Archer: Deadly Prep Review

Sterling Archer may be off his game but Archer isn’t in a solid episode.

This Archer review contains spoilers

Archer: Season 7, Episode 3

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Part of Archer’s creation myth is that the inspiration for the show came to creator Adam Reed while he was in a café in Salamanca, Spain. He was sitting near a beautiful woman and found myself unable to approach her so he came up with the idea of a spy who “would have the perfect line.”

Sterling Archer is that spy. Not only does he always have the perfect line, but he’s bulletproof both metaphorically and literally. No amount of lead shot into his body will stop him from reaching for the perfect quip. Therein lies the DNA of the show.

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So it’s always going to be interesting when Archer chooses to show its titular spy as being completely off his game and much too nervous to come up with the “perfect line.”

The show has turned Archer into least suave guy in the room sparingly so as to not begin to rely on the concept. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of an episode in which Archer is initially as rattled as he is in “Deadly Prep.” As such, “Deadly Prep” continues season seven’s welcome tradition of placing its characters into situations that we still, seven years in, haven’t seen before.

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Archer and Lana are looking into prep schools for the wee baby Abbajean. It’s expensive, sure but public school is out of the question as Grandma Mallory points out. “Public school? Might as well leave her by a dumpster at the fair and hope she gets picked up by carnies!” Shortly after this outburst, an old “friend” from Archer’s past sees him in the prep school office.

“Archer? Swirling Archer?” Richard Stratton IV, otherwise known as Ivy greets him. Ivy is one of Archer’s classmates from St. Joshua boarding school and Archer becomes just a complete stammering idiot around him, even passing on a classic “phrasing” opportunity.

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Ivy is now a supporter of this private school and is part of an investment firm called Stratton and Whitney with another one of Archer’s former classmates, Trent Whitney. Ivy remembers doing some light hazing of Archer alongside Whitney. When we flashback to Archer’s childhood it’s clear why he’s cowed in Ivy’s presence: Ivy and Whitney just out and out tortured him for years.

Archer chooses to play Archer’s flashbacks completely straight, showing young Sterling being punched in the nose and then his face shoved into a piss-filled toilet until he gets pneumonia. It’s brutal and wouldn’t be funny under any other circumstances except for the sheer shock value of it all. Here is our confident, cocky superspy experiencing a childhood trauma that’s terrifyingly real. We’ve seen bits and pieces of Archer’s sad, lonely childhood but to see such a sudden example of the violence he experienced is both legitimately sad and hilarious in the most perverse kind of way.

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Thankfully, Ivy offers Archer some semblance of revenge. Ivy says he is dying of cancer and offers Archer a job to kill him in his house when he’s not expecting it as life insurance doesn’t pay out on suicide.

That night Archer makes his way to Ivy’s ostentatious Californian villa (“Jesus, really? A glass house”) but before he can finish off the job, he realizes that the target Ivy has sent him too isn’t Ivy, himself. It’s Whitney.

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Only three episodes in, Archer season seven’s commitment to plot twists, minor as some of them may be, continues to pay dividends. The show is always going to be at least a little funny but when it combines its humor with these nice little dramatic touches, it’s a powerhouse.

Whitney has been embezzling funds from Stratton and Whitney and banging Stratton’s wife for good measure so Ivy set Archer up to murder him. Whitney is not enthused about this plan and the two are soon engaged in a firefight in Whitney’s kitchen. Cyril shows up at this rather inopportune moment as he was tailing Archer to confirm he’s not properly logging his timesheets. Neither of them have cellphones to call for backup because Mallory took Archer’s away from him and Cyril is comparison shopping for mobile carriers.

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Archer and Cyril are able to escape, after Ivy snipes Whitney and Cyril grabs some cash from Whitney’s safe and sees more “Longwater” documents in there from the Veronica Dean case. The fact that Archer season seven remains dedicated to not only episode-long mysteries but season-long mysteries is fantastic. As is Archer’s final confrontation with Ivy.

In the middle of their car chase, Archer jumps into Ivy’s convertible and beats the shit out him. “How do you like that, fighting someone bigger and stronger than you?” I don’t think anyone was expecting a moment of genuine catharsis from an Archer episode this season but it’s a wild, strange world we live in now.

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“Deadly Prep” is an uncommonly Archer-centric episode of Archer. The only other character who logs any serious screentime in a separate plot is Lana as she’s arrested for stalking the dean of the private school to offer him baked goods and put in a good word for Abbajean. For once, it’s not Archer who screwed up. This is nice as it gives Lana a chance to be the craziest character in the room for once and also gives Archer his own little version of a redemptive arc.

Or as redemptive as Archer can get.  As for the second episode in a row, he answers the question “Did you learn anything from this?” with a proud, defiant “No.” That’s our Sterling.

Rating:

4 out of 5