H. Jon Benjamin as Sterling Archer.
Throughout its seven seasons, Archer has gone to great lengths to ensure it never bumps up against the real world. The show takes place in a time outside of time, an odd mix of the present day and the heyday of ‘60s and ‘70s espionage films. (Fondly recall the outdated technology in the old office.) Each international mission has been carefully stripped of any modern political significance, sending the agents to bust up fictitious dictatorships in fictitious nations. Creator Adam Reed is so intent on avoiding any connection to reality that when the acronym ISIS took on an unfortunate new meaning, he ditched it altogether and went with something a little more innocuous. Whether that’s because Reed doesn’t want to ruffle the wrong feathers, or simply because a divorce from real-world context ages better in the long run, Archer makes every effort to distance itself from the news of the day.
So it comes as a surprise when “Liquid Lunch” aggressively catalogues the long list of injustices perpetrated by the CIA on innocent Americans over the years. There’s more hot-button venom spewed in the chat between Archer, Lana, and Slater than the show has ever allowed, as Sterling runs through the laundry list of crimes against humanity that the CIA carried out with near-full impunity. He touches on the greatest hits, name-dropping the Bay of Pigs, perhaps the CIA’s most embarrassing failure, but the lesser-known mentions also stun after a little research on Google. Archer mentions the MKUltra experiments, once thought to be the stuff of urban legend, but since confirmed as horrifyingly true. (The recent, poor American Ultra riffed on the concept.) He tosses off an allusion to Allen and John Foster Dulles, the brothers who respectively ran the CIA and the State Department under Eisenhower. As Lana furiously explains, they approved experiments wherein G.I.s were force-fed tabs of acid every day for six months until they completely lost their minds, at which point they were then dumped like hot, hallucinatory potatoes. Even though he mixes it up with On the Town, Archer’s allusion to The Manchurian Candidate could not be more relevant in this episode.
As in last week’s “Double Indecency,” the mission itself occupies precious little of the actual episode, with more energy expended on the top-form banter that Reed and Co. do so well. The rat-a-tat dialogue between Sterling and Lana doesn’t just take the CIA to task for a rich history of black-ops malfeasance. It doesn’t just generate massive laughs, either. (Archer’s absolute certainty that he’ll be immune to the effects of waterboarding simply because he’s a dude is the funniest moment of the episode, and the cut across the commercial break maximizes its comedic effect.) Slater inadvertently exacerbates the widening rift between Archer and Lana by forcing Archer’s hand, as he confesses that he has sincere feelings for Veronica Deane — a woman he has kissed once, and with whom he’s had zero additional contact. It’s a boyish crush that Archer inexplicably treats like the seedling of a real romance, and Lana’s astute enough to recognize this. She’s a grown-ass woman, however, and won’t put up with Archer’s adolescent nonsense, so she puts him in a timeout by initiating a “break.” The ambiguity of this term, once a sticking point on Friends and other sitcoms of yesteryear, will undoubtedly cause more drama. Hopefully, humor will match it in equal measure.
“Liquid Lunch” also holds its own back at the ranch, assigning the office jockeys a B-plot funny enough to match the main action. Master hypnotist Krieger challenges Pam, Cyril, Cheryl, and Malory to withstand his powers of persuasion, which, of course, turn out to be a psychotropic drug sprayed directly into the face. The jokes all but write themselves, with Krieger forcing his new minions to engage in stripping and animal role play, but the notion that Malory’s bodily composition — which I’d estimate as 40 percent hard alcohol, 30 percent water, 30 percent calcified rage — makes her impervious to the chemical compound is hilarious in and of itself. Plus, stabbing Krieger in the shoulder with her high-heeled stiletto is a power move unrivaled by any of Malory’s previous feats of strength.
Mind control is the episode’s topic du jour, setting up a nice parallel with Archer’s foolhardy Veronica infatuation. His maniacal obsession with the film-noir starlet (who stars in Deadly Velvet, which also happens to be the title of next week’s two-part episode, foreshadowing another appearance from the character) has put him out of his right mind. It even threatens to destroy the most meaningful non-maternal relationship he’s ever had — though, as Lana notes, Archer developing the hots for an older woman does have some unsavory Freudian implications. Good thing the Archer bloodline is made of stern stuff. If Malory can brush off a hit of mind-control chemicals like it’s secondhand smoke, there might still be a chance for Archer to come to his senses before it’s too late.
Assorted Thoughts and Questions:
- I like the Los Angeles-specific details that Reed has sprinkled into his scripts. Which is my way of saying that I could really go for a breakfast burrito right now.
- If Archer truly believes that magnets are amazing, then boy howdy do I have a song for him.
- It’d be just peachy if the stinger at episode’s end, in which Krieger checks up on the robo-clones he’s constructed of everybody at the office, leads to something larger over the course of this season. Imagine it: Pam beating the hell out of robo-Pam. Cheryl and robo-Cheryl choking each other and loving every second of it. It’d be magnificent.
- Krieger’s one-man show, a dazzlingly inappropriate remake of Richard Pryor’s autobiographical film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, sounds like a beautiful disaster. (“Is that blackface?” Pam asks. He responds with a chipper “Yep!”) The likelihood of Krieger going Method and actually setting himself on fire while freebasing coke is high. You wouldn’t have to hypnotize me into seeing it.