Published on February 10th, 2015 | by Michael0
To the soothing sounds of the William Tell Overture, Sterling Archer walks through the offices of ISIS with a bunch of roses, handing them to his work colleagues (except Cyril. Fuck Cyril) as they gaily prance around. Perhaps the tumultuous events at the end of series 4 have changed him, perhaps he’s in a coma after he nearly drowned saving Lana, either way something is up. Then, before we’ve had chance to settle, BOOM! The building explodes. Cue credits (with Lucky Yates name finally added, which really throws off my rhythm with the theme tune). When we get back to ISIS HQ, gunmen swarm in and Archer and friends are fighting for their lives. The luckless Brett is killed, as Archer observes ‘doing what he loved: getting shot’. It’s certainly fitting; we only know Brett survives each time Archer shot him when he next appears weeks or even seasons later…inevitably to be shot. A typical Archer diversion (about The Muppets no less) and the inevitable Frisky Dingo reference later it turns out their assailants are the FBI with the US government disavowing ISIS after years of corruption and incompetence. With no money, no weapons and no status, the erstwhile spies must make money using the only resource they have left; one (non-metric) ton of mysteriously acquired cocaine. Archer will never be the same again. Well, not until next season at any rate.
This opening episode of Archer season 5 serves as little more than a prelude to the rest of the series. After the all guns blazing opening, the rest of White Elephant is largely filled with an admittedly amusing recap of many of ISIS’s crimes to date (and didn’t that seem like a much more innocent phrase months ago) and an extended flash-forward to the episodes to come. Because you see, while most of their assets have been seized, ISIS is still sitting on ‘a literal, not figurative, tonne of cocaine’. So naturally, with their skill sets and the moral flexibility of most if not all of the main cast, the disavowed spies decide to turn their hand to international drug dealing, which Archer terms ‘Archer Vice’ under his breath (though not enough under his breath). Re-watching White Elephant, it’s clear that many of the scenes featured in the flash-forward never actually appear in the show proper (Cheryl in a wedding dress, firing an RPG in the middle of a coup for instance). Whether these were dropped storylines or just Adam Reed’s little joke I’m not sure.
So White Elephant was largely occupied with retelling the past and showing us the future, which left little room for actual current plot development. Even so it gave us the single biggest change in the show so far. Indeed starting with the next episode, A Kiss While Dying, the title card would bear the legend ‘Archer Vice’ with Archer himself resplendent in a white suit and the words themselves blown off the screen like so much cocaine on the mirrors of yuppies. Adam Reed had revealed that he had become bored with the spy premise and had decided the reboot the show, positioning Archer and friends as hapless drug pushers rather than hapless spies. Their first sally in their new line of work sees Archer, Lana and Pam venture south to Miami and Archer’s old friend, Ramon (the wonderful Ron Perlman). To smuggle the cocaine down there, Pam wore it as a body cast, becoming addicted to it as she did so. Typically the deal in Miami is a terrible failure as Archer is outsmarted by Ramon and those other upstanding Miami citizens, hitmen Charles and Rudy. This sets the tone for the rest of the series – despite the many harebrained schemes Mallory or Krieger cook up, the gang never really gets close to turning what should be a huge profit on the drugs.
A Kiss Before Dying also introduces the secondary season arc, as well as yet another new name for Cheryl. Yes, the eccentric billionaire turned secretary harbours an ambition to become America’s premier Country singer! Farewell Cheryl, welcome Cherlene! As ISIS-as-was now house themselves in the luxurious Tunt Manor, it seems fair enough that they help bring about this dream, especially since Mallory somehow wrangles the job as manager. The problem with this plotline is the same as that which plagues several episodes this season – namely that they in no way rely on the gang being drug dealers rather than spies. There’s a pure Smokey and The Bandit riff in Southbound and Down in which Archer, in the blocker car, must get the tour bus with Cherlene in down to Texas in 24 hours (Cherlene won’t fly) . In the following episode Baby Shower, Archer gets it into his head that what Lana would love most for her shower in Archer hero Kenny Loggins to play it for her, so goes to great lengths to persuade him. The episode, which really does feature Loggins, is damned good, and ends with a superb duet between Loggins and Cherlene on, what else, ‘Danger Zone’. However it could easily have been a plot from a previous season with minimal changes.
The following five episodes basically consist of one long arc, the first act of which sees Archer, Cyril and Ray go to Colombia to persuade the cartel to enter into partnership with them (which seems a bit coal to Newcastle to me but there we go). Things go awry, Ray loses the use of his legs again and there’s a great bonding moment as the characters and audience unite in laughter at Cyril’s pathetic attempts to take charge. The upshot of all this is that the motley crew stumble into some sort of shady CIA op, headed by a man named Slater who looks and sounds an awful lot like, well, Christian Slater. This kicks up the second act, in which the entire gang head to the fictional South American hellhole San Marcos during an attempted communist revolution. It seems the CIA want to use the erstwhile ISIS gang to smooth over their arms for drugs deal with the country’s dictator Calderon (Fred Armisen). The most interesting thing about the boorish Calderon is his wife, Juliana, voiced by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan using her Native(ish) British accent. The sojourn down the San Marcos is very amusing (despite Armisen), featuring a clutch of Krieger clones (‘CLONE BONE!’) and Cyril’s rise to ruthless dictator. It’s gratifying to see that we’re meant to hate the reprehensible Cyril as much as I always have. But coups? Palace sieges? Tanks? Exactly what about this story couldn’t have been done by the ISIS of old?
Season 5 of Archer is as entertaining as any other. But it appears that Reed and his writers had a couple of drug plots in mind, along with a desire to shake things up a bit. Reports of a reboot have been greatly exaggerated. Barring some scenery changes (Tunt Manor for ISIS HQ) it was pretty much business as usual. In the finale, Lana gives birth to a daughter, aided by Pam of all people (all that time on a cheese farm, y’know). On the flight home, Mallory uses her renowned silver tongue to enter into a deal with the CIA – basically, ISIS will continue to do what ISIS did before, under the auspices of the CIA. A classic Deboot, if you will. So will things go back to normal for our characters then? Well, not quite. One suspects that real life will have overtaken the show and the name ISIS will fall by the wayside. The other, much bigger change is that Lana is now a parent…and so is Archer. Yes, as most viewers will probably have guessed, the mystery father of Lana’s child is internationally renowned superspy Sterling Archer, albeit he wasn’t actually present for the conception. Archer’s first instinct on meeting his new daughter, Abijean, is to assume he’s coming out of a coma (from Sea Tunt pt II), a theory put forward by several fans in the wake of the odd turn at the beginning of the season. He’s not though, against his will or even his knowledge, Archer has just become a father, which is the best legacy that the failed Archer Vice experiment has given the show. How will he cope? Will it be with a hitherto unknown maturity and responsibility? Or will he do what he always does between seasons, run off for a months long bender? Keep your eyes peeled for Archer updates on this very site.