This Archer review contains spoilers
Archer Season 8 Episode 6
“So uh. What are we doing? Are we jumping right into this or…?”
Those are the first lines spoken in “Waxing Gibbous” and much to all our delight, Archer does in fact jump right into this.
The concept of treating a season of television like a movie is a controversial topic ‘round these parts lately. “These parts” referring to “The Internet” of course. I get it. Television is television and movies are movies and despite the nonstop convergence of all our visual commercial art, let’s try to make sure the twain shall never meet.
Having said that – Archer: Dreamland is totally a movie. And so far it’s a great one.
It’s telling that despite this all being Sterling’s coma dream, the action has never once returned to an unconscious Archer in bed. That’s partly because creator Adam Reed and his writers are using that as a frame narrative only in the flimsiest sense. It provides just enough of a logical reason for the writing staff to open up their detective noir thriller sandbox and play in it with reckless abandon.
Beyond that, however, it would appear that the writers’ desire to deal with a cohesive movie-like narrative provides no time to cut back to a comatose Archer and kill the momentum. So “Waxing Gibbous” doesn’t by picking up right where “Sleepers Wake” left off.
Indeed the best part of “Waxing Gibbous” is just how much it feels like the beginning of a third act of a larger story. Archer is at the worst we’ve seen him yet, popping dexedrine to stay awake and codeine to…well it’s not quite clear what the codeine is for but Archer sure loves it. Just physically and emotionally Archer is the epitome of a hardened dick (PHRASING!!!!!!!!!!!) at the tail end of a very long ordeal, much like the loosened-tie detectives in the third act of any other detective flick.
Meanwhile new alliances are being made like that between Lana, who’s an IRS agent it turns out*, and Archer background character All-Star Trinette McGoon. Trinette, after being coldly discarded by Archer comes in handy for Lana on the side of the road with her suggestion for how to fix a radiator. Just pop a potato in it you see. That’s why they call the glovebox the potato compartment. That’s a little known fact that Charlotte’s brother Cecil also annoyingly seems to know when Lana and Trinette commandeer his car to head over to Len Trexler’s mansion.
*This retroactively nulls one of my big complaints from last week – that Lana’s motivation made little sense. It’s worth mentioning that that would not have even come up if I were binging this like a movie
Also heading over to Trexler’s beside the Lana crew and a drug-addled Archer are Pam and Cyril. Cyril certainly seems to know that he’s entered the last act of this story just as he’s potentially entered the last act off his life. “Statistically, you’re already dead,” Pam tells him acknowledging that he’s a crooked cop whose wife has left him and is now being targeted by the city’s most powerful mob boss. Cyril hopes that delivering this bag of money (and it’s a very nice bag that Cecil would like back thank you very much) will be enough to buy back his life. Unfortunately, Cyril, nor anyone else for that matter knows the unspeakable horrors they’ll come across at Trexler manor.
If the best part of “Waxing Gibbous is its sense of narrative place, the second part is the hilariously gratuitous and equally disturbing violence. The Archer animation team gets better and better every year and “Gibbous” is perhaps their best showcase yet. The show and animation has never depicted blood, gore and just general grossness better than they do here.
Even the first scene, which would otherwise be an unremarkable episode opener becomes captivating just because of how graphically Archer looses oxygen. We’ve seen “goon chokes out protagonist who has displeased quasi-antagonist” a million teams but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the disturbing purple coloration of that protagonist’s face or the popping out of one bloodshot eye quite like that. It takes the episode opener to another level entirely.
While the middle passages are mostly devoid of body horror, save for maybe the admission that Cecil pooped his pants during the ransom exchange, the finale comes back out swinging with the gore. The final scene finds almost the entire crew: Archer, Trinette, Cecil, Lana, Cyril and Pam all a the Trexler manse as they cross paths and bicker despite being amidst evidence of an almost unfathomable level of violence and destruction. Blood is smeared across the floors of nearly every room and the mansion itself seems completely unoccupied except for ghosts perhaps.
“They’re just so few of them that are friendly. You just have…Caspar?” Archer muses about ghosts as he traipses through the house. And then when stumbling upon all the blood, Pam and Archer remark, independently of each other “Well that’s not very Caspar-y.” That’s not very Caspar-y indeed but it is Barry….y?
Yes, Dutch Dylan has returned for his vengeance and achieved it in the most grandiose way possible. Even when Barry doesn’t appear onscreen he somehow still absolutely nails his role as villain. Just knowing that whatever befell the occupants of this mansion was authored by a newly born cyborg in a stolen motorcycle outfit is somehow equal parts terrifying and hilarious.
Especially so when the episode ends and we come across Barry’s masterwork: a hilariously grotesque Saw-like tableau of corpses gathered around a table in the fashion of a demonic last supper with Trexler tied up in the middle where Jesus would be.
Then Barry steps out from the shadows and utters the horrifying missive “What’s happening, gang?” Archer: Dreamland as a cohesive, movie-like narrative continues to work remarkably well. Almost to the point now where it’s frustrating when it episode ends because it’s like a projector has suddenly just gone out. Though if it’s any consolation, next week’s half-hour could also very well begin with “So uh. What are we doing? Are we jumping right into this or…?”