I’m still debating whether it’s subversive, or just simplistic, that everything that happened on this season of Archer turned out to be exactly what it seemed. Veronica Deane really did kill Ellis Crane. Longwater really is just a grubby little insurance scheme (and a sex tape, to boot.) Deitrich and Harris really are cops, the Kriegerbots really are just standard Krieger goofiness, and it really is Sterling Archer floating dead in that Hollywood pool. “Deadly Velvet: Part II” is almost audacious, in the way it defuses the various narrative bombs that Adam Reed and company have been building up across the season. If nothing else, it reaffirms that Archer is far more interested in playing games with expectations and telling jokes than it is in indulging in longform storytelling, or nuanced emotional growth.
We start tonight’s season finale exactly where last week’s episode left off, with The Figgis Agency and their clients being told that they’re persons-of-interest in the death of director Ellis Crane. From there, we move from mystery into straight-up noir, with neither Veronica, nor the episode itself, doing much to hide the fact that she’s playing Archer as a classic femme fatale. (There’s a reason we get numerous references tonight to John Huston, who helped Mary Astor codify the archetype with 1941’s The Maltese Falcon.) It quickly becomes clear that Ms. Deane is hoping to frame Lana for the crime, a gambit that Archer—whose moral lines have always been pretty firm, when it comes to the people he actually loves— refuses to play along with. (At least, after a fun digression about Isaac Asimov, and the legal rights of Krieger’s robot dupes.)
Archer’s plan to expose Veronica leads directly into the best scene of the episode—and a strong contender for the best scene of the season—when he wakes up his own robot duplicate for a complicated bit of switcheroo. It would be easy—tempting, even— to play a scene like this as some sort of learning experience, with Archer seeing himself from the outside, and realizing what a massive, reckless dick he’s been. And to be fair, we do get a little bit of that, with Robo-Archer—or Archerly, if we’re going by Krieger’s robot-naming conventions—(rightly) suggesting that Sterling’s plan to take down Veronica is complicated and poorly thought out, which is a criticism that’s dogged Archer through almost every episode of this season.
But Archer’s central flaw isn’t self-loathing, or even a lack of self-awareness. If anything, he thinks he’s too awesome—like a haiku—and so we get a euphoric few minutes of Archer and Archer enjoying the hell out of each other, trading banter, torturing the Cyril Bot, and teasing us in the audience with a spinoff sitcom I would frankly kill to see. H. Jon Benjamin is always at his best when he focuses on Archer’s amused delight at the world around him, and it’s an absolute treat to listen to him bounce jokes off of himself.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Agency continues to bumble around the set of Deadly Velvet, killing Kriegerbots—who the good doctor has been renting out as extras, to the tune of an extra 30 bucks per day—and finding various ways to ignore Dietrich’s demands that they not wash their hands. (The cops are half-heartedly trying to gather evidence in the form of gunshot residue tests, a plot development that only matters in so far as it sets up a bunch of jokes.) Everybody, that is, except Lana, who ends up in the back of an unmarked car being driven by Harris, for a couple of scenes that are pleasantly low-key, even if they’re shot through with the institutional menace of the LAPD.
Aisha Tyler has gotten precious little to do this year—the only Lana-centric plotlines we got this season were the irritating bickering that’s dominated the last few episodes, and the stalking-and-hamantash story that gets namechecked tonight—so it’s refreshing to see her have a little time to breathe, even if she’s doing it while coming to the slow realization that she’s about to get framed for murder. J.K. Simmons earns his paycheck, too, infusing Harris with a bored, shit-happens brand of indifference that’s funny and menacing in equal parts. I’ve been irritated in the past by the isolated adventures of the two detectives, but it’s nice to see how their particular brand of self-interested asshole interacts with the rest of the cast.
Everything culminates in a showdown at Veronica’s mansion, where Archer stumbles into an exposition dump about the insurance scheme Cyril and Malory figured out last week. Then, both Archer and his duplicate get shot, and we’re treated to a reprise of the Sunset Boulevard reference that opened the season (complete with plenty of acknowledgements of the little ways it no longer actually makes sense). That’s all setup for the last big fakeout, where it’s revealed that the Archer that’s still up and mobile—despite a bullet in his gut—is actually a robot, and the real Sterling is the guy floating dead in the pool.
