We ended where we began: with Sterling Archer’s body floating in Veronica Deane’s pool. Sporting a tuxedo with a white jacket, black cummerbund, and pants, the international man of mystery, super spy, and arms and cocaine trafficker was seemingly dead, shot in the stomach.
It started when Hollywood starlet Deane employed the Figgis Agency to recover a disc containing “sensitive information”—“sensitive” in the way that recordings of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are sensitive. Before that, it really began when ISIS—the International Secret Intelligence Service, not the terrorist organization—was essentially absorbed by the CIA.
They subsequently bungled their main job, trafficking cocaine and arms. This wasn’t good for their cash flow and reputation. As such, the crew found it difficult to maintain the lifestyle to which they’d grown accustomed.
Sure, they could’ve gone wholly legit, but that’s not what a ragtag group of hellions does. No, such a group instead goes to Hollywood and continues engaging in the art of private investigation. Because when your star agent, the aforementioned Sterling Archer, is versed in intrigue, whore island, and trafficking cocaine, where else would you go? Especially since Archer, despite his predilection for acting first then later lucking his way out of whatever situation he inserted himself into (phrasing!), is actually a fine spy and not a terrible human being.
Okay, maybe he wasn’t being quite so noble with Deane and was interested in having relations with her. Maybe this influenced his decision to tangle with a few Rottweilers before telling gravity to eat it, all in service to Miss, not Mrs., Deane. Maybe this interest was far greater than his interest in how successfully completing the mission would benefit the Figgis Agency.
The Dead Man in the Pool
This brings us back to the intro to season seven and the sequence of events that led to that body in the pool, a sequence of events that started six months prior to the opening credits. In the spirit of “Fight Club” and “Memento,” the season started ahead then rewound back to where the chapter opened. From there, we retraced the steps.
By the second episode of the season and before we arrived back poolside, we learned that the agency had been hired by a fake Veronica Deane, Archer had been stabbed a few times, and the agency had switched sides and gone to work for Alan Shapiro, the lawyer for the real Veronica Deane’s ex-husband and whom fake Veronica Deane claimed was blackmailing her with that sensitive information. Then there were eight more episodes before we found ourselves back poolside.
In other words, “Archer” once again reinvented itself. From international espionage to CIA black ops to the aforementioned cocaine and arms trafficking (but I repeat myself), “Archer” the show and Archer the man transcended the two-dimensional restrictions of the medium. With a genuine cliffhanger and a strong showing that exemplified that the characters are anything but two-dimensional, we were reminded that Archer never stops with just the tip.
A Breath of Fresh Air, Albeit Bourbon-Tinged
In a world of reboots and reality television, it was a breath of fresh air, albeit one carrying more than a whiff of bourbon. “Archer” gave us actual intrigue and character development, new plotlines, and twists rather than recycled stories.
This meant we didn’t know how the season would progress. We couldn’t guess whether the Figgis Agency would remain or Mallory Archer would reclaim her leadership role not just in actuality but also in nomenclature. We didn’t know if Archer would be Archer when it came to Miss Dean. (The answer was yes and phrasing, again.)
This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Archer himself gave us a clue. In season six, he was prophetic. The super spy proclaimed with regard to Slater and the CIA: “Why would you want to work for these Ivy-League white-shoe DC pr-cks? That’s not who we are! We’re the outsiders, the scrappy underdogs! We’re Delta House, the Dirty Dozen, the Rebel Alliance, the Commitments! We’re the Bad News Freakin’ Bears, and our Lupus is an openly gay cyborg dying of sepsis in a wheelbarrow!”
See, Archer and the gang aren’t about the rules. When the situation requires an absolutely stupid and futile gesture, they’re just the ones to do it. They left the white-shoe DC pr-cks behind and took Hollywood by storm, ready to rebuild their legacy and bank accounts. Then Archer ended up gut-shot in the real Veronica Deane’s pool.
Floating Toward Resolution?
Now we’re at season eight, with Archer floating in a 1940s dreamland and navigating yet another new permutation of the show’s cadence. It seems that despite being seemingly dead, he was not in fact departed from this mortal coil and is in a coma. Not everyone finds this a positive development, not least of which his foes, who would’ve much preferred death.
Chris Cabin at “Collider” isn’t a fan of the less-than-foes. He writes, “Archer: Dreamland feels like just more of the same, and for the first time in the show’s run, that’s not what I’m looking for.” Who knows, maybe he’ll be right. Except season seven worked very well and that’s how we got here.
The possibility of a twist comes not just from that season but also from a tidbit mentioned earlier in Cabin’s piece: “[Season 8] sends our self-important, self-indulgent super-spy, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, into a [sic] illusory pastiche of 1940s noir style, a place for his psyche to hide while he fights to get out of a coma.”
For here’s the thing about Archer, both the show and its eponymous protagonist. From the inaugural episode until now, it’s been about growth, but growth delivered via punctuated equilibrium, more or less. My analogy may not pass scientific muster.
Regardless, Archer has gone from an ethical (if not traditionally ethical) and careless rake to an equally ethical, if still not traditionally so, rake and father who tries to do right by his family and friends. With the coma and trip through dreamland, Archer has the opportunity to evolve yet again.
The Transformation Into a Hero
This wouldn’t leave him changed into a Bizarro Archer, a good guy for whom we have no affection, but it would continue the rake’s moral journey through international espionage, fatherhood, and whore island into the role of a hero. Except for the season eight debut. It started with a funeral, after we revisited Archer floating in that pool. But it was not Archer’s funeral. It was trusted manservant Woodhouse’s.
Archer lay not on a slab, but in a coma. Thus began “Dreamland,” a film noir tale in which Archer is transported back in time to the 1940s. A private investigator on the hunt for Woodhouse’s killer, getting caught up with Mother, and possibly serving as an accomplice to a few murders.
One by one, all the characters arrived, but “Archer,” again, is reinventing itself. Mother is a seeming codename. Krieger is a heroin dealer. Pam and Cyril are cops. Lana is a lounge singer. With these changes, Archer is poised to finally break through and become the hero he is destined to be.
Sure, he won’t be a conventional hero, and there are the aforementioned ethical issues. With a journey through his psyche, though, Archer can achieve his full potential: international rake and happy-go-lucky spy who, despite those lapses, makes the world a better place. The time is now for a hero of his mettle, particularly since he’s equipped with a tactleneck.