Let’s talk, for a second, about Lana Kane.
Lana occupies a unique, and often unflattering, position within the Archer universe: She’s the one who cares. About, like, anything; in a cartoon world where almost every character is defined in part by their indifference to consequences, Lana is the one who inevitably actually has something to fight for, and to lose: Her daughter, her professional reputation, and often times just her base dignity. It’s a position that, unfortunately, often leaves her (and the wonderful Aisha Tyler) at the bottom of Archer’s comedic pecking order, the one forced to say “But the mission!” when everyone else is delivering the actual goofs.
“Saturday,” at least, tackles that issue in a more head-on way than many episodes of Archer, by foregrounding how every second spent on her weekend-assigned mission (retrieving a professional criminal negotiator, played with characteristic charm by Kenan Thompson) is a second Lana isn’t spending with her daughter A.J. If nothing else, it makes her mounting frustration with every Archer-induced screw-up or interruption feel a lot realer than the usual “default to Lana complaining about everyone else making jokes” plotting this show sometimes falls back on.
Our action tonight jumps back and forth between Lana and A.J., before nicely dovetailing together at the end: On the one hand, we have Archer and Lana running around New York, trying to keep tabs on their paranoid, marathon runner quarry. On the other, we’ve got Pam’s efforts to keep A.J. (who Lana was supposed to be spending the whole day with, before Fabian forced her to work on her day off) entertained at The Agency’s offices, efforts which eventually rope in the entire (non-Ray) supporting cast in extended babysitter duty.
A.J. has always been a weird subject for Archer to handle, given its zig-zagging interest in serialization over the years. In the past, she’s mostly just been an excuse to milk some feelings out of Lana, and, to a lesser extent, Archer, with no real characterization beyond “sweet kid.” “Saturday” attempts to rectify that, painting a picture of her as both Lana Kane’s daughter and Malory Archer’s granddaughter: A hyper-competent polymath who, like any right-thinking woman with good boundaries, enjoys beating the shit out of Cyril Figgis. There’s some genuine fun in watching her work her way through The Agency’s office (while also getting a glimpse at how each of our cast members spend their apparently very boring days off). She’s an especially good foil for Pam’s boundless enthusiasm for everything—even if the subplot where Ms. Poovey is obsessed with earning “Aunt Pammy” credentials feels a bit forced, as single-episode “character arcs” on this show sometimes do.
Meanwhile, Lana and Archer run all over the city in pursuit of bad guy mediator The Broker, with Thompson giving one of the show’s more successful guest star performances in recent memory. At first, I was nervous that the character might fall into a one-note rut, centered entirely on his negotiation abilities and knack for “instant intimacy,” but Thompson (and the script, from Asha Michelle Wilson, who also wrote last season’s excellent Lana outing “Photo Op”) manages to flesh him out just enough to work. It also leads to plenty of amusing scenes where the various criminal organizations who are out to brutally murder The Broker (because he’s privy to all their secrets) spend time reminiscing about what a great guy he is.
Our two threads collide in the final act, when said criminals (Russian mafia, “Classic mafia,” and yakuza) all storm The Agency offices after Archer blabbed about exactly who he was and where he worked in a failed bid to impress them. (One more hit on his increasingly flagging relevance.) The end result is one of those episodes that goes out of its way to show the whole crew pulling together to get something done, each according to their individual skillsets: Pam bodyslams some dudes, Krieger and Carol/Cheryl toss some bombs, and Cyril, well, gets shot. Ultimately, A.J. manages to save herself (and, consequently, The Broker) with some dance camp-acquired Irish steps, while Lana once again picks up some parenting advice from Archer, whose weary acceptance of the world can actually have some real emotional payoff, when it’s allowed to.
The worst thing you can say about “Saturday” is that it sometimes crosses the line from comic absurdity into outright goofiness; the callback to Archer’s Friday night police horse jousting verges on silly, for instance. Overall, though, this is an episode that manages what very few episodes of Archer do: Put us in Lana’s shoes in a way that feels real, rather than forced by the need to have someone play the “grounded” character. This isn’t the funniest episode the show’s ever offered up, but it tells a nice little story about Lana accepting that she doesn’t have to be a perfect mom in order to love her kid, and sometimes, hey, that’s enough.
- First laugh of the episode: H. Jon Benjamin’s flat delivery of “No” when Lana tries to wake him post-Friday debauchery.
- “Yes, Lana, the shower was necessary, it was a night of many fluids.”
- Pam, getting excited for babysitting duty: “Not to go all Ms. Frizzle, but I might steal a bus!”
- Not much Stephen Tobolowsky tonight, but he gets a good creepy read when Robert knows exactly when Lana’s period should be.
- “I’m too hungover for subterfuge, Lana.”
- Lots of callbacks to long-running jokes tonight, including Archer’s persistent tinnitus and Lana’s unusually large hands.
- “Is it normal to be intimidated by a child?”
“For you? Absolutely.”
- Lana knifing Poinkers the stuffed pig was a fun little sight gag.
- “I know how you feel.”
“You have kids?”
“Oh, god no. Had an absent mother. It drove me to a life of crime!”
- Hey, Babou!
- Actually got a twinge of feeling from A.J. referencing “grandma.”
- “We get it! You run!”
- “You didn’t check him for weapons?”
- I loved The Broker’s little wave from the back of the escape vehicle. Also: Archer going for the hug from A.J. and making a sad little face when she runs by him.
- “And we all helped babysit. Which deserves compensation!”
- Line of the episode: Carol/Cheryl describing her bomb-making technique “I build it so all the murder went that way!”