Some Remarks on Cannibalism
The natives are restless; it was inevitable that racial tensions would come to the fore on Danger Island at some point or another. Though Archer is still Sterling Archer’s show in terms of screen time, in this season, he’s more of an accessory to the primary conflict between Lana’s indigenous islanders and the German encroachers represented by Nazi Cyril. Discontent has been mounting even as the two of them rumple sheets, with both halves of the “magical idol in exchange for purging the French colonists” deal planning to undermine the other. “Some Remarks on Cannibalism” introduces us to two factions of locals offering opposing visions of tribal life from a Westerner’s perspective, in a canny illustration that no ethnicity is a monolith. Creator Adam Reed skewers anachronisms, he doesn’t adhere to them — while situated in the particulars of a racist era, the story has been crafted with a modern consciousness.
Royal intrigue is the order of the day at Lana’s home, where her heretofore unseen parents reframe their tribe as more of a political party than anything else. Their only allegiance is to themselves, a chilly isolationism understandable considering the constant attempts at colonization from outside forces. This doctrine is not at all unusual for indigenous populations sitting on highly coveted natural resources, but the family’s behavior in an early scene more closely recalls European monarchy. Lana’s parents are snooty in the extreme, casually belittling her for her performance in school and her professional failure. (The only reason her art gallery didn’t take off was the Great Depression!) With Machiavellian shrewdness, they correctly surmise that the Germans are simply waiting for the right time to bilk Lana out of her precious, allegedly magical idol without any payment. A classic subjugation from imperialist forces, and Lana didn’t see it coming.
The race to the idol knits in a separate pursuit from Archer and Pam, who have a run-in with the other (or perhaps othered) side of the coin. They’re abducted by ceremonially attired, war-painted cannibals lacking the royal family’s mastery of English and refined manners. As anthropology Ph.D. candidate Noah (David Cross, reprising a bit part from season three’s “Heart of Archness” plus one stump arm revealed via an inspired sight gag) explains, “the Mua Mua are assholes,” taking white outsiders captive and roasting them alive. But again, they’re not portrayed as primitives or savages, simply a necessarily defensive people with one rather exotic delicacy. This enclave of natives receives less character development than Lana and her family, and that broad brush allows for an approach reconciling the white creators’ distance from the material with a desire to do right by the people onscreen.
While Pam wrestles with her own perverse curiosity about just what she would taste like, Archer’s dealing with the emotional fallout from his confession of intimacy to Pam and her hasty backpedal. A conveniently placed obsidian shard enables him to cut the both of them free, and the gentle poke of his erection on Pam’s lower back as he unties her betrays his feelings, as erections always do. Let the record state that nothing would be more pleasing than a relationship between Archer and Pam, their purely carnal dalliance from season three remaining a series highlight. All the same, it looks like their mutual safeguarding will prevent either one from acting on the clear connection they have. They’d rather play it safe, continually hiding behind sarcasm instead of making themselves vulnerable.
The confounding factor in this rat race is the convoy carrying Malory, Cheryl, Ray, and their giant manservant. A living embodiment of the European (“code for white,” as Cheryl helpfully adds) aristocracy that the natives have been taught to hate, they throw an ethnocentric wrench into the machine by causing calamity everywhere they go. When the idol surfaces — and there are only two more episodes left to melt someone’s face off — you can be sure that they’ll be there to break it or drop it into a volcano or otherwise cause havoc.
I’d be remiss if I ended this week’s coverage without an acknowledgement of the heartbreaking moment in which a baby monkey cries to the heavens after watching the Germans slaughter its mother for sport. This jungle-set Bambi riff comes out of absolutely nowhere, the tonal whiplash all part of the gag, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mangling of the heart. Maybe I’ve got a weakness for sad stuff about animals, but for a throwaway joke that lasts all of 20 seconds, it kind of devastated me. I know full well that the whole bit revolves around these characters arriving with no context whatsoever and then getting treated like the major players of some great tragedy; its weird insubstantiality is the whole joke. And still I was fully moved by the monkey business. Never underestimate the pathos of a wounded animal. I am made of such weak stuff.
• Frisky Dingo reference alert: once Archer has protected his genitals within the safe container of a hollowed-out coconut, Pam ribs him, “Okay, Master Coconut,” to which he snaps back, “No one gets that!” I get that. On Adam Reed’s previous show, assorted characters often had to stuff their reproductive organs into a tallboy beer can while shouting “MASTER CYLINDER!” The people have not forgotten, Adam Reed.
• In what may the most deep-cut allusions of the season, Malory’s epithet of “Lady Baltimore” likens Cheryl to the early 18th-century English noblewoman Charlotte Lee, most notable for siring 10 or perhaps 11 children.
• Returning to the literary well once again, Archer gets on a kick of casting his sidekick Pam as a “Lennie,” safely presumable as a nod to the mostly gentle giant of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. It seems like a cruel line until Reed unveils that first master shot of Pam’s complete body, and the audience realizes that she really is a hulking mass of humanity. She could crush my skull between her forearm and bicep like a nutcracker.
• A cutting, distinctly upper-class own from Lana’s mother: “You thought the Dutch Masters were a type of cigar.” (“I told you that in confidence!”)