It seems odd that in the many years since it debuted back in 2009 that animated spy saga Archer never quite found the mainstream audience it so richly deserved. Admittedly, no show manages to make it twelve going on thirteen seasons without finding some sort of stable fan base or critical admiration, but Adam Reed’s cartoon creation has never quite commanded the mainstream approbation in the same way that other shows like Bob’s Burgers (also starring H. Jon Benjamin) have managed to attain.
Not only is this a crying shame, but it’s also somewhat inexplicable considering that beneath the bravado and the lazy reductive assessments that Archer is merely just another Bond parody, there lies a show as layered, nuanced and carefully crafted as anything around today. At its peak, Archer scaled some of the highest animated heights, as these twenty best Archer episodes unquestionably demonstrate.
The Best Archer Episodes
20. The Papal Chase – Season 4, Episode 11
“Pam…get off the Pope.”
Plots to assassinate the Pope are always good for a laugh (unless you happen to actually be His Holiness). That’s exactly what’s afoot in the eleventh episode of Archer’s excellent fourth season as the ISIS gang use Woodhouse as a decoy Pontiff to foil a plot to oust the head of the Catholic Church. The Papal Chase spends most of its time with its tongue in its cheek, but that’s all part of the cassock-clad fun.
The spy genre can’t keep its hands off Rome. That might be thanks in part to Dan Brown planting the seed in the world’s collective psyche that The Vatican is the seat of some strange, Illuminati-esque conspiracy, but there are always sequences set in either Italy’s capital or the micro-state contained within, from John Wick to James Bond. The eternal fascination with the seat of the world’s largest religious denomination doesn’t seem to have diminished much.
In fact, it’s hard to know if The Papal Chase is a riff on the Pope trope or whether it’s just an excuse to have some good times at the expense of organised religion and ISIS’s reputation for incompetence. Either way, between Pam dressed as a nun and Archer’s peerless ability to offend any culture, order or esteemed figure he comes into contact with, there are few episodes that are half as much fun.
19. Diversity Hire – Season 1, Episode 3
“What, you’re black…ish” “ISH?” “Well, what’s the word for it, Lana? You freaked out when I said Quadroon!”
The exciting world of international espionage lives uneasily with the more mundane office politics and sober bureaucracy required to keep a spy agency operational, a strange relationship that Archer has often exploited for comic effect. Considerations such as the need for appropriate agent diversity, for instance, are perhaps not the sort of thing you think of when you sit down to watch an episode of 24 or Homeland.
The best part of Diversity Hire is its introduction of Conway Stern, Malory’s favourite “diversity double whammy” who is initially recruited to keep ISIS’ quotas up thanks to Archer’s recklessness rendering most of the agency’s racially diverse operatives dead. Diversity Hire doesn’t end up being the only appearance of Conway Stern, whose propensity for having his hand ripped off every time he appears became one of the show’s best infrequent running gags.
It’s fair to say that the ISIS team doesn’t do well with change, something utterly exemplified by the third episode of the very first season. Aside from Cheryl (or Cristal for the purposes of appearing more attractive to Conway), the introduction of a new figure always seems to cause even more disruption and dysfunction for a group not exactly short on competing egos and fractious dynamics. Most hard hit is, of course, Archer as he finds himself intimidated by Conway’s designs on becoming the new number one object of desire within the walls of ISIS.
18. Pipeline Fever – Season 2, Episode 4
“It’s those new low flow toilets. With the old ones you could flush a dachshund puppy. I mean, not that you would.”
While The Man From Jupiter would be the episode that actually introduced Burt Reynolds as himself, Pipeline Fever is the outing that gives our hero the chance to live out his Burt-inspired fantasies. Archer (channelling his inner Gator McKlusky) and Lana are sent to the bayou in order to stop a group of eco-terrorists from blowing up an oil pipeline, an adventure that leads to bickering, chaos and airboats galore.
