This Archer review contains spoilers
Archer Season 8 Episode 2
In my original review of Archer: Dreamland I noted that this was a shockingly cohesive narrative spread out over four (at the time, but presumably all eight when it’s all said and done) episodes.
This eminently bingeable and cinematic experience didn’t in any way hinder the premiere “No Good Deed” from being a strong entity on its own. “No Good Deed” served as both an excellent introduction into the new Dreamland concept and an effective standalone episode of Archer.
The narrative confines of “Berenice” aren’t quite as neat and clear cut, however. “Berenice”, moreso than any non-numbered episode of Archer (this is a series that likes its multi-part arcs after all), feels like a continuation of an ongoing story rather than a distinct episode of TV.
Ultimately, that doesn’t matter too, too much. The ongoing story “Berenice” is inserted into is by all appearances wonderful and worth the time investment. “Bernice,” itself, is also terrifically funny.
I sincerely can’t believe that it took Archer this long to do its own “Weekend at Bernies” in which our beloved dick (Archer helpfully points out to Cyril that that’s technically a term of endearment in this ‘40s detective noir setting) cavorts around town with a corpse. Most impressively, however, the show never actually alludes to the bizarre ‘80s comedy. It deserves much credit for indulging in only the strangest, most cerebral of allusions and leaving the low-hanging fruit for hack critics such as myself.*
*I just wrote this entire review and was about to click publish before I realized that “Bernice” is probably a nod to “Bernie.” Either this is a masterstroke of comedic subtlety or I’m a big dumb dumb.
Still, if Archer ever was to spend an episode hanging out with a corpse, it only makes sense that his partner in crime would be Cheryl. We got our first look at the newly named Charlotte Van Der Tunt (I actually got it wrong in my review last week when I said “Cheryl” Van Der Tunt) at the very end of the premiere in which she confidently asks Archer to kill her.
In the opening moments of “Berenice” Cheryl clarifies that she didn’t want to actually be killed.
“Not literally you ass!”
Instead Charlotte is offering Archer $10,000…and her body to help her fake her death.
“$10,000 is plenty,” Archer says.*
*According to the US Inflation Calculator, $10,000 in 1947 money would be $109,239.01 today.
“I’m afraid that’s non-negotiable,” Charlotte says, tearing off her shirt. “Do your worst.
Archer chuckles and says “I will.”
The Archer and Cheryl/Charlotte teamup isn’t as comedically fertile as the Archer and Pam team up though that’s not entirely fair. Pam + Anybody is essentially the best combination on the show. But the extended time that Archer and Charlotte spend together in this episode really allows the writers to dig in to the dynamic and pull out some truly phenomenal jokes.
The one above is among the best but so is the scene after in which Charlotte excitedly offers codeine to Archer at a diner to deal with the pain in his ear.
“My apologies. I thought you were running into this half-cocked.”
“Said the pot to the kettle.”
Where’s Wyatt Cenac’s drum guy when you need him?
Archer is at his best when he’s exasperated. The only two characters on the show who can play the straightman to Archers’ weirdness are Lana and maybe Cyril (though Cyril has certainly become more and more unhinged as time goes on). The fact that Archer has had very few scenes with either through two episodes means we get to see his always-in-the-lead, world-weary frustration and it works like crazy.
Some of the funniest moments in the episode are when he can only react to a blank stare or the solemn ingestion of more codeine pills. And there are a lot of those moments to come once Charlotte reveals her master plan for faking her own death: a dead housekeeper in the trunk of her car, that Archer later comes to name Bernice.
“Did you kill her??” Archer asks.
“Of course I didn’t!” Charlotte says. “My brother did. Or the drunken abortionist did.”
Holy shit, Archer. The new 1940s setting has allowed the show to really lean in to some of its darkest impulses. Thankfully, the show has built up enough good will over the years to indulge some of the darkness and the time-appropriate but still scene-stopping use of “Negroes.”
Archer and Charlotte’s adventures with Berenice don’t really go anywhere. They never get around to enacting the plan as Cyril and Pam catch them by the side of a cliff in an almost literal and metaphorical cliffhanger end to the episode. Still, it’s hard not to treasure the time we share with Berenice and the mayhem that ensues: the struggle that Archer has putting on her makeup, the placing of a bucket over her head so she does not witness Archer and Charlotte’s second (presumably less disappointing) round of love-making and of course the hilarious comic book splashpage-style destruction they incur getting her out of Charlotte’s hotel.
Aside from those undeniably funny comedic setpieces, “Berenice” is kind of stuck in the narrative middle (or narrative beginning-middle more accurately). Still it’s an encouraging sign that Archer: Dreamland is just as invested in laughter as it is its own story.
Most impressively, Archer: Dreamland seems to be invested in Archer, itself beyond even the story and the humor. “Berenice” finds Barry Dylan legless yet again and about to be brought before the will of mad-scientist Krieger. I love that Archer is confident enough to continually revisit the complete and utter dehumanization of Barry Dylan. Shows that last this long build up a grand mythology whether they mean to or not. The best shows, however, begin to trust in that mythology and continue to revisit it in new and interesting contexts.
If every single subsequent season is set in a new time or place, I really hope that Barry Dylan loses his limbs over and over again. As a matter of fact – where is Brett? Once the gunfire starts, we’re going to need an innocent bystander to catch a bullet.