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Analysis

Archer Is Reinvented Under The Murder Mystery Genre

Back in its eighth year and already guaranteed for another two, which are meant to be the last ones for the series, Archer shed its case-of-the-week typical status for what could very well be a two and half hour movie that takes place in just over five days. If you’re a fan, then it is no secret to you that Archer had a few episodes like this throughout its history and, more relevantly, had a more straightforward approach to its fifth season where the gang became drug dealers for a couple of months. However, “Dreamland” baked the cake and ate it too, but that was a good thing.

As a result of last year’s finale where it was revealed that Sterling Archer, the world’s most dangerous spy-turned-Private-Investigator, got repeatedly shot by Veronica Deane, questions rapidly surfaced on how creator Adam Reed would solve this situation: would he call it back to Archer’s apparent immortality? Was it just another cyborg Dr. Krieger created? Had Archer been in a coma since his drowning in season four?

Nope.

Adam Reed took a far more “out-of-the-box” approach and, while embracing the opportunity to honor Woodhouse’s late voice actor George Coe, took us to Los Angeles, 1947, reeling in post-war, Hollywoodland, and the characteristic noir aestheticism from the decade.  We went on a journey set in Archer’s coma in which the people from his life are back in new roles as he navigates a sleepless week where pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong, goes far worse than expected.

The show obviously took a hit from its experience: the first episode, “No Good Deed”, barely had any jokes in it, sacrificing humor for establishing the plot and mystery, but it’s all good because the next ones balanced the two factors more evenly and with steady pacing. If you are an avid rewatcher like me, you probably noticed a shitload of seamless callbacks, running gags, and references to previous seasons even in random lines of dialogue. If you’re not, I bet you were still pretty satisfied. However, I know full well that it is also quite possible that you didn’t quite enjoy Dreamland, much like some watchers who disliked Archer Vice — this is a peculiar case because I only appreciated Vice’s humor during subsequent rewatches to the point where it became my favorite season.

So, now what we will go through is a high-end recap where some I’ll streamline the overall main points of the season, but I hope to control myself and not spoil too much of the clever humor. I’m taking you through Dreamland day by the day, but as a fair warning, given its straight continuity, the nights did tend to blend into each other, so the division in days is not 100% accurate.

Oh, before jumping in: the first episode also offers a look at Woodhouse’s funeral in the real world — the show continues its plausible deniability on the period it takes place by not showing the year the Butler died. It also displays a depressed Malory, keeping watch besides Archer’s bed in the hospital, almost three months into a coma.

Recap

Spoiler Alert for major plot points concerning the eighth season of Archer. Content warning for mentions/discussions of violence, gore, and drug abuse.

Day 1

During the first hours of the day, we see Sterling Archer, private investigator, discovering the body of his work partner, Woodhouse, shot three times. Two LAPD officers, Figgis and Poovey, are there as well, not really caring about the murder, simply labeling it as a heroin user whose bill got too tall for his dealer. Archer decides to find out the truth on his own and goes straight to said dealer, Krieger, who is Dreamland’s bartender. From there, he ends up having a conversation with Krieger’s boss at the lounge/bar Dreamland who identifies herself simply as “Mother”.  In exchange for helping to solve Woodhouse’s murder, she gives Archer a job: to spy on her competition, Len Trexler, who was having something delivered that night at the Long Beach pier. Archer also gets a crush on the club’s main attraction and also the singer, Lana Kane.

Later, Archer drives down to the location and finds Trexler’s employee, Dutch Dylan, known for dissolving people in acid, handing money to Figgis. Archer realizes that what Trexler was having delivered is a truckload full of Chinese sex slaves, so he decides to act upon it with Poovey’s help. The duo escapes with the women, but not before Sterling runs over Dutch’s legs with the truck.

Poovey ends up being responsible for what happens next to the rescued women while Archer goes back to his office for a drink to find it completely burgled. There, he is met by a woman, Charlotte Vandertunt, who claims to be the heiress to a vast publishing fortune and wants Archer’s help to fake her death because she wants to escape from her quasi-incestuous family.

Day 2

Charlotte provides Archer with the corpse of a maid and the couple spends the day plotting their scheme: they plan on using the maid’s body as a fake out for Charlotte who would “die” in a car crash. Sadly, right before putting their plan into action, they are found by Figgis (who was threatened by Trexler to find the Chinese ladies) and Poovey (who ended up taking the ladies home in secrecy and, throughout the season, starts developing delusional dreams of constructing a family with them and living up to 1100 years old).

The policemen take Archer and Charlotte to jail, but they book the latter as a Jane Doe because Figgis wants to use this opportunity to fake her kidnapping, expecting to get a huge reward from the Vandertunt family.

Throughout the night and with the help of Dreamland’s band players, which includes Ray, Archer manages to escape prison with Charlotte. Lana performs a terrible stand-up number at Dreamland given there was no band to play for her and, hired by Trexler, Krieger picks up Dutch from the hospital to give him new robotic feet.

Day 3

Archer takes Charlotte to Dreamland which prompts Mother to take over Figgis’s plan to get a reward for the kidnapping. She employs Archer to make the appropriate negotiations with Charlotte’s creepy brother Cecil who even asks for a finger as proof. We learn Krieger’s backstory which, while still rooted in Nazism, takes a turn when it is revealed he was a Jewish person working for the Nazi on the robotic division (trying to create an army of men with bionic arms and legs, but they never survived because Krieger kept killing them on purpose) in order to hinder the fascist agenda. He operates on Dutch, not only setting him with a pair of robotic feet, but also full legs and arms, which prompts his mind to start degenerating much like in previous seasons of Archer.

Day 4

The exchange of the ransom money goes wrong when Figgis ends up taking Cecil’s money before Archer, who both took a sex worker to the meeting point — our old acquaintance Trinette McGoon — and was followed by an observant Lana.

