Archer: Season 13 REVIEW – Finger Off the Trigger

Archer finds itself missing something - or multiple somethings.

Archer: Season 13
Archer: Season 13

Jessica Walter’s absence has left a gaping hole in the Archer-verse, a hole that it’s clearly struggling to fill. Malory’s departure has not only seen the loss of so many of Archer’s most cuttingly acerbic gags (“If I cared what you did on the weekend I’d stick a shotgun in my mouth and pull the trigger with my toes”), but it’s also robbed the show of one of its major comedic lynchpins. Without Malory, there is no confused Sterling fighting through his psycho-sexual attachment issues, no belittled Ray sparring with the intolerances of his superior, and no more of Cheryl’s endlessly entertaining windups at the expense of the spy world’s most short-tempered CEO.

Malory’s eventual sendoff was sweet and sincere, a low-key coda that had H. John Benjamin fighting back the tears as he bid farewell to Walter, and it’s perfectly understandable that there has been no attempt to replace such a beloved character with a like-for-like substitute. Still, it’s been a strange quirk of this season that many of the core cast seem oddly absent for long periods of time, dropping out for inexplicably arbitrary reasons only to bounce back into the fray if and when the plot deems it necessary. The cast of Archer may be substantial, but you still feel a gaping absence when Ray, or more inexplicably Cheryl, is absent for strangely long periods. A lack of great one-time characters and cameos only exacerbates the problem.

This leaves gaps needing to be filled, which quite often they aren’t. New boss Fabian Kingsworth has established himself as a regular, but there’s a gnawing sense that the writers aren’t quite clear what they’re supposed to be doing with the slippery Brit now helming ISIS and its parent conglomerate, the IIA. Kayvan Novak again showcases his absurdly brilliant knack for slipping into practically any voice he chooses, even if long-term fans of the chameleonic Brit might occasionally detect a few old Fonejacker voices creeping into Kingsworth’s snot-nosed rhotacism.

The greatest successes of Season 12 were built upon the exploration, or indeed exploitation, of ISIS’s endearingly dysfunctional character dynamics – but it’s this strength that has been in danger of falling by the wayside during the thirteenth run. Dynamics that had once proved so comedically rich, be they Archer’s jealousy of Robert and Lana or Pam and Cheryl’s endearingly dysfunctional bond, seem to have been discarded, most plots either focusing on a shady operation orchestrated by Fabian or, more loosely, Archer’s increasing alcoholism triggered by his mother’s departure.

Maybe that’s a hindrance that has led to the writers having no clear vision of where they see Archer going in the future. It may seem odd to bemoan the removal of many of the cast’s established core dynamics while also criticising this season for not affording its belittled agents much active character development, but it feels as though we’re being given the worst of both worlds. When old dynamics do resurface, they usually exhibit their character’s worst tendencies in a way that feels less comically gratifying and more unnecessarily cruel.

Archer, for instance, is supposedly dealing with the departure of his mother by drinking himself into oblivion and caring even less about his job than he did during Season 1, but that seems only to have provided the world’s greatest spy with an excuse to be an irredeemable dick. The reprehensible way that Archer, not to mention Lana, treats Cyril makes it hard to find any real comedic justification for either character’s cruelty.

Cyril, in turn, appears to have lost any of the development and growth he enjoyed when his great rival was confined to a coma, acting as the whipping boy for everyone from his belittling workmates to Archer and Lana’s own preteen daughter. Lana’s lambasting of her bookish colleague as “the most irritating human being alive” during episode 6 is not only out of character for one of ISIS’ more empathetic and emotionally mature members, it feels misdirected when you consider just how appallingly Archer has behaved throughout most of Season 13.

Lana’s fall from grace has been particularly undignified, spending more time fretting about the custody of her daughter AJ than she does actually exhibiting a three-dimensional personality or operating as the team’s most effective field agent. It’s been sad to see such a great character reduced to defeatist soundbites like “I just want keep my head down and do my job”. Lana’s sole motivation this season is to pay for her daughter’s custody battle, the vast proportion of which takes place off-screen. Aisha Tyler used to act as one of Archer’s certified trump cards. Increasingly, however, she’s become rather lost in the deck.

Still, the various adventures on show during Season 13 are enjoyable, even if there’s nothing particularly remarkable that stands out above what could be termed “standard” Archer outings. Season 12 wasn’t universally popular, but standout episodes like the poignant and revealing ‘Dingo, Baby, Et Cetera’ or the anarchic fun of ‘Shots’ punctuated a solid season with moments of vivid inspiration. Season 13 feels a little like a relief map of Holland: flat and featureless, not suffering many troughs but also failing to scale any particularly notable peaks.

That may, in fact, be this season’s biggest failing, in that it comes across as entirely inconsequential and almost completely inessential. There’s still fun to be had whenever a mission goes awry, Pam finds a new romantic outlet or Krieger exhibits his continued desire to do more “weird science”, but it’s hard not to wonder how much a loss to the Archer canon it would really be if Season 13 simply ceased to exist. When assessing this latest run, I came away wondering if I had simply forgotten all of the salient information and action or if there wasn’t anything of note or interest to really stick in my cranium.

Either way, it feels like a letdown. For better or worse, I’ve rarely come away from a season of Archer without a clear impression of what the show was trying to achieve. From the glory days of the early seasons to the frustrating missteps of Danger Island or Dreamland, FXX’s animated spy caper usually left a lasting impression whenever any given season reached its climactic conclusion. This year’s run, however, has felt just a little too meandering, a functional exercise that hasn’t disgraced itself but hardly set the world on fire either. Season 13 is still pretty good, but for a show with Archer’s reputation, pretty good isn’t quite good enough.

READ MORE: Archer: Season 12 REVIEW – Still Time to Spy

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Archer: Season 13
Adam Reed’s spy caper remains an enjoyably acerbic diversion, but the show’s thirteenth season feels compromised by inconsequential plotlines and too many underutilised characters.