Let’s be honest, despite Malory’s assertions that the entire narrative of Archer is “kind of a love story” between herself and her son, the show’s primary dynamic has always been that which exists between Archer and Lana, two stubborn, mismatched but ultimately codependent adults who, throughout the stresses and strains of espionage, failed marriages, children and disapproving families, were always destined to be together.
Not that you’d ever know it from the pair’s behaviour in Pipeline Fever. People in love often tend to bicker the most, but the petulance and squabbling are dialled up to near their maximum when the duo are stranded in an alligator-infested swamp without clean water and with Lana suffering from severe hand burns thanks to a cooler stuffed full of beers and dry ice.
Such is love.
17. The Kanes – Season 6, Episode 8
“Ha?! Anthony?” “After Susan B.” “Oh right! Our ugliest president!”
About as classic sitcom-y as Archer ever got, The Kanes uses the established “meet the parents” trope, replete with naked hot-tubbing and jokes about wanting to bed the mother-in-law, to further explore the dynamic of its central duo. When Mr. Kane’s groundbreaking scientific research on algae is stolen, however, Archer and Lana are both afforded the chance to prove themselves to Lana’s somewhat overbearing parents.
There’s still enough of what makes Archer, well, Archer for it to warrant a place on a list of the show’s top episodes. The theft of Mr. Kane’s research, for instance, gives a great excuse for some high-speed vehicular pursuit, especially at a time when Bryan Fordney’s animation was becoming smoother and more cinematic with each passing season. The revelation (spoiler alert) that the snaked-eyed Slater and the CIA were responsible for trying to obtain the research because it’s a threat to America’s interests having oil suddenly rendered worthless by a clean, renewable fuel source.
As is often the case with Archer, there’s usually something much cleverer, and more cynical, operating in the background, especially when the unscrupulous CIA get involved.
16. Pocket Listing – Season 6, Episode 9
“Can someone explain to me why the CIA are spying on American allies?” “Well Ray, there were these things called dinosaurs, and when they died they turned into oil, somehow, and that’s what your car uses for food.”
Any episode with Christian Slater showing up is usually earmarked for success, and Pocket Listing is no exception. Instead of the CIA sending the ISIS agents reluctantly off to some far-flung corner of the globe to perform an assassination, smuggle some goods or commit other nefarious acts in the name of American security, Pocket Listing keeps things local as Slater charges the team with spying on the exceedingly rich and exceedingly royal Durhani family by using the Tunt mansion as a cover.
Aside from focusing on the actual mission, inflamed loins and interpersonal tensions mean that Lana and Archer are only interested in making each other jealous, while Cyril plots in the background to see if he can’t get that jealousy to work in his favour. (He can’t). Oh, and Ray faces off against a man-eating Venus flytrap in the Tunt Manor’s jungle-esque conservatory. This being Ray, it doesn’t end very well as far as his bio-symmetry is concerned.
Pocket Listing is Archer doing what it does best: slamming all of its protagonists together under one roof until their petty squabbling and jealous egomania jeopardize their actual mission. It’s also got some of the best animation in the show’s entire run, reserved for a moment when Archer punches Cyril in the face and when Archer and Lana share a passionate kiss following a furious altercation. It’s nice to appreciate framerates and animation sometimes.
15. The Limited – Season 3, Episode 6
“Archer, at any time in the next twelve hours this train could be attacked by radical Nova Scotian separatists.” “Armed with what? Pamphlets about Canada’s responsible gun control laws?”
It’s got some fair old competition, but the sixth episode of Season 3 makes a strong case for its superior quality as ISIS are charged with transporting “alleged” Canadian terrorist Kenny Bilko, voiced by Trailer Park Boys’ Rob Wells, back to Canada, only for things to go awry when separatists try to break Bilko free and a confusing case of mistaken mountie identity muddies the waters.
One of the most common themes running through Archer is the idea that the glamorous life of a spy has been somewhat missold and misrepresented by the media that the show pastiches. Archer may be the world’s greatest spy on paper and there’s no doubt that he enjoys the many trappings of his status and profession, but the intrusion of reality is always there to pour some serious cold water over a somewhat glamorous veneer.
