Archer has long kept Krieger planted firmly in the periphery, even while affording him a richness of character detail. He started off as the office weirdo, a mad-scientist type who was more amorally inquisitive than evil. As the years passed him by, Krieger amassed more quirks: his bitchin’ van and its rotation of rawk-n-roll airbrush murals, his scantily clad hologram anime wife, Mitsuko, the genetically modified pig abominations, the faint possibility that he may be a clone of Hitler. Even when relegated to a decidedly minor role, Krieger still got to span a pretty wide swath of emotion. He has a difficult and complex relationship with Mitsuko, and he’s wracked with grief every time one of his beloved creations inevitably explodes and/or melts and/or disintegrates and/or commits suicide. But he’s always been a supporting character, at most allowed partial entry into the A-plot but never truly commanding it.
Just as Pam grew fuller and deeper (are we still doing phrasing?) in the later seasons, Krieger gets a chance to truly shine in “Ladyfingers,” single-handedly elevating his B-plot above Archer’s dunderheaded quest for a severed finger by virtue of visual and dramatic verve. In his Dreamland incarnation, Krieger’s still a scientific deviant with minimal regard for his subjects’ lives, and what’s more, he ultimately exists to cue up a steampunk rework of the “Bionic Barry” plot of the regular story line. Lucky Yates and the Archer animators take what could have been a purely functional plot and render it like a body-horror movie tinged with the terrible weight of history. It’s a far more formally ornate story line than is de rigeur for Archer, and personally significant for Krieger as well.
Barry wasn’t in great shape when we saw him last, short a couple legs and not acclimating well to his new life as a dually stubbed man. Len Trexler sends him to Krieger to get all fixed up, which Barry has no way of realizing entails a fate far more exacting than life in a wheelchair. Adam Reed makes use of a simplistic but chilling design for Krieger’s lab, color-grading toward a sickly green to give it that anything-goes-Saw-prequel look and using the bright examination floodlights to swath most of the room in shadow. It’s the ideal setting for Krieger’s gruesome experimentation, brought to horrifying life in the brief shot of Barry’s bloodied amputation wound and the jagged bone sticking out. Krieger’s certainly done more shocking things in the past — remember the Bum Shock Fights from “Bloody Ferlin” — but Archer has never deigned to give us such a frank look at his actions.
The real meat of Krieger’s story rests in the handsomely drawn flashbacks to the fall of the Third Reich, both a dark origin story and a blithely cynical anti-romance. (The master shot of Krieger’s facilities harks to the grandeur of Leni Riefenstahl.) “Ladyfingers” generously clarifies the specific nature of Krieger’s links to the Nazi party. We’re shown that his efforts to calibrate the perfect synthesis of flesh and machinery have yet to meet with success, yielding only an anus-licking cyborg kitten and, more awesomely, a pack of robo-dobermans. But when he’s outed as an incognito Jew and reveals his scheme to stall the Axis powers from within, Krieger exudes a faint whiff of heroism. Which, in true Archer fashion, he then dashes by summarily murdering the assistant who renounces her love for him when she finds out he’s not part of the master race. It’s a pitch-black punch line for their spoiled love, and Krieger’s resigned sigh after he shoots her accounts for his world-weary present.
Setting up an elaborate plot and then scrapping it for no reason has proven to be one of Archer’s most reliable formats, and the episode doubles up by pulling a similar fast one on Archer himself. “Ladyfingers” sends him off on a fool’s errand comparable to that of “Berenice,” but twice as purposeful and twice as amusing. The Van Der Tunt family and its scion Cecil (a returning Eugene Mirman) won’t be convinced that Charlotte has actually been taken unless they’ve got a finger for proof. Aside from cuing up Malory for a shudder-inducing one-liner — “To make this happen, we’re going to need a finger” — this wheel-spinning subplot pairs Poovey and Archer, a chemistry that has never failed the show. Unlike Archer and Van Der Tunt’s permanent state of exasperation with one another, Pam’s upbeat attitude clashes agreeably with Archer’s constant aggravation over how fundamentally messed up it is to be a courier for a severed digit. (“Let’s go to the morgue!” “That’s the spirit.”) Cecil’s refusal to even look at the finger upon its delivery plops an infuriating cherry right on top of Archer’s disturbing, exhausting day.
But Krieger’s the scene stealer, and he makes off like a bandit in this half hour. Yates sells a performance of knotty morality and deranged valor, communicating Krieger’s faith in his own mission while keeping his unhinged-doctor elements close to the surface. There’s a sad irony to his present position as Trexler’s hired thug, too: He defied and successfully escaped the Nazis, only to make a lateral move to another heartless sadist. You know if the cops ask, he’ll go right to the old standby of just following orders.
• Aside from annoyingly making me want to pause the show to go get a hot dog, the running hot-dog gag is perfect. There’s something so déclassé about the hot dog as a food that makes eating it at an inappropriate time twice the faux pas. (For the record, National Hot Dog Day is July 19.)
• Unsettled by the creepy vibe of the Ven Der Tunt family castle, Archer tosses off, “I bet that thing’s as haunted as Mrs. Muir’s twat.” He’s referring to the 1947 Gene Tierney–Rex Harrison romance The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, in which a young widow moves to a long-abandoned estate and falls in love with the ghost of its former owner. As movies about people having sex with ghosts go, it is decidedly better than Charlie St. Cloud and slightly less-good than MacGruber.
• Poovey has a rare gift for coming up with hair-curlingly graphic sexual euphemisms that nonetheless adhere to the dictates of standards and practices. The latest masterpiece? Referring to Figgis’s wife getting “flap-hammered” by Archer, then helpfully explaining that the term refers to her getting hammered in the flaps.