Archer Season Six, Episode 1: “The Holdout” Review

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An opportunity to settle cultural differences, or a chance to exploit them?

The rise of ISIS in the Middle East means the demise of ISIS on FX’s hit animated series Archer. Following last season’s “Archer Vice” reboot, in which the former spy agency’s staff shifted their efforts from espionage to narcotics trafficking, the show is now more or less back to where it was, except with the characters now working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. However, they are back to their old office building, painstakingly and disgustingly reconstructed to resemble its former state (including some stains made from fudge, and some “which merely resembles it”) after the events in the season five premiere.

As with season three’s tripartite “Heart of Archness” and season four’s “Fugue and Riffs,” this premiere finds Sterling shirking his responsibilities and lurking in remote locales. Up to his infected earlobe in kathoeys and liquor, Sterling is sent to an Island (near Borneo) on a mission to retrieve a computer system from a crashed plane and blow the plane up. While on the island, he encounters a Japanese soldier, deployed in 1942, who still believes his home nation and the United States are at war. In one week, it’ll be the anniversary of the death of Hiroo Onoda, the last of the Japanese holdouts, but the use of such people’s fascinating stories will continue to serve as a plot device for many more years.

Ensign O’Toole and Gilligan’s Island both used this storyline in its early days, and since then there have been plenty more examples of it. For this series, the incorporation of a Japanese WWII holdout creates yet more unresolvable anachronisms and timeline distortions that cannot be accounted for. This episode’s use of holographic projection equipment, retina scanners, bread-toasting robots and references to satellites and computers are incompatible with the soldier (stranded and alone for as many as seven decades) remaining in adequate health to run with Archer (a respectable 184 lbs.) slung over his back. The show has gone to great lengths, intentionally or by accident, to obfuscate the era in which it takes place, and this episode further contributes to the situation.

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Spoiler: this happens

The writing is as self-referential as ever, with numerous throwback jokes (“inappropes” gets dropped early on, and Cheryl’s “let me finish!” makes an appearance) and dialogue consistent with the rest of the program. There are still running jokes, too; the “super” Krieger lets out when he sees Pam’s pubic hair (“it’s a lightning bolt, but I guess the letters could use a touchup”) is a lot like the “super” from Sterling when his filles publique avec schlongs bare their blessings at him (and as Caroline Framke points out, his reaction is less open-minded than it could have been).

A friend of mine suggested this season would feature a lot of jokes where Sterling attempts to eschew the bureaucratic red tape of working for the CIA, and that friend of mine was right on the money. Sterling ignores the agent who recommends he read the mission dossier (Aesop Amnesia from S03E05, “El Contador,” in which Cyril definitively proved the utility of reading such reports?) and also fires his weapon at the extraction team when they try to hurry him to depart. It’s likely we’ll see more of this as the season continues.

“It’s all just the same as it was” says Lana, and she’s right. At the end of last season, the show and its characters were changing, developing and growing. Whether through Archer’s desire to be a good father to Lana’s and his child, or Pam’s tremendous weight loss, or Krieger’s decision to not be like his fellow clones, it seemed new things were happening to everyone. That’s in the past now, with the only real carryover from the previous season being Abbiejean, the beautiful baby wrought of Lana’s ova and a selection of seminal fluid provided by Archer and used without his permission (but, as was revealed in this episode, it was Malory who encouraged Lana to do so).

“Everything is the same, Jesus.” Cheryl makes this remark before Malory clenches her drink so hard the glass shatters (who’s counting how many glasses she’s run through in the show to date?). When Archer Vice was first announced, people speculated that the decision to switch up the show would prevent it from getting monotonous in the long run, even though season 4 was fresh and hilarious. The decision to switch it back to the way it was is one that people will be talking about for a long time, and it’s hard to talk about Archer at all without doing so. Going forward, the show’s creators will have to work carefully to produce content that is funny, engaging and original.

This season premiere has good qualities and bad qualities, and I have trouble deciding which is more prevalent in the mix. I hate to end without passing judgment, but this does feel like a “wait and see” moment, as the seeds of future comedy (Pam and Krieger’s private onsen will hopefully return, and Krieger’s inability to remember Pam’s name suggests a possible plot point that could be explored down the road) may be embedded in the episode, like a feces covered stick, sharpened to a point and impaled through a person’s foot (but more subtle). For now, I’ll simply note my reservations while also stating my happiness that I get to watch new episodes of one of my favorite shows.

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Finally, equipment that does its intended job

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