It’s not really a coincidence that it takes about half of its 20-odd minute run time for “Laws Of Attraction”—tonight’s more-enjoyable-by-the-minute installment of Archer—to kick up from dysfunctional-spy-adventure-by-numbers into something genuinely fun. That, after all, is when the episode flips the script and reveals that this is A Pam One, which is, at this point, one of the best things an episode of Archer can be.
I’ve written before about the utility value of Pam Poovey. In an office full of cynics, burnouts, and broken people, Pam is the one person on The Agency’s payroll who’s genuinely enthusiastic. About, well, everything: Partying, flirt-fighting Swiss espionage goddesses, babysitting; whatever you’ve got, she’s going to throw herself at it with fists swinging, while Amber Nash throws herself into each of her lines with similar brio. As such, a Pam-centric evening is always going to be a little more fun than having Cyril or Lana sigh their way through yet another mission, grumbling about how Sterling Archer is a dick. Tonight is no exception; Pam’s so fun, and so invested in what she’s doing, that it actually gets you to care about Archer’s latest “get the MacGuffin back” adventure, despite itself.
To wit: Fabian has tasked IIA’s “boutique” secret agents with recovering one of Krieger’s devices (which Fabian himself first stole, and, we later found out, sold) from some secret Swiss super-agents, “The Invisible Hand,” who hope to use the big magnet to wipe the banking records of the Cayman Islands. (They’re hoping to clear out the Swiss’ key competition in the “hiding rich bastards’ money” market.) For unclear, probably sexist reasons, Fabian puts Cyril in charge of the operation, which causes the first half of the mission, set on an abandoned oil rig, to literally flame out, as Agent Figgis dithers, Lana goes through the motions, and Archer operates at parody-of-himself levels of drunkenness, carelessness, and “getting way too fixated on exotic animals”…ness.
(Dear Archer writers: You’ve got to start cutting back on the “Archer loses his shit over animals” thing; it’s cute once a season or so, but when you’re doing it every other episode, it just seems like an excuse to demonstrate that your animators know what a tapir looks like.)
After the group gets its ass handed to it by Alison Pill and her chocolate-toting super-Swiss, though, Pam decides to step up and take charge, and “Laws Of Attraction” gets a whole lot more energetic. Partly, it just helps to have someone to root for: We may not give a shit about Fabian’s latest machinations—although Kayvan Novak gets to have some fun tonight, dragging himself along on the mission and getting lots of quality Krieger time—but Archer manages to actually get some of those stakes the show is always joking about having, because this isn’t just about getting the whatsit back from whoever: This is Pam, front and center, proving herself to the world. That’s a well we’ve been to before, admittedly, but at least it’s one where we’re encouraged to give a bit of a shit about how the mission goes.
Adding to that sense of motion is the fact that writer Brittany Miller has come up with a genuinely fun and original action setpiece for the climax of tonight’s episode: Once Krieger’s device activates (after a drunken Archer botches the defusal), it starts cycling through waves of magnetic attraction and repulsion in the midst of a debris-filled junkyard. The resulting fight scene is one of the coolest ones that Archer’s ever done, as metal flies across the battlefield, characters make inventive use of the magnetic fields, and, in the biggest laugh of the entire episode, a “no more thinking!” Cyril accidentally blows a hole straight through one of the Swiss guys. It’s rare for Archer to put this much thought into the mechanics of its action scenes, and the payoff is a battle that’s visual dynamic, tactically interesting, and pretty funny.
The only shame, really, is that we don’t end on Pam and Pill’s “Valkyrie,” Alessia, giving each other flirty little stab wounds. Instead, we finish on yet another gag about Archer’s base invulnerability. (Another plot element you’d think might have worn out its welcome one whole three-season gunshot coma or so ago.) I’d never argue that Archer could really exist without Archer—H. Jon Benjamin’s voice performance is just too good, even when the character himself is coasting. But “Laws Of Attraction” makes an inadvertent argument that he’s become almost totally narratively superfluous at this point—while also making it clear who his perfect successor as the center of the show’s ensemble could be.
- IIA’s bureaucracy strikes again: The Agency snack room is now stocked with delicious black licorice jelly beans, but also “Folberg’s Crystals” instantcoffee and “snail paella, Dutch onion, and menthol”-flavored chips.
- I am very into those low-res images pumped out by the IIA graphics department; very PlayStation One aesthetics.
- Ray’s still in the hospital after the events of “Operation: Fang.”
- Carol/Cheryl storms out early in the episode and never storms back in; it feels like something we might end up picking back up in another episode.
- Fabian normally likes to “insulate [himself] from peasant work,” but opts into this mission because he needs it to go well or they’ll all be “fired.” (Or, more likely, poisoned.)
- Archer, mentally dipping into the mission: “Great job, Cyril, they got away.”
“Whoever we’re capturing, shooting, and/or rescuing.”
- “I’m baffled by the complete lack of pornographic doodling on these schematics. Are you sure these IIA folks are real scientists?”
- Cyril, defending his leadership: “It hasn’t gone that badly.”
- “Hey Lana, have you noticed there’s a leadership vacuum now with Cyril being a little bitch and all? No offense.”
“That is not possible.”
- Bible study, Archer style: “Hey, hey, hey, David was a musician with 8 wives who killed a dude with a rock. Does that scream ‘sober’ to you?”
- “Do you think you could stop soaking yourself in piña coladas?”
“Who am I, Jimmy Buffett’s carpet?”
- Fabian spends the whole episode talking about how he, and everyone, is “fudged” if the mission fails. Then he gets a giant nail in his hand and Novak gets to drop a couple F-bombs: “Ow! Fuck! My fucking hand!”
- Archer, so catastrophically drunk mid-fight that he actually regrets drinking: “There were like six different rums in there. And now they’re fighting!”
- Historical reference alert: The Battle of Grauholz was fought in 1798, in between the Wars of the First and Second Coalitions, after Francophobic forces in Switzerland invited the newly triumphant Republic to invade. As Archer alludes to, it didn’t go well for the anti-Republic Swiss!
- Line of the episode: This is a very quip-light half hour, but if push comes to shove, I’ll take Fabian dressing down Cyril and that, “idiocy production factory you call a mouth.” Actually, no: On reflection, it was the Jimmy Buffett line. Apologies, “idiocy production factory”; better luck next year.