Last week, I bemoaned the Archer creative team’s choice to spend yet another season drifting through a dreamscape, but concluded by noting, “Most of the superficial elements that make watching Archer such a consistently pleasurable experience haven’t gone anywhere.” I reasoned that the faction of the viewership enjoying this show for entertainment value rather than psychological depth would be unperturbed by this change, and so as I forged ahead into the dense thicket of new episodes, I decided to become part of that faction. Much to my surprise, taking this season on the terms that it sets for itself is pretty easy, and moreover, rewarding.
“Disheartening Situation” won’t rank among the smartest, darkest, or even the funniest episode in the series, but it has a winning liveliness that can be loads of fun if a viewer lets it. Last week’s premiere wound itself up with a cliff-hanger in midair, as Archer was left to safely de-board a plane with faulty landing gear while Lana, Pam, and Cyril parachuted out of the frying pan and into the fire. (For simplicity’s sake, all characters will be henceforth referred to by their original names and not their island names, despite how weirdly pleasant typing “Lanaluakalani” feels on the fingers.) This episode tracks a desperate two-front fight for survival, and does so with an agreeable stylistic aplomb. So what if Archer might not be tunneling deeper into its protagonist’s tangle of neuroses? Supersized Komodo dragons are afoot!
Thrills abound in this half-hour, as showrunner Adam Reed mounts two action sequences that can still raise your blood pressure even when viewed on a laptop’s humble display. This critic is partial to the half following Pam, Cyril, and Lana through a gorgeously animated jungle, a throwback to the exotic peril of old adventure serials. Reed and his team of artists spare no detail in the frame-worthy master shots of the lush underbrush, complete with slats of light poking in through the canopy. The dangers they face are accordingly colorful: Immediately following their rough touchdown, Cyril runs afoul of a gigantic serpent eyeing him like dinner. More muscular than ever, the newly heroic Pam rescues him in violent fashion, though that’s nothing compared to the 360-degree machine-gun volley with which she beats back an encircling horde of lizards.
Archer’s half of business cements the comparison to Indiana Jones that this season more tentatively courted in its premiere — hell, Harrison Ford himself knows his way around an emergency landing all too well. After progressing through several stages of panic, only a few of which involve heavy drinking, Archer executes a daring controlled crash along the main drag of the town. Or at least, he tries to. Whiskey has a way of making multifactor calculations literally done on the fly go awry, and Archer does not have the six-inch margin of error around either wingtip he presumed. (“You know I can do a lot with six inches!” comes the perfectly sophomoric rejoinder to his predicament.) He tears a swath of destruction through the shorefront that recalls Howard Hughes’s white-knuckle crash in The Aviator, the creative limitlessness of the animated form allowing for even tighter coverage than Scorsese’s real-life camera. As he muses, Archer really may be immortal, and because this is all a dream, we know that he is.
Back at the ranch, Malory and Ray continue to make Cheryl’s life a living hell, their segment of episode existing mostly to cue up a coprophagia sight gag involving a stolen box of bonbons. Without any money or identification, Cheryl may have to resort to joining Malory’s stable of sex workers — though Malory assures her: courtesan, prostitute, potato, potahto — a possible avenue through which the writers can reintroduce the character’s many extreme fetishes. The residents of this tucked-away hotel may be in for a surprise of the chokey variety.
The season starts to take shape in earnest with the final minutes of “Disheartening Situation,” as Lana and Cyril let slip a pair of clues about nefarious dealings. She makes mention of a breadfruit plantation soon to be built in the heart of the jungle, perceptible as the front-facing story, but of course it’s bumbling Cyril who mutters something about an idol. (Of course there’s an idol. Maybe there’ll even be a whip!) The specific nature of the idol and the negotiations surrounding it will undoubtedly come to light over the next few weeks, pitting Europe’s industrialist encroachment against the primal, organic forces of the jungle and its indigenous denizens. But until then, continue to bring on the oversized lethal fauna, and may we never look back.
• Archer jury-rigs an autopilot by tying some rope around the captain’s chair and the yoke, and for that special personal touch, he straps a bra to the chair as well. Lucy may be the name of the plane, but Archer’s relationship with it can still be pretty straightforwardly sexual.
• Adam Reed has doubled down on his love of multilingual in-jokes, using Ray and Cyril as factories for French and German gags. One particularly delightful exchange has Archer using a bit of what Ray calls “le sarcasm,” to which Archer excitedly responds, “Cognate, nice!” Time to brush up on your Latinate roots, kids.
• Diverting as this episode is, it still contains some uncharacteristically weak one-liners, the show’s most steadfast strong suit. The script wastes one particularly fertile comic premise with bird-shit humor, and we can all agree that the writers have come up with more creative expressions of defeated frustration than “you fat bitch.”
• Back home, Pam was the cheese-toss state champion for five years running. As far as I can tell, “cheese toss” is not a real thing, regardless of Pam’s indignation at her companions’ unfamiliarity.
• After two times, Parrot Krieger creakily asking, “Am I right, ladies?” like a ‘90s stand-up comic is still funny. I give this bit three more uses, minimum, before it starts to wear thin.
• Breadfruit is a tropical cousin to the jackfruit, though its hardy and starchy flesh is more like a potato than any kind of fruit a Western palate would recognize.