From constant tinnitus as the result of exposure to firearms to the evident alcoholism of unresolved childhood trauma, nothing in Archer is ever as glamorous as it seems. When our protagonist declares that one of his lifetime ambitions has always been to fight on top of a speeding train, it’s a perfect opportunity for the writers to prove why doing so is perhaps not the exhilarating thrill ride we’ve been led to believe. Bugs in the mouth, near-blindness from light exposure in night-vision goggles, pesky tunnels all for what is a pointless endeavour, The Limited skewers it all so expertly.
As Archer points out: “Why do people do this?” You’re still, like, on the train.”
14. White Nights – Season 2, Episode 12
“Use your imaginations. Make a soccer ball out of a dead cat.”
There was a time when Archer used its deliberately anachronistic and ambiguous setting to play around with established real-world and fictional spy tropes as, when and how it chose. As time wore on, Adam Reed’s spy hit focused more on what were seemingly more contemporary events and references, but the earlier seasons tended to draw heavily from the post-Cold War themes, events and aesthetics of the 1970s and 80s.
Part of this indulgence in all things East vs. West was the idea of the KGB contending with the FBI and American interests, a theme that came to a more personal head for Archer when it was revealed that his own father might have been none other than Nikolai Jakov, head of the Russian secret police.
To find out, Archer travels to Russia where he is held prisoner by Jakov, forcing Archer’s blond-haired, pre-cyborg rival Barry to conduct a rescue at Malory’s request. It’s a fantastic episode across the board, but the sequences in which Archer is evading capture from the KGB are some of the funniest ever, the constant misery of post-Soviet society perfectly captured as Russia is parodied as a brown and grey dystopia filled with broken glass, groceries that look like literal trash and brutal state oppression.
It’s also a hugely significant episode in setting off many narrative strands that would become integral to later seasons. The dropping of Barry from a stairwell, for instance, sees the birth of a hate-filled cyborg, while the introduction of Katya goes on to define the direction of the rest of Season 2 and much of Season 3.
13. Double Indecency – Season 7, Episode 7
“Oh please, Carol couldn’t seduce a Spaniard. Me, on the other hand…” “Only if Zissner’s into archaeology.”
Season 7’s relocation to cloudless Los Angeles might have taken Archer further from its classic roots as a New York-based piece of semi-noir Cold War satire, but it did give the writers a chance to spread some wings when relocating to sunnier climes. Double Indecency is the absolute prime example, a setup that works perfectly thanks to the seedy nature of Los Angeles as a whole and the general air of debauchery that seems to go with the territory on the American West Coast.
And it’s pretty much as farcical as you can get when the Figgis Agency is hired separately by a husband and wife who, on the surface, both believe that one is cheating on the other, with the men of the agency fielding the complaints of the sugar daddy husband and the ladies tackling the mirroring predicament of the ditsy blonde wife. Inevitably, both want the agency to seduce the other using one of their dashing or seductive agents, a quandary that leads to some rather cutting backbiting regarding who’ll make the sexiest honeypot. Even without a single shot fired in anger, few Archer episodes are this much pure fun.
This all, of course, leads to a classic farce scenario in which one group of concerned parties are completely unaware of the schemes of the other, dramatic irony that we know is, at some point, only going to blow up in everyone’s faces sooner or later. Thanks to kung fu Bob Ross Krieger, Pam’s waxing predicaments, vole’s blood, insults such as “Scarrah Faucet and Baby Huey”, outrageous outfits, Double Indecency is, much like Pocking Listing, an absolutely riotous carousel of debauchery.
12. The Man From Jupiter – Season 3, Episode 4
“Pretty hard to stay anonymous when you’re the world’s greatest spy.” “Calling yourself that can’t help.”
Pipeline Fever gave us the Gator tribute show, but The Man From Jupiter Finally bagged the big man himself. When Burt Reynolds shows up at the same bar as Archer, excitement soon turns to anguish as the latter realises that the star of Smokey and the Bandit is dating none other than Archer’s dear old mother.
