In a continuing theme this season, “The Kanes” is an episode that should have aired earlier in the rotation. As I said last week, motherhood has made for an exceptionally strained Lana; introducing AJ, Archer, and the audience to her parents earlier might have provided some more sympathetic context for her character. As it is, though, “The Kanes” is a solid episode that finally lets Lana do something—and even brings in Keith David and CCH Pounder as her parents.
David and Pounder are inspired choices. Pounder has a soft sophistication that sells Claudette’s academic disposition, which in turn makes the moments when she takes a sharp turn into stern more startling and effective. David, so often employed as the vocal embodiment of true gravitas, leans into his resonant baritone to give Lana’s father a sense of authority that even Archer has trouble rebuffing. Credit is also due to Aisha Tyler and H. Jon Benjamin, who have had to spend most of this sixth season locking horns. In “The Kanes,” both Lana and Archer are alternately exasperated at each other and deeply nervous about what meeting her parents means for their relationship. Sure, Lana might have roped the CIA into playacting a high-stakes kidnapping scenario to test Archer’s commitment, but they have otherwise resisted talking about The Future. Neither Lana nor Archer wants to be the first to suggest that maybe—just maybe—they should try being a happy little spy family, and so their relationship has existed in a weird liminal place ever since AJ was born. As Lana nervously acknowledges in the cold open, bringing Archer to Berkeley is not “meet my boyfriend, it’s not my husband, no one’s guessing who’s coming to dinner.” And so despite the absence of any tangible “where is this going?” talks, “The Kanes” is still a massive leap forward for Archer and Lana. They acknowledge that their situation is weird at best, and that they’re better off working as a team than fighting each other every step of the way.
With Archer and Lana out of the way, the rest of the office continues the latest in a series of storylines that are so thin they are basically runners, but I keep being completely fine with that. Meeting Lana’s parents is a big enough story to keep us occupied, and the fact that the office drones are so bored that they keep resorting to mundane activities like poker and bowling nights has become a joke in and of itself. I miss the days when Cyril or Cheryl had anything substantial to do, and I always like having Pam or Ray crash a mission to shake up the dynamic, but they all also work perfectly as absurdist punctuation on an otherwise substantial story. Further, it’s really kind of sweet that they have these mundane traditions with each other; they can say they couldn’t care less all they want, but we know they would pick each other over anyone any time.
As far as this episode’s substantial storyline goes, flying to Berkeley, California also gives “The Kanes” a shot of energy that even going to Area 51 couldn’t provide. Let’s be real: Archer is far more out of his element trying to impress a woman’s parents in the liberal enclave of Berkeley than he was skirting alien activity or, as we see later on in the episode, recklessly replicating the high stakes car chase from the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt in his Mustang. It’s hardly surprising that Archer doesn’t quite manage to keep his shit together long enough to interact on a regular human level with Lana’s parents—nor that he has apparently never worn a condom in his life, ever. (Gross? Yes. Surprising? Nah.) Archer’s bumbling around non-spies usually makes for some of the funniest moments in any episode, and the same holds true in “The Kanes,” whether it’s his faking knowledge about medieval Slavic history (“…no opinion”) or the flashback to the first disastrous time Lana tried to introduce him when he arrived so drunk to the restaurant that he collapsed onto the table, grabbed the tablecloth, and very slowly took everything down with him.
But the reason why I appreciate “The Kanes” so much goes back to why I wish it had aired earlier in the season. Lana not only gets more to do, but we get to see her have an honest to God story arc. We knew Lana was an impassioned environmentalist in her pre-spying youth, so her parents’ Berkeley roots isn’t exactly a surprise. Still, liberal hippie parents can be just as demanding as any other, and so we get a glimpse into how Lana has been rising to difficult occasions all her life (including a flashback to her pre-science fair nerves that is a nod to a picture from Tyler’s own childhood). I didn’t care nearly as much about Slater stealing her father’s groundbreaking work on using algae as a new energy source—sure—as much as I did about Lana coming clean and being honest with her family and herself. If I have complaints about the extended car chase where Lana talks through years worth of lying with her father, they’re that I wish Pounder could have come along for the ride, and that it took much too long for Lana to help Archer out already. The moment when Lana finally whips out her own guns and says with conviction, “this is what I do,” though? Perfect.
- How much do I love that Lana’s middle name is Anthony (“After Susan B!” “Our ugliest president”)? Answer: a lot. I love it a lot.
- I am not, however, here for Archer making people pick sides between brisket and pulled pork.
- Seriously, where is Malory?
- Slater on not knowing he was targeting Lana’s father: “We didn’t know you were there, which was obviously an operational mistake on our end, Ethan.” (Archer: “Yeah, Ethan.”)
- “Can you please not drive my Mustang like a complete assbucket?!” Keith David, everybody.
- “Because Berkeley!” “How does an entire city get a pass on unacceptable behavior?!”
- “Happy?” “Like in general? Because yes.”