I almost feel like I can’t truly review this particular episode of Archer until I see the way it ties into the rest of the season (we’ve only got three episodes left, people). Conveniently, the next episode has already aired even as I write this, thanks to the joys of midterms, but that’s not really the point. Let’s just ignore that part, shall we?
“Crossing Over” was funny. “Crossing Over” had a considerable number of genuine emotional moments, something that’s especially commendable because this is not a show that regularly goes to the well of legitimate sadness (and because most of these emotional beats centered around Pam, who’s more or less a human punchline).
So that’s fantastic. But ending on such a heartfelt moment is a bit of a head-scratcher. I’ll be sorely disappointed if next week’s episode starts up with a firm press of the reset button- a mention or two of Jakov’s death and then we’re back to another zany adventure. Archer’s got a decent (not spectacular) record with serious, multi-episode story arcs, and if these last four episodes are all linked together in the right way, they could become something truly spectacular (especially because Bryan Cranston’s lending his voice to the two-party finale).
It all depends on what comes afterwards. But for now, let’s dig into “Crossing Over.”
Normally, I tend to prefer Archer episodes that are light on the action and heavy on the banter, but “Crossing Over” is the exact opposite of what I like and it still works startlingly well as a piece of television. First of all, nearly every plot point relates back to Archer in some way, shape or form- Archer’s assigned to protect Jakov, who may or may not be his father, Archer struggles with a newfound addiction to sex (with Pam, of all people), Barry’s hatched some secret evil plot against Archer, and so on, and so forth. This way, we’re not wasting our time on the lesser members of ISIS, and when everything comes together in the end, there’s more cohesion and enough of a payoff to feel like a legitimate spy story.
And with this emphasis on plot, the jokes are more of an icing on this proverbial cake than they are the cake itself. A couple great lines stand out- Archer’s Bloody Mary prayer, Pam’s line about chupacabras, and the increasingly-complex answering machine gags I’ve come to love so much. I’ll admit, though, that the vast majority of the humor and the suspense and the emotion was crammed into the latter half of the episode- the first act and a sizable chunk of the second one were a little too exposition heavy and a little too joke-light for my tastes. Again, though, if this all ends up paying off three or four episodes down the line, then it’ll all be worth it. We just can’t tell yet.
Now there’s one last thing I’ve got to get to- the human aspect of all this. Between Pam’s heart-to-heart with Mallory about her relationship with Burt Reynolds (who’s with me in not realizing that was still ongoing? Hopefully he’ll be back at some point) and all of the father-son moments between Archer and Jakov, “Crossing Over” was an episode heavy on the drama.
And it all worked surprisingly well- especially the stuff with Pam.
I’ve always seen Pam as kind of a caricature, even when she’s the focus of an episode (for example, her street-racing subplot in this season’s “Drift Problem”). But rather than just inserting Pam into an episode so she’ll do something crazy- street racing, shock fighting, whatever- she’s actually relating to Archer and Mallory on a personal level. It feels refreshing and genuine, and while I don’t know if something like this could work in every episode, down-to-earth Pam is a Pam I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more of. Plus, grounding jokes in reality always makes them funnier, so a realistic Pam that only occasionally takes a detour into crazy town equals comedy gold.
So now all we do is wait. I, for one, am practically quivering in anticipation of the finale. Partly because it has Bryan Cranston. Partly because I really enjoyed this particular episode and I’m hoping Archer follows up with even more greatness.
But mostly it’s because of Bryan Cranston.