The competition for Most Self-Explanatory Plot has been pretty stiff lately, but I think Space Pirates just might clinch it. To be fair, in a whole season of wilfully unoriginal plotlines served straight from the tin, at least this time they’ve gone with one that doesn’t really beg follow-up questions. Two words: space pirates. The name is the theme is the plot; what’s not to get? (Samus Aran has been fighting space pirates for over 30 years, during which time their character and motivations haven’t been remotely fleshed out, and literally nobody has a problem with that.) Archer and Lana fight over the ship’s controls just because; now there are space pirates and we’re on a mission to stop them, also just because. And so begins a familiar sequence – an almost universal template for this season – in which Archer does the exact opposite of whatever would be rational, and Lana allows it for some reason.
So the chain of command on the Seamus doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In Mr Deadly, Malory was able to send the crew on an obviously dangerous mission both captains were against; now Archer is giving his mother orders and refusing to let Krieger on the mission for no particular reason, despite the fact that he can’t be harmed by the warlike Dri’n and knows how to disable a radar. I know I probably sound like that dad who ruins war films by nitpicking the soldiers’ uniforms, but this has actually been bothering me all season, because it’s precisely the sort of petty office hierarchy nonsense that’s always been so pivotal to Archer’s passive-aggressive dynamics. The guy who misguidedly thinks he deserves higher status is a popular character in sitcoms, in part because they’re such a readily renewable source of conflict to drive the plot along. Sterling’s whole deal has always been that he’s already high-status, but emasc-ahem, undermined by the fact that the source of that status has always been Malory, and the resulting mix of entitlement, fragile resentment and general devil-may-care hubris defines his relationships with the other characters. Or at least, it used to. Now he’s overruled whenever the plot demands, but unilaterally in charge when that’s convenient, which doesn’t really leave any room for power dynamics or office politics. And that’s a problem because without those, there’s no show – all that’s left is a bunch of aimless dick jokes that even Pam thinks are childish.
The one thing that everyone does agree on is that they all hate Krieger, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he’s by far the most conciliatory character on board. Even his enthusiasm for Archer’s needy boy-scout “space cowboys” bit does nothing to sweeten the deal. (Then again, it’s a pretty terrible bit: Space Cowboys is a mediocre movie, and also cowboys aren’t a natural enemy of pirates. Should have gone with Space Ninjas.) Maybe it’s just Archer’s known aversion to robots, or maybe it’s because sending a droid to wreck a transmission terminal is the opposite of what happens in – you guessed it – Aliens. More likely is that it’s because they couldn’t figure out a way to animate Krieger crawling down half a mile of narrow tunnel, which is what would have happened, because obviously it would. Either way, the punchline is rather lost. “Why do we have a ship robot if he can’t make his robot gadgets work?” Archer wonders at the end of the episode. Yah, good question Sterling, why are you only just NOW asking yourself this?
Stolen disguises, a fake prisoner, a ripped-off heist movie plot – for a show so obsessed with Aliens, it’s all very Star Wars. On which note, there’s an actual Star Wars reference in this episode – I’m fairly sure it’s the only one of the season – and woof, it’s a clunker. That “death star, lowercase D, lowercase S” gag would have KILLED back in the real-world 1999, when gratuitous pop-culture references were all the rage, but not in a painfully media-savvy age where IP conflicts are mainstream news and YouTube parodies receive DMCA takedowns.
It’s not as though Archer was ever going to suddenly disappear down a George Lucas wormhole of Dri’n lore, but it’s remarkable how little of the plot is even onscreen. The gang are mostly on their own in a series of empty corridors, tunnels and the obligatory cavernous core chamber – which, as Cyril points out, makes no architectural sense (except perhaps as a map for an Unreal deathmatch). As ever, the coma serves as a useful lampshade, in that it all makes sense as Archer’s schoolboy adventure fantasy, in which everyone goes along with his terrible decisions, Cyril apparently can’t fly straight (when we know that he’s the superior pilot in real life), and Lana is once again humiliated and belittled at every turn. I know I keep coming back to this point, but Lana’s working double shifts as an unnecessary punching bag here, and it’s not clear why. It’s not very funny, for one thing. For another, the Archers are on pretty thin ice taking a swing at her for being broody and unmarried, given that Malory’s not only a deadbeat mother but a bitter, unloved singleton to boot, and Archer is either her ex-husband or the father of her child (depending which timeline we’re working to), and is currently going gooey over a bunch of cats. But since she never throws it back in their faces, once again it’s not really a joke so much as an idea for a potential joke to punch up later. The hypocrisy of it all could have been quite funny, except that it’s all immediately legitimised by Lana turning into a cooing schoolgirl, which is completely out of character, but once again proves Archer right and makes him the adult in the room, even as he indulges his most childish fantasies.
It’s to be expected that character development may have been derailed slightly, what with the handover from Adam Reed, and the expectation that this would be the last season. But it looks as though the writers are working on the basis that Archer genuinely hates Lana. It’s not enough to prove her wrong at every turn – she has to be undermined as a wife and mother, bitten by cats, covered in actual shit, and finally ends up topless. (She’s not wearing a bra, which is a thing top-heavy women totally do in action/combat situations). Remember the days when everyone in this show used to end up naked, and it was for silly reasons that showed off their foibles and peccadillos for comic effect? Because I’m not sure what the joke was here, and it all feels like a flimsy excuse to gawp at Lana again. Someone should perhaps tell the show makers that, magnificent though Lana’s breasts may be, this sort of titillation – as Ripley said to the android Bishop – is surplus to requirements when the internet has that whole area of activity on lock. It doesn’t even pay off – Cyril doesn’t so much as comment on the fact that the two have clearly been touching one another’s swimsuit area, which just serves to underline the pointlessness of both Lana’s constant nudity and this season’s because-the-script-says-so attempts to pretend she and Cyril are a thing.
If anyone is into Cyril, it’s Carol, who’s fully in her element. Given how much she hates being hyper-competent as a pilot, it kind of stands to reason that she’d be the only one happy with being given a job she has no idea how to do, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen her smile so much. It’s a good excuse to go full Solid Snake, rushing into firefights with no cover, producing weapons and gadgets from nowhere, and taking smothering care of her nerdy sidekick. Yes, I realise she’s almost certainly meant to be a reference to a different character, but I’m ignoring that because ENOUGH ALREADY. They should have called this season Archer: 1986, renamed Lana’s character Helen Shipley and called it a day.
- “Beep, bop, boop, YA BURNT!” – Carol appears to be channelling Pam, and it’s savage.
- Ray is – sigh – having an apparently recreational colonoscopy in this episode. Once again, this is a Family Guy joke. I do not care for this joke.
- The timer is set for 11 minutes, and for once that’s almost exactly how long the rest of the episode lasts. It may also be a reference to Frisky Dingo, in which Killface exclaims mid-way through a break-in: “”Dammit, we only have 11 minutes! [looks at camera]… uh, for this part of the kidnapping.”
- So… did they ever get those 30 million credits or what?