The homicidal James Dean robot, as fate would have it, was misdirection. In its penultimate episode of the season, Archer proves that it’s got an ace in the hole beyond the bionically pissed-off Dutch and cues up a truly climactic confrontation. The fact that the episode ends with the revelation that Mother has been the author of all Archer’s pain, to crib a quote from another nefarious mastermind, hardly registers as a surprise. Of course Malory’s evil nature would seep into Archer’s dream state; Mother’s seen too little action this season not to have something big coming up, and the puppet master is now poised for a central role in the grand finale. All roads appeared to converge on Len Trexler’s castle lair, but that was merely a stopover on the path to Dreamland.
Fortunately, the extended tussle with Barry is just too dang thrilling to scan as wheel-spinning meant to pad the episode count. What ultimately amounts to little more than a red herring redeems itself by virtue of its sheer competence, existing primarily for the sake of its shocking intensity. While the sight of Dutch wielding a halberd atop a speeding motorcycle alone would validate this diversion from the plot, the entire sequence moves with a formal confidence seldom seen in Archer. Each new season has further emboldened the animators, and this high-velocity car chase holds its own against most Hollywood studio releases in the past few years. The little grace notes — the tight shot of Dutch’s halberd tearing clean through the car, the visual comedy of bullets pinging off of Dutch as he trails our heroes — reveal this as the work of experts who are very comfortable in their medium.
The drag-down beatdown finds two intermissions in Archer and Trexler’s frantic escape attempts and the rest of the group’s flight from the scene down in the driveway, both of which massage some comedy into an otherwise tense half-hour. All the humor in this situation comes from Archer’s time-tested well of characters reacting in an inappropriately cavalier manner to life-and-death situations. Cecil taking a bullet in the arm, other arm, and leg (“What, did you eat a bunch of magnets?” Poovey asks) makes for a fine gag on its own, but the real kicker is that this does nothing to dampen his sexual peccadillos. Archer and Trexler recognize that they could most definitely lose their lives, but it’s in the former’s nature to crack “the Adventures of Dex and Cody!” jokes about his new buddies dexedrine and codeine. The very act of escape works as its own little pop-culture deconstruction: Trexler asks why he and Archer would head upstairs, the final folly of every horny-teen slasher flick, to which Archer can only respond with a noncommittal iunno. Even in moments of urgent action, Archer remains committed to its guiding principles of idiocy.
“Gramercy, Halberd!” just about plays out in real time, covering the pursuit between Dutch and the assembled characters to completion. Stuffed with a three-phase chase and a Mexican standoff, this episode should feel jam-packed, and yet the writers still find space for plenty of situationally appropriate humor. Rather than plopping one-liners right into action scenes (this has happened before, and while not terrible, it drains momentum from fights), the jokes are naturally integrated into the rhythms of combat with Dutch. The show even gets a chuckle from its own competence at blending stupid-smart humor in high-tension situations, when Lana stares daggers at Charlotte for insisting on practicing her Groucho Marx impression while they’re trying to get the hell out of Dodge.
And yet, it’s all foreplay for the ultimate showdown. Archer’s sadly truncated season has outed its true endgame, but as we approach the final installment, it’s worth remembering that this has all been a fantasy. (I’ll be the first to admit that I almost forgot.) If the climactic tussle between Archer, Mother, and her thick-necked goon has no ramifications in the real world, then we run the risk of wondering what, exactly, this has all been for. Apart from the laughs, that is.
• Robert Ripley is the Ripley behind Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, originally founded in 1929 as a newspaper panel. He was a pretty noteworthy guy: Did you know he is technically responsible for having “The Star-Spangled Banner” officially instated as the national anthem?
• The “Eliot Mess” joke refers to Prohibition’s No. 1 enforcer Eliot Ness, the G-man who dethroned Al Capone with the help of his elite hit squad, the Untouchables.
• Trexler laments that all of his men got slaughtered by Dutch, even Fat Mike. Frisky Dingo fans, rejoice! This is a victory for all of us.
• The running joke with the Chinese prostitutes reaches a heartrending, surreal finish as Poovey celebrates his 1,100th birthday in an immaculately white function hall of the future. It is, without doubt, the weirdest and most touching gag that Archer has forced into the season.
• Some deep-cut references for the med students: Cecil cites priapism and sickle-cell anemia for his inconvenient erections, “priapism” being the medical term for an indomitable, hours-long boner. In related news, “sickle-cell anemia erections?” is now listed under my recent Google searches.
• On FX’s press site, they include little one-sentence summaries along with the advance screeners for each episode. This week’s, while not inaccurate, is also the single greatest they’ve ever generated: “Archer and Trexler try to escape a rampaging Dutch by telling the world’s worst knock-knock joke.”