This Archer review contains spoilers
Archer Season 7 Episode 4
One of the hardest things for a show of advanced age to pull off is a sense of increasing escalation. Seven seasons is a long time for any show, but particularly for a one that started off with as limited a premise as Archer.
After a couple of down seasons by Archer’s lofty standards, the show is back on track through season seven’s fourth episode. And it’s done so by trying out another “soft reboot” by moving its characters to a sunnier locale and exploring the private investigation side of espionage.
This has all been well and good and the shot in the arm the show needs but an important part of the show has always been that sense of comedic escalation. Archer has always had a vested interest in seeing just how far it can push things. Would season seven continue to have that feeling of escalating insanity despite essentially starting from scratch?
“Motherless Child” proves definitively that the answer is “yes” and it’s thanks to a blast from Archer’s past. Barry Dylan returns to Archer for his semi-annual appearance only this time he is enlisting Sterling Archer and friends for help rather than trying to destroy them. Ok, he does trap Mallory in an underground bunker with limited oxygen as an added incentive for the Figgis Agency to find his birth mother but still…
Barry is the perfect foil to Archer because he used to be a generally well-meaning, competent Archer rival who has been driving into absolutely insanity for prolonged levels of Sterling Archer exposure. These kinds of characters often pop up in TV comedies and they almost always work because the inherent premise is both hilarious and almost a judgement on the viewer for allowing such insanity.
Perhaps the most famous example is Frank Grimes in The Simpsons – a relatively normal dude who for some reason is the only person on the planet that realizes the main character is an incompetent buffoon instead of a lovable loser…and then is subsequently destroyed for daring to acknowledge reality.
Barry is exactly that for Archer but he also represents something more. Barry is the show’s ongoing litmus test for how depraved and insane the show has become (in a good way). In this episode, Barry has abandoned all pretense of being a human being. He picks up Archer at a bar in a taxi and he is wrapped in various shawls and scarves. We find out later when he brings Archer back to the Figgis Agency that it’s because he just looks like a full-blown Terminator now.
Ever since Barry’s first appearance, he’s slowly gathered more cyberkintetic parts as subsequent encounters with Archer physically and emotionally destroy him more and more. You can tune in to any Barry episode of Archer and derive where it falls chronologically just by the devastation visited upon poor Barry’s body. In this way, Archer is part Frank Grimes and part Rickety Cricket on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s Always Sunny operates under an unspoken rule that every time there’s an appearance by the Gang’s former classmate-turned-priest-turned-homeless-drug-addict-male-prostitue, Cricket, he has to be in noticeably worse shape.
The fact that Archer is treating Barry like Rickety Cricket in addition to Frank Grimes now is just a delight. In his only appearance last season, “Enid’s Wedding” (also the fourth episode of its respective season), that level of escalation wasn’t quite there. Barry seemed even slightly more human than his previous appearance and effectively took a backseat to Pam’s Midwest “CHEESE FARM” plot line. In “Motherless Child” Barry is much better served as is the show around him.
Everything about Barry’s latest appearance is not only hilarious but somehow perfectly fits into the California P.I. aesthetic. He finds out about The Figgis Agency from one of Pam’s awful fliers and realizes that “there’s a better Other Barry in here.”
Then he holds everyone at the office hostage so they will go into overdrive trying to find his birth mother. There’s also that bit about Mallory trapped in the bunker. When the office complains that the task is impossible, Barry agrees “Look, if this was easy, I wouldn’t have to bury old ladies in the desert.”
Barry in “Motherless Child” brings out the best in Archer the show and Archer the character. He also brings out the best in several other characters too. Mallory rarely gets a chance to show off her old spy and survival skills anymore. “Motherless Child,” however, allows her to get out of an impossible situation while making wisecracks, escape and unescapable situation and then beat up a creepy truck driver for good measure. It’s never been clearer where Archer gets it now.
There’s also the office’s general shitty-ness towards Barry as a helpful reminder that this unhinged, murderous cyborg still somehow might be the sanest man in the room. Cheryl is attracted to him obviously (“Barry is about to violate the first law of robotics on my vagina”). And the combination of Pam, Cyril, Krieger and Cheryl are so inherently annoying that Barry seems downright sympathetic.
“But if she gets to use the bathroom…” Cheryl whines.
“EVERYONE GO TO THE BATHROOM! USE THE BIDET! WHATEVER!” Barry screams.
Eventually Krieger is able to hack the adoption database with the password “Guest” and Barry is on his way to find his birth mother, wearing a hilarious misshapen Cyril Figgis mask*. The poor woman doesn’t know what hell will soon be visited upon her.
*Oh. Krieger keeps lifelike masks of all of his coworkers, btw.
Since his very first appearance, Barry has served as a barometer for how well Archer is operating as a show. A good Barry episode can only result from a strong season firing on all cylinders. If that’s indeed the case, “Motherless Child” shows that the State of the Archer Union is strong.