do you not?” Anytime the show plays Archer’s general inability to comprehend the way people that aren’t him live, it’s good for many laughs.
  • "Suck it, women!"
  • "Jeezum Petes."
  • "Way to go, Chokely Carmichael."
  • "You're the one who stuffed four pool balls in it." "Personal best!"
  • "Cyril, go do whatever it is you do..." "Like suck at stuff?"
  • "Yeah, quit screwin' around, Pam!"
  • "I'm kidding. There's a battery backup."
  • "Sesame ginger savings and loan?"
  • "And now we're on the brink of World War II." "Three." "It's not a competition, Pam!"
  • "Not really my legerdemain." "You mean bailiwick?"
  • "Does nobody read X-Men?"
  • "You gonna disappoint it to death?"
  • "Who am I? Elisha Otis?"
  • "Very soon, my little cherry blossom."
  • "Who am I? Alan Turing? ... Who's also from X-Men, remember?"
  • "I happen to be a kick-ass accountant." "Did that sound a lot better in your head?"
  • "You have a shoemaker?" "Do you not?"
  • "Ninjas are sexy." "Right?" "I mean, I think so."
  • "Shoot him, Cyril, but just him. I think the twins are warming up to me."
  • "See? As long as you learned something from it, it's not a mistake."
  • "After all that, you wanna take a bath?" "Do you not?"