I groaned a little when it seemed like Archer was going to throw a typical cliffhanger at us. Malory opens fire on an Archer who has a chip implanted in his head that's turned him into a homicidal maniac (because, uh, she was dialing someone on her cell phone). We see her fire through a closed door, hear a body hit the floor outside and hear her say, "Sterling?!" On just about any other show, this is where everything would have faded to black, where things would have gotten crazy and FX would have cut to a promo that said, "IS STERLING ARCHER DEAD OR ALIVE?! FIND OUT NEXT JANUARY ON FX!" And while I guess I wouldn't have put that past the show, it definitely would have felt like something beneath it, particularly when you consider all of the false drama involved.
Instead, though, the episode cut to a scene where Malory is trying to help mop up the blood on Sterling's chest. While, yeah, he just got shot five or six times by his own mother while in a homicidal rage, he's awake and towels are sopping up the blood. On TV, that's as good as a clean bill of health as you're going to get, and it's an acknowledgement from the show that what's interesting to it is not how far it can take the crazy spy shenanigans, but how far it can push how the characters interact with each other. While some of the spy plotting this season has been fun (particularly in, say, "Honeypot"), what the show has done best is build the relationships between these people.
That's what makes this final scene, which could be read as an essentially dramatic one, really, work as a closer to the season. I suppose it was also written as a potential end beat for the series (though I imagine this was produced before anyone had any idea what the ratings looked like), but it works even better as a season closer scene. This whole season has been slowly circling around the casual emotional violence Malory and Archer do to each other. While that casual emotional violence is usually riotously funny, the series is also clear-eyed enough to know that it can be awfully painful to either or both participants. In these last two episodes, it's taken center stage, and the frank examination of mother and son Archer has been one of the show's best storylines.
This is not to say that this episode was an Henrik Ibsen play or anything. It wasn't up to the high level of some of the episodes this season, but it utilized almost every trick and character in the Archer playbook to create a sort of grand collection of moments and jokes that tried to pay off literally every plot thread in the season. Archer has been something of a serialized show in that some of the plotlines carry over from week to week, but they tend to be the soapy, relationship-type stuff, while the spy stories tend to be more standalone. "Dial M for Mother" reveals something of a grand scheme for the season, bringing every plot the show has introduced to a head (including some I thought were over and done with) and bringing back a number of the guest characters (for lack of a better term) and most of the ISIS staff we've met so far.
To be honest, it might have been a little busy. The frantic attempts to fit in all of the men who may have been Malory's former paramours and/or Archer's father felt forced (though the episode wisely came to focus primarily on Nikolai), and tossing Mannfred in there out of nowhere also felt sort of disjointed. I like that the show continues to build the world it takes place in, but I do wish that the plotting in this episode had perhaps removed just one or two elements to better focus on some of the emotional conflicts at the episode's center. Sterling finding out the identities of his various possible fathers (and that they're not John Fitzgerald Archer) should have been a bigger moment than it was, and I wonder if some of the sheer need to keep everyone running around meant this plot was less developed than it could have been. (Mannfred even comments on it by pointing out that he and his girlfriend just run into Archer on the street, instead of having to seek him out.)
At the same time, the storylines back at the office are very funny. Lana, who discovered Cyril cheating on her last week and learns this week that he also slept with Cheryl/Carol, decides to take it out on him by pretending to sleep with the entire office. Even though all of the men in the office are going to know they didn't actually sleep with Lana and, instead, gave her money to act as though they did, she's counting on their desire to seem as though they've slept with her to win out over their desire to actually confront the fact that all of them were duped. Pam, of course, ends up making out in the deal as well, as she takes a cut of everything Lana makes (though that ends up being just $60) and then ends up having sex with a Lana who takes pity on her. (And I'm glad that was left as a cliffhanger. I can't wait to see the awkward aftermath next season.)
But most of all, I liked the way that this plot brought in everyone in the office who's been around this season. Pam had her dolphin along. Krieger turned up to unleash a really creepy choke-bot on Cheryl/Carol (perhaps even the sexbot he was talking about a few episodes ago). Bilbo wandered around and blocked the door as the gay guy whose name I can't remember tried to get in. Even some of the background players got moments for laughs. I know I say this every week, but the fact that this show is so confident of all of its characters and all of its settings that it feels like it should pay off even some of the smaller ones in its first season finale suggests a series that's really hitting its stride. "Dial M for Mother" isn't a perfect episode of Archer or even a perfect season finale, but it's a good reminder of while I'll anxiously await the show's return.
- "You slept with her too." "Yeah. When I was bored!"
- "And now, a sad moon is on the rise."
- "Figure it out, Truckasaurus."
- "I could never say no to a drummer."
- "Vole is also rodent, but more closely related to lemming."
- "I forgot, your dick's full of radiation and masectomy coupons."
- "You are so determined to be not cool about this."
- "Oh, who gives a shit about a baby?"
- "Girl, please. Nobody's that gay."
- "First person, guy or girl, to untie me, I will let him or her give me a handy. C'mon. Share the milk of human kindness."
- "Waltz in here dressed like some sort of cattle rapist, waving a cleaver and reeking of what I hope to God is meat, and that's all you have to say?"
- "Why doesn't your voicemail just say, 'Leave a message. I'm a jackass.'"
- "Don't be shitty. Can't we just enjoy the moment?"