What’s great about The Man From Jupiter is that it could easily have become a bit of an old love-in, or at the very least a more lightweight piece of flippancy designed to act as a diversion from the usual tone and antics that make Archer flourish. What the introduction of the Gator star actually does is allow its protagonist to reassess his entire relationship with his mother thanks to Burt’s wise counsel that “until you can look at your mother and see her…as a real person, you can’t grow up”, advice that actually ends up getting to the heart of Archer’s strange, deep-seated maternal attachment issues.
In fact, it’s nice that the writers showed reverence for Burt not just by having him as the object of sexual fantasy for every man and woman he meets and by demonstrating the physical skills that outmatch the characters of his movies, but by placing him as the perceptive heart of his own episode. Of all the characters who drift in and out of the Archer-sphere, it’s Burt who seems to understand the show’s titular hero best of all.
How many of his contemporaries or coworkers are actually willing to acknowledge that Archer is, after all, “kind of a mess” and in need of serious psychological help?
11. Archer Vice: White Elephant – Season 5, Episode 5
“Well, he died doing what he loved. Getting shot.”
Archer Vice ended up as one of the show’s most controversial diversions with Season 5 dropping the setup of having ISIS (almost) functioning as a bona fide spy agency. Thanks to the fact that (among other things) Malory never actually gained a license for the agency’s operations, the show was reimagined as a Miami Vice-inspired nostalgia trip in which the gang were now outlaws running drugs, making country music and causing chaos in a whole new way.
Archer Vice still remains hugely divisive within the show’s fanbase, some seeing it as a betrayal of what made it great in the first place while others, especially with hindsight, view it as an enjoyable change of pace from the established setup. Whatever your feelings on Vice, it’s hard to ignore just how good the first episode of the season is, an unmitigated disaster in which the FBI raid ISIS headquarters and set a course in motion for the season to come.
The high point of this all comes courtesy of the episode’s opening foray, a dreamlike fantasy sequence that sees Archer, roses in hand, waltzing through the corridors of his beloved agency to the sound of Rossini’s William Tell Overture as light streams in through the windows, smiles adorning the faces of his angelic coworkers as for one brief, shining moment, all is well in the world of private espionage. Then, boom.
10. Mission: Difficult – Season 12, Episode 8
“Take care of yourselves, especially you, my Sterling, because from wherever I am, I’ll be watching over you.”
If it were up to IMDb, Mission: Difficult would be sitting atop this list, and while we haven’t deemed it worthy of the top spot, it isn’t hard to understand why Mission: Difficult has garnered such acclaim. For a start, it’s the Season 12 finale, meaning that the strands and narrative threads are all pulling together for what is ultimately a very satisfying payoff, and payoffs are always more well-received than the setups that facilitate them.
Secondly, Mission: Difficult is an inherently enjoyable outing, especially as it allows all of its major characters time in the sun as the ISIS gang seek to infiltrate IIA and rescue Archer before Fabian can get his hands on the coveted thumb drive. With Cheryl encouraged to sow as much chaos as possible after a subdued season by her standards, not to mention Krieger doing f-ed up science and Malory given one last chance to kick ass and look good doing it, Mission: Difficult does feel like a proper finale – or certainly a swansong.
What will ultimately earn Mission: Difficult its place in the Archer annals is that it features the final appearance of Jessica Walter in her role as Malory Archer, a shining, scathing light in a show filled to the brim with quite exceptional voice acting talent, with Malory’s letter to Archer and the rest of the ISIS crew feeling as though it could have been penned by Walter herself. The thought of the recently departed actress finding as much peace as her animated counterpart is a reassuring one.
9. Skytanic – Season 1, Episode 7
“There’s your bomber. That guy. Beardsley McTurbanhead.” “You idiot. That’s Sandhu Singh, the billionaire investor. He’s a Sikh.” “So if he’s not a Muslim he just gets a pass? Well that’s called profiling, mother, and I don’t do it.”
