"Unless you include the funeral expenses for those pygmies, and I bet that sneaky little chief just dumped them all into one medium-sized hole."—Malory Archer
Let us now sing the praises of Jessica Walter.
On second thought, let’s sing the praises of this entire cast, which should win some sort of collective group Emmy for best voice performance in an animated series. I spend a lot of time in these recaps talking about the writers and how much they’ve sharpened and tightened the show this season, but I often neglect to talk about the people tasked with bringing those jokes to life. In “El Secuestro,” an episode that played off all of the great things Archer has been doing this season, while keeping one eye on the final three episodes of the year (is it that time already?), everybody in the cast (save Lucky Yates, whose Krieger sits this episode out) gets something very funny to do in an episode that blends the wild literary references, the tight plotting, the nicely done character work, the reheated TV tropes, and the office shenanigans that have made this season of television so much fun.
I’m starting with Walter because her Malory—while not the focus of the plot in any way—is the person who keeps this from being a standard kidnap and rescue plot. When she finds out that the men who took Pam to their secret lair were actually after Cheryl (who turns out to be the heir to the mythical Tunt fortune), she begins a lengthy process of wheeling and dealing in an attempt to get some of that Tunt money, all the while trying to lowball the kidnappers on what it will cost to get Pam—who’s holding her own, thank you very much—back. The lines the writers give Malory are so funny (again, look at that quote above) that they would be amusing with just about anybody reading them, but Walter gives them that extra snap of haughty, old money superiority that Malory needs to come off as something other than a caricature of an old woman who doesn’t know the lines of propriety. This is a great Malory episode, even though she’s in the background for much of it, trying to figure out how to get some of Cheryl’s half-a-billion. The episode turns on her decisions, and Walter plays every pregnant pause and every awful, awful line to the maximum extent of her abilities.
This is to say nothing of H. Jon Benjamin, who’s having a banner season (and turning in very different, but equally stellar, work over on Bob’s Burgers). Archer hasn’t always been the focus of these episodes, but Benjamin finds something fun to play in all of them regardless. Check him out in this episode, when he’s in the Tunt mansion, looking at Cheryl’s ocelot, Babboo, and getting very excited over his spotted fur and “little tufted ears.” Archer was a pretty stereotypical asshole spy in season one, and that made for lots of great comedy, but Benjamin has broadened him quite a bit in season two, giving him moments of geeky excitement and moments of hushed awe and moments of something approaching genuine melancholy. Again, the lines Archer gets are so funny that plenty of actors could be funny reading them, but Benjamin has made Archer a fully realized character in the midst of all of the chaos.
The episode is also something of a focus on Judy Greer as Cheryl (who gets the same backstory treatment we’ve gotten with Woodhouse, Cyril, Lana, and others this season) and Amber Nash as Pam (who doesn’t get as much backstory but is revealed to have made her way through college via what appears to be great success in the underground fighting circuit). Greer is mostly just asked to say crazy things as Cheryl, and that’s fun, but she steps it up here, playing both Cheryl’s insanity and the part of her that’s a spoiled trust-fund kid who’s found a day job and has to ride the subway with a dwarf that freaks her out. Similarly, Nash takes great glee in the way that Pam seems impervious to anything the kidnappers can dish out, the way that she simply turns to the side and spits when she’s getting punched by the man beating her. Pam’s become more and more maniacal as the series has gone along, and this seems like the natural conclusion to this character growth. I mean, there’s not much further the show can go from having Pam disrobe to beat Malory and reveal that she has Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib” tattooed on her back.
Chris Parnell’s Cyril, Aisha Tyler’s Lana, and Adam Reed’s Gillette don’t get AS much to do in this episode, but they’re all handed plenty of funny business nonetheless. In particular, Parnell kills every time he says “jackin’ it” in the last act, while Reed’s dismissal of Archer’s turtleneck is very funny. And Tyler, who’s often forced to play straightwoman to all of the idiots, manages to wring every last drop of humor she can out of Lana’s one word responses. If there’s a better, more consistent line delivery on television than the way Tyler says, “Nope!” I’ve yet to hear it.
