It’s an extremely rare feat when a television series, animated or otherwise, is able to produce thirteen seasons of storytelling. Archer‘s journey has been anything but conventional and the silly spy comedy has experienced enough genre makeovers and stylistic experiments that a return to its espionage roots has been oddly fulfilling. Season 13 comes in after a few seasons of normalcy, yet Archer’s most recent years have provoked more change than ever before in its cast. Sterling has struggled to figure out where he belongs in a world that’s been able to move on without him, but now even the creature comforts that he’s previously taken for granted, like his mother Malory, are gone.
Sterling Archer and the rest of The Agency are forced to roll with some big swings while under the new management of Fabian Kingsworth and IIA–the International Intelligence Agency. Season 13’s premiere, “The Big Con,” playfully eases the audience into this new status quo. Executive producer Casey Willis, and producer/director Pierre Cerato, break down the events of this explosive episode, where Archer’s head is during this busy story, and what lies ahead for the Agency during this transformative season.
DEN OF GEEK: This is definitely a season of transition for the series in many ways. Is there a general theme or idea that you wanted to reinforce in these new episodes?
CASEY WILLIS: Transition is absolutely a theme we are exploring this season. The Agency was independent and now they are under IIA’s thumb. Lana is moving from being married to divorced. Archer has to deal with a boss that isn’t his mother. There are other stories that will appear later in this season that also hit this theme.
Was it difficult at all to figure out the proper way on how to start this season? Was a substantial time skip or any other ideas that were briefly considered?
PIERRE CERATO: It felt right to continue shortly after where we left off with The Agency and IIA. Feels like we still needed to have an overbearing presence in Archer’s life. No one better than Fabian to cover that base. We love everything Kayvan Novak did with the character last season and we’re glad we got to work with him again.
There are traces of it in this premiere, but it’s already clear that Archer is at a bit of a crossroads with Malory no longer being around. Was there interest in really shaking up his character this season and leaning into the absence of the character?
CW: This is related a lot to your first question about transitions. Archer and the entire gang are having to deal with Malory’s absence. There is a power vacuum and who is going to fill it? Fabian senses this too and wants to play the gang against one another.
PC: It’s not super evident in the first half of the season, but I think you will notice something called “growth” as the season progresses.
CW: Haha. Yes, Pierre. Season 13 sounds like a good time to have these characters show some growth!
There are some hints in this episode towards Archer vying for Fabian’s approval. With Malory now gone, might Archer turn to Fabian as a father figure of sorts in his life?
PC: I think that feeling will go away as the season progresses. (HA!!) Archer really does not like Fabian. As you’ll see in later episodes, Archer can still throw the gang a curveball.
CW: Pierre is right! Archer hates Fabian and has to begrudgingly work to save him in this first episode for the good of the gang. How long will that last? Not very long, especially with the statement Archer makes at the end of this first episode.
One of the bigger elements of this episode is that the Agency needs to find a replacement for Malory, which ultimately falls onto Ray. Why did Ray seem like the right choice here and was this always the plan?
CW: Ray was the right choice because he was totally willing to backstab his friends, which does make him a really good spy. We’ve been hinting at this for a couple seasons. This is a story that we will be playing with all season so there is a lot more to come!
Was there any consideration put into Archer being Malory’s replacement and him heading the Agency? Is that a dynamic that you’re interested in at all, perhaps further down the road, or does it always seem like Archer should be answering to someone who’s above him?
CW: This is a good question and a major focus of Archer this season. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoiling things, but I will say Archer has always struggled with authority figures, but also breaking rules is how he thrives. Could a person like that be successful if they were in charge? These are things we hope to explore this season.
The convention angle that ties this episode together is a lot of fun and it’s a little surprising that Archer has never done a con-based story before. Were there ever past attempts to do some kind of convention episode?
PC: None that I am aware of, but having a nondescript location that you can tailor to fit your needs is pretty fantastic. Our Art Direction team in conjunction with our Storyboard and Environment Design team did a great job with filling out an open space with amazing visuals. Not to mention our sky diving sequence! Props all around to our entire team for coming together to really make our season opener something special.
Lana and Robert are still stuck in this difficult phase of their relationship and it looks like they’re headed towards a bitter custody battle. Why did this feel like the right direction for their characters and how do you go about making something like that work in a comedy?
CW: We wanted to make the Lana and Robert storyline feel real. At the end of last season, Lana caught Robert in a compromising position and at the start of this season we did a small time jump and Lana has started the divorce procedures. We’ve been trying to slowly show Robert turning into a villain in this story and in this episode we really drop the hammer. Robert trying to get custody of AJ is a really gross move and we explore it in this season.
The past few season premieres have featured some exceptional action sequences, but both the sky diving fight and the train set pieces are exceptional here. Talk a little on the genesis of these scenes and if a fight in the sky is something that the show had wanted to do for a while now.
CW: Season premieres always have an amped up action sequence, but this season we have two set pieces. Mark Ganek wrote a great script and when I showed it to our Art Directors, we all knew this was going to take a monumental effort from all our artists and animators to pull this episode off. I really love both action sequences, but the skydiving sequence really blew me away. I love how we played with distance showing extreme wide shots and then tight character actions. All our departments worked together to give that scene a sense of speed, height, and danger.
PC: Jon had a great time yelling “Johhny UTAAAAAH!!!!”
Archer season 13 airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FXX, with next day streaming on Hulu.