The earliest seasons of Archer offered up some of the show’s sharpest capers, with the seventh episode of the show’s debut run demonstrating Adam Reed’s capacity to get a new creation off the ground (pun intended) from the outset.
When a bomb threatens the safety of the luxury airship Excelsior, the agents of ISIS are sent to the skies to find the would-be culprit in order to prevent a catastrophe in the clouds. Skytanic is a classic Archer setup in that it places its protagonists in a suitably absurd, Bond-esque situation replete with ludicrous, dated anachronisms and enough self-referential awareness for the whole thing to be ripe for comic exploration.
The best aspect of Skytanic is, of course, the idea of someone attempting to set off a bomb on a rigid airship, mainly because it combines modern concerns about terrorism and the safety of air travel with an utterly outdated mode of transport. Exceptional, too, is Archer’s baffling and unshakeable belief that even the slightest spark or wrong move could send the whole thing aflame in a repeat of the Hindenburg disaster, a joke that only gets better when you consider the fact that he and his colleagues are attempting to defuse a genuine threat in the form of an actual bomb.
8. Sea Tunt Pt 1 & 2 – Season 4, Episodes 12 & 13
“Crushed by an off-brand drink machine. Oh my god, just like that old gypsy woman said!”
Archer creator Adam Reed peppered his beloved spy saga with dozens of references to the shows he had helped birth in the days before he landed on the FX Network. Archer itself operates as a spiritual successor to Frisky Dingo (look at billionaire playboy Xander Crews as evidence of the debt owed to Sterling Archer), while characters from Reed’s old Adult Swim days frequently pop up for the odd cameo to the delight of eagle-eyed thirty-somethings who long for the days of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Harvey Birdman.
Sea Tunt is Reed’s most blatant reference to his old work, a shameless love letter to Sealab 2021, the Hann-Barbera-adapted cartoon that helped given Reed and co-writer Matt Thompson one of their earliest industry breaks. When the ISIS team are forced to delve deep into an underwater sea laboratory (a SEA-LAB) held hostage by its deranged leader Captain Murphy, it is pleasingly the same Murphy who acted as the unhinged de facto leader of the original Sealab 2021.
In the end, Murphy is crushed by an off-brand vending machine in reference to the superb episode of Sealab 2021 titled ‘All That Jazz’ in which the deranged old captain spends days trapped underneath a jazz-themed drinks machine, during which time he forms an unhealthy relationship with a scorpion named Ben and loses most of his teeth to the robot from Disney’s 1979 live-action film The Black Hole. In a fitting tribute, the off-brand machine that kills the Archer-verse’s Captain Murphy dispenses Goz cola, a reference to Murphy’s original voice actor Harry Goz, who passed away in 2003.
7. Swiss Miss – Season 2, Episode 1
“…I am from Germany, where the age of consent is fourteen” “What is it, the Alabama of Europe?”
If there were any fears that the second season of Archer would see something of a dip in quality for the new kid on the adult animation block, Swiss Miss allayed those fears with confident ease.
In a desperate bid to gain funding for the agency, Malory packs off her agents to the luxury ski resort of Gstaad under the pretence of protecting German billionaire Conrad Schlotz’s underage daughter from kidnap – while the girl spends the entire time attempting to seduce the world’s greatest secret agent, despite his earnest protestations.
As usual with Archer, there’s lots going on in the background that elevates Swiss Miss from an enjoyable snow-capped escapade to a genuinely magnificent piece of textured television. For one thing, Malory’s attempts at gaining ISIS funding from a German billionaire is indicative of the agency’s constant and unglamorous need for money, a theme that ran through the heart of the show as it continued to evolve. Elsewhere, Archer’s desperation to evade Anke’s constant sexual advances is a lovely flipping of an established formula and does a good job of indicating exactly where Archer is willing to draw his moral line in the sand, a thankless task considering nobody believes that he is (for once) the victim, rather than the perpetrator.
6. El Seceustro – Season 2, Episode 10
“They’re not going to shoot you, Pam, their programming won’t allow it!”
