There’s a big part of me that wishes “The Archer Sanction” was the second episode of this season. It’s not an instant classic, but it has so much of what I wanted from a follow-up to the reset. There’s a spy mission that speeds along thanks to a hilarious group dynamic. There’s a disastrous birthday party back at the office that sends the drones down a drunk and disorderly path. The episode also manages to keep baby AJ in the picture without actually having her in the literal picture, as Lana spends half the spy mission trying to get a hold of Malory. While Grandmother Malory herself spends most of her time offscreen, she more than makes up for it by getting revenge on Archer for all those damn fake voicemails. (I didn’t know I needed it until this episode, but it became clear very quickly that my life would have been incomplete without “the voicemail box of ‘elaborate voicemail hoax’ is unavailable.”) “The Archer Sanction” is the return to spying with a CIA lackey twist I was hoping for with “Three To Tango,” and the fact that it leans more on the new than the nostalgic only helps.

Right off the bat, we find out that Archer’s once again failed to read the CIA dossier. Archer’s never been a fan of preparation, probably because it gets in the way of his precious drinking time, but having to answer to the CIA is challenging his carefree “shit usually works out for me” attitude in a very real way. This time, it sets up the entire conflict for the episode’s mission: Archer has no idea who the target is. Well okay, that’s not entirely true; he thinks he knows that the target might be from a country that was an Axis power in World War II. It’s exactly the kind of useless piece of trivia that Archer would retain while skimming a document full of otherwise crucial details. ISIS never played by the rules, and Archer certainly doesn’t intend to start paying attention just because some Slater character insists he should. Another likely thread for this season is Lana’s increasing wariness of the missions, which may very well end in a standoff with the federal government. The CIA knew it was taking on a dysfunctional branch when it brought ISIS on, but I have a feeling that they’re going to regret even relegating Archer and company to their dirty work after a few more missions like this one.

Another new aspect of this season that gets a stunning showcase in “The Archer Sanction” is the show’s increased budget. All the scenes on the mountain are gorgeous, the frozen tundra crisp and stark. The higher action scenes, like the climbers tumbling down icy cliffs and the devastating avalanche, are especially impressive. But my favorite trick is still a simple one, one that dates back to series highlight “The Placebo Effect.” The shot pushes in on Archer as he steels his jaw, imagines he’s the lead in Terms Of Enrampagement, and pulls the trigger. This move resulting in the aforementioned devastating avalanche is also exactly how this doomed from the start movie would play out, so well done there, Archer, A+ job.

Speaking of Archer pulling the trigger: If I have a complaint about this week’s mission, it’s that there is never a doubt that that the target is hunky mountain man Crash McKerrin (Rob Huebel of Childrens Hospital). First of all, Huebel’s involvement follows the Law & Order rule of the most famous guest star being the murderer. Second of all, Crash’s perfect beard and alpine sweater combinations get Lana and Ray to sigh simultaneous, dreamy splooshes (“…the sound an avalanche makes, probably”). As we all know, the only thing that can make dreamy people even dreamier is to make them evil, and so Crash’s twist into villainy is just inevitable. Still, it’s hard to care too much about the predictable outcome when Huebel nails both the do-gooder machismo and the underlying sinister motivations of his character. Hopefully, failing to recover Crash’s body means we haven’t seen the last of him.

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Then there’s the delightful trio that is Archer, Lana, and Ray. Archer’s his usual self, but letting Ray and Lana drool over the same guy lets them have more fun than either character has had in a long while. And aside from Malory’s genius voicemail hoax (“are you finished? Good. Because—”), the most purely fun moment of the episode comes when Crash orders our agents to get naked and huddle up together for body warmth. The close proximity brings out all sorts of neuroses, warped concepts of hierarchy, and from Archer, confessions about what kind of man he’d want to sleep with (“not that it matters, but… black”). Lana’s indignant, “I am not riding bitch in this tent!” is the kind of laugh out loud line she hasn’t had in a long time, and Archer ending the scene with a satisfied snuggle up to Ray is the perfect button. These agents have been through… well, just about everything together, so despite their initial protests, having a naked slumber party on the side of a deadly mountain is just another day.

As for the drones, it’s Cheryl/Carol’s birthday so naturally it’s a mess, and a glorious one at that. We don’t get to see much of the actual party madness. We drop in at the beginning of the party, with Cyril educating Cheryl on what a watermelon is and Krieger trying to find some monstrosity in the hot tub. The next time we check in, it’s after the unspeakable fact. Everyone but Krieger’s monstrosity—a one-eyed amphibious worm—is passed out. It’s a shame to have missed whatever demented things happened in the meantime, but their misadventures at Malory’s are ridiculous enough to make up for some of the lost time. Perversely, the best moments of this B-story are the ones that leave the characters offscreen. First, everyone searches for Malory and AJ while Cheryl—right on cue—vomits. Then, in a callback that almost made me cackle as hard as Malory’s voicemail hoax, Krieger’s phone goes off in an empty room to the tune of “Teutonic Butts (White On White Butts).” By the time Malory finds them hooked up to oxygen tanks outside her fumigated apartment (“what fresh hell is this?!”), nothing of note has actually happened, but it was probably still Cheryl’s best birthday ever.

Stray observations:

  • So who else thought the avalanche was going to end with a re-re-re-paralyzed Ray?
  • Crash: “Get down!”
    Jealous Archer: “You’re not my supervisor!!”
  • Pam, I love you more than most people in my real life, but how about you let your unconscious friends take a breather without you thinking about raping them, mmkay?
  • Ray’s reaction to Crash murdering two people: [dreamy sigh] “They died in your arms.”
  • So did Pam and Cheryl have sex with Ron Livingtston…? Don’t worry about it.
  • Q: “Who am I, Charles Frederic Andrus?” A: Famed watermelon breeder whose primary concern was “gray rind failures.”
  • Krieger vs Clone!Krieger: “Teutonic Butts.” Point: Krieger.
  • Malory vs. Milton: Malory had to deal with a fumigated apartment while Milton got to sit poolside and watch a horrifying one-eyed monster troll his coworkers. Point: Milton.
  • “Eat a dick, blizzard.”

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