If nothing else, “White Nights” is proof that H. Jon Benjamin should be given a one-man show on Broadway or something. For the vast bulk of the episode’s running time, Sterling Archer is pretty much on his own, forced to narrate his exploits in enemy territory, and Benjamin wrings every laugh (and then some) out of these lines. Last season, I wrote a little bit about how Archer as a series has a lot of roots in radio comedy and how that often provided for scenarios where the words were just as funny—if not funnier—than the visuals. The characters would often be funnier describing something that was happening than they would have been reacting to that something happening. It’s not a terribly unusual scenario (particularly on a low-budget show like this one), but Archer carries it off about as well as anything else out there.
“White Nights,” then, is all about how funny Benjamin can be while providing a running commentary for whatever else is going on. The story is pretty simple: Archer takes over a mission to Finland that will result in Gillette crossing the border into Russia to do some elaborate skullduggery. Archer takes it over because, well, he wants to find out if the KGB head his mother’s been sleeping with for 40 years is his dad. Unfortunately, he monologues so long that he misses his drop zone and ends up in Russian hands, stuck in a prison and forced to endure extensive torture. Malory hires Barry to get him back (when both Gillette and Lana are unable and unwilling, respectively), and after Barry frees Archer from prison and the two impersonate Russian agents, they make their way toward freedom. Or, rather, they do until Archer flattens all the tires in their car by driving over a roadguard and they’re forced to make their way on foot.
“White Nights” has lots of great callbacks to earlier moments and episodes from this season and the series’ whole run. In particular, the latest chapter in Archer’s casual destruction of Barry’s life—which ends with Barry losing a leg—is hilariously bleak. (I love the way this show so wantonly destroys most anyone who comes in contact with the various folks at ISIS.) But I also liked the callback to how having a gun fired in an enclosed space while not wearing earplugs can damage the hearing and the continued, off and on search for Archer’s dad has been great story fodder here and there. (I also like how many times this season a veritable squad of gunmen has fired upon the characters, only to have no one in the main cast suffer even a scratch. It’s a nice comment on how these sorts of shows work, and I liked how Archer actually made reference to how the gunmen couldn’t hit him tonight.)
And the solo Archer stuff in this episode works very well indeed. If you’re going to focus on having your main character narrate a lot of the action, well, Sterling Archer is a great character to do that narration, and Benjamin is a great actor to provide it. In particular, I enjoyed his bafflement at how Barry didn’t understand his need for designer clothes and his confusion over being confronted with the two children on the rooftop covered in broken glass. (His constant ability to land in piles of broken glass also made for a great running gag.) And while the Archer and Barry pairing isn’t my favorite on the show—if only because Barry’s character is basically an anti-Archer with some severe issues, and it’s hard to write to that—there were some choice moments here and there between the two.
But my praise is rather muted, ultimately, for “White Nights.” I liked it a bit more than last week’s episode, and I certainly laughed more at this one than I did at last week’s. But the story left something to be desired, and I just don’t find Barry a terribly compelling character, even as a recurring player. The show keeps bringing Barry back, and I’m not sure what his function is. Is he the anti-Archer? In that case, we’ve already got Lana, who fulfills a lot of those functions, and Cyril, who fulfills the “hilariously pathetic” side of that coin. Is he just supposed to be a competent agent who’s not so righteous when you dig deeper? Well, it’s hard to play that gag more than once. He’s probably supposed to be a Frank “Grimey” Grimes type, always realizing just how terrible Archer really is, but that also doesn’t work because, well, EVERYbody on this show realizes that Archer’s an awful person. Really, the only thing I find all that amusing about Barry anymore is his contempt for Archer and the fact that any time he comes into contact with Archer, he suffers grievous bodily harm. But he’s never going to be my favorite character.
Aside from that, though, it was also hard to get used to the idea of this being a one-man show for Archer. After two straight weeks where their presence has been rather subdued, I’m really missing some of the other characters, and I’m hopeful that next week’s finale will bring all of them back in a big way. Still, if this was mostly setup for whatever’s going to come next week (and it sure seems like it is, particularly with that ending), then it worked well at getting the pieces into place for whatever happens next. As a collection of one-liners and jokes, it was a pretty solid episode. As a story, it left a little something to be desired. But we’ll wait and see what happens next.
- And it’s very strange to me that the season is ending next week. Even with not liking the last two episodes as much as some of you did, this has still been one of the most ridiculously consistent and hilarious TV seasons I’ve ever seen. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all wraps up.
- Do you think we’ll get an answer to Archer’s parentage next week? It seems like it would be the sort of thing that would play out over the course of the series, but we’ve been getting so many little puzzle pieces in the past that I wouldn’t be surprised all the same. (I’m betting on Len Trexler myself.)
- Even if Barry’s not my favorite character, I’m always pleased to hear Dave Willis’ voice coming out of his mouth. Willis does some great voice-over work in this series (and in others).
- I loved Cheryl’s snide little aside about the “core group” being the only ones who knew Malory’s many secrets. It sometimes seems like nobody else really DOES work at ISIS.
- I’m going to start yelling “PARACHUTE!” when I do anything.
- "And you all know me. I'm no gossip, but that is some scandalous shit right there."
- "Look at me! To share!"
- "And for dessert, we will have the truth!"
- "Oh, and hopefully shitloads of vodka."
- "Get your bloated carcass in here!"
- "Nobody cares about your big, knobbly, vibrating eggplant."
- "Just us, Krieger, just really, you know, the core group."
- "You're still together?"
- "Well, then, it wasn't meant to be."
- "Who is, in fact, sitting right here."
- "Can I bring you back anything from Moscow? Maybe some nesting dolls of my penis?"
- "I thought maybe I'd shoot you in the face and smuggle you out in a coffin."
- "I thought they just wanted my hair so their scientists could unlock the secrets of its luxuriant fullness."
- "Bitch, I got ants all over me!"
- "Gee, Barry. What's French for deliciously depraved?"
- "Are you implying my mother gave virgin birth?"
- "Has anyone ever told you you are profoundly self-centered?" "Yes!"
- "Who do Archer think he is? Only guy who want father?"
- "First of all, I didn't throw you off of anything. I dropped you."
- "Yeah, to the silk-lined sleeve of a bespoked Saville Row suit jacket!"
- "Probably because there's 200 pounds of asshole hanging off of them."
- "Why are you wearing silk socks?" "Is that a joke?"
- "What is this? A broken glass factory?"
- "I bet people come from miles around just to have their picture taken in those."
- "You think it's because I'm in loafers? Because they're not mine."
- "Use your imaginations! Make a soccer ball out of a dead cat!"
- "Super glad I didn't wet my pants."