At some point during this episode, I had to pause and make sure I wasn’t having an elaborate, beautiful fever dream. “Edie’s Wedding” hits all my Archer sweet spots. It has Pam and Archer on a mission (of sorts), alternately supporting and abusing each other. It has some semblance of an origin story as they travel to Pam’s Wisconsin hometown, meet her nasty sister Edie (Fargo’s Allison Tolman), and visit the grain elevator where Pam maybe didn’t give her high school crush Arn a blowjob. Then, in the twist that brings this episode from good to great, it has the return of Barry and Other Barry—but more on them later.

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First, let’s talk about the Pooveys. The idea of Tolman as Pam’s sister apparently came about after five too many drinks with producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, but her brilliant performance proves that some of the best ideas come from nonsense places. Tolman mimics Amber Nash’s delivery without completely aping it, giving Pam’s spiteful sister Edie a harder edge to her voice. Where Nash’s Pam cackles and yowls, Tolman’s Edie snaps and barks. Edie is a truly nasty person, showing zero empathy for her sister even when she’s hanging from a barn roof. Their relationship is startling; there’s no sisterly love in their vicious back-and-forth. It’s a mark of how far Archer and Pam’s friendship has come that Archer doesn’t find any of it very funny, and demands a sincere apology besides. Still, H. Jon Benjamin and Tolman manage to have a lot of fun opposite each other, especially as Archer and Edie ascend the grain elevator and argue about the most expedient way to feed cows.

But yes, I love it the most when the show pairs Archer with Pam—and not just because I’m always hoping they recommence having the best sex of Archer’s life. As my esteemed predecessor Todd VanDerWerff has pointed out, Pam and Archer’s chemistry is one of the show’s biggest and most rewarding surprises. For the first couple seasons—including season two’s “El Secuestro,” the last time Pam was kidnapped—Archer was just as dismissive of Pam as anyone else. Slowly, though, they developed one of the series’ most meaningful friendships. It was indeed a surprise, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Pam and Archer are both persistent drunks, shameless to a fault, and constantly preoccupied with the next time they’ll get laid. More than any pairing on this show, these two just get each other. The affection behind their giving each other constant shit is clear, especially when set against Edie’s merciless gibes.

Archer and Pam’s history combined with the sheer force of Amber Nash’s wracking sobs makes for one of the show’s most memorable cold opens in recent memory. The more Archer tries to ignore Pam’s crying so he can just get his damn coffee already, the harder she sobs, the more he tries to ignore it, and so on and so forth. This goes on, and on, and on, to the point where Archer’s almost out the door—but he can’t help himself. The patience of this joke is one of the things Archer does best; rarely does a comedy trust itself enough to sit in its own silence.

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I would have been perfectly happy watching Archer and Pam navigate their way through their perverse version of The Wedding Date, but I wasn’t bothered when I realized they would never even get to Edie’s wedding. The second Barry turns around in that airport, I knew this episode would be going to some awesome, unexpected places. The only reliable thing about Barry is that he’ll be more unhinged than the last time we saw him, and since we last saw him speeding back to Earth in a space capsule to see his fiancée/the new head of the KGB, his follow-up appearance was always going to be one for the ages. On that front, Barry (not to mention Dave Willis) certainly doesn’t disappoint with his demented mission to get back at Archer for Katya dumping him (it’s unclear how this is Archer’s fault, exactly, but logic was never Barry/Other Barry’s strong suit).

Barry has never been so diabolical as he is in “Edie’s Wedding,” and it’s a goddamn delight. Even the animation steps it up a further notch, casting a sinister pall over the climactic barn scene and sharpening the resolution for every devastating punch. I theorized a couple episodes back that Archer’s including more hand-to-hand combat scenes this season because of its increased budget, and I’d say that Archer and Edie’s full-on brawls with Barry proves that one right. Archer has run through just about every possible variation of the traditional shootout at this point, so having the freedom to write in more physically challenging fights must have been a relief. At the very least, it’s a relief to watch different kinds of fights, especially when they’re as expertly rendered as the ones in the barn. Then there’s Barry turning the lights on to reveal Pam strung up in a faux-crucifixion, which is one of the most striking, disturbing images the show has ever produced—at least until the final shots.

The sequence in which Barry’s cyborg skeleton staggers along a lonely country road, gets hit by an ambulance (driven by Arn), and flickers in and out and miraculously back into life are gorgeous pieces of animation. There’s the ominous smoke masking Barry from the oncoming car, the fluttering reeds leading us to his smoking shell, the three-dimensional shading of his broken Terminator head. Barry’s creepy laugh grows and grows with our unease, until very suddenly, the soundtrack smashes to the end credits’ (figurative) jazz hands. It’s a startling, brilliant contrast. Between the cold open’s leisurely walk to the punchline and this final sequence’s slow burn to a bonechilling finish, “Edie’s Wedding” has once again proven that even in its sixth season, Archer can still be one of the most rewarding shows on television.

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Stray observations:

  • Before you say it: this episode would have gotten a full A if it had the guts to stick to just the Wisconsin storyline without throwing in a largely pointless “Lana tries to find a babysitter” plotline. Maybe Cyril’s plan to seduce Lana will be significant later, but this week, it just hung there all useless. (Before you say it part II: yes, BOOM, phrasing, etc.)
  • At least Lana’s plot gave us Ray pushing the elevator button with increasing urgency. (“On Monday, let’s talk about how hard this was for me!”)
  • Oh, and Lana’s best threat in a long time: “If you wake this child, I will climb inside you with my shoes on.”
  • I’m not a huge fan of gay-panic jokes, but with Edie being a terrible person and all, they make sense here. Also, her eavesdropping on Archer’s conversation with Barry and concluding that “it’s your abusive ex-boyfriend” isn’t far off, let’s be real.
  • Dave Willis really did crush it this week. His take on Warriors (“Archer, come out and plaaaaaaaaay”) made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
  • Barry’s (recurring) worst nightmare: “Me and Santa Claus getting chased by Lurch from The Addams Family.” (Pam: “Why would you say that?” Other Barry: “Exactly!”)
  • How the hell does Barry, whose insides look like Space Mountain went through a car compactor, get through airport security?
    I don’t know, Other Caroline. I just don’t know.

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