On the scale of Archer relationships, the most important one is the poisonous mother-son bond between Sterling and Malory Archer. (I am aware that my coverage colleague and Lana/Archer booster Sonia Saraiya will be composing an angry Letter to the Editor of her local newspaper because I have said this, but Lana and Archer are only the second most important relationship on the show. Distant third? Pam and Cheryl.) Archer is always the show I point to when people confuse my desire for comedies based around well-developed characters for comedies where, in the parlance of Seinfeld, there is hugging and learning. There is basically no hugging or learning on Archer, but the characters are so perfectly developed and even three-dimensional (give or take Cheryl, who is basically just a catch-all for the writers to do crazy things with) that storylines arise from their interactions and not just whatever crazy situations they’re thrust into.
Yet the show doesn’t really take these relationships seriously all that often—to its benefit, I think. There have been a few times when it’s tiptoed around the notion of just what Archer and Lana really mean to each other, but they’ve been few and far between. That makes it all the more jarring when tonight’s episode ends with a cliffhanger—Archer, Ray, and Cyril are being dragged off to a notorious Colombian prison, where they are surely marked for death—that contains an apparently sincere moment when Malory, tears in her eyes, asks Lana to bring back her son. Jessica Walter, of course, makes the moment land, but coming in the midst of Archer as it does, the moment is just a little weird. The show has never thought about this relationship in terms of actual loving affection. It has, instead, always treated it as an example of what not to do when raising your child—usually to hilarious effect.
Now, of course, next week’s episode could completely reverse this and reveal that Malory just wanted to keep word of the cocaine operation from leaking out or something (though neither Malory nor Lana knows what’s happened to Archer and company just yet). But in the moment, it feels like the single most pathos-ridden thing that has happened on the show. This woman who was such a poison in her son’s life finds herself with the thought of losing him, and she needs him back. It’s almost certainly not the first time she’s feared this, and it’s almost certainly not the first time she’s worried about him. But she’s lost so much over the past few weeks that this is something she’s not also prepared to lose. Again, it’s executed well, but… it’s weird.
Beyond that, “Smuggler’s Blues” gets back to the format for most Archer episodes from the first four seasons: There’s a mission in some exotic locale, Archer and a few other characters get into the thick of it, and then there’s some sort of action-packed resolution. Meanwhile, back at the home base, some of the other characters have a wacky adventure that’s a little more small stakes. The episode speaks to both the strengths and weaknesses of serialization, actually, because by the time the cliffhanger rolls around, I’m excited to see how the guys will get out of prison in the next few episodes (and to see if Archer gets a tiger). But the way to that point was so convoluted—with the characters having to lay out so much information about the lay of the land—that the exposition got in the way of the humor from time to time, unless you think it’s inherently funny that Archer knows so much about the inner politics of Colombia (which I guess is at least theoretically humorous).
At the same time, I was just happy to have a mission-based plot again. I’ve enjoyed the shenanigans of the last few episodes, and I’ve liked the way they’ve dug deep into these characters and their relationships to see what makes them tick. But sooner or later, you just want to see Archer out in the field, getting into crazy fights with people and seducing beautiful women (though in this case, the beautiful woman not only seduced him but was far, far too much for him in almost every way). The world of the series’ fictional drug trade has suffered a bit for not having some of the recurring players that the ISIS setting could draw upon. Indeed, this season has mostly tried to come up with reasons to shove those old characters into this new setting, when it’s bothered. The Colombian setting was the first time that I felt like the show had stumbled onto something in this new world that it could use again, particularly in the figure of “La Madrina,” who’s the aforementioned sexy lady who proves to be too much for Archer, both drinking and sexing him under the table before revealing herself to be a police officer under deep cover and sending him to prison. (That she’d probably prefer to not be exposed is why everybody’s pretty sure they’re going to die in said prison.)
But I also liked the way that putting everybody on a mission returned to some of the most fundamental aspects of the show, like Archer being a total jackass in the field or Cyril having to put up with everybody else’s bullshit and being kind of an idiot when it counts. I could have listened all day, for instance, to Archer explaining to Ray just how they both ended up with the same outgoing voicemail message (just Archer cackling madly), because it was so hilariously, needlessly convoluted and dumb, particularly when the two of them were in the middle of a potentially sticky situation. The fun of Archer always comes from Archer being a dumbass in the middle of some death-defying situation, and it’s hard to come up with that kind of story when the show is confined to the Tunt manor, even more so than it was in the ISIS offices.
Eventually, though, everything in both versions of the show comes back to the weird bond between Malory and Sterling (and the fact that I review both this and Bates Motel on the same evening is not lost on me… I need to call my mom). There’s been some grousing that the “reboot” of the series has been oversold, that its premise hasn’t shifted as radically as some have been suggesting. And that’s’ probably true. This isn’t suddenly a show where all of the characters are different people. But I think the show feels so different because the characters are the same. Being thrust into territory where they have so much more to lose and don’t always know where they stand has opened them up to the point where their emotions are, dare I say it, genuine. It’s not something I would like to see the show try every week, but every once in a while, it can be both weird and just a little bit revelatory.
- This week’s Cherlene adventure involves Malory insisting that she get a record deal. She’s also wondering just why Lana’s going to keep that baby.
- One of the best things about Lana’s pregnancy has been how it’s opened up her relationship with Malory in a lot of very funny ways. In particular, I’m fond of how Malory now thinks to give all of her parenting advice—of which there isn’t much—to Lana.
- Archer is wondering if we’re going to be working “Phrasing!” back into the rotation. We will if you do, man.
- Krieger’s been making a lot of money off the GILF-cam, which turns out to be footage of a shirtless Woodhouse laying on the floor and answering questions from intrigued followers, including GILFHound69 (that’s me).
- Pam is helping Lana learn what it is to be a mother by wearing a bib and gobbling down spoon-fed cocaine.
- Don’t forget to submit your Snacklesnaps of what you ate today in comments.
- “Guess like a Mexican Mrs. Garrett?”