When this season of Archer began, the question I most wondered was how Adam Reed and his team were going to take a show that had been about “good guys” and make it one about “bad guys.” Now, you guys know what I’m talking about when I say that the ISIS team was never very “good,” and you know what Adam Reed is talking about when he brings up all of the nefarious stuff that the CIA has been involved in over the years (which also comes up in this episode directly). But for a lot of casual TV viewers—which arguably includes absolutely no one in the Archer audience, but bear with me—there’s a big difference between watching a show about people who work for the government or some other authority and those who try to circumvent that authority. These casual fans will generally watch shows about either side of the coin, but it’s difficult to convince them that, say, the good guys have become the bad guys, or something similar. (Look at all of the grousing every time an antihero show rubs the audience’s noses in how vile the protagonist has become, for instance.)
Archer has solved this problem mostly by just making sure the protagonists are really, really bad at navigating the world of criminality they’ve wandered into. As “On The Carpet” begins, Archer, Ray, and Cyril have lost even more of the cocaine to an arms dealer played by Christian Slater, and it’s later revealed that Krieger has accidentally blown up even more of it, leaving the organization with only “a little” left over, in the mad doctor’s words. Meanwhile, completely accidentally, the group has stumbled upon some sort of anti-communist arms dealing racket run by the CIA, which Malory believes can be turned to their advantage. Turning the team into a bunch of arms smugglers this late in the game could feel like the show desperately making things up as it goes along, but, instead, it works as a kind of ultimate indictment of just how bad they were at the drug game. They were way in over their heads, in a way that refused to conform to how they operated. Archer’s blithe cockiness might keep everybody alive, but it’s a damn sight more effective when he’s putting one over on other spies than when he’s doing the same to drug runners.
“On The Carpet” uses one of my favorite devices for a TV episode: having some of the characters tell the others a story, which is frequently flashed back to. One of the reasons I like this, I think, is that it eliminates the need for a B-story, by taking what would be the A-story and letting everybody give their reactions to it, even if they weren’t present. The last couple of episodes have been good, but they’ve struggled somewhat with what to do with everybody that wasn’t out in the wilds with Archer, Ray, and Cyril. In the past, the show would just give those other characters a typical workplace sitcom plot and be done with it. That’s harder to do when they aren’t really part of a workplace and are, instead, trying to promote a country album or whatever. By letting everybody comment on the action of the stolen plane’s descent into Florida, the show is able to stretch out what’s ultimately not that much of a story and turn it into a much more interesting examination of just how terrible these people are at what they’re trying to do. Also, by getting everybody in the same room and letting them bounce off of each other, it makes for one of the season’s funnier episodes.
I’ve probably repeated this too many times across the run of Archer, but this show really does have a peerless comedic ensemble, and Reed knows how to use every single person in it to maximum effect. Malory threatening to literally emasculate Krieger, for instance, is a funny notion in and of itself (particularly when it comes to the idea of her forcing him to watch in a mirror), but it gains so much more from the interplay of Jessica Walter and Lucky Yates. And when you consider that the voice recording for this show is done via separate sessions, so the actors aren’t ever really working together, it makes everything all the more impressive. I’ve frequently said that this show has some of the best-paced comedic editing out there, and this episode is a showcase for that part of the show, looping in past and present and transitioning nicely from Archer’s story to the main story to Krieger’s story, always keeping things flowing and funny.
The episode also successfully raises the stakes on the entire season. Archer Vice has felt, to some degree, as meandering as any season of Archer, but it’s also been slowly but surely working itself toward a series of corners the former ISIS crew can’t fight its way out of. Now that all of the cocaine is gone, and everyone is on the verge of utter destitution and desperation (I guess?), things pretty much have to work out with the new plan to get in the middle of the CIA’s operations in San Marcos and… well, I’m not really sure what happens next, but I assume that next week will enlighten us in that regard. Serialized plotting is so often about making sure everything snaps into place perfectly, but Archer has never been that kind of a show. Instead, this season is much more about how to take the normal storytelling method of the show—which is very loose—and stretch it out across a season. That the show has succeeded more often than not is both surprising and deeply satisfying.
Of course, that also places way more emphasis on the season’s endgame than previous seasons have needed to worry about. Yes, the voyages to space and under the sea in the last two seasons have put a capper on some of the show’s storylines, but they could have almost as easily been two-parters in the middle of the season. Archer has always been a show about shaggy dog stories that seem like they’re half being made up as Adam Reed and company go along. Never has that been more the case than in this season, where, for instance, an episode might conclude with everybody just stumbling across a plane because they need one to be there, or with Archer, Ray, and Cyril bailing and running to Malory to figure out what to do with their illicit cargo. Having a flat ending isn’t such a problem when your shaggy dog story takes up a half-hour, but increasingly, Archer Vice is betting on its last handful of episodes. That can be a dangerous proposition, but I’m betting all involved can pull it off.
- Ron and Malory are going to have an open marriage. Naturally, the first people he calls are Cherlene and Pam. Because of course he does.
- I liked how the show hung a lantern on the fact that San Marcos doesn’t actually exist, then turned it into a hilarious riff about how Krieger refuses to recognize the independence of Tanganyika, formerly German East Africa and now Tanzania.
- Pam’s latest confection: whipped cocaine. I’ll be honest. I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of the Pam storyline this season, but it’s starting to get a little old for me. It will be interesting to see what happens now that she’ll be forced to detox rapidly (I presume).
- Christian Slater is pretty inspired casting for the arms dealer that Archer and the guys run into. He just wants you to call him Slater.
- I do like that Archer is realizing his ability to bullshit his way into and out of just about any dangerous situation is even more helpful in the crime game than it was when he was a spy.
- Cherlene’s first album cover descended into hard-core food pornography so quickly that everybody noticed it. (Still, sticking a Popsicle in one’s ass and/or vagina doesn’t sound like a good time to me.)
- I like how the fact that neither Malory nor Archer can remember whether the amount of cocaine they have is in pounds or in kilos has turned into kind of a running joke. In my imagination, the word “pounds” being crossed out and replaced with “KILOS!!!!” is a running script note Reed gets every week.