All in all, “El Secuestro” is everything I’d ever want out of an Archer episode. It starts well with an intriguing nugget of a plot, segues into a story about just how warped everybody in this office is (except for poor Brett, who keeps answering the phones even while dying of a gunshot wound), then wraps everything up with an ending that somehow tops everything that came before. “El Secuestro” may not be my favorite episode of the show ever, but it’s yet another episode that kills in a season that’s gone from very, very good to remarkable in short order. And it does so many of the things Archer does well perfectly that it almost seems like the kind of episode you’d give to someone who’s never seen the show before in order to get them interested. “I dunno,” they might say. “Aren’t spy spoofs kinda played out?” And then you’d smile and hand them the DVD and say, “Just watch.”
- “Tunt” is such a funny word to say. I mean, sure, it sounds like that OTHER word. But it’s also very, very funny on its own. Try saying it. All together now. “Tunt.”
- Anybody think we haven’t seen the last of this particular kidnapping plot? Between the reveal of Cheryl’s millions, the talk of her brother Cecil, and the fact that Pam saw the kidnapper’s face but we didn’t, I’m wondering if there isn’t some other sort of plot here. I kind of wonder if Cecil isn’t behind all of this for whatever reason. (This is probably me reading too much into things.)
- You can read the Lord Byron poem in full here. Pam’s had the third stanza tattooed on her back. (And I am a bad English major, as I read this poem in college but couldn’t place what it was without a Google search.)
- As you may have heard, Archer has received a third season order. Good news! But the better news is that the show will run 16 episodes next year, the better for three to run with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in the fall. Sunny, though still very funny, is getting on in years, and FX is clearly looking for a replacement for it. This would indicate that Archer is being considered heavily for that slot, I would think.
- I love that Archer apparently knows Asimov’s laws of robotics.
- "Mopeds are fun, but you don't want your buddies to see you riding one."
- "I thought he meant I was fuel-efficient. Only had ten beers!"
- "Or yesterday when she said she had to walk to work because there was a midget on the train." "I think she said it was a dwarf."
- "Yes! That is you! You're Cheryl!"
- "Yes! Just keep shouting your own name!"
- "This is a way better excuse than the train dwarf, which, uck. Uck."
- "Like a huge, sweatery Lindbergh baby."
- "The train dwarf was real, and he looked right at me with his dwarf-y eyeballs!"
- "It's Tunt." "Tum again? What, nothing?"
- "It's not a big deal. They're everywhere."
- "What's to prove? It's free labor."
- "You guys, look at his little spots! … Look at his tufted ears!"
- "Babboo… but it should be buyer's remorse."
- "You better just fuckin' kill me!"
- "It's like Meow-schwitz in there."
- "Bring me some stuff to do. It's crazy, stupid boring in here!" "Well, now you know how Babboo feels." "Crepuscular?"
- "Not you, Mr. Bloodmobile!"
- "Guess how many pygmies died cutting it down. Hint: Six."
- "I'll tell you what I'm not doing, Lana, is negotiating with a goddamn cyborg."
- "That's what I've been tryin' to tell ya. Between this little girl's love taps."
- "So?" "So he's gross!"
- "Well, we obviously don't want you to…" "Violate the first law of robotics?"
- "Oh, for… seriously?"
- "There's half a billion dollars worth of Tunt sitting in that vault!"
- "No heroics, you two. It's just Pam."
- "The IRS? Jesus. How many Irish gangs are there?"
- "Why are you wearing that turtleneck?"
- "Why do you care what he's wearing?" "Oh my God."
- "Brett! For the love of God!"
- "Oh, don't be dicks."
- "Hey, Trainspotting. Can you dial that modulator down a skosh?"
- "You're daddy's dirty, dirty little whore. OK, I'm done masturbating! Goodbye!"
- "I've been up here the whole time. Havin' some phone sex! Just… jackin' it. On the telephone."
- "Does Internet porn know you're cheating on it?"
- "You're crazy!" "Just for jackin' it. On the telephone!"
- "They're not gonna shoot you, Pam. Their programming won't allow it."
- "Do you people even give a shit?"
- "Then you a-holes shoot a jillion a-hole bullets at me."
- "Well, let's see how much you wiggle when I'm whuppin' 5,000 bucks worth of your ass."
- "Lana. Let her have this one."
- "Anybody want a piece of this?" "Nope."