There’s no hiding from Barry. Kill him, and he returns with bionic limbs. Destroy his bionic limbs, and he comes back as a full-blown robot. Sink into a coma, and he’ll appear to you as a serum-dosing hit man nicknamed Dutch. Recede from that coma into a different coma, and still, Archer cannot escape.
The fifth — sixth? seventh? — coming of Barry is Ziegler, a preening German fighter pilot and the bane of Archer’s existence. Having bested him in aerial dogfights on five occasions, all of which are recounted with respectable visual panache in “A Warrior in Costume,” Ziegler’s unlikely arrival on the island drives Archer to Tony Soprano–esque panic attacks. Moreover, a throwaway exchange with Nazi Cyril about intentions to “bomb the wild cannibals” means that Ziegler’s appearance has also added a new wrinkle to the gradually percolating scheme with Lana’s tribe. This is Archer functioning properly, developing character dynamics and advancing a long-game plot, all while introducing a self-contained element that drives Archer to the point of madness. While this week’s half-hour lacks the structural elegance of, say, “The Limited” or “Lo Scandalo,” the show’s starting to act like its old self again.
Archer was there during the Bombing of Guernica, the most well-known atrocity of the Spanish Civil War, attempting to curb the firestorm unleashed by the Luftwaffe. (As Crackers the parrot gleefully chimes, “Is Spain not the best? C’mon! Tapas?” For sure, but less so during wartime.) He’s got some lingering trauma about the whole experience, a psychological stressor that weighs on him during this episode and begins to strain his buddy-buddy relationship with Pam. Archer comes off as a real jerk in this episode, relative even to his default jerk state, twice taking his partner for granted. The episode begins with the first of these injuries, as Pam reveals her bamboo-and-canvas repairs to their damaged plane only for Archer to verbally expectorate all over her hard work. Being a hardscrabble type, Pam doesn’t shed more than a few tears over the matter. But the offense cues up a more deep-seated rift in their friendship by the episode’s close, which lands them both in shark-infested waters after Archer thoughtlessly claims credit for her skillful tail-gunning.
That’s just one of a handful of turns in this episode that upend the balance of power between characters and put novel twists on the figures we’ve come to know over the past eight years. Though Cyril has exuded an imposing presence in this season, his status as a nonstop fuck machine is due at least in part to the amphetamines he’s been furtively shooting between his toes. (He’s also quite insecure when it comes to wordplay; when Lana teases, “Other languages have puns, too,” he screams in response, “BUT NOT AS POWERFUL AS GERMAN PUNS!”)
Cheryl’s been navigating the stormy waters of escort work rather expertly as well. Not only was she clever enough to get all of Ziegler’s soldiers so drunk that they mistook a bottle of coconut butter for a living woman’s reproductive anatomy, she then parleys their adoration for her into dominance over Malory. Realizing that authority is a highly arbitrary quantity on this isolated island, she refashions herself as the sexual queen of the Germans, and takes her fate into her own hands. It’s a new look for Cheryl, who has historically depended on the kindness of others when not falling back on her vast personal fortune. And more to the point, this shift provides the writers with a tidy way out of her prostitution plotline, which often toes the line of making light of sex work.
But it’s the bad blood between Archer and Ziegler flowing strong and true through the middle of this episode that runs deepest. Archer becomes his worst self when he’s angry, and though Pam talks him into taking the honorable route instead of sucker-shooting Ziegler as he slumbers, he doesn’t come off as particularly heroic. His rage at Ziegler and the constant humiliations his face recalls makes Archer weak, unreasonable, and inconsiderate. (It speaks volumes about Archer that the episode regards the latter quality as the most undesirable; there’s a big difference between being a magnificent bastard and treating those close to you poorly.) Archer emerges victorious, but in the process, loses Pam’s respect, a far more valuable quantity than vengeance.
Archer’s willful narrative forgetfulness means that next week might begin with the pair on good terms once again and safe from hungry Great Whites, and that’s a creative prerogative the show may reserve both as a sitcom and a cartoon. Either way, those crafty Germans are up to something, and it’s only a matter of time until Lana gets screwed in a non-idiomatic capacity. Archer has given us something to look forward to — all is well.
• The writers have really been nailing the antiquated turns of phrase, busting out “tighter than Dick’s hatband” this week. All efforts at research indicate that nobody really knows where this came from for certain, though the phrase possibly has roots in the business of detective work.
• The kringle, the only state pastry in America, is really just an untwisted pretzel filled with fruit, nuts, or meats. Wisconsin’s state dairy product is, drum roll, cheese. Of course.
• Cheryl claims to have matriculated from Finch, though it’s hardly the finishing school she passes it off as. Founded in 1900, Finch College was conceived as an alternative to educational programs concerned primarily with preparing women for motherhood and household duties. Jessica Finch placed an emphasis on liberal-arts education and practical skills (it was here that Isabella Rossellini learned the craft of acting) until its shuttering in 1976.
• Archer knows full well that details are what make for a good lie, and so he tells the other Germans that Ziegler has gone to Shanghai to open a cabaret: “The unfortunately named Scandals.” The friction between modern knowledge and a setting in the past has been a reliable source of humor in this season, and I’m always a sucker for a good Sandals joke.
• Adam Reed has always had a good sense of himself in his writing, willing to poke fun at his dependence upon ret-conning (lest we forget the ACME-style Ret-Con Industries of Frisky Dingo, quick fixers of plot holes aplenty) and implausibility for the sake of drama. When Ziegler just so happens to arrive on the same tiny, remote island as his sworn nemesis, Crackers the Parrot rolls his bird eyes and groans, “Yeah, literally incredible.”