This Archer review contains spoilers
Archer Season 8 Episode 4
“Ladyfingers” represents the end of the first half of Archer: Dreamland and also the most successful run of four episodes that I can recall in Archer history.*
*I’m no Archer historian but a quick perusal of Wikipedia tells me the last consecutive run of four great episodes of the show might have been the first four episodes of season 3 including the “Heart of Archness.” trilogy.
That may sound effusive and exaggerated…because it is. It’s just hard not to be effusive over something that makes you laugh this hard.
I’m undoubtedly far too concerned with Archer’s place in the TV landscape. The current television and streaming roster is more jam-packed than ever that it makes perfect sense that a show in its 8th season and far removed from its “prime” wouldn’t make the same critical or cultural waves it once did. I just wish we all had room in our eyes and hearts for more.
I’m not sure I would have made it this far into Archer’s run if I weren’t tasked with reviewing it. And that fact makes me realize there are more well-meaning yet busy and overtasked TV-watchers out there like me out there. I wish I could just make more hours in the day for them to watch this season. “Wake up, young TV-watcher! There is more excellent content to be consumed!”
And what excellent content “Ladyfingers” is. One of Archer’s finest tools in its comedic toolbelt has always been its ability to absolutely lock in on one joke and ride it until it cannot bear its weight anymore. Think of the running “helium not hydrogen” gag in “Skytanic” or even the recurring “4-level incest” joke in this season.
“Ladyfingers” offers up a new hilariously literal object of comedic obsession: lady fingers. Why would anyone need to see Charlotte’s severed finger as confirmation that she’s been kidnapped, Archer ponders in “Ladyfingers” first scene. Well, Sterling, you’d be surprised. “Ladyfingers” is a hilarious comedy of errors in which everyone in the world seems to reflexively understand that the only way to confirm that someone is in fact kidnapped is to see their finger.
This sets Archer on another weird side quest to secure a severed woman’s finger and present it to a possibly incestuous family living in a creepy house on a hill – all so that Len Trexler doesn’t have a newly robotic Barry Dylan dissolve his body in acid for rescuing a gaggle of Chinese prostitutes who are now living in Pam’s house. It’s been a hell of a three days. During which Archer hasn’t slept. No problem. Charlotte has dexedrine in her purse.
Archer: Dreamland has been truly wonderful in how discursively its plot has progressed. Dreamland at this point has more in common with a Thomas Pynchon novel, Paul Thomas Anderson movie or The Big Lebowski than a gritty film noir detective story. Sterling Archer is a man with a painful, dark past who wakes up one day to discover his beloved partner is dead. Then his path to solve that murder has seemingly just taken him further and further from the truth and closure until three days later he still hasn’t slept and is distracting Cyril Figgis with a British accent in a morgue so that Detective Pam Poovey can knock him out and retrieve the severed finger in his hand for ransom.
Or as Charlotte’s brother Cecil tells the family butler during the initial negotiations “Mr. Archer needs a drink.”
“I wouldn’t say need,” Archer responds.
Instead of a drink, however, Archer just gets the news that they do need to see Charlotte’s finger after all. Archer offers up plenty of logical alternatives. What if he just drives by with Charlotte and she waves at the house? What if he hands them a picture of Charlotte holding up today’s newspaper?
“As long as she’s holding it with nine fingers,” Cecil says.
Sterling Archer as straight-man has worked absolute wonders this season. The introduction of this new plot line, new setting and new vibe required a strong central character to hold everything together. And Archer has done so surprisingly well for a likely alcoholic obsessed with tactical turtlenecks. Archer’s exasperation with the world at large is at its absolute height in “Ladyfingers.” Of course, everyone but him seems to think a severed finger is a necessary item in hostage negotiations. Of course, Pam won’t stop eating hotdogs as they drive to and from the morgue to retrieve a finger. And of course, after all of this bullshit, Cecil Van Der Tunt doesn’t even want to see the finger after all.
Thankfully, the more of a living hell Archer’s life becomes the funnier this season gets.
For the second episode in a row, Archer: Dreamland offers a b-story that complements the main story without overshadowing it. Last week was Lana’s struggles with stand up comedy and this week is Krieger’s origin story. I’m actually a little surprised that we get as detailed and revealing a Krieger storyline as we do here with all the kidnapping shenanigans. Perhaps it’s only fitting that we learn more about this mad Nazi scientist in an episode where severed limbs seem to be all the rage. Plus, it’s not even clear that this is Krieger’s “canon” origin story with this being Archer’s coma dream and all.
Krieger feverishly works to fulfill Barry Dylan’s destiny as always ending up a mutilated, evil cyborg and as he does he flashes back to his time in the Third Reich. He was a Nazi scientist as we all suspected but it turns out he was actually an undercover Jew named Aaron Liebowitz doing what he could to sabotage the German war effort. This of course means building an army of robotic dogs (and one wonderfully aloof robotic cat) while ensuring that all the soldiers he operates on die of “sepsis.”
In some ways, Archer is offering its viewers an out for enjoying a Nazi character all of these years. He wasn’t a “real” Nazi, you see. I’m appreciative of that I suppose but the Krieger of these flashbacks has his shit far more together and has a much clearer moral ideology than the Krieger we’re used to. Though to be fair by episode’s end he has turned Barry Dylan into a metallic Frankenstein’s monster.
The changes that Archer: Dreamland has made to the Archer formula have been subtle yet effective. Dreamland has introduced a more competent, sturdy version of Sterling Archer to serve as a Mephistopheles-like guide through this dreamscape and it’s serialized the storytelling more than ever. Still, it’s the things that remains the same that have fueled this excellent run of episodes. Like the fact that Barry Dylan regardless of circumstance is always destined to become a hilariously dickish inhuman monster. “Ladyfingers” represents Dreamland at its best: a reworking of old Archer mythology into fresh landscapes and narratives.