The episode that “House Call” reminds me of most is season two's “Stage Two,” which is without a doubt my favorite episode of Archer. That’s really high praise—but this episode deserves it. “House Call” is an episode with a lot of moving parts, but the story is so well-crafted that it never feels like anything gets dropped or left behind. The arc between where the episode starts and where it ends is miles apart, emotionally, but the episode is just 22 minutes long—and the characters never leave Tunt Manor. Though this is the fourth episode of the season, it feels like the first that is making full use of Archer Vice's absurd reset of the show’s premise.
None of this would be possible, though, without one odd truth: The antics of Sterling Archer have become peripheral to the show that bears his name. (And his mother’s, to be fair.) He’s still very funny, and he’s a necessary conduit for the audience to care about the story. But Archer has changed in the past few seasons from a character who did absolutely insane things to a character that stirred cocktails while other people did crazy things. This season, Archer’s idiotic tendencies have been down to the barest of minimums: He did play tonsil-hockey with Ramon, I guess, but it's hardly “rampageo” idiotic.
Meanwhile, Pam’s the character who has turned into an agent of chaos—a reliable source of insanity. She’s all id, especially when she's all coked up. Her character has been mostly elided by cocaine at this point—she has very few lines in this episode that aren’t grunting noises or “more cocaine”—but if anything, what this episode indicates is how fundamental Pam has come to the story of these former ISIS agents. Because, weirdly, getting addicted to cocaine turns Pam into a character with a hell of a lot more agency. For the first few seasons of this show, she was the weird HR manager, always desperate for a little more attention, hoping that the crew of agents would like her, and occasionally bursting into tears over her ruined marzipan model of her farm. She always let it all hang out, but there was a certain insecurity there, too.
Archer Vice Pam, though, is a character who growls at people, steals from her employers, eats cocaine in public, bursts out of her rope bonds, and doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s approval or validation. It’s insane, but it’s also kind of beautiful. Her weight loss is clearly tied into that sense of empowerment, too—I don’t love the idea that being skinnier makes you happier, but I don’t love the idea that being addicted to cocaine makes you happier, either. But the fact is that Pam’s character is fucking fierce as hell right now, and I am loving it.
She’s so powerful, in fact, that the entirety of “House Call” is really about trying to get Pam under control—by either getting her clean or, um, killing her. Krieger introduces a third option, which is to put the mind-control chip into her brain so that she does what they want her to. But when faced with a tranq’d out Pam and a tranq’d out Cheryl, the gang chooses to implant Cheryl—because, loosely, they like Pam better this way. And also don’t care if she dies. (But it’s Krieger and Cyril! They don't care if anyone dies!)
Cheryl, too, is getting a little bit of love from the plot, after several seasons on the margins. ISIS derailing entirely elevates her from the quirky, kinky assistant to a quasi-landlady, and the last few episodes have transformed her from a whiny heiress to a whiny heiress with bankable talent. And now that Krieger’s chip is in her, the stage fright has been programmed right out of her. And she wants six fried eggs and Carolina fries, stat, or there will be hell to pay. Cheryl (pardon me, Cherlene) is pretty damn fierce now, too.
It's smart for Adam Reed and the rest of the team on Archer to not only blow up the premise of their show, but also to do it in a way that directs story and growth at its least-served characters. As wonderful as Pam and Cheryl have become over the course of the last four seasons, they’ve also been stuck in the roles they've been given. Krieger is the other character that could use some attention, and he might get it this season as well. (His little conversations with Cyril in this episode sound like they could be the beginnings of a friendship for Krieger, which hasn’t happened before, if I remember correctly.)
This shift in focus also frees up Archer, Lana, and Malory to have some other stories for once—including, in this episode, a conversation between Ron and Malory and another between Archer and Lana that both felt long overdue. Todd, when he comes back for the next episode, will probably have a more eloquent eulogy for his favorite character. For now, I’ll say that though I’m sad Malory and Ron broke up, I’m glad the show decided to do something with the characters. Both of them had fallen into kind of a rut, and there are only so many ways to make the same joke about Malory's alcoholism. I actually felt bad for her when Ron walked (hobbled) away, and that’s a rare feat.
The same is true of Lana and Archer, who have been stuck in a weird intermediate space between “openly into each other” and “frenemies” for several seasons now. I love them together—and not just because I have a craven ‘shipper’s heart! When they’re engaging with each other in this flirty but confrontational way, Lana’s character has a reason to exist and Archer’s character has a reason to grow. Archer could never truly mature—it would be so boring!—but over the past four seasons, he really has grown up a little, into a guy who researches and then memorizes all possible complications of pregnancy because he’s worried about his ex-girlfriend. It's, you know, super weird, but also kind of adorable. Also: The sheer range of emotions that Lana and Archer take us through while they're locked in the kitchen is astonishing. Because Archer is all about the polished jokes, often any particular moment will feel a little like a foregone conclusion. The characters don’t really emote with their faces, either, because they’re animated, so it usually doesn't matter. But somehow, in that moment, H. Jon Benjamin and Aisha Tyler made the connection between those two characters feel very present and very alive. The transitions between affection, irritation, anger, and despair all work pretty well. And it ends with the words “rim job,” so, you know, no argument here.
Lastly, Gary Cole as FBI Agent Hawley reprises his role, and though he doesn't really interact with anyone too much (except for yelling through doors), he’s kind of perfect in the role. This is just a solid episode all around.
- There’s no way I'm going to be able to get every joke. So I will not even try. Leave ‘em in the comments.
- Okay, just one: “It’s… somewhat like that old gypsy woman said!”
- There were a lot of running gags this week, too: The “Ripley” joke that kept failing; the death of “phrasing”; the metric system; all these ISIS people making noise while Ron’s trying to convalesce.
- Woodhouse found his way out of the pool somehow. He would like to inform you, however, that breakfast will be four minutes late.
- The next Archer episode, “Southbound And Down,” will be on February 24. Even ISIS cannot conquer the winter Olympics.