“Different Modes of Preparing the Fruit” includes exactly two flashes of the “real” world of the show beyond Archer’s extended coma dream. The first comes in the form of a check to its constructed artifice, when Pam describes a tricky situation as a Catch-22 and Archer shoots back, “I don’t think that’s a thing yet.” (This season takes place during the preamble to World War II; Joseph Heller wouldn’t even start writing his calling-card novel until 1953.) The second one busts right through the fourth wall, as Pam clarifies that the idol everyone’s searching for is most assuredly not a gold monkey while staring the viewer right in the face. (This is in all likelihood a nod to the short-lived ABC series Tales of the Gold Monkey, or rather, a firm declaration from creator Adam Reed that he’s not ripping anybody off.) Archer hasn’t fully lost sight of itself, and it’s starting to look like Reed may return to Archer Classic for the show’s tenth and final season.
Until then, the series has to create meaning within the parameters it’s set for itself, and this week’s half hour makes promising inroads on that task. The whiffs of intrigue in last week’s fleeting mentions of a breadfruit plantation and an idol have matured into the pungent odor of mystery, and more promising still, the unfolding plot supplies the writers with ample opportunity to expound on colonialist geopolitics. Archer’s no longer about Archer, but it’s not a show about nothing, either.
Critical perspectives on Western imperialist presences in South America may seem an odd thing to want from a sitcom that makes a point to emphasize the elephantine proportions of one character’s penis. But being funny has never been Archer’s problem; the weakest episodes earn that distinction through faulty plotting mechanics, never for a dearth of magnificent one-liners. (This episode’s chinchilladas bit, for instance, is beautiful. The fur farm practically gave them the meat for free!) The show being merely hilarious is Reed on cruise control. When firing on all cylinders, he can be thoughtful and poignant — the things viewers want a fully grown TV program to be.
And there is, in the most general sense, a lot going on. This humble island has emerged as a crucial locus for a conflict on a planetary scale: Based on the files marked “VERTRAULICH,” the Nazis have taken an interest in this idol for what I can only hope are wackadoo mad-experiment reasons, maybe something in line with the sci-fi hokeyness of They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Lana’s looking at the bigger picture, offering the Germans a base of operations in exchange for purging her kingdom of the French presence. She plays both sides against the middle, upping her price of cooperation by inventing a hypothetical bidding war with the Japanese, signing a deal with the devil to protect her people. To what extent are they really Lana’s people, though? She’s fiercely defensive of the subjugated population (“Ethnocentrism much?”) but her Western manners, picked up from boarding school in the States since age five, may belie ulterior motives. Though, I may be incorrectly placing significance on a throwaway line intended only to explain why Aisha Tyler’s not doing a vague South Pacific accent that might offend.
All will be revealed in due time, and now that the audience has a clearer notion of where this season’s headed and what it wants to do, we know how to look forward to the advancement of this arc. “Danger Island” has given itself a goodly number of plates to spin, between Lana and Cyril’s machinations, Cheryl’s drunken faceplant into the world of high-price escorts, Krieger’s new life as a talking goddamn parrot, Archer and Pam’s adventure-serial escapades, and the worldwide war that will soon engulf them all. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that last episode’s centerpiece featured Archer poorly executing a landing only to emerge intact and ready to forge onward. This season got off to a frustrating start, but it’s steadied out and positioned itself for big things. The anthology format isn’t being used as a crutch to exempt the writers from sorting through Archer’s baggage. It’s a portal to an entirely different set of challenges and inquiries, no less substantive for its reorientation. The shifting upper hand between global superpowers has long been a favored story mechanism of Archer, and this season takes a new tack by focusing on the dealmaking as it happens, instead of the covert reactions by the black-ops scuttling around in the shadows. Back in the ISIS days, the agency trafficked in cold wars. On “Danger Island,” it’s bound to be a hot one.
• Pity the poor Luigi, a kindly expatriate whose only dream is to feed the island’s visitors with the cuisine of his Italian homeland. I have to imagine that it’s not his fault that all of his food is so awful. Where’s he going to find suitable ingredients on an island with such limited ecological diversity? I suppose he should’ve anticipated a dearth of fresh tomatoes or grain or what-have-you — know your market, Luigi! But still, it’s hard not to feel for the guy, damned to live out the rest of his days ignored by a virtually captive customer base. I watched the screener copy of this episode three days ago, and haven’t stopped thinking about Luigi since.
• It’s Cheryl that takes this week’s best bit of dialogue, showing herself off following a bordello-ready makeover: “I packed for a honeymoon, not a descent into profound and lasting shame!” Malory’s a close runner-up, reasoning that after room-and-board expenses, as well as the pimp’s cut, are removed from Cheryl’s pay, she’s left with, “Let’s just call it an even … nine.”
• A little bit of homophone humor for the multilingual among us: Ray complains about the destruction wrought on the street in front of Malory’s hotel, crying out for “la rue,” which Archer and Pam hear as “la roux,” wondering, “Isn’t that a base for sauces or something? Like, gravies?”
• The free revision of Pam’s character through her Danger Island iteration has been a lot of fun thus far. While she may still have her weakness for bear claws — in related news, I’m pretty sure this series began ten thousand years ago — she’s now beefy and chiseled, a physical force to be reckoned with. That’s put her on equal footing with Archer, and moved their dynamic closer to that of buddy cops. Hell, when their bickering breaks out into a full-on slap fight, they’re practically brother and sister.