One of the weird things about Archer’s improbable longevity is that its “theme” episodes all tend to derive from earlier, and usually better, episodes of the show. “Skytanic” begat “The Limited” and this season’s “Lowjacked,” the show’s various animated bottle episodes all carry a bunch of shared DNA, etc. Certainly, there would have been no future “Rampage!” episodes without the startling success of season two’s “Placebo Effect,” the first episode to really demonstrate what happens when Sterling Archer decides to give a shit about something, to gleefully murderous effect.
But where other Archer Rampage episodes have attempted to match or surpass that classic “Family-Feud-but-with-shotguns” energy, “Shots” tries to subvert it—and runs smack into the familiar problem that making art about boring people being bored…tends to be kind of boring, actually. There are some highlights here, most notably an Archer’s-eye tour of Cyril’s various hobbies that could have been a much larger portion of the episode, and some great lines from the show’s peripheral characters. But “Shots” starts with the argument that the Archer crew has run out of steam…and then does very little to counter that premise.
We pick up in the aftermath of a recent Agency mission, the details of which are kept amusingly vague, since all those various stolen microchips over the years have all started to run together at this point. New hire Sandra (still Pamela Adlon) tries to boost morale by inviting everybody out for post-mission drinks, clearly unaware of how disastrously violent such a night out can get with this collection of deranged personalities. And then it doesn’t, because it turns out everyone (minus Krieger and Pam and Cheryl) have gotten kind of old and boring in their dotage. “Shots” tries to spin that idea out into some chaos of its own, as Archer and Lana both seek to shore up their “wild” bona fides by indulging in unfamiliar behaviors—drunken debauchery on Lana’s part, compassionate introspection on Sterling’s.
The Archer-Cyril plot tonight—which sees Archer try to choke down his natural instincts and “fix” Cyril, after realizing that he’s now completely regressed from his former super-spy persona—is an interesting idea, but also one that highlights Archer’s ongoing issues with its own character continuity. When Pam and Cheryl point out that it was Archer’s return from the coma that broke Cyril, which in turn “broke” everybody else, it feels like writer Matt Roller has flipped a switch that’s been off all season, the one attached to any kind of emotional intelligence in this show’s cast. I occasionally get some flack for caring about this sort of thing, but the fact is that Archer likes to very suddenly remember its characters have internal lives and backstories and use them for pathos maybe once a season, and it feels borderline anachronistic to have last year’s “Archer ruins everything by waking up” plotline placed front and center after being completely absent from the last four episodes. (It almost feels like this script got recycled from an extra from last year, honestly.)
At least the end result is kind of fun, as Cyril drags Archer to the planetarium, a faux-Warhammer group, and other such similarly nerdy/Yakuza sidequest pursuits. The Cyril-Archer pairing is a consistently fun setup, as last year’s “Best Friends” made especially clear, and while the humor here is more rooted in the idea of Archer rolling dice with a bunch of nerds, it feels like some of these scenarios could have been strong enough to support much longer scenes.
Especially since that would have cut down on Lana’s general flailing, including in regards to the surprise return of the horny prince from season 6's “Pocket Listing.” Where last week’s episode let Lana be a blithely confident jerk, here she’s all insecurity, and the end result is a plotline that’s not nearly as fun as the words “lube wall” and “monster trucks” would make it sound. (Kudos as usual to Stephen Tobolowsky though, whose Robert stops by to be realistically sad about his wife’s attempts to prove she isn’t suffering from a total lack of game.) That leaves all the heavy lifting on Krieger, Pam, and Cheryl’s shoulders, and while that produces some great laughs, it leaves the actual plot resolution to flounder.
All of this culminates in an extremely tepid reprise of various Rampage episodes past and the climax of “Killing Utne,” as the crew tries to dispose of the prince’s (apparently dead) body while some random guards from the previously successful mission try to get their half-assed revenge. The end result just sort of coasts to a stop, as Cyril achieves some mild catharsis, Lana realizes her limits, and Pam, at least, has a good time. “Shots” doesn’t lack them—it’s just, that by comparison to the older episodes it deliberately invokes, it feels like a bit of a wet, nerve gas-scented fart more often than not.
- Guest star report: Adlon’s trapped in the permanent straight-woman position, which she’s fine but not exceptional at. Tobolowsky sounds like an actual human being, which clashes a bit with the show’s style, but makes Robert’s one scene weirdly compelling.
- You’ll never convince me this episode wouldn’t be better with a little Ray in the mix.
- Between the hapless guards and the tabletop nerds, I got some strong (and welcome) Frisky Dingo vibes on the edges of this one.
- Kudos to the art team for the visual of a school bus crashed through another school bus.
- “I didn’t know boats could burn, aren’t they like super wet?”
- “Seems abstract for a pinniped.”
- “My nephew was in a medically induced sabbatical.”
- Krieger has a lot of fun tonight, including trying to do a Weekend With Bernie’s thing with The Professor (and then later pulling it off with the prince).
- “I got alley!’
- Lana’s flirt game is tragic: “I love your hands. They’re almost as big as mine.”
- “Murdercide! It’s a word. I was almost part of one!”
- Pam’s underground club makes socks by day, rocks by night. “But the sock machine is still running, so be careful.”
- “Do fifth grade field trips have secret wine?” “I guess it depends on your school…and mother.”
- No, seriously, very quotable Krieger episode: “This drug makes cars feel huge!”
- Obscure reference alert: Charles Van Doren was at the center of the infamous quiz show scandals of the 1950s, although it’s not clear how Archer was involved in that. Edward Counsel was (as far as I can tell) an Australian administrator born in the 19th century who spent most of his life coming up with pithy little sayings. Good for him!
- Line of the episode: Malory ducks out of this episode early, but I’m a sucker for a precision-aimed F-bomb: “The phrase I’m looking for would fill my swear jar to the fucking brim!” got me good.
- “I learned a lesson today. No idea what it is.”