When thugs kidnap Pam under the mistaken belief that she is in fact Cheryl, it is revealed that the latter is in fact part of the unfortunately named Tunt dynasty, a venerable old family of industrialists and slave owners who rival the Rockefellers in the dynastic old money power stakes. With Pam now held hostage, most of the other ISIS agents seem more preoccupied with petty infighting and the discovery of Cheryl’s untold riches (not to mention her spray-happy ocelot Babou) to actually get their act together and save her.
What’s so great about El Seceustro is that this time of apparent crisis brings out the true motivations and personality flaws of many of its major players. Malory, of course, is far more concerned with safeguarding Cheryl for her vast fortune than out of any altruistic duty, Lana (being one of the team’s few decent human beings) exhibits genuine concern for Pam’s wellbeing, while Cyril reveals his true nature by attempting to kidnap Cheryl himself for the sake of a few thousand dollars.
When Pam is finally in a position to give the ISIS crew their comeuppance, Malory in particular, it’s hard not to feel that it is entirely warranted, with El Seceustro’s ending serving as one of the finest finale’s in the show’s entire run. Anyone with verses from Byron and a tally marks of the people she’s killed in underground brawls tattooed on her back isn’t the sort to tussle with.
5. Lo Scandalo – Season 3, Episode 8
“What year do you think this is?!” “I – er, yeah, exactly. Good question.”
Much like Skyanic and Vision Quest, Lo Scandalo excels by placing its entire mismatched group of main characters into a single location and allowing them to wreak their own peculiar brand of chaotic havoc.
It’s also an episode that sees some of the writers’ capacity for tightly-knit, beautifully executed story craft, a 22-minute whodunnit that places down its clues, untangles its knots and finally reveals its hidden parts (or does it?) at just the right moments. A noir-esque tribute to the works of writers like Christie and Priestly, not to mention a few real-life political scandals involving latex and dildos, Lo Scandalo feels like Archer at its most referential and literary, the cosy atmosphere of Malory’s clashing with the threshing rain outside feeling like something that could have been drawn straight from the work of Alfred Hitchcock.
Best of all, Lo Scandalo is genuinely funny, its writing zipping and clicking as it so often does when the show’s best characters are allowed room to shine. From Cheryl’s “elegant dinner party” to Archer and Lana’s interrogation of Malory, not to mention Krieger’s perpetually deranged scene stealing, Lo Scandalo proves you don’t need explosions and car chases to craft a great spy thriller.
4. Dingo, Baby, et Cetera – Season 12, Episode 6
“Could you move any slower?” “I got shot!” “We all get shot, Lana!”
Apart from a few flashbacks to a miserable childhood of absentee parenthood or having his head forced into a boarding school toilet, we don’t see much of what made Archer the man he is today. Certainly, a great proportion of Archer’stendencies can be put down to Malory’s overbearing influence, but Dingo, Baby, et Cetera digs into its protagonist’s earliest days as a secret agent in an outing that feels as richly cinematic as it is emotionally resonant.
Archer, Lana, and Krieger travel to Japan in order to stop a deadly assassin known as the Dingo from killing an intended target, a mission that unravels a string of repressed memories from Archer’s past from when he first visited the Land of the Rising Sun on his first ever mission and fell in love with a charming Japanese girl called Reiko. Dingo, Baby, et Cetera’s twists and turns may be somewhat predictable, but that isn’t the point of an episode designed to drill deeper into the psyche of the world’s deadliest, and most screwed-up, secret agent.
On top of everything, Dingo, Baby, et Cetera looks phenomenal. Aesthetics have often been one of the most underrated aspects of Archer, but the art direction and animation on display are simply breathtaking, to the extent that they remind the viewer that the look and feel of Archer is just as important as the show’s razor-sharp writing. Amid the swirling blossoms and insalubrious Japanese bars, Dingo, Baby succeeds in feeling like an ethereal, half-remembered dream.
