Of all the Archer characters, I think Pam might be my favorite. I’m not sure there’s another character on TV like her. I don’t really mean that in the sense that all of the Archer characters are so specific and well-drawn that they seem to have taken on lives of their own. At some level, Sterling’s an asshole, and Malory’s a disappointed mother, and all of the other layers on top of that are just the icing on the cake. But Pam feels different somehow. She’s an all-purpose glutton and hedonist, who embraces everything she does with an almost terrifying readiness to dive in and just do whatever. There aren’t a lot of women like that on TV, and between the way the show animates her as this big ball of energy and Amber Nash’s voice work, the whole thing becomes this sort of insane comic creation.
So, suffice it to say, when I found out that tonight’s episode was going to be about Archer and Pam secretly hooking up, I was beyond excited. And the show didn’t let me down. Every scene the two share is hilarious, from their elevator hook-up to the closing bit in his bed. But where this might have been the focus of another episode—and been resolved within that episode somehow—it appears that this is there to propel the real story, which involves Bionic Barry’s plan to take over the KGB by first facilitating Jakov’s defection, then killing him by placing a giant block of ice with a fork in it in a microwave in an apartment that’s slowly filling with gas. (There’s just no good way to summarize this, is there?) The moment when Jakov dies is played with a surprising amount of gravity, similar to how last season played the death of Archer’s beloved, and H. Jon Benjamin’s work as he said the man who might have been his father was dead was great. The show, obviously, isn’t going to turn into a serious drama, but it’s willing to take the big moments in its characters’ lives seriously.
Bionic Barry isn’t my favorite character on the show, and I realize I’m in the minority on this. But I liked him here, particularly when he was in Russia, giving everybody shit about how cold it is or about their incompetence. I also liked that the reveal of his plan to drive Archer crazy very gradually through doubt and uncertainty, then his mention that this wasn’t the actual master plan, just another goof. I’m still not the world’s biggest Barry fan, but this was a good episode for the guy, and I’m glad that he’s taken over the KGB, at least temporarily. Maybe it’ll give ISIS a better recurring nemesis, even though the show doesn’t really need such a thing.
The highlight, though, was just the way that the episode played out a lot of things that you completely expected to happen. As soon as we found out Archer had hooked up with someone at the strip club—after convincing everybody to go out for chicken and waffles after a funeral—it was pretty obvious it was going to be Pam. That still didn’t hurt the reveal of her sitting on his toilet, chowing down on another waffle. A lot of shows would have strung out a “reconstructing a drunken evening” plot, which isn’t the worst thing in the world but would have felt a little safe. Now that we were into the “two regulars can’t stop sleeping together” plot, the story got some room to breathe, opening it up for the big moments at the end. Plus, the gag that Pam was the best sex Archer had ever had—and he has an addictive personality, so you know he’s going to keep going back to her—was really funny, especially the way the two seemed about to fight but instead ended up sleeping together in the elevator.
I also liked the way this episode seemed to tie in a lot of other stuff that’s happened this season. Several running jokes—from playing on the word “literally” to Archer’s voice mail greetings—returned, and the plot circled back around to the events of last season’s finale, as well as the ongoing “Archer’s father” mystery. (I honestly hope the show never solves this one, and if it does, why not in the series finale?) A lot of you have been pointing out how much more Malory and Archer seem to be drinking this season, and that got a bit of a payoff, too, as it’s Archer’s inability to stay sober that eventually leads to him hooking up with Pam, which eventually leads to his possible father’s death. I wouldn’t say this is intended as a “message,” but his casual alcoholism has gone from a joke to something more like a plot point this season, and it’ll be interesting to see if anything comes of it.
I’m giving this one my standard “first part of a two-parter” grade, which is A-, simply because it’s always hard to evaluate one of these all on its own. Maybe in the future, once we know Barry’s master plan, this episode will look very silly. It’s also possible that it will look brilliant, simply because Barry’s plan was so great. At the same time, there’s just no good way to write a scene where the villain explains to someone just what his awful, dastardly plot is and make it seem fresh, and the show falls into that trap a little bit here and there, which drags down some of the third act just a bit. It’s not really a big deal—since the ending’s so great—and I don’t know that there was a better way to do it, so I’m not going to harp on it anymore.
If I share a general complaint with you guys about the season, it’s this: There should be more Lana! We’ve gotten some great showcases for just about every character this year, but Lana Kane remains both straight woman and exposition machine, something that keeps her from being as funny as she can be. I get that her role is to be the one sane one in a pack of idiot jackals, but she has felt incidental to the action a little too often this season. (I think “Lo Scandalo” worked so well because so much of it was just given over to Malory, Archer, and Lana, which is the show’s default trio.) I think that might all change once everybody gets into the heart of Barry’s “master plan,” but we’ll have to see next week. For now, though, a good start, with some surprisingly adept plotting.
- Cheryl was also very funny this episode, with her talk of her place reeking of ocelot piss and the return of her love of being choked. (Barry was so strong.)
- Two gags on TV tropes that I liked: the dead ISIS agent at the start had his face covered in both the photo and casket, so we could speculate it might be someone we knew until we realized it wasn’t; Cyril shoots the KGB sleeper in the head, right before he can spell out the master plan.
- I was surprised at how effectively the bits where Lana and the others needed to get back to the safe house worked. Is this the first time the show’s been able to do a suspense set piece like that? Or am I forgetting some other “ticking time bomb” scenario that worked well? (It is very possible I am.)
- Here are all of the Pam Poovey quotes I liked this evening. Try not to go too nuts: “It's absinthe and milk.” “Whoo! I'm Pacman Jones!” “That's 150 gallons of Pam's hot, dirty, ball-slappin'…” “How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they seen Pammy?” “You make me sound like some kind of Chupacabra, but for dicks.” “It's a DVD, a box of wine, some Hot Pockets, and off to bed.” “What? C'mon! You were pushin' rope!” I also liked her insult to Archer when they were about to have sex in the bathroom stall, but I didn’t write it down quickly enough.
- Two great exchanges, first Archer and Cheryl: “Who hunts dogs?” “Orientals, duh!” Then, Jakov and Malory: “Whoa! That is big dog!” “Marmaduke.” (The Marmaduke gags in this one were great.)
- Malory says what I’ve always wanted to say to stupid people asking me things in elevators: “I just thought I'd take all my things for a ride on the elevator.”