The great TV shows (and even the not-great TV shows) all have their place on history for whatever reason. Their impact on society. Their place in the pop-culture lexicon. Their contributions to the medium. But one function of television that seems to be called upon a little less frequently is its function as a time capsule; a perfect little microcosm of style, culture and current events. It’s not hard to extrapolate a little bit and imagine how future TV-nitpickers will look back on today’s world through the lens of the small screen. 24, Homeland, Modern Family, House of Lies: all programs founded upon the hot-button issues of today’s world, even as everything else on TV (save for your sci-fi, your fantasy, your period pieces) is documentation of how people dressed, spoke, and what values people held during this particular cross-section of history.
When something doesn’t quite fit into that televised version of real life, it tends to stick out. Selling Charlie Sheen and Anger Management as lewd and crude and cutting edge while the show employs the same format Lucy and Desi used sixty years ago simply doesn’t click. Today’s world uses the traditional sitcom as throwback material or easy to digest, breezy comedies- nothing more. Even something as small as a single joke can be tainted; doomed to be feel dated the moment the joke ends.
A healthy portion of “The Wind Cries Mary” has that same dark cloud hanging over it. The crux of the episode’s main storyline is one overly long gay joke, as ex-ISIS agent Luke Troy (Justified star Timothy Olyphant) is first rumored to be gay in office gossip , then revealed to actually be gay, then finally confesses to molesting Archer in his sleep while Archer cries out in overdramatic anguish towards the sky. It’s as though this storyline was lifted from a time when merely using the word “gay” was enough to elicit a giggle through your average TV audience, and it’s somewhat surprising that a show with the pop-culture savvy of Archer struck out so plainly on a cultural level.
The majority of the episode seems to follow suit. As per the usual, “The Wind Cries Mary” is split between espionage action and office humor, but in both cases the results are somewhat flat. The bulk of the spy story this week hinges around the question of Troy’s character and whether he’s good or evil, straight or gay. The reveal that he is both gay and a traitor feels telegraphed from the start (as Archer firmly believes the opposite in both cases, playing off an easy characterization of Archer as stupid and naive), and thus saps the story of any real narrative punch. Archer is and always will be comedy first, spy thriller second, but with neither suspense nor momentum, the episode can’t help but drag. It doesn’t help that the office aspect boils down to a one-sentence gag about employee self-evaluations.
However, once “The Wind Cries Mary” gets though a twist that was more or less spoiled from the outset, it perks up dramatically. Freed from the restraints of a worn-out story, the last act zips along at a much tighter pace and scores hit after hit with smart pop-culture references. It’s not enough to excuse the first two acts (and the final gag with Archer crying out to the heavens is still in remarkably poor taste), but it’s reassuring that even a weaker outing on Archer can still find it’s footing eventually. While “The Wind Cries Mary” may be not be fondly remembered by history, it’s somewhat indicative of what to expect with Archer: fast, fun, lighthearted humor, inconsistent but with enough charm to keep you watching each week.