The two-part finale of Archer's seventh season begins with philandering, jealousy, and another opportunity to delve into the psychosexual rainforest that is Lana and Archer's relationship. The season's previous two-parter, "Bel Panto," quietly established the emotional stakes for the main story in "Deadly Velvet: Part I." By starcrossing Archer with Veronica Deane and pairing Lana with Crane, the show dug deeper both structurally and in terms of character. Now we're seeing what it has unearthed.
The first half of "Deadly Velvet" is effectively the inverse of "Bel Panto," setting up a slippery whodunit in its final minutes, but keeping its primary focus on the deteriorating bond between our two romantic leads. Getting back together for the sake of their child (who's been pretty conspicuously absent as of late) showed Lana and Archer that they're capable of maintaining a functional, healthy cohabitation, if only due to the added responsibilities of parenthood. But in "Deadly Velvet: Part I," both parties slide backward into old antagonistic habits, made doubly frustrating when framed as a regress from the fulfilling, meaningful steps they've taken towards love.
In the past couple episodes, Archer's infatuation with Veronica Deane has been treated as just that — a schoolboy's crush on a glittery screen idol with whom he lacks any real connection. It was no closer to reality than my dream Hawaiian vacation with Christina Hendricks. And to showrunner Adam Reed's credit, the episode doesn't so much nullify that idea as much as wallpaper over it; when Archer makes contact with Veronica again, she has no memory of him, having completely dismissed their night of death-defying peril and lip-locking passion. (In the cadence of that classic sheepish celebrity refrain "I meet a lot of people," one can almost hear her mutter, "I get saved from unhinged armed gunmen by a lot of people.") And even though they don't share the spark that Archer imagines them to have at the episode's outset, all it takes is one act of forklift-related heroism to earn her affections. That's when Lana starts seeing red.
By the time "Deadly Velvet" gets rolling, Lana's been taking steady work as a consultant on the set of Crane's latest espionage picture, news that reads to Archer as red-alert code words for "WE ARE BANGING." Whether or not this happens to be true is beside the point — Lana's always had a little more integrity than that, though she sure abandons those scruples once Archer makes his infidelity abundantly clear — because the jealousy that inspires both halves of this power couple is bona fide. As they storm off to cuckold one another in their respective celebrity squeezes' trailers, all of the baby-steps forward that the Lancher — Archa? — pairing has taken slip away.
In the episode's margins, the tertiary characters have plenty of fun inhabiting new roles in the bustling ecosystem of the film set. Putting Ray in hair and makeup would've been a no-brainer — even Ray knows it — so relegating him to the comparatively burly and macho grip department throws him for a comedically pleasurable loop. The quick bit in which he purrs positive affirmations to a mannequin head as he styles its wig delivers one of the episode's biggest laughs, and Ray's tenuous understanding of what a grip does only sweetens the deal. Pam and Cheryl hold down the fort at the craft-service table, which Cheryl unsurprisingly assumes has something to do with arts and crafts, a natural fit due to her rich catalogue of work in the macaroni-picture medium. (Malory's mandate for Pam to babysit her was … prudent.) And Malory has the most fun of all, embodying the cliché of the colorful executive producer as propagated by countless inside-the-biz Hollywood satires. Her flamboyant garb, as is typical of Malory, enables her to do everything but blend in, reaffirming that her objective on any mission is first and foremost to enjoy herself, with the tasks at hand fall to a distant second. The roles that the ensembles assumes don't quite stack up to the ludicrous highs of the restaurant-biz flunkies in "Live and Let Dine" or the eeeelegant dinner party in "Lo Scandalo," but this formula has never failed to foster an environment fertile for comedy, and "Deadly Velvet" doesn't disprove it.
Introducing emotional obstacles and piecing together a new mystery is well and good, but in the simplest terms, the first half of a two-part episode has one job to do, and "Deadly Velvet: Part I" does it well: dig the hooks deep enough into viewers that they're guaranteed to return. With the fate of Lana and Archer's continued harmony, not to mention a man's life, now hanging in the balance, this two-reeler won't have any retention problems. Or to put it in the old-Hollywood vernacular of which this season has been so fond: "Sterling Archer and Lana Kane will return in … Deadly Velvet: Part II."
Assorted Thoughts and Questions:
- Malory refers to Liberia as the "Cousin Oliver of Africa," an allusion to the Dutch Boy-cut moppet played by Robbie Rist, who was added to The Brady Bunch as a shameless ploy to goose sagging ratings with cuteness. It didn't work, effectively hammering the final nail into the show's coffin. Between that diss and the world premiere of Sean Penn's The Last Face, Liberia's really takin' it lately.
- Archer makes passing reference to Tenzing Norgay, one of the first people to ever summit Mount Everest. It's a great injustice that Sir Edmund Hillary got all the fame and glory and textbook mentions as the mountaineer who beat Everest, when he never would have reached the peak without the assistance of Norgay, his Nepalese guide.
- Lana's uncharacteristically Zen declaration of perfect being the enemy of the good has been expressed in some form or another by many major thinkers, from Aristotle to Voltaire to Confucius. It also happens to be sage advice, something many of us would do well to keep in mind as we go through our days.
- The episode's biggest laugh goes to Pam and Ray, who react with shock when they see Malory eating actual food: "Did she just eat a grape?" "Must be her cheat day."
- Archer would never make it this easy, but it sure seems like Veronica did it, right? Why else would she make those weirdly belabored mentions of the time before parting ways with Archer? Judging from this season's tendency for double-crossing, Crane might be in on it too, even from beyond the grave. Or what appears to be the grave.