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“Space Race: Part 2” is the final episode of the fantastic third season of FX's Archer. Last week's "Part 1" had its problems but the big laughs, incredible guest spot from Bryan Cranston and beautiful outer space animation all easily erased any of my concerns with the somewhat lacklustre plotting. However, unlike the first part of the space saga, Part 2 didn't have as many virtues wasn't to successful mask its shortcomings. Sadly, even with several bright spots (the animation, again, was amazing), "Space Race: Part 2" was not the finale for the excellent third season that I was hoping for and/or expecting.
"Um. Using me as your brood sow?"
A quick catch up: Archer, the field agents and a few extra ISIS stowaways have made the journey to space in order to combat a mutiny aboard the International Space station Horizon. Of course, things weren't as they seemed and ISIS actually helped the real turncoats who are intent on terra forming and colonizing Mars. And to colonize Mars, they need some fertile women. One of my complaints from last week was that the plot was more than a little nonsensical, since they are better ways to populate a planet than kidnapping one female spy and it was just lucky for them they ended up with Pam, Cheryl and Malory.
Okay, unlucky for them. However, "SR:P2" tried to clear up this flimsy plot point from "P1" during the opening 'Bond villain' like speech from Drake (Cranston) where he proclaims in a Thank You For Smokingesque throwaway line that Lana was the perfect and only candidate for the project. Fine. I'll go along with that for the sake of the comedy and also since it allows Cranston to have another villainous monologue. And this is always a good thing. However, it is also rare for Archer to spend so much time in the tease playing catch-up but I suppose that is part and parcel of having a two parter.
"Oh, you don't look like a whore. An idiot maybe. Or both. Yes, a whorediot."
The cold open for "Space Race: Part 2" was a bit slow in getting to this episode's plots because they first have to drag the prisoners (who are sporting some pretty fancy space-cuffs, meow) to the bridge or whatever to meet with the megalomaniacal Drake before he can even begin his Hugo Drax soliloquy. Perhaps this wouldn't seem so slow and uneventful if it wasn't Archer, a series known for its breakneck plotting and rapid fire jokes - I mean, this is the show that explained and disposed of a character's half-season long fake paralysis in less than three minutes.
However, Reed still manages to steal a moment to sneak in a much needed final Krieger appearance of the season, no easy task since he's on the ground and completely uninvolved in the action. Okay, that makes it sound like a pointless cutaway just to fit all the characters into the final show (and it is) but I'm okay with the chance to see Krieger one more time before the break - sorry Krieger-son, his digi-bride and his van's sweet new paint job, paid for by selling Lana's medical records to Drake. The tease also manages to set up the main story lines for the show, mainly the two pronged attack/retreat of the ISIS field agents on the Horizon and the stowaways safely locked inside the Intrepid.
"You can kiss 3/5 of my ass."
The ISIS team soon learns about their less than agreeable employment opportunities once they reach Mars and the terra forming begins, namely that the men will be slaves and the women, well, will be a different kind of slave. Archer can't believe that the unicorn, sorry, the black astronaut is okay with this practice. Anyway, while the ISIS field agents plot their escape from their cell, Pam is finally able to convince Cheryl that there is no party on the space station, only the chance to become baby making factories. For some reason, who are we kidding it's Cheryl, Carol interprets that information to mean that she'll be Queen of Mars. Suddenly, she's very much on board with the mission. And Malory is drunk. And, unfortunately, that's how the season ends for Malory - a recurring gag about her slowly sipping from the space supplies in order to get drunk, and drunker for re-entry.
In fact, most of the recurring gags this week aren't that clever or amusing and sadly, very few (if any) are callbacks to previous episodes. I know I've complained about relying too much on series or season long callbacks but if they were fitting in any circumstance, it would be the season finale. One of the other unsuccessful gags was Lana's nudity which they first used as an escape plan before turning into an odd animation sexualization combined with a woman acting out her insecurities (poor Trish). One recurring gag that did work for me this week was the Animal Farm stuff, especially Sterling's shocking knowledge of the book even though he cannot for the life of him grasp Space Bilbo's reference. Oh, but he did get his goat.
"No man can judge me. Mars! Forever!"
Speaking of Space Bilbo, I suppose his inclusion was another reference - his likeness to mission control Bilbo - that also really works in "Space Race: Part 2." Is it a callback or a reference? Either way, having a plethora of science-fiction and fantasy references was perfect for the two part saga and on top of the Orwell reference, I also especially enjoyed the Star Wars trash compactor bit, the Aliens spacebots ("bring, hello airboats?") and, even if not sci-fi, Bionic Barry's ode to Warriors. And boy was I happy to see Barry. They may have been relying on him a little too much this season but ending it without him would seem like a missed opportunity, especially since the episode was dwindling with time to spare.
In fact, "SR:P2" just feels like two half-eps smushed together. There's the original crisis aboard the Horizon which had its own fits and starts and largely wasted Bryan Cranston's incredible guest voice (although his slow meltdown and few outbursts were still gold) before wrapping up with an easy 'standoff' conclusion. Space Bilbo cannot break the Adamantium/Mithril door, even with dwarven technology, but Queen of Mars Cheryl simply lets Drake in the Intrepid. Pam soon steps up to play the role of hero, despite the problems with her vagina, and the rest of the ISIS team soon arrive to witness the crazy zealot suicide as well as Cyril's suppressing fire kill the unicorn et al. Resolved! Nope. This is where the aforementioned second half smush comes into play, starting with the out of the blue arrival of Bionic Barry.
?"Gone to outerspace to shoot that dickbag in his face."?
The two part season finale not only wasted the opening minutes bringing the audience back into the story but it also didn't leave enough to finish the episode so instead there's this tacked on coda. Fortunately, it's probably the funniest and most rewarding part of the episode. Sorry, Bryan Cranston. After Archer calls the airboats to gloat about the awesomeness of the spacebot, the team is ready to return to Earth with Cyril set to man the mission home. You know, since he did so well in the simulator before Archer barged in with the fire extinguisher. Ha. Yeah. But before the team can takeoff, Barry and Other Barry arrive to murder Archer (against the wishes of his new bionic bride Katya), challenging him to 'play-i ay' in an epic evil cyborg versus spacebot showdown.
Holy amazing, right? However, in perhaps the single biggest moment of character growth, and a large redeeming point for the episode, our spy puts aside his selfish desires to rumble with his nemesis for the greater good of the ISIS team. I mean, when Cheryl is the one calling you self-centered, it's time you take notice and Archer successfully delivers its big Sopranos/No Country for Old Men-style denial of audience expectations and desires. Well played Reed, well played. Of course, the moment of growth is even more rewarding when he turns into a huge asshole all of three seconds later, demanding to take over the controls and land the spacecraft. Not a good idea. And having Ray paralyzed again at season's end was brilliant.
"Oh, come on. Ray! What's the big deal? You already had the chair!"
"Space Race: Part 2" certainly wasn't terrible but it also wasn't as inspired as the rest of the season. The episode flirted with mediocrity while the crawling development and narrative split didn't help and probably contributed to this episode being less rewarding than previous efforts. Not the best way to go out but we should all remember that the third season was fantastic and, even though "Space Race: Part 2" was sluggish, at least the finale finished on a high note with both Barry's arrival and Archer's moment of clarity. Most people are lamenting the upcoming off-season of the supernatural melodrama The Walking Dead but personally, I don't know what I'm going to do without Archer. Thankfully Community has returned to help fill the void but it's a big one since Adam Reed's animated spy spoof may be the funniest show on television. Season 4 can't come soon enough.
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.