And so ends another season of Archer.
My initial idea was to make some grand, sweeping comparison between this season and the one that came before it. You know, which was funnier in an overall sense, which one had better overarching plot points, which one had a higher blood alcohol content.
But I can’t honestly remember last season in great enough detail to actually do that. I remember the wee baby Seamus. Also Terms of Enrampagement. That whole storyline was pretty spectacular, wasn’t it? Just because of that, I’ll rank season two a hair above season three.
But really, none of this matters unless I actually go back and re-watch season two and analyze the whole thing.
That actually sounds pretty fun.
But now, on to the actual review.
While Archer’s had the occasional mini-arc from time to time (the aforementioned Terms of Enrampagement), it’s never one to dwell too long on the same story. But with season finales, Archer usually treats us to something with a little more narrative heft, and “Space Race: Part II” is no different. The big payoff for Archer doesn’t arrive by way of violence or debonair charm or awesome space battles, but simply by treating Cyril like a human being and having Cyril repay him in kind. It was a nice little moment. A moment that was almost instantly overwritten when Archer selfishly grabs the shuttle controls and puts everyone else in various states of injury, but a nice little moment nonetheless.
Honestly, I felt like reverting Archer right back to his old jackass self wasn’t really necessary- yes, it’s implying that while Archer has his moments, he’ll always be a dick in the long run, but still- it was such a big reversal and such an unbelievably stupid idea (grabbing the controls and risking everyone’s lives, including his own) that I couldn’t help but feel a little miffed. Just look back to “Dial M for Mother,” the very first season finale. It’s got a similar emotional beat (this time, a near-death experience leads to a heartfelt mother-son moment between Archer and Mallory), and it doesn’t last too long before devolving back into your standard Archer snark. But the difference is, in “Mother,” the characters revert back to their old selves when Mallory calls Archer an ass, rather than Archer wrestling the controls of a space shuttle away from the one man who can actually fly it. It’s not a gigantic complaint. But it’s still a complaint.
And now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’m free to talk about everything in “Space Race” that I did like. And there’s a whole lot of that.
Considering I wasn’t too thrilled with the first installment, this episode immediately got on my good side with three dynamite jokes in a row. First Archer says “me-OW” (which, admittedly, was spoiled in the promos for this episode), then we hear how Archer broke both of Wu’s arms while yelling “WOO!” and then this winning streak ends with Archer struggling between sangria and a Michelada. Even if I had loved the previous episode with all my heart, that kind of rapid-fire stuff is what Archer does best, and starting any episode out with a volley of jokes like that is sure to leave a good first impression.
The story is also leaps and bounds ahead of last week. The first half of this two-parter was mostly exposition and setup, so with all of that out of the way we get some intense laser battles, near-nudity and the possibility of a space brood sow.
Bryan Cranston also gets to stretch his acting chops a little more than he did last week. While Drake never hit that level of psycho crazy befitting a voice actor like Cranston, Drake’s final scene had a couple of real gems- especially his dying scream of “MARS!” I probably re-watched that three or four times, all while imagining Bryan Cranston acting that out in the recording booth. Even though he’ll always be known as Walter White, the man’s equally skilled when it comes to throwing himself into goofy, over-the-top stuff like that.
And structurally, things are a little weird with half of the episode centering around Drake and the other half centering around Barry, but that’s easily forgivable when the Barry story wraps up so nicely (and when Barry’s even included at all- I’ve long since given up on ever finding out his real secret evil plan, but just including him in the finale is enough to satiate me).
There’s also a circular feel to the way nearly every story wraps up. Archer gets to one-up Barry, after Barry killed his fiancee (sort of) in the last season finale. Ray ends up back in his wheelchair, for real this time. And Cyril’s place among the field agents is finally cemented- he’s completely useless in a combat situation (killing the only other astronaut able to fly the shuttle was the final nail in that coffin), but he’s the guy who actually pays attention to plans and simulations and can help out in that by-the-book method that Archer and Lana so sorely lack.
Overall, I’d say that’s a pretty stellar ending. I would’ve liked to see a little more out of Mallory besides… well, alcoholism, but I’ll take what I can get.
And what I can get is pretty darn great.