The second episode of the third season of FX's Archer couldn't possibly live up to the glorious premiere called "The Man From Jupiter." That's not really a knock on the surprisingly close "El Contador" because "Jupiter" not only had to pull out all the stops with it being a premiere but, well, it had Burt Reynolds. It's an amazing feat for the second episode to even come close to how great the first was but, luckily for us, it was and the trend of excellence continues. Not a single moment of "El Contador" was wasted and I don't think any other series contains dialogue as sharp and funny as Archer.
"Some Offense." "Some Taken."
The episode opens In the offices of ISIS and it takes no time getting to the main storyline and a barrage of one-liners, whether they be at Cyril or Ray's expense ("undercover as a shopping cart"). Malory hints that since Ray is now selfishly paralyzed, they are in desperate need of more field agents, hence the promotion for Cyril despite everyone's reservations - mostly pertaining to the 'could have been dead hooker' incident from "Training Day," the second episode of the series. Either way, Cyril is going with Lana and Archer to Columbia on to collect the bounty on a drug lord - who else would be the villain be in Columbia - even though he almost blows at the last second by talking 'counting. And oh, just before the cold open closes and with all the talk of drugs, Malory is reminded a mandatory drug test at ISIS. Cue Pam puffing the magic dragon and the office portion of the episode.
"How about you Ironside? Are you rollin' dirty?"
The office at ISIS has its very own 'dangerous game' story unfolding that begins with the staff being subjected to a suspicious drug test. Pam is obviously going to test positive but we also soon learn that, with Cheryl's affinity for the groovy bears and Ray's penchant for popping pills while partying, they aren't in the clear either. Along comes Dr. Krieger with, what seems to be the real ISIS drug test - Krieger's Kleanse which he claims will help them beat the pee test, too bad it tastes like $100 liquid farts.
This storyline also introduces a running rag this week with the constant use and mis-use of literally and/or figuratively. After ingesting Krieger's tea, the three test subjects (Pam, Cheryl and Ray) are literally tripping balls. Cheryl thinks the bathroom floor is now lava so she decides to disrobe, naturally. Ray thinks Pam is melting into a blob, not that far of a stretch. And finally, Pam sees the now wheelchair bound Ray as a Decepticon and her unusual tolerance for substances, legal or illegal, kicks in and she goes on a rampage (beginning with a great reference to Cuckoo's Nest), with Krieger in hot pursuit.
"I mean, if you want, I can watch while you masturbate but I can tell you right now that my heart's not going to be in it. It will be with that tiger's family."
The field agents are dropped at the LZ, Cyril already looking out of place, dressed for a safari and asking what's a klick? To be fair, Archer has no idea what a klick is either but at least he's not walking through the jungle mission with his head figuratively buried in a brief. And spilling the contents of his figurative (okay, I'll stop) purse all over the jungle. Of course, it's this very due diligence and attention to the intelligence (as well as having some) that ends up paying off for the accountant after he falls ass backwards into the Colombian drug lord's custody. He's able to use his intelligence to pretend he's been sent by The Shadow (this dude's boss) to check out his books. And they better be cooked.
Meanwhile, Archer and Lana are looking for the seemingly lost Cyril or perhaps the predator's telltale shimmer. Too bad that they're the ones found and put in a Lost like outdoor cage with a bunch of other prey. Yep. Prey. That tiger Archer heard, and earned $1000 bucks from Lana betting on, is also being held captive in this outdoor kennel, awaiting his turn to be hunted by the Drug Lord who fancies himself a Count Zaroff. Oh, and also, his El Contador Cyril.
Unfortunately for the tiger, his death isn't really of the sporting variety but tomorrow, Lana and Archer will be giving a little bit of a better chance at survival, especially since the surprisingly savvy, yet still incredibly dorky - nose signals - Cyril is doing some top notch undercover spy work. It's interesting that Lana is the one that brings up the last night sex because, well, it's clear that she still wants Archer and bad. Archer may or may not be aware of this but he's a little to distraught to think about sex and he ruins it anyway by saying the absolute wrong thing. I think.
Cyril convinces the Drug Lord to make it a contest, where they each hunt one captive and the first to kill their prey wins - another nose touchingly strategic play by super spy Cyril and even though Archer does everything in his power to almost kill himself in the wilderness, including allowing the three-wheeler riding crocodiles, I mean, hunter catch up to him while he's snagged in a trap. Good thing Cyril is there to save the day but too bad for him his ego rubs Lana and Archer the wrong way and his victory is capped off by a nice pummeling. "Cyril. Cyril! Cyril!! CYRIL!!! So he hasn't mastered all aspects of being a spy.
"That's exactly the brand of unparalleled professional excellence that I've come to expect at ISIS."
In a nice bookmark, the episode wraps back up in the office with Malory's debriefing. Of course, the team botched the hand-off (no receipt) so that million dollar payment isn't coming anytime soon. As for Pam, while she's still running wild as no matter how many tranquilizers you use, you're not going to take that beast down. "For the love of God. Seal the exits!" Cheryl and Ray are finally back to their sense, complete with a couple bottle full of urine and a threat to burn the place to the ground. And yeah, they're still naked. Lastly, in a perfect childlike moment for Sterling, he tells mommy how he saw a tiger. Murdered.
The title itself, "El Contador" ("The Accountant") is perhaps the most telling on how the series as a whole works and works so damn well. If you're paying attention in the first few minutes, or caught a preview and happened to know Spanish, you would be able to surmise "El Contador's" entire narrative. This kind of hiding in plain sight is exactly how Archer, episodes and the series as a whole, works so well. Meaning, it doesn't matter that you know the exact structure that almost every episode will take - it's forced to be a procedural because it that is the nature of the parodic game it's playing - there will be the mission for the field agents at ISIS and then also an accompanying office narrative, usually with Malory, Pam, Cheryl and Cyril (Ray and Krieger are wildcards, showing up more and more often).
The small tweak that kept this episode fresh and funny was taking our well established world, structure and characters and changing one element - putting Cyril into the field and then defying our expectations by having him, well, be so damn good at it. That is, until his ego gets inflated, Lana and Archer get pissed, and he's forced to stop relying on his intellect and actually fight the villain. If you call that fighting. Which brings us back to square one and ready for next week, with our players a little more developed yet never wavering far from the characters we've grown to love and laugh at, with, at. Why couldn't more live action shows strive to be this good and have such a great understanding of how a great sitcom works. And having literally the funniest dialogue on any show doesn't hurt either.
Archer airs Thursdays at 10p.m. ET on FX. It stars H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walters, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell and Amber Nash. It was created by Adam Reed.