Archer S9 E5 “Strange Doings in the Taboo Groves”

While some might accuse Archer: Dreamland of trying to cram too much in (and I am one of those people, and also phrasing), Archer: Danger Island is pacing itself. With only three episodes left, the story’s taking its sweet time playing out what looks to be a fairly simple adventure, and while “Strange Doings in the Taboo Groves” is clearly the beginning of the third act, there’s a fair amount of not much happening. So much the better: Archer’s characters are at their sociopathic best when they’re bored or frustrated, and despite a slight over-reliance on using a noncommittal “…eh” as a punchline (three in this episode alone, I think), there’s plenty of the petty infighting the show does so well.

The decision to pump the brakes a little and let the dialogue breathe is a bold one, and it pays off. I was fretting last week that Archer occasionally runs the risk of putting too much weight on the animation department, and as if to offset those previous grand action scenes, this week Archer and Pam run into one of the oldest and cheapest special effects in Hollywood – quicksand, which also doubles as one of the oldest and cheapest tropes in sitcoms: two characters getting trapped together until they resolve their differences. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and gives a much-needed opportunity to explore the relationship between Archer and Pam, who, let’s face it, has replaced Lana as the show’s second character.

Last week I called Crackers the breakout character, but Danger Island really gives Pam a chance to shine, and she runs away with this episode like an unlabeled bear claw in the staff fridge. Over the years we’ve come to learn a lot of surprises about her, and the transition from dowdy office busybody to bare-knuckle boxing drift-racer, via coke-fueled hotness and androgynous cop to war-vet Chewbacca has seemed so organic, I must confess I hadn’t quite realized how built new Pam is until Archer points out that she’s 6’5” in this incarnation. (Or maybe I’m just really inobservant.) The way her chipper, can-do sturdiness masks her wounded, body-conscious vulnerability is always endearing, and never have we seen it more plainly. One moment she’s crying because Archer doesn’t return her friendship; the next she’s back in slugger mode, nonchalantly switch-hitting coconuts out of the park. And despite Archer’s grizzling, the plane works since she fixed it. Sure, Pam and Archer getting married is a bad idea. (Probably. I mean, we know they’re sexually compatible. I mean, shut up.) But their Danger Island incarnations hide a heart of gold behind their affable crassness, and they’re a cute platonic couple. Between the two of them they do tend to get the job done, and no longer seem to need the guidance of Lana, who used to be the show’s voice of reason.

The other characters don’t do much beyond taking a run-up to the unfolding third act by setting off in vague pursuit of the seaplane. Charlotte is more or less superfluous as usual, but there’s a nice glimpse of the arm’s-length frenemy relationship between Malory and Capitaine Reynaud. They’re both petty little empire-builders, and as medium-sized fish in a small pond, they seize on every opportunity to prove themselves higher in the food chain, from Malory using the gendarmerie as her personal attack dog to Reynaud snootily insisting on rules he has either no hope or no intention of enforcing. Now Malory needs some muscle, and Reynaud is all too happy to capitalize on the opportunity to strut, cutting Charlotte loose to show that he’s in charge and even officiously mansplaining his subordinate’s self-evident hand gestures.

Having said that this story looks like a fairly straightforward race-to-the-idol tale in the tradition of Quatermain or Indiana Jones, the show’s usual web of rivalries still leaves room for things to get complicated in the next three episodes. Who knows, Princess Lanaluakalani (who appears for literally 48 seconds in this episode; I timed it) might even, I dunno, do something besides have “transactional” sex with Fuchs. (On which note, for a show where everyone used to screw each other indiscriminately for no good reason, the writers really seem to have sex-for-cash on the brain lately.) And where has Crackers gone exactly? That glib “yep-yep-yep!” never leads to anything good.


Random Observations

  • “That idea sucks! That idea would suck a dick just to cut in line to suck a bigger dick!” is my biggest laugh of the season so far, not just for the gag but also for Pam’s locker-room triumphalism and Amber Nash’s snickering delivery. God this show’s cast is wonderful.
  • Cyril actually shot someone! With a gun!
  •  “Who among us…?”
  •  “Dead Man’s Cove? What, did someone have dibs on Foreshadowing Lagoon?”
  • Charlotte and Reynaud have never heard of Treasure Island but both know Weir of Hermiston. For a while I was getting genuinely worried this season wasn’t going to make me google stuff.