Now that Archer Vice has finished, I wonder how television history will treat it. It might be harder to recognize the quality of something as it is airing. Looking at another FX series, most people would tell you that the second season of Justified is unequivocally its best. But I think as the years pass, the gap between that and its fourth season is going to see a significant decrease. By that token, Archer Vice should only age well in the pantheon of Archer seasons. Right now, I wouldn’t call it better than the legendary third season, which made the right move by sandwiching some great individual episodes between two multi-episode arcs to open and close the season. Yet, the serialization of these thirteen episodes makes this year unique in this history of Archer. It gives it more focus. On top of that, the season has a beginning, middle and end, and the end we get in “Arrivals/Departures” is nothing short of satisfying.
If the issue of what to do with all these drugs was the season’s plot-based thread, then Lana’s pregnancy was its character-based one. The guys, of course, have placed bets on the ethnicity of the father, as the Archer crew has little interest in human decency. But we learn at the end of “Arrivals/Departures” that the child that has arrived–a daughter–is Archer’s. After his cancer scare, Lana used a sample of his that he had had saved for reasons that become unfortunately muddled in sound as we move into Archer’s head in the moment. However, we at least hear that the decision didn’t just have to do with the fact that Archer is a fairly high quality physical specimen (that girl is going to be able to handle her liquor better than all her male friends) but that Lana also still loves him. On the one hand, there’s been little care taken by Adam Reed to make this will-they-won’t-they relationship something that we should be expecting and/or rooting for. Archer eschews sitcom storytelling, right down to how the camera lingers for an awkward pause after every joke that precipitates a commercial break. On the other hand, Lana telling Archer she loves him probably lands better than most sitcoms that try to use tropes of the romantic comedy. An Archer that has a Lana-Archer relationship that is serious doesn’t change the formula much, I would imagine, so as long as next season addresses the status of that relationship quickly and doesn’t drag it out for half a dozen episodes, I’m on-board.
All that doesn’t take away from the strong plot elements that “Arrivals/Departures” tackles–and which this entire season has done. There are a couple easy solutions here, but they don’t come off trite. Seeing Cyril’s reign as the president of San Marcos end falls completely in line with how his character gets shafted so often, making him the same kind of lovably pathetic character he has always been. At the very least, he tastes power in Archer Vice, showing that in a different enough dynamic, he isn’t just a one-dimensional character that is occasionally funny. The other thread that gets wrapped up neatly concludes when Krieger realizes all he needs to do is remove the nerve gas from the rocket and everyone is safe. This also is classic Krieger, who over-complicates situations to the point of insanity. I’m guessing we probably won’t get much more about the clone background (and for all clone concerns, viewers can shift their attentions to the return of Orphan Black; huzzah!), but Archer episodes rarely revolve around Krieger. What I’m more curious about is Pam’s future in Archer, since she doesn’t exactly recover from her cocaine addiction in this finale. As silly as it would be, I’m hoping this gets handled off-screen between seasons, because as entertaining as Pam has been all season, making that her go-to character beat next season is going to really deflate the whole thing.
Finally, the major plot-based detail has to do with ISIS being reinstated as an agency, now funded by the CIA. Even though Malory is exposed in “Arrivals/Departures” as having lied to her team, she manipulates all of the events of the episode to make sure that we return to the former status quo of Archer and that ISIS can be privately contracted for more spy shenanigans. Archer Vice is, without a doubt, an interesting experiment at the end of the day. The viewership might say something about how the general Archer audience has taken it (season four saw an increase in numbers from season three, and this season saw a decrease in numbers from seasons four), but Reed should be commended for mixing it up for at least one year. If that’s the end of the experimentation for this series, that is still a leg up on most sitcoms that exploit a tried and true formula that undoubtedly gets stale and lost in a television landscape that is constantly injecting itself with new creativity. And in the transition, Archer lost none of its identity or humor, which is the key thing to take away for me. It has been a great season overall, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new old Archer looks like when we return to ISIS next year.
[Photo via FX]