A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a fellow TV Club writer—whose name I will not share, as I do not wish to open them up to your jeering—who maintained that Archer had lost a step because of the continued downplaying of the Archer/Lana relationship. Since the end of “Heart Of Archness,” in which Ray exasperatedly asked them to just do it already, the series has continued to push this aspect of its creation to the back burner, even building up a somewhat believable relationship between Archer and Pam for an episode or two. (Archer/Pam for life!) While I disagree with my colleague’s notion, in the sense that the Archer/Lana pairing was never that important to me in terms of the show’s layout, I can kind of see where said colleague was coming from after tonight’s episode. That scene where Archer tries to convince Lana he’s matured in the elevator was one of my favorites of the season, and it speaks to the great chemistry these two characters have. The show is always better when there are plenty of scenes for these two to share, and when there was the hint of romance between them, that was usually the case.
“Viscous Coupling” is the first episode to play up these two’s will-they/won’t-they perhaps because it’s an episode where love is in the air. I’ve mentioned a bit how the show is intent on getting back to the status quo, but the fact that Lana and Cyril are back together—and he’s apparently making her very happy—is taking us all the way back to the status quo of season one. But it’s not just those two, either. Pam and Cheryl have dates. Malory is going out with Ron. Even Krieger’s spending the evening with his virtual wife. Where does that leave Archer? It leaves him walking out of the office, muttering about how he’s the best at dating. And that’s, of course, when Katya calls.
Longtime readers of these reviews will know that I spend a lot of time complaining about Katya and Barry, while mostly praising the episodes they are in, because for some reason I have yet to determine, I dislike the premise of their existence while mostly enjoying when the two are onscreen. (Okay, Barry can get a little over-the-top for my tastes, but that only happens every once in a while.) “Viscous Coupling” mostly used the two in a way I enjoyed, particularly since it kept Barry separate from everybody else on the space station, only really having him talk with Krieger, who’s really excited about the prospect of Barry and Ray having a robot fight. I also usually enjoy when Katya plays a little dumb to put one over on Archer, and her pretending to believe that he and Pam’s clumsy edit of Barry’s dialogue to make it sound like he was having sex with the space station’s female scientists (“All of ‘em!”) was funny stuff (as was the tape edit).
Putting Barry and Katya at the center of the episode also highlights the twisted relationship between the two, as well as the weird love triangle they form with Archer. Katya ascending to the head of the KGB, with Barry returning to Earth, assuming he’ll have the job, also seems like a potentially promising development, if only because it brings back that one KGB assistant guy who’s always so amusing. The romantic relationship between Barry and Katya has always felt a little bit convenient—in that it mostly just exists because they’re both cyborgs—but I liked the conversation between the two once it was revealed that she’d been working with Barry the whole time (of course). Barry’s usually at his best when he thinks he has the power, but he really doesn’t, and giving Katya the leg up in both their romantic and professional relationships should be a good way to play around with that dynamic.
The other great thing about “Viscous Coupling” was how it built to a nice conclusion and built some inside jokes within the episode. There’s nothing wrong with the series’ frequent callbacks to former episodes and gags. It’s one of the things that makes it feel as if this show takes place in some sort of persistent universe. But the first four episodes of this season have seemed to exist almost entirely to offer up callbacks to prior jokes in places, and that can get a little exhausting. And, yes, there was stuff like Cheryl being a firebug or liking to get choked, but we also got that great, random gag of Archer having it out for the guy who’s always walking down the street with roses and candy. (Well, at first, he just takes his gifts; the second time, he runs him over just because he can.) There was a good mix of the old and new here, and I was laughing consistently throughout.
Anyway, in the end, Katya manages to manipulate Archer into getting Barry off the space station, and I was surprised to find that I wasn’t exactly expecting this to happen. I don’t know if the episode was that great at misdirection, so much as it was good at always having a lot of gags flying in every direction, so there was less time to think about the plot. (Another favorite: Cheryl’s terror at the idea of Opposite Day.) But I was genuinely surprised—and pleased—to find that Katya had been working with Barry all along, and that they were launching whatever dastardly plot they have, while simultaneously being pitted against each other in a battle for the KGB leadership position.
But the best thing about this episode is that it offers up some really sharp moments for almost everybody. (Only Malory really doesn’t get that much to do, and she gets a couple of pretty great jokes anyway.) It also does so in a way that really highlights Archer’s relationships with everybody in the office, and in a way that returns to some of the pairings that make the show work best. Do I think the show suffers without the Archer/Lana relationship at its center? I honestly don’t know, but of all of the status quo resets this season, it’s the return to the consideration of that that most has me interested. I’m also liking the mild serialized bent as we get into the meat of the season. For instance, who thinks we’re not going to see Ray and Barry battling away at some point or another after Krieger teased it for us? The first few episodes of the season—outside of the excellent “Legs”—didn’t feel as effortless as this show can at its best. While I don’t know if “Viscous Coupling” is at the level of the show’s absolute top tier, there’s more than enough in it to recommend it, and it makes me think whatever’s about to come should be very good indeed. Maybe everybody involved with the show was just getting warmed up.
- FX’s plot summary for this episode is one of my favorite network plot summaries ever. First, it mentions that Katya wants Archer to help her get Barry down from the space station, before saying, “Archer wants… other things.” That’s amazing.
- Krieger’s psychoanalysis of Archer was surprisingly astute and completed a night of comedy supporting players psychoanalyzing comedy leads.
- Another excellent runner I enjoyed: Everybody in the office is into tentacle porn, apparently.
- I could do without the “Ray will sexually assault you if you pass out” gags. They’re just kind of dumb and playing off unnecessary stereotypes.
- Malory and Ron are going to the “Tuntmore.” I want to go to there, too, Malory.