3. Heart of Archness Pts 1, 2 & 3 – Season 3, Episodes 1, 2 & 3.
“A ruse? Bring bring, hello? Hi, it’s the 1930’s, can we have our words, and clothes, and shitty airplane back?” “Let’s go, kid.” “Call you back, 1930s. And hey, watch out for that Adolf Hitler, he’s a bad egg!”
Ok, so reserving a single spot on this list for what is essentially a trilogy of episodes is a bit of a cheat, but if you’re going to group all three parts under the same name, I’d say that’s fair game. Plus, pirates.
Heart of Archness was the perfect way to bring Archer roaring back onto our screens for a terrific third season, a brilliant continuation of form in which Malory recruits dashing pilot Rip Riley to track down a grief-stricken Archer following the death of the latter’s fiance at the hands of evil cyborg Barry Dylan. It’s not that complicated.
Heart of Archness’ relocation to the glistening shores of the Pacific gives the whole thing a tropical taste of adventure as our titular hero, reluctant to return to his old life of pain and remorse, soon sabotages Rip’s plans of rescue by downing his plane, a ploy which, by a strange turn of events, eventually leads to Archer becoming a pirate king on an old Polynesian fortress.
In fact, Heart of Archness sometimes feels like watching a movie trilogy borne straight out of the Indiana Jones playbook, the settings, costumes and premise heavily influenced by pulpy 80s adventure shows such as Tales of the Golden Monkey. When Archer eventually went the full shebang with coma-induced fantasy season Archer: Danger Island, it was merely an extension of the seeds that Heart of Archness had so successfully planted six seasons previously.
2. Vision Quest – Season 6, Episode 5
“Well then, it’s official. The sweater vest is officially good for nothing.”
The best thing you can do if you have a perfectly (un)balanced cast of egomaniacs, psychopaths and crazed Nazi scientists is to stick them all in a confined space and watch them very quickly fall to pieces. Half of the premise of Archer has always been the idea of restrictive bureaucracy operating behind the scenes of thrilling espionage, so the idea of amping up this claustrophobia by throwing the main characters inside a malfunctioning elevator is the logical comic next step.
When the Archer gang gets to work early in order to attend a 7 am meeting called by Malory under mysterious pretences, things quickly go awry as our main cast of characters ends up trapped in an elevator with seemingly no means of rescue. As far as bottle episode setups go, the stuck in an elevator trope is about as standard as it gets, but Vision Quest is all the better for its use.
Archer’s greatest strength is its characters and the comic fallout that occurs whenever their mismatched personalities spark and clash over the pettiest of squabbles, and it isn’t long before the gang is at one another’s throats, partially through their inability to work as a collective unit and partly because of their own respective failings, be they sex addiction, maniacal sociopathy, selfishness or reckless stupidity. If you want a taste of everything that Archer is truly about, Vision Quest is the episode to seek out.
1. Placebo Effect – Season 2, Episode 9
Here it is, the best Archer episode ever made, and, on the face of it, possibly the most farcical of them all. After discovering that his breast cancer medication is nothing more than sugar pills and Zima (a cracking reference to the redundant sparkling beverage), Archer goes on a brutal pursuit of retribution as he looks to punish the men responsible for profiteering off of counterfeit cancer meds. In all honesty, who can blame him?
What sets Placebo Effect apart is that it essentially gives the two contrasting sides of Archer’s personality in their most exaggerated and paradoxical forms. On the one hand, a crusade to punish the men responsible for flogging phoney cancer meds is about as righteous and moral as the dysfunctional secret agent ever gets. On the other, Archer’s methodology in doing so, which essentially involves unmitigated carnage and the slaughter of anyone who gets in his way, demonstrates just how morally ambiguous our supposed hero really is. God help your kneecaps when Archer’s on a chemo-induced rampage and wielding a sawed-off.
Incredibly funny, perfectly written and paced at a mile-a-minute, there’s an infinite pleasure in watching Archer, pale-faced, drip-bound and sporting a red headscarf, dole out ruthless justice to a group of Irish mobsters while intermittently ducking out to be sick due to the effects of his invasive chemotherapy. In a nice way, of course.
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