Archer S10 E1/2 “Bort the Garj/Happy Borthday”

If there’s one reason to be pleased that this is Archer’s final season, it’s this: the show has got through ten seasons and no fewer than three reboots (arguably five, depending how you count it), and while some seasons have worked better than others, it’s made it the whole way without ever feeling off-brand. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what a perfect game the show has pitched in that regard. It seems as though every franchise eventually hits a Terminator 3, a Red Dwarf season 7 or a Sonic ’06, but Archer’s spanned ten years without dropping any major stitches. How many shows can boast of that? (The Simpsons had nine good years, before you go look it up.) Most shows don’t even need a reboot to go off the rails after four seasons or so. The first episodes of the final season take few risks, sure, but the show settles right back into its old habits like yesterday’s still-laced sneakers. Despite the fact that three of the gang are now non-human, Archer: 1999 is surprisingly light on concepts and character gimmickry, and with so little of the show left, it’s good to see that they’re not wasting any time on scene-setting: we’re going to go ahead and assume you know all these characters (with a few obvious changes, potato pobobot) and get right into it.

We start with a plan that immediately goes south before it’s even started: Mother wants to go trophy hunting, and wants Archer to be her partner in crime. It’s a fun new tone for her: while she’s still a scheming mercenary just itching to throw everybody under the bus at the first opportunity, she has a newly playful approach to disguise her, uh, heart of archness. (Her indignant insistence that she’s “gorgeous” as Funbeak spreads her hideous wings and strikes a pose is a delightful you-go-girl moment.) Given her indifference to both space pirate booby traps and critical hull damage, I suspect Mother probably already has a history of getting everyone else into physical danger while she escapes unharmed, which is normally Archer’s thing. But then it’s hard to say what she is exactly, given that she passes through electrical cables but can still drink martinis and be slammed into walls. (And apparently knows what a buttplug is, go figure.) Then again, few characters on this show have ever had any sense of self-preservation. Ironically, the only character to have recently developed one is Krieger, who doesn’t even have a use for it.

Last season I compared Archer to Peter Pan, and while that was admittedly a little self-indulgent, Mother can’t help but remind me of Tinkerbell – mischievous, somewhat magical, more powerful than you may realise, and less benevolent than you probably remember. And since their relationship has essentially consisted of Malory holding Sterling at gunpoint for the last three years, it’s great for them to actually have some material to get their teeth into together again. Archer’s as oblivious as ever, snickering at his fave gal’s coquettish disingenuity when it’s directed at others, but totally unable to detect it when it’s used on him. It’s almost a complete reboot of the stunted, arrested-development Archer from the early seasons – even his indifference to being tortured recalls a similar scene from the first episode, which probably isn’t a coincidence. If anything’s new, it’s his shock at learning how eager Mother is to get the others killed. Because if Archer is the only check on Mother’s shenanigans, things are going to get real ugly around here.

Speaking of responsibility: Lana is back everyone! Well, sort of. I know giving a woman the job of being the show’s scolding voice of reason isn’t exactly progressive, but she fills the role better than Archer did in Danger Island or Malory did in Dreamland. OK, so that blowjob joke isn’t A-grade material, but at least she’s getting to give some backchat. She may be stuck managing the boys’ back-seat-of-the-car bickering (and it doesn’t get much more childish than Archer’s whiny “Stop touching me, you stink!”), but at least it’s better than being cast as a tourist on her own show. Carol, on the other hand, has done the opposite: for a character who’s often turned into a commodity for comic effect, she now has more agency than she even knows what to do with, nonchalantly correcting others’ grammar and reluctantly wiping out an entire squadron without breaking sweat. (On which note, the animation has levelled up yet again, with proper action sequences and space battles that are frankly more exciting than many of Hollywood’s big-budget CGI offerings.)

The plot is as thin as usual: apropos of nothing, the lumpen Bort the Garj has finagled his way into the ship and immediately begins making a nuisance of himself. (Nobody does clueless but enthusiastic quite like Sam Richardson, who probably didn’t even have to prepare for this role.) And before long we’ve run back to the robot arms of – gah – Barry. Barry-6 to be precise: he looks more like an extra from Borderlands than Terminator by now, but still the same jerk. It’s really not clear what their relationship is. At first it looks as though Barry-6 is extorting Bort, who owes him a huge favour he can’t repay… yet later that day, Bort seems to be paying Barry-6 for a lavish party. Who’s the master and who’s the servant? Oh who cares?

On the one hand, 1999’s running start makes a refreshing change from the previous seasons’ careful hand-holding: it’s showing rather than telling, and recalls the show’s early days – the first episode had no qualms about tossing viewers in at the deep end with not much to go on. Then again, there’s a risk that the characters may be getting a little broad or basic. Ray, for example, I simply don’t care for as of right now. I hope they do something interesting with him later, because while I think he’s supposed to be a Firefly reference, right now he’s just a weary old gay joke that’s straddling the line between tired and willfully problematic. And that “No, no, nonononooo!” scene as he watches his lamp break is a bit from Family Guy – literally the exact same joke, almost right down to the accent. And the poor fourth wall is getting treated like a rented mule: Pam’s camera spikes are labored and sweaty, but Archer talks nonchalantly to camera as though it’s something he’s always done, and I wonder if the writers have forgotten he hasn’t. Maybe Barry-6 isn’t the one who should be worrying about his delivery.

Stray Observations

  • “You could do your bird dance?”
    “You’re one to talk!”
  • Carol’s reading a comic called Robots Amok!, whose cover features a helpless woman apparently about to be strangled by a robot with a claw hand – Cheryl’s ultimate fantasy from season 1. (Pam is of course reading Humans Amok!)
  • Archer still knows how to lay hands on a bottle of Glengoolie Blue Label out here in the far-flung future of… 1999, wait actually that tracks.
  • “For all we know, he’s a Trojan horse.”
    “He was pretty rubbery.”
  • Barry-6’s breezy little “beep-boop-boop” is the most charismatic Barry has ever been. Assuming he comes back, I suspect he’ll turn out not to be the least likeable character this time around.