This interview does not contain major spoilers for Archer: Into the Cold but does tease certain moments.
It’s not the norm for an animated series to last for 14 seasons and nearly 150 episodes, and yet Archer has gone out with gumption, grace, and gravitas. The animated spy satire has gone through many facelifts over the years — including several “coma seasons” that transformed the espionage series into a film noir, adventure serial, and space opera — only to return to spy antics with greater confidence than ever. It may feel like Archer has done everything at this point, but the show is finally ready for its biggest challenge yet: an ending.
Archer: Into the Cold is a super-sized series finale that ends the long-running comedy on the high note that it deserves. Archer’s collective brain trust, executive producers Casey Willis, Matt Thompson, and producer Pierre Cerrato, get candid on bringing this series to an end after 14 seasons, which character has shown the most growth by the finale, the coma seasons that didn’t come to pass, and what Sterling and the rest of The Agency crew might be up to following Into the Cold.
Den of Geek: One of my favorite elements of this final season is the addition of Natalie Dew as Zara Khan. Zara feels like such a natural addition to the cast and like she almost out-Archers Archer. Can you talk a little on her development and the struggles of adding a new character in a show’s final season.
Casey Willis: We had a lot of plans for Zara. Together with writer and co-executive producer Mark Ganek, we had a rough three season arc for Zara. With Lana behind the desk, we knew we needed to have a foil for Archer out in the field. We wanted a younger, faster, better agent, and we wanted the relationship between Archer and Zara to be devoid of sexual chemistry to differentiate it from his and Lana’s relationship.
Pierre Cerrato: We also wanted an excuse to talk about BBC programming with an actual Brit.
Matt Thompson: We had things for Zara along the way to bring out a more distinct personality. Mid-season, we see some gambling addiction come out, giving her extremely controlled personality a hole to patch up. We had this idea of her being the youngest of 10 kids, with all older brothers. This made her a football/rugby fan always up for a pint. I liked where we were headed with her and Natalie was/is a delight.
Lana stepping in as the head of The Agency makes a lot of sense and feels like a great evolution of her character. Was she always the first choice for this promotion or did you ever consider Sterling or anyone else?
CW: This was our goal at the beginning of season 13. We had a thread throughout that season of Lana resisting becoming the head of The Agency, but eventually realizing that she is the best fit for the job. Even Archer realizes it in the end.
MT: All of the other characters have some sort of fatal flaw that would make them awful at sitting in that chair. We did consider, for a short moment, what it would mean to put an outsider in Malory’s chair, someone like Fabian. But in the end, Lana sitting there just made too much sense.
Barry is one of my favorite recurring characters from Archer who’s experienced quite the change over the series’ run. How did you decide on this final turn for him and were there any other angles that you considered?
MT: We love how Barry has evolved over the years. From season to season, there is such a drastic swing to his motivations. He is also fun, as he is the “wackiest” element in the show. For a cartoon, we run a pretty logical, realistic ship. Barry exists on the edges of that, which just makes him fun to have around. For the final three episodes, we wanted to find something that we had not done with him before and his final journey is probably my favorite. I love that you do not know if he is going to be good or evil until the middle. And then something truly nuts happens to him. I hope you don’t see it coming, and it is our best Barry change yet. BTW: huge shoutout to David Willis, who voices Barry. He really has helped make Barry something special.
CW: For a while Barry was friends with Archer and I remember Dave asking me, “Can Barry be evil again?” I think he just liked playing the bad guy. So, in season 14 we gave everyone Barry and other Barry and in the Into the Cold finale, we see a lot of Barry(s). I may have said too much.
There’s some really fun A.J. material in this final season and it’s been great to see this baby grow into an actual person. What do you see for A.J.’s future following Archer’s conclusion? Is she destined to be a spy or something else?
CW: AJ does make an appearance in Archer: Into the Cold and I hope fans will enjoy that. As for her future, Cheryl predicted in a DVD extra many seasons ago that AJ would train as an assassin to come back and destroy them all so…that’s always an option. I feel Lana and Archer want to do their best to steer AJ away from their life choices, but who knows if that will work or make her want to be a spy even more. I think it would be great if AJ became a scientist like Lana’s parents.
There have been an increasing number of stories in the later seasons about Archer’s growing weaknesses that are handled in a really natural, realistic manner. Did it feel important to kind of feed into this narrative and highlight Sterling’s inevitable need to move on from spy work in the show’s post-coma seasons?
MT: We always at least try to plot small changes to each character, each season. We treat them as real people who are in a state of constant change. And we have done so much with Archer feeling he is “invincible” or “immortal” that it was just feeling stale. So in later seasons, you see him losing a step, getting a cane, being made fun of for his age, having a younger agent come in and best him physically. But Archer still rages against the dying light, which just feels right to us.
CW: There is a lot of fun to be had with the guy who used to be the best in the world who is now slipping a bit. I also think that Archer learns new ways to deal with situations. I really like early in season 14 when Archer is tied up and tries to insult his captor only to get shot repeatedly in the same spot. In early seasons of the show, Archer’s scheme would have worked. But now, he has to get saved by a younger agent with an actual plan.