If Archer can end the season on such a clear bookend, then so can I: I spent most of my review of “The Figgis Agency” debating whether either Archer the man, or Archer the show, were capable of—or even interested in—change. Whether the move to Los Angeles was anything more than a facelift to revive the creators’ flagging interest in a series that was entering its 80th episode and its seventh year. Looking back over the last ten episodes, I think that assessment is more correct than I—or, probably, Adam Reed and Matt Thompson—would like to admit. Change the establishing shots, mix up the color palate, and rip out those damn bumpers—please—and any of these episodes would have fit neatly into seasons 4 or 6. (Vice remains its own thing, and now stands as the clearest real attempt at fundamentally altering the narrative trajectory of the show.)
None of this is meant to damn or diminish the series. At its core, Archer is still, first-and-foremost, a machine that tells jokes, and it serves that purpose better than just about any other show on TV. (Even beyond the adventures of Archer & Archer, Best Of Friends, the sequence with the malfunctioning Kriegerbots tonight is exactly the sort of ensemble work that makes the show so great.) But it does make the series’ nods toward emotional growth feel hollow, and its feints toward longer-form storytelling seem false. Archer can joke that L.A.’s making him go soft, but he’s still the exact same guy we’ve been watching blindly rush into situations, spitefully torment his friends, and coast through life for the last seven years, regardless of his changes in wardrobe and locale.
At this point, that lack of growth feels intentional, with all the lampshades hung this year on Archer’s absolute refusal to learn from the events of his life. Archer could change, but he hasn’t, and he doesn’t want to, because he’s clearly having too much fun fucking with people and making jokes. There’s a lot of material to be mined out of a gun-toting manchild resisting the call to maturity, and it feels at times like the show wants to critique and examine that attitude, by calling attention to it over and over again. But it also wants to revel in him cracking wise and slipping his way through dangerous situations, and in that way, Archer the series leaves itself in the exact same boat as its ultimately static leading man.
- I haven’t heard anything about the show’s chances of getting a renewal, but the ratings have been slipping all year. If this is the last we see of Archer and company—and I sincerely hope it isn’t—it feels weirdly fitting to have the last line be a semi-random historical reference, shouted by Krieger over the main character’s corpse.
- If we do get renewed, what are people’s bets on how they’ll bring Archer back from the dead? Cyborg? Clone? Dream? Alternate universe? Those damn aliens? Second, back-up robot?
- Pam and Cheryl don’t get much to do tonight, but what’s there—Cheryl’s blithe indifference to Dietrich’s anti-handwashing demands, Pam scoffing at the idea of renting a mule—is gold. “You lease that surly bastard.”
- I found Shapiro’s wistful regret at planting Lana’s fingerprints on the murder weapon way more believable than Veronica’s dramatic little breakdowns both times she shot Archer. More than any of the show’s other guest stars this year, Patton Oswalt fit this series, and this cast, like a glove.
- “Why does she get special treatment?”
“Because she is special.”
“She’s a movie star.”
I could have used a lot more Hollywood spectacle and satire this year.
- “To do what? Open an Adolf E. Cheese?” This one took me a minute, mostly because it’s hard to verbally parse.
- “What is that, a thing from Star War?” I have to assume that that’s a nod to Jessica Walter’s other famous TV role. (Actually, I’m kind of surprised we didn’t get a Play Misty For Me nod at some point this year.)
- “How’s it feel to be such an idiot?”
“Mmm, I guess almost like there’s a vast number of things that can happen to you between now, and when you’re released from police custody, and almost none of them are good.” J.K. Simmons gives good grim-and-threatening.
- So, uh… What do you think Archer’s actual plan was?
- Archer, dying: “Who puts a table there?”
- So much for all my bloviating last week about the C.I.A. and the KGB.
- I would have liked to have seen the scene that inspired this post card, from The Figgis Agency web site.
- Obscure reference alert: As previously mentioned, John Huston directed The Maltese Falcon (which also appears in this—and the last— episode, in Veronica’s dressing room.) Han Fastolfe is a character from Isaac’s Asimov’s Robot books. Veronica quotes Hamlet the first time she kills Archer, Krieger lets off another Planet Of The Apes yell when Milkly dies, Marlin Perkins was a TV zoologist, and the Turing test is pretty much exactly what Archer describes. I’ll miss you, Obscure reference alert.
- Line of the episode: “You can’t murder a machine!”
“Yeah, that’s, like, the first law of robotics.”
“No, it’s the exact opposite of that!”
That might be the perfectly constructed Archer joke—clever, logical, and slightly obscure.
- That’s a wrap on Archer season 7, friends. I hope my critiques of the show’s structure don’t come off as too harsh, because it really is my favorite thing on TV—I’ve laughed harder on this assignment than anything else I’ve done since I started writing for the site. Fingers crossed that we’ll get to do it again next year, wherever Reed and Thompson decide to take these poor mean bastards next.