When season five of Archer began, fans of the show and Americans in general had one burning question they needed Adam Reed and company to answer: Who cares about all of these changes? What’s going to happen to Ron Cadillac? And “A Debt Of Honor” answers that question quite readily: Ron is still married to Malory, and he’s dropping by the Tunt mansion from time to time, just to read his paper and lament how boring things are at work. By episode’s end, he’s been shot by the yakuza and carried out of the mansion to the hospital, all the while swearing off his wife’s new life of crime. Is this the end of Ron Cadillac (on the show)? We can only hope not, because I think we all can agree he’s maybe the greatest character in Archer history.
Other than that, “A Debt Of Honor” continues the season’s sidelong slide into outright serialization, following up on the events of last week with aplomb by revealing that the million dollars Archer and Lana retrieved in the last episode turns out to be counterfeit. Archer’s solution to this is to go to the deli and buy a pack of gum, retrieving $99.50 from worthless cash, but as Cyril points out, he’ll have to do that 10,000 times if he expects to recoup the gang’s cash. (And even then, he’ll end up $5,000 short.) What the team needs is a big-ticket item, something that it can buy in one fell swoop with the bad cash, tricking their purchaser and allowing for either resale that will net actual money or some sort of supply run that will give everybody actual ammunition. (Lana doesn’t have any because she used to get it from work. Archer apparently still has a few rounds left, though he wastes several bullets knocking out the yakuza boss’ hearing in the car near episode’s end.) It’s a surprisingly complex plan to cram into a 20-minute episode, and “Honor” shows the strain in places, but it’s mostly another example of how the premise shift has helped the show rejuvenate itself.
This being Archer, it’s only natural that this plan intersects with Pam at one point or another, and everyone’s favorite former HR representative and current cocaine fiend absconds with the money—which everybody just left lying around—and heads off to buy amphetamines from the yakuza, because she needs something to feed her growing addiction. I’ve seen some complaints about Pam’s cocaine addiction being too over the top even for this show. (I think it’s the fact that she eats the cocaine out of giant bags, looking for all the world like Winnie the Pooh eating honey out of a jar.) Pam’s one of my favorite characters on television, so I’m clearly pre-biased in favor of all of this, but I’m deeply enjoying how much the show is delving into this. One of the things I like about Pam is that she’s essentially indestructible, in a way that the series doesn’t really bother playing up too much. (She just sort of is.) This is another fine example of how far Pam can be pushed in the service of a gag and just how little reality matters to her character. I mean, this is already a crazily heightened situation. Why not turn her into a jittery yet still functional mess?
I have to agree somewhat with Sonia, though, that the season hasn’t yet done a great job of explaining why Lana’s choosing to stay with this band of idiots and yahoos when she almost certainly would have better prospects elsewhere. I know the answer to this is “because there’s no TV show without Lana,” but when Ron opts out of the battle with the yakuza—as much sense as it makes for the Cadillac King—I found myself wondering why Lana was getting involved as well. She’s pregnant, after all, and seems intent on being a good mother to her baby (as you’d expect). Why, exactly, does she remain so attached to her co-workers, as to follow them into pitched gun battles and potentially dangerous situations? It’s not a question the show has explored much as of yet, but, then, it sometimes seems as if the show has lost track of who Lana is outside of someone who plays straight woman for a few seasons now.
On the other hand, this whole premise shift has been weirdly revealing about Sterling Archer himself. He’s always been a man driven by the rampant embrace of whatever new and crazy adventure wanders across his path, and season five has already given him some great ones to throw himself headlong into. Archer’s most notable quality is that he’s an absolute asshole to almost everyone, but season five places this in even sharper relief, because it’s almost examining how living one’s life that way eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This isn’t, like, a hard-hitting critique of white privilege or anything like that (nor would I want it to be), but it is increasingly a look at how Archer is an asshole because that’s all he knows. That’s both because he learned that at his mother’s side but also because when he’s just a complete jerk, the world tends to give him whatever it is he’s whining about just to shut him up. Archer won just by being born to Malory, and when he gets away with massive criminal enterprise, there’s never really any suspense that he’ll be caught, because it’s just so unusual to imagine such a thing would ever happen. He’s way ahead and doesn’t even know it.
I was watching a TED Talk (shut up; I’m owning my white hipster credentials) about a study at Berkeley that set players up with a game of Monopoly, giving some of them greater amounts of money and property at the game’s start than others, then examining how the ones with the built-in advantages started to get sort of mean to the players without those advantages, by the end of the game even refusing to acknowledge just how much having all that extra cash had helped them out in the early going of the game. There’s a constant desire on all of our parts to act as if the narratives of our own lives are driven strictly by us as the protagonists, while ignoring the massive role that luck (like, say, the luck all of us reading this have from being born into an age with modern technology and medicine) plays in the success or survival of any one of us.
I don’t really think Reed has any of this on his mind when he sits down to write an episode of Archer. He’s not an explicitly political writer, despite tossing in little digs at various figures and causes over the years. What Adam Reed is is a longtime studier of the asshole in his native habitat, of the guy who gets everything he wants and then wants even more. And for as much as I like Archer when it’s about the supporting characters, I like it even more when it’s about Sterling Archer, the guy who acts like probably most of us would act if we were handed that rigged Monopoly game and told to play.
One of the big, cosmic jokes of Archer has always been the title character’s luck. He makes it through astounding shootouts with only his stepfather getting hit, and he fires off a gun in an enclosed space without seeming to seriously damage his hearing beyond some temporary ringing in his ears. In older narratives, he’s the kind of guy who would get punished for being such a jerk, but on Archer, his name is the title of the show. We know he’s going to win, and watching him keep pushing forward, in spite of everything, makes him seem almost weirdly admirable. He’s an antihero, sure, but one who so purely expresses all of the inner asshole qualities we ourselves share. The smartest, subtlest thing about Archer that season five gets right is that it’s, once again, a show about Sterling Archer.
- If you pay attention to the headlines on Ron’s newspaper, you’ll get some clues as to what’s coming in future episodes. Granted, they’re mostly boring clues that won’t mean very much to you at this point, but on a second time through the episode, I kind of liked having them there.
- I’m loving the weird little glimpses we get into the history of Cheryl’s family in this season. The tunnels underneath the Tunt mansion were dug by a crazy uncle who was trying to tap into the Underground Railroad. (He both thought it was an actual underground railroad and wanted to use it to recapture fugitive slaves.)
- George Takei returns to voice the yakuza boss. When asked if she shot him, Malory replies, “Oh, who can remember?”
- Does the Tunt mansion have an old gymnasium with medicine balls and Indian clubs? Yes. And Woodhouse is currently trapped under one of the former, having to listen to the phone and doorbell ring while he can’t move. (A servant’s worst nightmare!)
- In case you were wondering, the corner of 55th and 5th in Manhattan appears to be a Presbyterian church in our reality.
- Cheryl’s ideas for a genre-defining country song include a song about a cyborg in a wheelchair who keeps pussyaching about being a cyborg in a wheelchair. I could see that jumping straight to the top of the charts.
- I do hope this isn’t the end for Ron. I know many of you find him mystifying and/or boring, but he is the light of my life, metaphorically speaking.