The one thing I was afraid of when Archer decided to go back to spying was that it would go back to basics. Yes, cartoons don’t necessarily have to make its characters progress to become successful, but Archer has made several creative decisions along the way that led it down a more serialized, consistently evolving road. There was all the drama over Archer’s father, Katja, Malory marrying Ron, the wee baby Seamus, the new baby AJ, and all the chaos of Archer Vice. All these stories had lasting repercussions that have been felt throughout the series; all these stories made Archer a more dynamic show. Last week’s premiere gave me hope that the show was still keeping an eye on higher stakes and different kinds of arcs that would keep the show fresh, but with this week’s “Three To Tango,” I’m not so sure anymore.
Since we hadn’t seen him since “Diversity Hire”—the third episode of the entire series—the return of Conway Stern (Coby Bell) necessitates some retreading and explanation. Apparently, Conway betraying ISIS was a cover for completing a CIA mission, and Slater now needs Lana and Archer to go rescue him from Buenos Aires. Archer is horrified, since Conway literally stabbed him in the back, but Malory is thrilled, since Conway is an extremely attractive black man who can fulfill all her Mandingo 2: The Enslavening fantasies. Lana, as always, is just ready to get the job over and done with.
I always enjoy Archer going up against a rival, because it usually means a battle of wits that Archer rarely wins. As it turns out, though, the best part of seeing Conway again is the thundering “RAMPAGE!” that launches Archer through a door and into a full-on brawl. Archer tends to preference shootouts over fistfights, maybe because hand-to-hand combat is more complicated to animate, but I’m so glad they let Sterling barrel at Conway with no weapon but his pure rage. Their fight is by far the best set piece of the episode. Archer and Conway beat each other to bloody pulps while Lana puttering around the kitchen to an ambiguous violin score, calmly preparing tea until the moment she can swoop in and break up the boys’ silly fight with a swift kettle to Conway’s head. The fight choreography is awesome—precise and brutal—and Lana’s casual acceptance of Archer’s need to kick the shit out of Conway is the perfect punctuation.
From there on out, though, Conway doesn’t get much of interest to do. Sure, he’s part-cyborg now, but his role in “Three To Tango” is strictly nostalgic. He chuckles over sleeping with Cheryl/Carol/Cristal (“that crazy Jew Santa chick”), steals more of Archer’s punchlines, and finally, uses their help to once again swipe the goods for himself (and apparently the Soviets, which likely means a connection to Katja and Barry/Other Barry). It’s almost the exact same setup as when he used ISIS to complete another mission in “Diversity Hire,” and the similarities are made obvious to make it part of the joke. Just like last time, Conway steals the disc, brutally injures Archer in the back, and is thisclose to getting away before Lana accidentally chops off his hand. “Come on,” he says as Archer gasps for air, “we all saw this coming.” That might be true, but that doesn’t make it less disappointing. The show’s grown and sharpened its skills so much since it debuted that I was hoping for a little more than déjà vu.
In fact, the only aspect of the story in “Three To Tango” that feels much different than any previous season’s mission of the week is the fact that there’s a whole lot riding on a baby. In between “Archerizing” Conway’s plan (Lana: “you are not making yourself a verb, I won’t allow it!”), Archer spends a good chunk of the episode asking Lana what will happen to AJ if both of them go down in the line of duty. In turn, Lana spends almost as much time deflecting—until Conway shoots Archer (in the back!) and she realizes that AJ’s future is a more pressing concern than she’d like to admit.
Meanwhile, the drones are stuck looking for AJ, who got lost on Malory’s watch. It’s the kind of plot that sounds extraordinarily sitcom hacky on paper, and in execution, it mostly avoids that trap thanks to said drones’ less than tactful approach to finding a baby. (Pam squints doubtfully at Cheryl’s insistence that she didn’t “murder the baby,” and only believes her when Cheryl “swearsies realsies” that she’s telling the truth.) Still, the search for AJ doesn’t really get interesting until it ends with Malory pointing a laser gun at Kreiger’s junk. Malory demonstrates the kind of steel-jawed resolve that she rarely had during the ill-fated capers of Archer Vice, and the fact that it’s for a child makes that even more remarkable. Grandmother Malory doesn’t fuck around—and I for one would not mind seeing more of that down the road.
- Nice touch to have Ray smoke his cigarette down to the filter with a single inhale a la Archer’s preferred “chug until the bottle’s finished” style of indulging.
- Archer: “Isn’t Argentina supposed to be our ally?” / Conway: “You’d think, right? After we threw in that lovely coup?”
- Milton versus Malory: Milton refuses to show his toaster face this episode, presumably in fear of Malory’s righteous wrath. Point: Malory.
- Kregier versus Clone!Krieger: He steals a baby as a prototype for a horrifying robot bear he affectionately calls, “Cybernetty Teddly.” This…could go either way, but it sure sounds like our Krieger. Point: Krieger.
- Krieger on Teddly: “Here’s the thing about that—” / Cyril: “—it’s a nightmare.”
- That all said, my biggest laugh of the episode by a long shot was Teddly’s robotic skeleton tapdancing to cheer Krieger up. It’ll definitely haunt my nightmares, but….aww.