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All season long I have been extolling Adam Reed’s masterful skill in breathing new life to Archer, instilling it with a freshness that was missing in its fourth season and rebranding it Archer Vice. Much of that new quality has to do with the change in premise and its effect of the characters; the ISIS team has been stripped of their security and livelihood and thus forced into extreme and unknown situations in order to survive. This pressure has brought on hilariously fun scenarios and, even more engaging, incredible moments of character growth and emotion from virtually every member of this bizarre and dysfunctional family. The latest episode, “Palace Intrigue Part II” capitalizes on the season-long exploration of the characters’ relationships to one another and it pays off amazingly in an unexpected turn of events.
“Palace Intrigue Part II” combines all the aspects that have made Archer Vice such a fun success; the gang is (for the most part) contained to one room where all the action happens highlighting the ensemble; unlike last week’s disjointed and overloaded story, there is a predominant and simple narrative interspersed with bizarre humor from some outliers (Krieger, Cyril); lots of fun gags and jokes; and significant moments of earnest emotion that heighten the stakes and overall drama. Not that Archer is some prestigious drama that strives on that kind of high-stakes narrative style, but it certainly sets it apart from the many half-hour comedies (animated or live-action) that cannot sustain the right balance of humor and truly engaging characters and storytelling. Reed has struck quite the balance of insane/irreverent comedy and compelling stories. We have come to care for these characters and their well being.
So the moment when Pam takes a bullet for Archer is a great example of all the character development and relationship building (primarily for Pam and Archer) coming to a head and supporting a surprisingly emotional scene for the show. Look, we all know that Pam is not going to die; this isn’t that kind of show, we know, but the characters are not privy to that and in that precise moment they totally believe that our Pammy is done for. The emotions and reactions spurred by her potential death are completely real and touching and true to their nature and personalities. Archer’s obvious emotion is surprisingly heartfelt and believable. The development of their relationship has been a major story thread throughout the entire season; we’ve seen him go from an annoyed reluctance to spend time with Pam to actually bonding with her and showing affection for the coke-addled loon. The fact that Pam literally jumps to the rescue of Archer is incredibly sweet and, again, completely in tune with what we have been seeing all season. Let’s not forget how Archer has repeatedly taken the metaphorical bullet for Pam this season (helping her with the Yakuza, taking the blame for the whole truckers ordeal, etc.). Pam’s act serves as a fitting recognition of all the times Archer has helped her.
The moment just works and while the emotion is believable and the mood shifts slightly it never gets to the level of schmaltz or melodrama, this is still Archer Vice. The over the top and ridiculous slow motion scene as Pam gets shot, Archer’s subsequent “Pam?” and Cherlene’s immediate rage, “Out-law Coun-try!” as she wields her guitar as a formidable weapon help to diffuse the emotional tension. Also this:
It is no surprise that the other extreme reaction to Pam’s seeming death belongs to Cherlene, who has pretty much been her partner in idiot crime since the series’ inception. As much as Cherlene/Carol/Cheryl loves to make fun of Pam, there is love there for sure.
“Palace Intrigue Part II” is another fantastic episode of Archer Vice that cashes in on the much-appreciated character work done all season. Not only did it achieve in presenting a compelling story, but it also never faltered in providing bountiful laughs and gags. Krieger and the Krieger-clones alone would have been enough funny for the episode. Not to mention Cyril’s frustrated determination to please Malory for once and his surprise turn as the hero of the day.
While Archer Vice will ultimately be a fun experiment, a special season in the Archer series run, it has established itself as a cohesive string of episodes with a clear thematic thread running through all installments; unlike earlier seasons in which standalone episodes ruled and character progression came in sporadic bursts. If anything should remain from this (probably) brief departure is that sense of continuity and consistency. Also, the awesomeness that is Pam.