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First things first. Even though "Bloody Ferlin" is technically the sixth episode of the third season of Archer (the official website agrees), it's even more technically, once you factor in the three-part "Heart of Archness," Season 3, Episode 9. Sadly, this means there are only four more episodes remaining this season and until yesterday somehow the series' life was still uncertain. But, in case you missed it, Archer was renewed for a fourth season and we're guaranteed at least 13 more episodes. And with that news, the only real response is...
Now that I got that out of the way, back to this week's mysteriously titled "Bloody Ferlin." Okay, so after watching the episode the title isn't so mysterious because it turns out 'Ferlin' is just the holler in West Virginia where everyone's favorite Gay and paralyzed field agent Ray Gillette (sorry, Gill-litt) hails from.
"They make you! And then I couldn't get a cab so I just got back in the chair and..."
Did I say paralyzed? Well. About that. Archer's cold open once again contains enough plot to fill an entire episode of any other show. Can you imagine another series possibly pulling off both exposing and coming to terms with a character faking being paralyzed - for a half a season - all within the first few minutes of a show? For anyone that missed the tease, they would have no clue as to how Ray was suddenly walking again. And it all works brilliantly. It's also quite rare for an episode to focus on Ray and to Reed's credit, his voice work and the writing were pretty great.
Archer and Lana think they are catching a burglar in the armory at ISIS when they actually stumble across a fully capable Ray atop a ladder and pillaging the place for a personal mission. Aside from being a huge liar and, well, a despicable human being, Ray's got family problems down in Ferlin, WV. Archer is happy to tag along and even though Lana's willing to play the beard, Ray needs, uh, a lighter shade. So, it's three minutes into "Bloody Ferlin" and not only is Ray no longer handicapped (handicapable) but the episode's two storylines are perfectly setup. Simple enough. Yes, that was sarcasm.
"Don't judge me... food."
The first narrative thread, which soon meanders into a weird wife-swap story, has Ray going to his home holler of Ferlin in order to help out his drug dealer, sorry, drug farmer brother Randy (voiced by 30 Rock's Kenneth, Jack McBrayer). I'll be the first to admit, I'm not a Jack McBrayer fan but Archer has him comfortably type-cast in his signature podunk role and they manage to make the most of it. There's a little extra gruffness to his voice and he also has a few great one liners... "yeah, and I'm something equally hard to believe is true." Archer joins Ray for the trip down South and, since "big old black" Lana clearly couldn't go, they decide to kidnap Carol to play the beard.
And once Carol wakes up and everything is explained, she's fine playing Mrs. Gillette, especially when she thinks they are actually married. Let's face it, Carol is pretty much game for anything. The fake marriage that she thinks is real is also the reason that "Bloody Ferlin" meanders into wife swap territory because, well, Randy isn't just into dealing, farming drugs, he's also into his brother's new wife. Don't worry, it's totally in the Bible. Go ahead, check it. Genesis 38:8. I will say that Randy's interpretation is perhaps a bit off but it, along with his lovely wife Janelle (Deadwood's Paula Malcomson) and her hot, moist and hopefully not flaky pie, is enough to get Archer into the whole idea. Ray, however, is not so into it and the Gillette brothers shoot each other right before the law shows up for, uh, another shoot-out!
"Well for one thing, it's eerily similar to the plot of White Lightning. And this is Ray's brother Lana, what is more important than family?"
I'm not sure the wife swap thread entirely works, but the other half of the Ferlin narrative was pretty great. Right when the trio of ISIS employees arrive into town, they are immediately pulled over by what they and we think is going to be this week's antagonist, Sheriff EZ Ponder. And with The Walking Dead's Michael Rooker as the guest voice - not to mention that first nasty sniff - it's not hard to buy into the narrative trap, which is probably why the story works so well. So, the super menacing Sheriff is apparently trying to muscle Randy out of his drug dealing, farming (sorry, I'll stop) business but the Gillettes won't simply roll over like a dog. Well, until Ray finds out what's really going on and then he'll roll over just fine.
I loved the moment mid shoot-out when everyone finally realizes that Randy, who seems like the dumbest character in "Bloody Ferlin," has actually tricked the ISIS team into helping him defend his crops from the not so shady sheriff. Except for Archer, who actually drank too much. Yep. That's a thing. You see, Randy is just too lazy to work at the local coal mine and, in a great twist at the end, EZ Ponder is a straight shooter when it comes to protecting and serving and yet not so straight in sexual orientation. And I didn't see either coming, making Ray's "EZ don't shoot, I'm coming out" line, which was already in the running for my favorite of the episode, perhaps one of the best of the series. Phrasing!
"It's my bum zappers. For the shock fights. That I'm doing for Krieger which is why he broke the server to help Lana cover up that Ray and Mr. Archer are killing cops for a drug dealer and also Ray's been faking that he's paralyzed."
While Ray recruited Archer and Carol to help solve his family problems, Lana remains behind at ISIS in order to keep the truth behind the break-in from Malory. And true to form, Malory doesn't seem to give a shit where Carol and Ray are, only Sterling and who broke into their system. I won't say that this storyline is particularly original - it just consists of a checklist of scenes where a new member of the team learns the truth, one after another, with them constantly trying to keep Malory in the dark - but it was still pretty hilarious.
Plus, the originality of the events within the thread made up for any unoriginal or formulaic structure. I mean, who else but Adam Reed would think of Krieger running something called Ultimate Bum Shock Fights? But first Cyril is threatened into the bathroom by Lana and as she explains the situation to him, Pam overhears from the nearby stall (she likes to keep her feet up on the grabbers). At this point, since Pam knows, we all know the cat's long out of the bag but Lana continues to try and keep Malory from discovering the truth, eventually working their way to Krieger and Pam's involvement in the aforementioned Shock Fights. Fights which involve shocking. Literally. With bum zappers.
"Well that's just great. Everybody gets laid in the holler but me. And you I guess, since I ate your husband. Dan Lather."
"Bloody Ferlin" was just a solid effort in what has been a terrific third season. It wasn't the funniest episode of Archer by any means - the laughs were certainly there but not as big or bountiful as usual - but it did provide an excellent twenty two minutes of storytelling. The way the episode unfolded was full of surprises and detours, despite the relatively straight-forward work at the office, and even though I've laughed harder, it was still a pretty entertaining story.
Overall, the trip to Ferlin was not a complete success but there was a lot to love. Perhaps we've just been so spoiled this season that I've come to expect greatness every single week from Adam Reed? I hope I'm not judging the effort a little too harshly. Oh well, that's a good problem to have and a good episode of Archer is still better than most anything else. And, after the remaining four this season, we get 13 more. At least.
Archer airs Thursdays at 10 p.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.