Expectations are always high when it comes to FX's Archer, especially in light of the stellar year it's been having, but they may have gotten a little out of hand after seeing the preview for this week's episode. The tease for "Crossing Over" offered a glimpse at two of this week's great story lines - Archer's sexual depravity and addictive behavior leading him right into Pam's, uh, arms as well as the return of former ODIN Agent Barry Dylan or should I say Bionic Barry. Yes, you should other Barry.
The prospect of Pam and Barry being given a lot of screen time (and Archer too, of course) was certainly enticing and exciting. And my excitement may have gotten the better of me because, like last week's outing in the "Bloody Ferlin," "Crossing Over" is another good but not great episode of Adam Reed's animated comedy. There were a lot of great set-ups but, in a rare event for the series, it seems like more than a few were left hanging. I will say though, that the main thread of the week, definitely delivered the goods and once again, the storytelling was perfectly structure since all roads lead to a dead Jakov.
"Yeah. Or you could skip a step and just feed me some vomit."
The cold-open unfolds like a condensed version of The Hangover, starting with Sterling hanging out on the balcony with Woodhouse, trying to rid himself of a literal hangover. After a nice 'Bloody Mary' prayer, our super spy starts to remember the circumstances that led him to such a dehydrated and disjointed state. He doesn't even know the half of it. Well, actually he doesn't really know any of it but slowly the pieces start falling back into place - drinking, literal cab rides, chicken and waffles, strippers, Green Russians, Pac Man Jones and promises of heroin - and they end up at his bathroom door, where he proclaims his love of the sex they had last night only to find that it was with Pam and she's eating waffles on the shitter.
The cold open was fantastic. A tightly wound and scripted Archer short film, albeit with a totally expected (yet enjoyable) outcome. It's as perfectly self-contained as I hoped the rest of the episode would be but unfortunately not everything outside of the Pam and Archer debauchery is ever as funny or, oddly enough, inconsequential as the main storyline in "Crossing Over." It's really interesting to see Reed continue to devote more and more time to some of the smaller, yet equally beloved characters (like Gillette last week) and the more Pam the better because that girl is irresistible. Ultimate Bum Shock Fights one week, using her farm know-how in the boudoir the next.
"That's 150 gallons. Of Pam's hot, dirty, ball slappin'... come at me bro!"
The first act picks up right where we left Archer and Pam. Archer is disgusted with himself and when Pam pushes things a little too far in the elevator we get an absolutely spot-on, kinda gross and hilarious spoof of the angry-sex in movies convention. Pam sings her way out of the elevator and Archer is left in shambles, with Jon Benjamin's delivery of "you can't" still making me laugh. Kudos also goes out to Amber Nash, who once again kills it with her great voice-work this and every week as Pam. These two hooking up creates another office secret and, since we all know how great Pam is at keeping them, not to mention how badly Archer wants this one kept, it makes him super paranoid and it's fun to watch him squirm. He starts thinking that everyone is talking about them when in fact they're all too preoccupied covering for his absence.
The other main thread of the week, the one that Archer is supposed to be handling but is botching because of his escapades with Pam, deals with the possible defection of Sterling's possible father, now former head of the KGB Nikolaj Jakov. Former, and possibly defecting, because our boy Bionic Barry has taken over the Russian Intelligence Agency and is sending Jakov to Siberia. Stateside, while Archer sneaks away to have dirty bathroom stall sex with Pam, Malory pines over Burt Reynolds who we (of course, didn't forget but) didn't think was still part of Malory's life. And besides being a flimsy reason why Jakov couldn't stay with her, the Burt Reynolds reference seemed out of place when it wasn't coming from Archer... and when it wasn't, you know, funny or about one of his films. As you can see, the Jokov side of the episode is not nearly as tightly wound or effective.
"Yeah, you really got corn-holed huh? Wait, don't answer yet because I'm also reassigning you to Siberia."
Boris, who is one of the show's great bit characters ("promise broken") helps Jakov flee to the states but Barry is close behind, heading to New York to murder some people. The reason Barry has always been so funny is that he's the creepy, bizarro Archer who constantly gets shit on, especially by his nemesis. He's the Betty to Archer's Veronica and we take pleasure in Archer treating him like garbage and even the odd occasion when Barry retaliates. However, Archer was too busy with Pam to take part so everything Barry got up to felt somehow less rewarding. And also less funny. Lana and Cyril do their best to handle the other thread, but there journey seems more perfunctory and lacking in laughs without Sterling as the anchor. Although, I did like how the mole they interrogate also had Barry-like bleach blonde hair.
ISIS has handled the Jakov situation in Archer's absence by stuffing the Russian defect in a safe house ("whoa, that is big dog"). Meanwhile, Barry literally bumps into Cheryl at a local bar and convinces her to get out of there but her place smells like ocelot piss (Babou!) so they end up heading for the safe house for some seriously disturbing choking. Seriously, that scene was probably the creepiest of the series. Cheryl will be masturbating to that for years. Archer did briefly see Jakov but, after a funny bit of drinking and slapping, he ditched left him alone since he'll surely be safe in the safe house. Duh. In perhaps the sincerest moment of the show's run, they play the news of his Jakov's death with a slow zoom in on Archer not played for laughs. He seems distraught. And just when you thought it might get too serious, Pam kills the tension with the pushing rope gag.
"I mean, I assume. Because Barry's got a master plan which when you hear it will probably make your head explo..."
The main problem I had with "Crossing Over" was that, despite all the great stuff between Archer and Pam, it felt like the first show in another mini-series or a mid season multi-episode arc and yet, I don't think that's what is ahead. As I noted in last week's recap, if there is any show that can fly through plot points or leave thread unresolved, it's Archer (come on, Ray went from paralyzed to not-paralyzed all in the opening segment). It just didn't feel like a stand-alone episode and don't expect any resolution next week, as Episode 8, "Skin Game" will see the return of Archer's beloved Katiya. Hm. People seem to have trouble staying dead in the spy world, especially when it's a spoof spy world.
Maybe Papa Jakov isn't so murdered after all? Maybe Barry's head exploding master plan will come into play again and soon. Perhaps Barry's master plan might involve the only woman that Archer has ever truly loved (sorry Lana)? Especially since Archer did, uh, kind of spoil Barry's plans to propose to Framboise. Now this is just wishful speculating but I do hope that this episode leads somewhere and isn't its end in and of itself. I mean, there must be repercussions to Bionic Barry's actions in "Crossing Over" and ongoing conflict between him and Sterling thanks to his new found position of power, Oh, and since Malory kept bringing up Burt and I'm wishful speculating maybe he might return too? Or at least only be referenced by Sterling. There are only three more episodes in Season 3, with the finale airing on March 22.
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.
"Hello. Hello. Oh for... Mother this isn't voice-mail. Mother come on. The time is exactly 7:16 and, I wish they were, but even my voice-mail pranks aren't that elaborate. Mother!"