“Midnight Ron” isn’t the funniest episode Archer will ever do. It’s not even the funniest episode this season. But I enjoyed it all the same, thanks to the comedy stylings of my new favorite character, Ron Cadillac, the Cadillac King of New York City. It was perhaps inevitable that Ron would prove to be a more interesting character than just a used-car dealer (though I liked him as that for his relatively mundane nature), because this is Archer, and even the secretaries are secret billionaires. But while Ron’s back-story proved a bit predictable—he used to be someone who stole cars before he sold them, and a member of his gang is trying to collect the money he lost out on while stuck in prison—the episode was worth it for the fun of having Ron and Archer travel from Montreal to New York, while also getting waylaid by gun battles with mobsters and a bunch of transvestite truckers in a weird industrial park.
The episode exists, more or less, to build a bridge between Archer and Ron, who haven’t been on the best of terms up until this point. (Well, that’s not strictly accurate; Archer hasn’t been on the best of terms with Ron. I suspect Ron’s as fond of Archer as he seems to be of everyone.) This was likely another inevitability of this season, since it’s unlikely Ron could be on the show and share only stories with his wife. By giving Ron a colorful back-story and putting him on a trip with Archer that gives them both their fair share of scrapes and bruises, the series offers him up as the rare character that Archer won’t irritate the shit out of when they’re forced to hang out together, and it also keys into one of the show’s more potent ideas: For everything else that’s wrong with him, Sterling Archer just wants a dad.
By far the show’s most persistent mystery is the question of just who Archer’s father might be. I honestly don’t expect Adam Reed to ever answer this (nor would I particularly want him to), but I like the way that it colors everything about the character, from his relationship with his mother to his relentless hyper-masculinity. The closest thing Archer had to a male role model growing up seems to be Woodhouse, and he basically owns him, so that doesn’t count. Everything Archer does is colored by his co-dependence on his mother, and when Ron needles him about how he just might be a little bit Norman Bates, even Archer recognizes that there’s a nugget of truth in the joke. The bond between Malory and her son is pretty fucked up. It would be impossible for Ron to get in the middle of that, so, instead, he decides to sneak in via another way.
Now, “Midnight Ron” has a fairly significant flaw, I’d say, and that’s that the whole thing is basically just about Archer and Ron trying to get back to New York. There’s plenty of fun to be had on the road with the two of them, but the episode feels downright leisurely for an episode of Archer, particularly since it’s meant to function as a sort of character development special for the show’s newest major character. (And doesn’t the fact that we never see Fat Mike’s forces again suggest that they, too, might be a part of whatever serialized picture this season is building?) I said last week that the best Archer episodes gain their power from their editing, and “Midnight Ron” felt a little slack in places, particularly when there were jokes that just went on and on seemingly because H. Jon Benjamin is good at delivering long rants. (Though I’ll admit that Archer’s description of chaos theory ultimately made me laugh when he declaimed, “The rhinoceros speaks English!?”) There were occasional cutaways to ISIS headquarters, but they never amounted to much of anything, and without a B-story, the episode could feel downright pokey in places.
This would be more of a problem if I didn’t like Ron so much, so I can see those who find him simply uninteresting not liking this one very much at all. But I really enjoy the idea of this otherwise normal old man—well, outside of the sordid car thief past and all the mob connections—having to hang out with this unrepentant jackass, and the episode mostly connected on the idea that these two would eventually bond while on the road from Montreal. For me, the best part probably came when the two were kidnapped by the trucker and taken back to his weird lair—Carol’s gypsy woman said that it would look like if John Waters directed The Road Warrior, and it does—because this was the one sequence where the usual Archer chaos started to roll on in. The bikers advanced, and Archer started rambling, and there were some great sight gags (particularly that man-baby). But the episode lost what momentum it had built there and didn’t really regain it.
On the other hand, I’m not sure if I can be too hard on that, because that was the point of the episode. This one didn’t want to be one of the action-packed half-hours with the big group scenes leading to comedic chaos. Instead, it wanted to be more of a two-hander character piece, with two characters who have no reason to like each other coming to like each other over the course of a long, event-filled day that culminates in a hobo fight. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, I sort of wanted there to be another twist to all of this, or another moment that undercuts the trope that the episode buys into of the road trip uniting two unlikely buddies. Archer’s pretty good at parody when it wants to be, but this just didn’t dig deep enough for my tastes. That said, I think the storyline found a good beat to close on, with both characters deciding that, hey, Archer dropping Ron off at the opera would irritate Malory, and wouldn’t that be fun?
No, this episode was mostly notable for its cutaway gags, and there ended up being far too few of them to perk up the main narrative. Archer’s convoluted explanation for how Malory sees Ron—“pretty much the most boringest man on all of the planet of Earth,” I believe it was—being immediately repeated by Jessica Walter was a highlight, as were the frequent cutaways to Carol filling in the gypsy woman’s story of what would happen to Archer. Similarly, I liked the little vignette of Ron and his crew boosting cars and, eventually, a Sherman tank, particularly because the sight gag of “Fat Mike” was weirdly amusing. But for an episode that promised something “frickin’ epic,” I found myself thinking that this was entertaining enough, but not quite to the show’s usual heights.
I’m sticking with Ron Cadillac, though. He’s my guy.
- The sequence of all of the characters at ISIS refusing to loan Archer the money he needed to get back to the United States was pretty great, and it managed to hit on some of the comedic chaos I talk about above. In particular, it reminded me just how much I enjoy hearing Aisha Tyler say “nope,” which ends up sounding more like “neeeeuuupe!”
- Archer’s punishment for Woodhouse’s intransigence in not sending him the money is, of course, to make the old man eat a bowl of spiderwebs. (After Woodhouse moans over the task, Archer chuckles to himself. It’s been a good day for the spy.)
- I love the weird specificity about New York geography this season. I’m sure it just comes from Reed looking something up on Google Maps, but I like the idea of the characters trying to figure out how quickly they can get back from Catskill.
- There was some nifty animation in this episode. I thought the sequence with Archer popping out of the trunk to battle the mob goons was particularly well done.
- There’s nothing that can’t be improved by Judy Greer’s ostentatious British accent, even a fairly staid line like, “Trouble on the homefront?”