It only took five episodes—i.e., more than half this season’s entire order of shows—but Archer has finally zeroed in on what makes Danger Island great: Stick Pam and Archer somewhere, give them something to fight about (with Crackers on the outskirts to crack jokes and catch an occasional “Shut up, bird”), and let the magic happen. Sure, I could quibble with some of “Strange Doings In The Taboo Groves”’ other choices—Lana’s continued exile to a single scene per episode (something that also plagued the first half of last year’s Dreamlands) continues to grate—but it feels petty to ding an episode too hard when it not only gives us Archer’s blundering, accidental proposal to his personal Chewbacca, but also the return of Charlotte Vandertunt: Would-Be Arsonist.
Tonight’s hotel-set B-plot is pretty slight, so we can go ahead and dispense with it quickly: Pam accidentally lets slip that she and Archer are searching the island for the MacGuffin idol, and Malory’s treasure hackles immediately go on the rise. (It feels like Jessica Walter has gotten saddled with a lot of exposition work this season, but I love the way she bites into the word every time Malory gushes about “treasure!”) Soon she, Ray, and Deputy Dudu are getting ready to make their way out into the jungle (unknowingly competing with both Archer and Pam and Fuchs’ Nazi goofballs for their prize), when Charlotte invites herself along on the grounds that she’ll burn the damn hotel down if they don’t bring her with. Malory complies, partially in the hopes that “The Crazy Coconut Lady”—who’s been using her influence with the Germans to push her failed former madame around of late—will get herself killed in some jungle deathtrap or other, but mostly because Danger Island needs to get all of its leads in one place for the upcoming finale. (I’ll take it.)
The episode’s real meat, though, is in Archer and Pam’s search, which—courtesy of Pam’s shitty, barbecue-sauce-slathered map—quickly lands them both in a big ol’ puddle of quicksand and interpersonal conflict. Blithely ignoring the quicksand issue, Pam zeroes in on a comment Archer made moments before they got stuck about ditching her as soon as they find the idol, and Danger Island suddenly gets about as real as it’s ever likely to get. The ensuing conversation is “emotional Archer” at its finest: a mixture of real feelings, great voice acting, and a bunch of dick jokes and references to obscure cartographers, all culminating in the moment when Pam weepingly maneuvers Archer into realizing they’re soulmates—then mercilessly busts his ass for floating a marriage idea so bad it “would suck a dick just to cut in line to suck a bigger dick.” (Meanwhile, those of you who think Adam Reed’s using these dream seasons to reflect on Archer’s real-world turmoils can make of all of this ‘shipper fuel what you inevitably will.)
I’ve gushed before about this season’s take on the Archer-Pam friendship, but “Groves” dials into what makes it so great, courtesy of a pair of fantastic H.Jon Benjamin monologues in which Archer first denounces his long-time partner as a “jinx,” then hesitantly admits that she’s “the only person I don’t hate to be around.” The trick is that they’re both true: Archer is a dick to everyone—and Archer is a world where that’s the norm—so having a couple of characters who genuinely like each other because they’re both rude, sarcastic fuck-ups can serve as an antidote to so much mean-spirited nastiness that could otherwise develop. (It doesn’t hurt that this is a fantastic episode for Crackers; not only do we get the moment when Pam describes her “ownership” of him as having “half of an old magical bird,” but he gets to serve as the closest thing we get to a voice of reason as his two friends fight it out.)
I have a nasty (sinking?) feeling that we’re looking at Danger Island’s high-point here; with just three episodes left, the season’s plot is inevitably about to kick back in to high gear, and plotty Archer has never been this show’s best version of itself. Still, it’s reassuring to know that Archer can still produce at least one top-tier episode per season, even in its old age; Archer himself might be up to his neck in quicksand, but Archer the show is still occasionally capable of rising above.
- Everybody’s on their way to Dead Man’s Cove, a.k.a. “Foreshadowing Lagoon,” a.k.a. “Harbinger Harbor” (copyright Charlotte Vandertunt).
- If we’re going to do funny Nazis, this is a pretty good take on them; I’m always going to be on board for dopey, cheerful henchman humor.
- Speaking of: “We were wondering if, perhaps, as a group, we could speak English?” My total inability to translate German thanks you, Crazy Coconut Lady.
- Does anybody have any idea who Peggy Deadlegs, the recipient of Malory’s Tahiti-bound package, is supposed to be? I feel like I’m missing an obscure reference, and that pains me.
- Fun to see an updated version of the “Duchess” painting on the wall of Malory’s office.
- Crackers, on quicksand: “Yeah, try not to thrash around, it makes you sink faster.”
“How would you know?”
“Cowboy movies!” Like I said, this is a pretty fantastic episode for Lucky Yates and his magical bird.
- And again, in the middle of Pam and Archer’s fight: “C’mon, guys, you’re talking crazy.”
“Why should I stick around someone who doesn’t appreciate me?”
“No, I meant about getting out of here alive.”
- Aw, poor Luigi.
- Amber Nash does a lot of amazing work this week as Pam—from the big, racking sobs as she contemplates her “colossal tits,” to her gleeful Archer mockery at the end of the episode—but her best line read might be that half-sure “Positive?” she gives right before Archer tumbles down the ravine.
- And here’s Benjamin’s whole “jinx” rant; it’s easy to take his ever-excellent performance as Archer for granted at this point, but the way he digs into the anger on that final “YOOOOUUUU” is so, so good:
“Because, Pam, I’m currently up to my ears in quicksand. And before that, I flew here in a plane made out of literal garbage. And before that, my eyeball got shot out in Spain. And before that, I went bust on those goddamn chinchilladas. And the common denominator in every bad thing that’s ever happened to me, is you. And you know why? Because the only two kinds of luck you have are bad, and none, because you are a jinx. And that idol is my ticket out of Loserville, population: YOU!”
- Obscure reference alert: But hey, maybe I just loved this one because the ORA got a workout this week; Elisha Otis, obviously, is the inventor of the elevator. (That one’s just babytown frolics.) The multiply-referenced Weir Of Hermiston, meanwhile, was Robert Louis Stevenson’s final, uncompleted novel. (Like Dudu, I haven’t read it.) And Hendrik Hondius I wasn’t just a famous 16th century cartographer; he also published a world-famous book of portraits of influential dead artists. Thanks, learning!
- Line of the episode: I’m half-tempted to give this one to Ray; for some reason, Adam Reed yelling, “Où, Dudu, où?” in a bad French accent cracked my dumb ass up. But instead, this is another Crackers week; his cheerful “But I’m hugging you with my talons!” while perched on Archer’s head made me giggle like a jerk.