Before we get into the narrative meat of tonight’s episode of Archer—Archer and Malory’s respective abandonment issues, the death of Krieger’s beloved van, whatever the hell reclusive super-scientist Hands’ Dave And Buster’s-esque seduction of Sterling was all about—we should establish something: This is the hardest I’ve laughed at an episode of Archer in what is probably years, and it was all at the absolutely dumbest shit. People falling over. Cyril getting zapped. Elaborate voicemail pranks. Secret turtleneck chicken. This is one of the most aggressively slapstick and silly episodes of Archer the show’s put up in seasons, and it was, frankly, welcome; watching a turtlenecked Pam and Krieger try to Mission: Impossible their way through a booby-trapped mansion, only to bust their asses at every possible opportunity, is as much fun as I’ve had watching TV in weeks.
As for that plot stuff: We start mid-mission tonight, as Cyril and Lana infiltrate the compound of the aforementioned Hands (who’ll eventually be played by recent Emmy nominee D’Arcy Carden, when she finally shows up), seeking to steal her prototype exo-suit. With support from Pam and Krieger, and a boost from Cyril’s ongoing commitment to Leg Day, things go perfectly smoothly…right up until the group’s collective decision not to tell Archer about the mission (because he’d get in the way and fuck things up) leads to him partycrashing it, at which point he immediately gets in the way and promptly fucks things up.
The resulting lockdown, which traps Cyril, Lana, and Sterling in a vault filled with bric-a-brac that may or may not have been specifically designed to trigger Archer’s never-ending need for stimulation (more on that in a second), gets close to being a bottle episode for a few minutes, as Archer and Lana take increasingly heavy swings at each other for bailing on, and interfering with, each other’s lives, respectively. (This is also when we get the news that Lana has sent AJ off to boarding school, a page taken pretty much directly from the Malory Archer School Of “It’s For Your Own Good” Childrearing.) Meanwhile, Pam, Cyril, and Krieger form a triumvirate of the folks you really don’t want to get stuck doing an escape room with, until Archer ultimately triggers one last trap, and gets himself whisked away to Hands’ secret supervillain rumpus room.
Which is when, through no fault of Carden’s, “Helping Hands” gets a little wobbly. Given that she’s clearly been observing Archer for a while—she knows about his injuries, his abandonment by the team, even, possibly, his inability to keep himself from picking up a loose Steve Austin when confronted with one in the wild—Hands seems primed to be recruiting Archer for something. In the end, though, her only pitch (after letting Sterling get a taste of the suit’s power) is to politely ask him and his crew not to steal it—which, given that she knew about all the raids aimed at her compound that night, seems like something she could have handled without making such a big fuss out of it. It’s not the plot trifles that bug me, though, but the unclear motivation for the character. As voiced by Carden, Hands is warm, a little detached, but clearly sees a kindred spirit in Archer—having set up god knows how much of tonight’s convoluted trap shenanigans just to get a little bro time with him. (Who knows, maybe she and Stalin used to get up to similar hijinks.) It’s the sort of thing that might make one hopeful that the show has longer-term plans for the character, were one not a veteran of watching Archer, a show that’s rarely met an interesting guest star it wasn’t happy to wave away forever at episode’s end. (Happy to be proven wrong, though.)
But still: A lot of funny shots of people falling down or getting hurt in this one, plus some prime interactions between Malory and Old, Way Better Cheryl. (Judy Greer going into fake anaphylactic shock—before Malory reminds her that that’s Pam’s character trait, not hers—is the kind of rising Tunt madness I’ve been missing dearly in my life.) Even the “Archer chafes on the new reality” stuff was handled decidedly more deftly than in “Bloodsploosh”; sure, the team eventually admits (after being pinned down by new adversaries JUNO) that they need Sterling to save their butts. But it’s only under duress (that Archer caused), and the episode (written by What We Do In The Shadows’ Shana Gohd) holds tight to the idea that the agency actually operates pretty smoothly when Sterling’s not around. At the very least, the episode doesn’t completely capitulate to the notion that Archer’s mixture of blind luck and chaos is some secret sauce that’s been missing from his colleague’s lives, instead willingly playing around with the more complex ideas introduced in the season’s excellent premiere.
Also, seriously: Bonus turtleneck hot wing. Who could say no to that?
- No Ray tonight, though we do get a shout-out to his apparently awful dinner parties.
- A classic Malory-ism, dressing down the waiter after Archer stands her up for lunch: “If I wanted my food to rot in the kitchen looking sad, I’d be ordering a big bowl of you on your break.”
- After two episodes of keeping the character vaguely in check, Cheryl asking for “dealer’s choice” of the needles she keeps in her desk is a wonderful return to form.
- “Why does Archer look redder than an unstuck dog’s dick?”
- My first big laugh of the episode came with the reveal that Krieger’s long-suffering virtual girlfriend has now gone full-on stringy-haired ghost girl.
- Another great Cheryl moment: Her genuine glee at the thought of Malory’s manipulations breaking Archer once and for all.
- “I can’t believe I choked on the taste of my own medicine.”
- Archer, landing in a super cool finished basement: “Wait, I went to heaven? That can’t be right.”
- First “Boosh!” of the season!
- I’ve watched it three times now, and the shot of Pam falling down the airshaft, the rope trailing behind her, makes me laugh every damn time.
- Hands’ quiet “They don’t deserve you” is one of those understated emotional moments I could use more of from this show.
- Krieger, after being immediately gunned down after trying to distract the JUNO goons: “I’m hit in my beautiful legs!”
- Obscure reference alert: Jim Henson was a popular puppeteer who (probably) never worked his magic on actual human corpses. Hands’ “collection of Bar Mitzvah gifts” includes (although they’re not shown on screen) a phaser from Star Trek, a coconut radio from Gilligan’s Island, a presumably Indiana Jones-referencing fedora, a cursed idol (who can say which one?) and a “mysterious floating cube.” (?) Oh, and a gong, which is why Archer references Gong Show host Chuck Barris. She’s got a Skip-It, too!
- Line of the episode: “I’m hit in my beautiful legs” came really, really close. But Jessica Walter ripping into the retaliatory “ELABORATE VOICEMAIL PRANK. LEAVE IT!” was a reminder of what a gift this show has in her.
- R.I.P. all the cherry custom work in the Screaming For Van-geance. You will be missed.