It could only have ended in war. Ever since the Danger Island season introduced the MacGuffin of the idol — still unseen by the end of this week’s half hour, an ace up the show’s sleeve that the writers are waiting until the very last moment to play — the many competing factions of characters have been on a collision course with one another. The dramatis personae and the churning geopolitical forces animating them now include Malory (ruthless, self-interested capitalism), Archer and Pam (a sense of right and wrong), Cyril and his Nazi buddies (imperialist domination), Lana and the royal family (respectful isolationism), and the local chapter of cannibals (hunger, the greatest motivator of all). Throwing together this volatile combination of tensions results in the most exciting episode in a season that’s spent most of its run building anticipation. In the tautly made battle sequence that fills most of “Comparative Wickedness of Civilized and Unenlightened People,” Archer makes good on the promise of the last month and a half, and that’s before a meth-crazed Cyril commandeers a robotic exoskeleton straight out of Aliens.
A great reckoning between the Mua Mua and the assorted Europeans was inevitable, and still Reed finds ample opportunity in the multiphase ground fight for all the usual components that make Archer a nine-year staple for FX. While action has a way of enlivening any sitcom episode, it is still technically legwork of plot, and so considerations of humor or character can sometimes fall by the wayside. But in 20 taut minutes, Reed stages animated shootouts that could stand comparison to the reference points it has clearly espoused all season while simultaneously giving us Pam tripped-out on poison oils secreted in toad skin and Archer screaming about Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of cinematic montage. Though that last bit is, regrettably, lost on the Mua Mua. As David Cross’s returning anthropologist Noah explains, their language doesn’t have too many cognates for filmic topics. Reed then whirls his use of the term “cognates” into its own joke, nesting jokes within jokes already wedged neatly into more kinetic scenes.
This episode’s main comedic engine is Pam and Archer’s decision to join forces with the locals before the Nazis wipe them all out, and more specifically, the ease with which Archer takes to his new environment. When Archer was last sequestered on a desert island in “Hearts of Archness,” he took to his setting like fish in water and quickly established his own lacrosse league as well as its premier club, the Archers of Loafcrosse. Archer likewise proves a smash among the cannibals in Danger Island, forming a private militia of heavyset youngsters affectionately dubbed the “Chub Club.” Using his war-games know-how, Archer outfits their defenses with a spring-loaded basher he calls the Widowmaker, and they respond in kind with a chant loosely translated back as “Death to whites! No offense!” Archer’s greatest asset has always been his charisma, the ability to ingratiate himself pretty much anywhere irrespective of setting.
The instant bond he feels with the Mua Mua provides him with strength and fortitude while Pam is off in toad-poison la-la-land during the episode’s main firefight. Not incidentally, this fight functions as a segment of the episode itself as opposed to an interlude stuck inside it because the characters enact their newly assigned selves so forwardly. Everyone’s in their natural state: Pam’s well-intentioned but too foolhardy to be really useful, Lana’s imperious and rightfully so because she’s the only one who knows what’s going on, Cheryl continues to stumble into situations in which she’s worshipped by the men in her immediately proximity, while Archer has the time of his life in a life-and-death situation.
Though it’s Cyril who really comes into his own with this episode, as his streak of aggression explodes into full-bore mania. In the series proper, Cyril was shown to have a short fuse underneath his milquetoast exterior, but something about Nazism or all the meth-cocaine cocktail he keeps insufflating has unleashed his dormant id. Railing one particularly long line leaves him with a powder mustache redolent of Hitler’s signature look, and with slightly disheveled hair, he becomes a ready stand-in for the Führer. Cyril’s graduation to the “mega” echelon of villainy culminates in his discovery of the exoskeleton, an incongruous bit of genre accoutrement clashing with the Indiana Jones vibe. A bit distracting, perhaps, but as with the cybernetic dogs that came from nowhere in the eleventh hour of Dreamland, nobody’s going to complain about out-of-place robotics when the action they engender is sufficiently awesome.
As shown by the final shots of a not-quite-dead Cyril, this particular fight is far from over, but the real test lies beyond the gunfire. There’s only one episode remaining in the season, and while the in-universe endgame seems clear enough — spoiler alert: World War II — how the writers will steer the show out of this latest fantasy is less so. Reed has stated his intentions to end Archer after its tenth season, and while some viewers hope this means he’s cuing up a return to reality, the end of Danger Island may not provide that return to the status quo. The show’s got to reset its premise once more, that much seems preordained, but whether that heralds surfacing to “reality” or sinking deeper into hallucination is anyone’s guess. That’s a problem for next week, though. First, there’s a cocaine-crazed Nazi on the loose with a lethal robot.
Assorted Notes and Questions
• Malory’s description of the process by which the natives make their crude alcoholic beverage is rather vivid, no phrase quite so evocative as “it’s a bit like a phlegm sangria.” God, imagine the sediment, or the layer that’d form at the top.
• Another week, another stealth Frisky Dingo callback: When Meth Nazi Cyril gets hit in the face, his knee-jerk reaction is “What the hell, damn guy?” This exact phrase was a constant refrain from a purportedly Chinese laundromat owner named Mao (he was posing as Asian to fraudulently land a minority business loan, but whatever) in Adam Reed’s previous production.
• Archer drops a reference to Another Fine Mess, a 1930 short featuring comedy duo Laurel and Hardy in which the funnymen pose as the owners of a ritzy mansion while its owner is away on a hunting safari. Archer’s dubious that anyone within earshot will get his reference, perhaps a fleeting cry for help from Reed as he jam-packs each script with his beloved left-field allusions.