Let’s talk about Krieger.
A few weeks ago, I put forward the opinion that Archer’s more exaggerated characters—specifically Cheryl/Carol/Charlotte, in the case of “Berenice”—were too chaotic to fully support the structure of an episode. For all its cyborgs, coma dreams, and body-shrinking weirdness, Archer is still a sitcom at its heart, and it needs to keep characters who are recognizably human in the center of the screen, so that we can care about the stuff that happens to them. And nobody in the show’s cast is less “recognizably human” than the show’s resident robot-loving, corpse-hiding, van-driving mad scientist.
As fun as he is, Krieger is a small-doses character, a guy who exists to let the great Lucky Yates lob out jokes and set the moral lines—bum fights, food molestation, blackface—that not even Sterling Archer is willing to cross. So if you’d told me before I watched it that “Ladyfingers’” most effective—not just funniest, but legitimately most dramatically resonant—plot point would be a Krieger story, I’d have had trouble believing it. But, then, that’s the beauty of Dreamland, a season that continues to offer Archer’s characters, large and small, the chance to be fresh, potentially better versions of themselves. Because the guy tending bar for Mother (and chopping Barry up for encyborgment in his spare time) isn’t Algernop Krieger, former spy agency scientist and probable Hitler clone. He’s Aaron Leibowitz, an unsung—if still clearly deranged—hero of World War II.
It’s a testament to what a good-naturedly bad guy Krieger is that the show had to pit him against actual Nazis to make him finally come off as a hero. But damn if it doesn’t work, with his final flashback tonight feeling like an animated short that wouldn’t be out of place as a vignette in a sci-fi version of Inglourious Basterds. This Krieger is still a mad-science-loving sociopath, happily chopping and screwing people and adorable kitties for fun and profit. But there’s a straight-faced nobility to his plot to successfully defraud the Third Reich that Archer usually shies away from, a sincerity that the show generally undercuts by reminding us what assholes these characters are. Of course, there are still jokes here—that subtitled “Holy shit!” or Yates putting a dose of real, curious surprise in his voice when his Nazi nurse girlfriend rejects him in favor of death by robo-dog—but it’s the rare Archer moment that lets one of its characters, especially this one, pull off an uncontested moral win. This isn’t a well the show can go to often without fundamentally changing what it is, but it’s a nice contrast to the rest of tonight’s events.
Speaking of: We’re now in the midst of the fake(-ish) kidnapping of Charlotte Vandertunt, with Mother and Cyril both trying to ransom the heiress off for a million bucks, and Archer working as the former’s go-between. The upshot of all this is the welcome return of Eugene Mirman as Charlotte’s brother, Cecil, in all his creepy, quasi-incestuous glory. The original version of Cecil—from way back in season four’s two-part finale, “Sea Tunt”—was a weirdly muted character by Archer standards, a legitimately good (if ineffectual and condescending) guy who stood in sharp contrast to his insane arsonist sister. That’s all gone now, though, with Mirman diving wholeheartedly into the show’s new Chinatown-creepy-L.A.-incest-aristocracy vibe. (Spoiler alert for Line Of The Episode, but I can’t remember when this show has made me laugh harder than Mirman’s gleeful read on “Did you know it’s forbidden?!”)
Because he’s a placidly crazy monster, Cecil brushes past Archer’s various offers of nonviolent proofs of life to demand that he—and competing would-be kidnapper Cyril—bring him one of Charlotte’s fingers to ensure that they actually have his sister in their possession. That leads Cyril to another milestone in his continued moral degradation, desecrating a corpse and then losing his clipped-off spoils to Archer and Poovey. The whole thing is a shaggy dog story, though, with Cecil eventually deciding to take Charlotte’s “ostensible kidnappers” at their word, without even looking at the finger. The whole thing would feel like a bit of unsatisfying misdirection, if Mirman didn’t sell the shit out of Cecil’s glee at fucking people around for no good reason beyond his own amusement.
Meanwhile, Poovey and Archer continue to prove themselves as Dreamland’s most consistently hilarious buddy-cop-and-P.I. team. At first, the running joke about Poovey’s constant hot dog snacking felt like an easy fat joke, but the show managed to find multiple ways to use it—misdirection on the severed finger, a fun bit about morgue food, and, finally, as the punchline to the revelation that ever-more-pathetic Cyril is well-endowed even in Archer’s dream. *Chomp*
Between all the action surrounding Krieger and Barry, Cyril and Poovey, and Archer and Cecil tonight, “Ladyfingers” feels like it’s mostly concerned with getting various characters into place for whatever explosion’s about to come. But Archer’s never been a show that’s had to struggle hard to make the journey itself seem fun, whether it’s lying to bindle-equipped hitchhikers so it’ll have a buddy to monologue to, or layering a surprisingly sincere backstory under one of its craziest component parts.
- So, was Aisha Tyler just, like, busy during the filming of this season? Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first episode in the show’s entire run where Lana doesn’t appear at all.
- “Nobody has ever said ‘To make this happen, we’re going to need a finger.’” “Oh, you’d be surprised.” It’s been a while since we’ve had a good “Archer grossed out by Malory” scene.
- “You better pray to god it wasn’t you that hit me, because whoever it was, hits like a weak little bitch of a girl who was born with some kind of little bitch of a birth defect, so that instead of a fist, she just has this tiny little bitch of a… nubbin.” Poovey’s line is even better because of the way the show subverts the old “start a threat then trail off when you see how big the other guy is” trope. Instead, Amber Nash just gets more intense.
- “And if we don’t know where she is…” “It’s… frustrating?” That one’s mostly in Nash’s read, too.
- “Plus, I bet that creepy old joint’s as haunted as Mrs. Muir’s twat.”
- “You know you’re killing me.” “Sorry, are you addressing me or meat-stuffed intestines in general?”
- Loved the running gag about people throwing crap over their shoulders, only to inevitably cause some kind of wreck.
- “You care for bourbon?” “Deeply.” That’s the kind of line that wouldn’t feel out of place in an actual noir.
- We can add dexedrine to Dreamland’s list of dangerous drugs that are readily available in 1947.
- This episode uses the reveal of Krieger’s robo-cat three different times as a punchline, and damn if it doesn’t work each time.
- Obscure reference alert: A light week: The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (and her various parts) would have just come out in 1947, making Archer’s reference surprisingly current. There’s no official Hot Dog Day, although various events are held across the country every year, some dating back as far as the 1960s. And if anybody knows what Krieger is humming to himself while hacking Barry apart, let me know.
- Line of the episode: I gave it away earlier, but there’s just so much giddiness to Cecil’s “Did you know it’s forbidden?” Mirman is a treat.
- We got Barry from “Asshole Human” to “Crazy Murder Cyborg” in just four episodes. Pretty efficient!
- Mobile report: I’m not sure how much it adds to the story to know that Archer’s bindle-tossing carpool buddy knew Krieger in the war, but at least it’s a reminder of how fun the recurring “monologue to passengers” bit has been.