Holy shit, Dutch! (Holy shit indeed, Other Dutch.)

“Waxing Gibbous” is the second time this season that an Archer episode has ended by abandoning the show’s usual commitment to comedy in favor of something far weirder and more ambitious. The last time the show went in on this outside-the-box mode, we got the surprisingly heroic rebellion of Dr. Krieger/Aaron Leibowitz against his evil Nazi masters. This time, we’re following the bloody handiwork of Krieger’s latest robotic creation instead, and the tone’s not so much “hidden heroism” as it is “outright horror.”

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Maybe the move to FXX has given the show’s animation team more leeway, but I can’t remember an episode of Archer ever disturbing me the way Dutch’s Last Supper-inspired vengeance on Len Trexler did tonight. Kudos to the show’s team of animators and directors; the slow panning shots of the fate of Trexler’s goons, before the final reveal of the whole grisly scene, might be the most artistically ambitious thing Archer’s ever done. And while there’s a hint of the gratuitous happening, it’s all in perfect service of re-establishing Barry/Dutch as the most dangerous thing in the Archer universe as we head into the last two episodes of the season.

There’s more to “Waxing Gibbous” than just cyborg murder tableaux, though; although it mostly offers up the same “moving pieces into place” structure as last week’s lackluster “Sleepers Wake,” “Gibbous” fixes that episode’s most galling problem by keeping its meandering inside the core Archer family (with a few welcome additions along the way). The whole conceit of Dreamland is that these characters are strong enough to support pretty much any story Adam Reed and company can throw at them, and seeing Archer and Mother, Cyril and Poovey, and Lana and her entourage all bickering and arguing with each other is a reminder of why that is.

On the subject of Ms. Kane, she is, as we suspected last week, an undercover cop—specifically for the IRS, which is presumably why her mind was on Al Capone’s syphilitic death during her ill-fated stand-up set a few episodes back. Lana ends up teamed up with Archer’s discarded “friend” Trinette, who makes an unexpectedly great addition to the show’s regular ensemble. Maggie Wheeler—who I’m just now realizing, somehow, was also Janice on Friends—has always been an enjoyable presence on the show’s guest star roster, but she’s never gotten a chance to really dig into the banter like this before. Add in Cecil Vandertunt—still Eugene Mirman, still perfect—for Trinette and Lana to be consistently creeped out by, and you’ve got a surprisingly reliable comic team. (It doesn’t hurt that this is the most Lana’s sounded like herself all year, equal parts exasperated, sarcastic, and just a little bit insecure.)

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Speaking of great comedy duos, the episode opens with a fantastic showdown between Archer and Mother, as she casually allows her henchman Zerk to throttle the life out of his battered, sleep-deprived body in a particularly chokey game of Pictionary/charades. (Unsurprisingly, Charlotte is thrilled by all of these developments.) Although Mother finally relents, it’s one more step on Sterling’s path to complete collapse, ushered along by Charlotte’s poorly labeled collection of uppers and downers.

The tight structure of Dreamland makes it easy to verify Archer’s claims of sleeplessness; we haven’t seen him catch any shut-eye since the night of Woodhouse’s death (three nights ago, by my count), a period during which he’s taken any number of beatings and wounds. Like the war flashbacks, Archer’s disintegration—he even fucks up his “monologue to kidnapped passenger” bit—feels significant, even if it’s not clear what the show is building toward with it, either in the Dreamland universe or in the hospital bed where he’s still in his coma. Archer’s typically not at its best with serialized storytelling, so we’ll see if the show can handle some kind of legitimate late-season twist with all this stuff.

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In the end, though, everybody—including Cyril and Poovey, hoping to drop off the ransom and get Jeffrey Tambor’s crimelord off their backs—ends up at Trexler’s mansion. Copious bloodstains and talk of werewolves aside, there’s something weirdly comforting about seeing most of the show’s characters in one place; we haven’t had a big “everybody babbles stupid shit at each other” scene all year, and it’s a reminder of how fun Archer’s conversational chaos can be. Of course, that comfort doesn’t last long; not when there’s a murderous robot lurking in the shadows, apparently ready to add our heroes to his gallery of horrors.

Stray observations

  • “I’m sorry, all I’m getting is ‘Gerk.’” Mother is wonderfully ice-cold in that opening scene. And hey, she finally found someone who’s hourly!
  • Ditto when she interrupts Charlotte’s childhood story, lest it be harder to chop off her foot and mail it later on: “Don’t do that. Don’t humanize yourself.”
  • Poovey’s fantasy sequences just get sweeter and sweeter. Fung, you’re an inspiration to us all.
  • “Oh, come on. White, divorced, cop, access to a firearm? Cuckold? Statistically, you’re already dead.”
  • Poor Lana can’t convince Trinette that the IRS is cool, not even by trotting out the Lindbergh kidnapping. “Oh yeah, I bet they were so happy to get their dead baby back.”
  • Everything to do with Trinette’s food-based auto solutions were gold, too, from Lana’s “Maybe, with your crazy jibber-jabber about Spanish omelette ingredients!” to the whole “Tater hutch” conversation with Cecil.
  • Cecil seems to be wearing Cyril’s horrible jungle outfit from “El Contador.”
  • Archer on ghosts: “There’s just so few of them who are friendly. I mean, basically, you’ve got… Casper?”
  • Obscure reference alert: Pantagruel is a literal giant, from François Rabelais’ Gargantua And Pantagruel. Alaska P. Davidson was the FBI’s first female special agent, until J. “Edna” Hoover—whose disparaging nickname is itself a call back to Archer’s first season—kicked her out. And Marcus Garvey was a well-known and powerful civil rights advocate, who died in 1940, seven years before Dreamland takes place.
  • Line of the episode: I feel bad always giving this to whatever’s the creepiest thing Cecil Vandertunt says on any given week, but Mirman’s just having so much fun. “That’s why we’d have a safe word… Which only I would know,” isn’t funny on paper, but he takes it into hilarious Vincent Price territory with the deranged laugh on the second half.

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