Give or take a laser backpack, it’s been a long time since Archer was the slick James Bond spoof it once was. Sterling Malory Archer began the series as an aggressively callous womanizer who rejected any semblance of feelings for a stiff drink and/or dick joke. Now he’s a father, a more committed boyfriend than anyone thought possible, and even a decent friend. Archer hasn’t changed completely—he was and is still the most reckless person in any room—but there is a weight about his jokes and decisions that there just wasn’t before. In a stunning twist, Archer might have actually become the most empathetic member of the cast. As he gained something resembling those real feelings he so hates, his co-workers slash friends slash Cyril fell further and further down the rabbit hole of total depravity. The increasingly diabolical Krieger, demented Cheryl, and giddy Pam are obvious examples, but even Lana has let loose. After all, it’s just about impossible to imagine the first season version of Lana agreeing to move a literal ton of cocaine. This progression—or regression, depending on how much of a buzzkill you want to be—points to one of this show’s greatest strengths. While Archer could have very comfortably continued to be a barely serialized spy parody and remained one of the sharper comedies on television, its discomfort with falling into any kind of obvious pattern (outside callbacks) is what continues to makes the series so singular–not to mention what makes the last five minutes of “Drastic Voyage: Pt. II” the most compelling part of the episode by a mile.
That’s not to say the mission is boring, because it still takes place almost entirely inside a man’s bloodstream. Also, TV’s Michael Gray returns as an oxygen-sucking stowaway, and did I mention the laser backpack? The race to take out Dr. Kosack’s blood clot is a whole lot of fun, even if it takes some time for it to warm up and get the jokes moving. The fact that they have to get to his optic nerve before the ship restores to its original size also imbues the action at hand and Archer’s time honored shit-shooting with a desperate urgency that last week’s chapter lacked.
Meanwhile, Cyril fights the urge to crash the ship, Cheryl snags a pair of Tungsten needles when she technically shouldn’t even have yarn, and Ray falls out of his seat and through almost the entire ship in one of the most prolonged, painful, and hilarious pratfalls television may have ever seen. The guest stars don’t do too badly, either. Carrie Brownstein’s dry Dr. Sklodowska never quite gets a breakout scene, though her propositioning a startled Slater comes close. (“Sex. Inside my lover’s own body. It would be the ultimate cuckold.”) TV’s Michael Gray—whose last credit before Archer is indeed a 1976 episode of Shazam!—remains game to skewer his own image, though his character’s best moment in this episode is the silent, measured stare he directs at Sklodowska and Slater. Outside the chaos of the ship, Gary Cole’s impatient agent refuses to put up with even an ounce of shit from Malory, though he does crack just enough to deliver a stream of unintelligible baby talk for A.J.
Then, kicking off a couple of the episode’s strongest scenes, Archer chooses Pam to help him destroy the leukocytes. I’ve already written thousands of words on how great Archer and Pam are together, but that’s only because Archer and Pam are great together, especially now that they are unabashed best friends. When faced with the entire cast, Slater, a qualified doctor, and TV’s Michael Gray, Archer still chooses Pam to (literally) watch his back. The animation takes on an almost watercolor texture as they float outside the ship. It would be straight up serene if Archer could stop hollering about how awesome lasers are, but that wouldn’t be very Archer of him, would it? “Archerizing” the mission aside, the best part of Archer and Pam’s brief bloodstream adventure is when they have to wait for the airlock to purge the blood before the ship can move (which does seem, as Archer points out, like an enormous design flaw). Precious minutes tick by with quick cuts that show Archer wasting time and Pam having a meltdown in varying levels of blood, which is the kind of sentence I never thought I would type until I started reviewing Archer. The pressure of a countdown both makes this wait agonizing and the moment when the ship can finally take off exhilarating—until the ship explodes back to its regular size and takes out everyone in the hospital room in a horrifying spray of blood. Inept though Malory’s spies are, the sheer carnage is jarring, and the slack-jawed silence that greets it is perfect. What is there to possibly say? The C.I.A. might have been out to get them, but this is still, undeniably and irrevocably, a massive fuckup. The second Krieger destroys Dr. Kosack’s supercomputer, any glimmer of hope Malory has for keeping them off the C.I.A.’s espionage blacklist is snuffed out.
Which brings us to those last five minutes.
As they all sit on the dusty side of whatever godforsaken desert road the C.I.A. dumped them on, the prevailing feeling is exhaustion. When Malory sighs that she’ll just have to find another way to get them back in with the C.I.A., Lana doesn’t even take time to blink before she shoots back a withering, “why bother?” Without a real cause and with a new baby, Lana doesn’t need or want to keep spying—and neither does anyone else. They are all burned out on failure and trying to live up to the expectations that they will execute orders like good little soldiers when really, all they want to do is get shitty and play with weirdo gadgets.
So while I want to buy Archer’s rousing speech that they are the “Rebel Alliance…The Commitments…The Bad News Bears,” I think they are less “scrappy underdogs” than they are aimless advocates for having an awesome time. Yes, they would all define “an awesome time” differently—I doubt Archer would want to crash Krieger’s Saturday nights of experimentation and hologram murder—but they all tend to prioritize their id above all else. We did get a taste of what that collective id might look like outside the confines of espionage with last season’s Archer: Vice, but something tells me that Archer’s open-ended claim that he has “some ideas” on how they can make money is going to set off an unprecedented level of lunacy, and I am thrilled.
As the gang agrees not to pursue spying, Archer says goodbye to what it knows best—again—and sets up one hell of a new direction for its next season—again. I would wager that it’s not a huge leap to say that the former agents aren’t the only ones sick of trying to pretend like they still find spying fascinating. When Adam Reed and his producers got a two-season pickup, they had the chance to plan larger arcs and foreshadow bolder stories. This sixth season has been uneven, and looking back reveals that its strongest stories were rarely tied to a spy mission. This season’s standout moments have played on the characters’ evolution over the years, like Archer and Pam’s trip to Wisconsin, meeting Lana’s parents, and everyone getting stuck in an elevator. The show just doesn’t need the trappings of spying to keep it going anymore. When Archer puts on those sunglasses and smirks off an entire lifetime of espionage, it is more uncertain than ever what the series is going to become—and yet Archer has never seemed more like itself.
- If the CIA blacklisting them means that we’ll never get to see Archer and Lana getting shitty on ribeyes and scotch at a Sizzler with Pam and TV’s Michael Gray, I’ll be pissed. (Also, “getting shitty on ribeyes and scotch” is just about my ideal date, so I hope they’re cool with a fifth wheel.)
- Coming off today’s unsettling Full House reboot news, my roommate’s “where’s that Shazam reboot?!” feels less like an offhand joke and more like an ominous prediction.
- The payoff of Cheryl’s Tungsten needles is pretty perfect: when Ray tells her to shut up she just stabs him in the thigh, and the real reason that hurts is when she sarcastically spits, “oh, right.”
- As a fan of Archer, Christian Slater should be very pleased that he got one of its best one-liners in recent memory: “He’s had the clap so many times it’s more like applause.”
- Apologies for the late review—and West Coast location—tonight. Thanks for watching along with me all season, and see you next time for Archer…SVU? Archer: P.I.? Archer: Road Rules? Archer: Drag U? A girl can dream.