Every character in Archer experiences considerable changes since the show’s start, but who do you think has made the most growth since the first season?
PC: Archer, 100%. He survived cancer, went to therapy, and has possibly made it to Pam levels of sexual progressiveness.
MT: I think Pam has grown the most. In the pilot she had two lines and was really focused on her HR duties, talking with a dolphin puppet. What she became was something truly glorious, and my favorite character. She is hedonism, love, protection, rage, understanding and she is one of a kind. You would not recognize her as the same character that she was in season one.
CW: Matt and Pierre had great answers, but I would say there is a good argument for Lana having grown the most and gone through the most changes. She becomes a mother. Got married. Got divorced. Learned to work with Archer in a more productive way and became head of The Agency!
This final season teases a few different hypothetical happy endings for Sterling. Was it difficult to figure out what his ending should be after so long, or is it something that you’ve been fairly cognizant of for a while?
MT: We really did not have a good handle on how we should go out. And we did not have that much time to figure it out. We only had a couple of months to plot out a story and write it. Thankfully for us, Mark Ganek kept coming up to the plate with great idea after great idea. I am very thankful for all he put into the show these past few years, and he really helped us stick the landing.
CW: Mark Ganek had plans for the next few seasons, so we worked with him to pick and choose the highlights we wanted to hit. Mark did a ton of heavy lifting in the past few seasons and deserves a lot of praise.
It’s so exciting that you’re able to send the series off with this super-sized Into the Cold arc. What did you want to say and accomplish with this finale?
MT: It’s so hard for us to say goodbye to this world, say goodbye to these characters. You will hear a couple of speeches in these episodes which I hope do not feel too heavy handed. One by Lana and one by Cyril. In each one, we are kinda talking to ourselves about moving on with grace, even if we do not want to. And about celebrating what we did achieve. We would all love to go on making this show a few more years, but we cannot let that overshadow what we did accomplish. So, like our characters are preaching, we are all attempting to move on with joy in our heart for the time spent with co-workers who became family.
We also wanted to do a little bit of fan service as we bring back a few favorite characters from past seasons as well as have some past visual jokes hidden in backgrounds of scenes. The one thing that kept coming up from years past is – who is Archer’s father? I hope everyone likes how we handled that question on the way out the animated door.
CW: From a production stand-point, I want to shine a huge spotlight on our talented crew. They were given a monumental task of drawing and animating Archer: Into the Cold with a very tight timeline. I think they did a wonderful job and really sent the series off with a bang.
Were there any characters who you wanted to include in Into the Cold, but couldn’t find a way to make them work or there wasn’t enough time?
MT: We had a list and as we ran down it, putting them all in was feeling a bit forced. Casey and Mark rightly told me to calm down with the cameos and focus on the story. So that is what we did, but there are still a handful that made it into the final three episodes. Spoiler alert: there is a small appearance by Milton the toaster/copier.
CW: We debated how and where to find Milton and what he had been doing all these years. What we eventually settled on was really great for the episode. There are also a lot of hints and nods to seasons past in the backgrounds if you look closely.
PC: My list included long time favorites like Ramon Limon, Charles, Rudy, Noah and of course Conway Stern.
Would you at all be interested in returning to this series every few years with longer movie events like this and for the series to live on that way, like Columbo?
MT: We would love the opportunity to keep exploring these characters and their world. We are going to take a break for a while, but eventually, I am going to hit up FX with a folder full of movie ideas. The first one is going to be about Archer thinking he is Columbo (that just came to me!).
PC: Emphatically yes! The series has proven that its characters are the heart of the show and can work in just about any setting. I have yet to see a more charming parrot than Crackers.
CW: I think the ending of Archer: Into the Cold is very special and satisfying. If the opportunity arises in the future to do something great with Archer and the gang, I would jump at it!
If you could do one more coma fantasy season that happens to a character besides Sterling, who would it be and what would the genre or premise be?
CW: I am going to cheat and name two seasons that Adam had discussed and were floating around in his brain. First was King Archer, which was Archer in Arthurian times, and the other was Archergeddon, which was post-apocalyptic. Both of those would have been amazing. If I were to pick another character, I would love to see Lana as the head of a Victorian family in a Downton Abbey-like season. I could see Lana yelling at Head Butler Cyril because he uncorked the wrong wine for her important dinner with the Duke of Dukesbury (played by Ray Gillette).
MT: I’d like to see Pam in a Western. It’s 1850 in Grass Valley, California when beloved town Sheriff Poovey makes a startling discovery. An alien ship has crash landed at one of the mines outside of the town and is hunting workers for sport. It will take all of Pam’s cunning to stop this Predator. Special appearance by Danny Glover.
PC: Kreiger. Definitely Krieger. I would call it Archer: Algernop’s Abyss.
All 14 seasons of Archer, including the “Into the Dark” series finale, are now available to stream on Hulu.