Archer Vice: “Palace Of Intrigue, Part II”
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Archer Vice: “Palace Of Intrigue, Part II”

Why so many things on this show just make sense

There’s perhaps no show I cover where I use the phrase “for some reason” as much as I do for Archer, while still enjoying it. On a lot of shows, that would be a curse. Do you know what I mean here? You know how occasionally, you’ll be trying to tell somebody else about an episode of a show you really liked or a movie or something, and you’ll get to a big part and realize that you’re not entirely clear on the motivation for why something happened. So you’ll just say, “And then she turned all his men into pigs, for some reason,” and laugh, because that was your favorite part of the story. Usually, when this happens, it just means you’ve forgotten the motivation, or it means that even if it was in the story, it didn’t make a lot of sense. But I think that Archer rises above this a lot of the time. I’m sure when I summarize this episode for others later, I’ll end it with, “And then Cyril shows up in a tank, for some reason,” even though the episode laid out why. But there’s another reason that works.

I think that reason is, “because it just makes sense.” Cyril showing up in a tank—thereby bringing back the plot thread of him going to get a car for everybody to leave the palace in (the one that had almost seemed dropped)—then using the tank’s gun to point directly at Archer’s head just makes sense on some level. Yes, of course, Cyril who’s always picked on would pick a tank. And yes, of course, it would arrive at just the right moment to interrupt the chaos unfolding in the palace. And then, of course, he would use the gun to threaten Archer. It doesn’t really matter if there’s a plot justification for him doing it, even though there is one, and the show is frantically reminding you of it when he shows up in the tank. All that matters is that it makes some weird emotional sense. Cyril’s always been emasculated. So here he is in a motherfucking tank.

I feel that way about a lot of this season of Archer, actually. It feels like it shoots from the gut in a way that some of the other seasons haven’t. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it allows Adam Reed and his crew to attain a surprisingly complex view of their characters—who were already among the better developed laugh-generating machines on TV. I don’t know that season five has hit the consistent comedic bliss of seasons two or three, but what it’s done has been very different. It’s, instead, decided to lean into the connections between the characters and the connections between itself and the audience. It is, in many ways, a very typical fifth season show, trying like hell to remind us of just why we first came to love this show in the first place.

An audience’s relationship to a show grows and changes, of course, but once you get out of the honeymoon phase of the first two seasons, every season after is a race against time to keep the audience to start tuning out once they realize they’ve seen all of the notes you can play, particularly in an age when everybody gets on the Internet to immediately register their disgust with an episode that’s not up to par. What’s been interesting about watching this season of Archer is that it sort of set itself up as a deliberate dodge. It started out seeming like it was going to wildly revamp the show’s premise (or at least do some different things with it). And while it’s certainly done that, it’s gotten much more mileage out of examining how the characters would behave differently—or not so differently at all—under these new circumstances. The season isn’t really about drug deals gone wrong or secret plots by the CIA to sell drugs to fund overseas dictatorships. Instead, it’s about how these people have become the one constant in each other’s lives, the one thing any of them can really turn to.

That makes this season sound a lot more like it should be ending with everybody going “Aw!” and having a group hug, but that’s not really the Archer way. No, the Archer way is Pam taking a bullet in the boob for Sterling (in slow-motion of course), then everybody saying, “Noooo!” and then the show making a joke about how they were saying a slowed-down, pitch-lowered “Noooo!” before revealing Pam’s all right. The gestures of genuine care and concern between these characters have always been there on the show, but they’ve generally been few and far between (as it should be). We’ve seen more and more of them in season five, because as the season has gone on, they’ve gotten more and more out of their depths.

One of the unspoken questions of most TV shows is “Why do these people hang out with each other?” In most cases, it’s because they work together or because they’re family. But once in a great while, you’ll get a show about a group of friends who are just awful to each other and wonder why they spend so much time together. Archer season five takes that question and makes it the text. Ostensibly, these people are still hanging out with each other to pull off that one last score that will make everything right and allow them all to part with riches untold. But as the plan has tanked more and more and as everybody has had to come up with some other idea entirely, the thought that they would still be keeping company has gotten much more absurd. And, yes, that’s part of the joke, but it also speaks to how, in some ways, these people form a functional unit—maybe not a functional unit in terms of peddling drugs but a functional unit in terms of dealing with the world. And therefore, the plot sense never matters as much as the emotional sense, and that’s where this season of Archer has been so great.

Anyway, I don’t want to take away from what was a very funny episode of Archer with my rambling. It just struck me as we got to the end of the episode that a lot of stuff that might have been resolved on another show was left in tension here, so Cyril could drive a tank. That’s not really a function of this season’s serialization, either, which increasingly reveals itself to be Adam Reed just making the storyline up on a season-wide scale, rather than on an episode-by-episode scale. Maybe that’s more disappointing to you, but so long as Archer is about what intractable forces keep drawing these awful people back into each other’s orbits, to the degree that they actually seem to care about each other, I’m going to be watching it and loving it.

Stray observations:

  • By far the most important revelation of this episode is that Frogchild exists. Yes, this is the first mention we’ve had of him, but I want him to become not just a regular next season but also Krieger’s son. It is only right. (And we only need ever see his fin, because I don’t know if I want to contemplate his full, terrible reality.)
  • I loved how immediately into being the wife of a dictator Cherlene was. First, she was irate, but then, when she thought about it for a second, she could totally get behind the idea of being First Lady. I almost felt bad for her at having to go back to her country music career (granted, with a platinum album under her belt, even if one man bought all 1 million copies).
  • There are some excellent riffs on Schoolhouse Rock in this episode, and if you were wondering, the name-checked Dave Frishberg is perhaps most famous for his “I’m Just A Bill,” lovingly parodied (as all things have been) on The Simpsons. (“We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little!”)
  • Pam feels like an asshole for all the time she spent with “Rebels” down south. When does she not feel like an asshole? Malory asks. “Almost always,” Pam says. “I really like me!” Also: She turns over a table in an attempt to hide behind it from shelling, which really seems like it would work.
  • All things considered, Mike Du-cockless is an excellent pun, and any episode that ends on a freeze frame deserves only the highest of praise.

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