As Figgis manages to escape with the money, Lana, who reveals herself a treasury agent, teams up with Trinette and Cecil to go after both Archer and the policemen, all of them going to Trexler’s house. What they weren’t counting on meeting there was a revenge-stricken Dutch. Using his robotic strength and invulnerability, he sort of creates an homage to “The Last Supper” built off Trexler’s henchmen, all of them maimed and impaled — it’s a strong and incredibly gory image to close episode 6.

Day 5

Somehow, everyone successfully escapes Dutch’s rage and head over to Dreamland because Trexler tells Archer that Mother was the one who killed Woodhouse. When asked about it, Mother denies her involvement and accuses Trexler of lying.

Dutch arrives at the scene serendipitously — he needed to take a shot of a solution created by Krieger to keep him from dying — and more hell breaks loose. Neither Archer nor Mother’s henchman Zirk is able to stop the murderous robot; however, the murderous robot hounds which Krieger had created during his time in Germany do the trick and break his neck.

After Dutch’s demise, things seem to be calming down — he actually ended up confessing to killing Woodhouse on a whim —, but Lana’s cover as a treasure agent is blown. Mother gets pissed and accidentally shoots her six times (well, one time only as the other five were on Poovey trying to control the gun’s hair trigger). The singer takes her last breath while being held by Archer, who storms out of Dreamland.

In its closing moments, Archer, who hadn’t slept in five days and was on a drug abuse bender (Codeine and Dexedrine, supplied by Charlotte to keep him going through the week’s shenanigans), says goodbye to Woodhouse’s grave. Poovey arrives home to find the Chinese ladies gone with a farewell note and breaks down in tears.

Review

Archer has always been known for its tongue-in-cheek and clever dialogue and quite possibly a hundred running gags throughout seven seasons, so obviously we would expect not only callbacks but also entirely new ongoing jokes. The clearest example turned out to be any of the characters saying “So… uh… what are we doing? Are we just jumping right into this?” (or trying to say it before they get interrupted) at the beginning of every episode starting with the second one. This phrase both suited each scene in which it was employed and served as a fun nod to how every episode started exactly where the previous had ended, further promoting the idea of a movie-like-experience instead of the previous “case-of-the-week” format.

One might also cite Poovey’s continuous delusion regarding the Chinese ladies he ended up taking home. Creator of the show Adam Reed stated in an interview that he considered Poovey’s quick attachment to the characters the heart of the season and, thus, they decided on his heartbreak as the closing scene.

Speaking of Poovey and the Chinese ladies, there is obviously some things that deserve to be said. First, there is more than one angle on how Pamela Poovey, a character who identifies as female in Archer, was transformed into ‘Poovey’, a seemingly male police officer. You can work on the angle that, in 1947, there may not have been a space for female police officers and/or detectives (which is not the case given Alice Stebbins Wells was appointed in 1910, in Los Angeles in fact, as the US’s first policewoman with arrest powers). One can also wonder if this is a callback to how, despite being a confident and proud bisexual woman, she is sometimes taken as a “masculine” character to the point of Malory Archer even thinking that she is a man.

There’s also the possibly transgender point of view which, while showing some great potential, I’m not sure if it is entirely supported by the story. Poovey is, as mentioned, dreaming about being the patriarch of a seriously large expanded family, which seems to imply the detective is male.

However, I do believe there is supposed to be some ambiguity regarding Poovey’s gender if you consider yet another running gag: in Dreamland, characters subvert expectations. They change sentences in which a reference to traditionally masculine traits is expected. An example would be “I’m gonna punch you right in the… genitals”, said by Archer in the first episode, where not only there’s a hesitant pause before the punchline, but also one would expect “balls”  or ” dick”  to be the last word. Such a subversion could apply to Poovey as a transgender character in Dreamland, but I just don’t know enough of the intent to make a call on it.

Now, on behalf of the Chinese women, I have to admit, I absolutely hated — HATED — every single time they were referred to in dialogue as “Chinese whores”, which happened quite a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I know more than enough how Archer is not above including a few selected slurs/slur adjacent words (the show is especially fond of the word “negro/negress”), and it’s not like the word hasn’t already been included in the show several times, but still, it is uncomfortable and problematic as fuck.

This brings us the question of “how politically correct is Archer?”, which I am not even sure if most viewers even think about. Well, to me, that’s a hard question because I do knows Adam Reed is aware of social issues like racism and sexism and takes them into account when penning a season. He even has characters saying “however you self-identify/however you choose to identify” as early as season 3. This particular line of dialogue, in the context of 1947’s Dreamland, is a bit anachronistic (it refers to Lana being confused as a “T-man/transvestite), but as culture is not absorbed in a vacuum, I find those attempts at nodding to gender dynamics quite welcome.

And yet, you still have to realize that pretty much every single character in Archer has either performed some atrocity, suffered some atrocity, or in some cases, both. So, in a world where there are problematic characters right and left, you really gotta decide for yourself what do you find uncomfortable to watch.

Another way Dreamland mirrors previous seasons is with Dutch and that’s quite obviously on purpose. In both scenarios, Archer is responsible for crippling Barry/Dutch who becomes mentally unstable and murderous when he becomes a cyborg/robot — even Barry’s “double personality”, Other Barry, makes the cut for Dreamland as Other Dutch.

Something that I really appreciated was the twist they gave to Krieger’s story. While he is a mad Nazi-adjacent scientist in the real world, the decision to make him a Jewish man hiding in plain site, wasting Nazi money in order to create robots which he will purposefully kill was really welcome. It felt fresh and gave him a new lens to look at as, while he is still quite the mad scientist building a cat and two dogs with robotic legs, he is also not afraid to kill his own creation (Dutch) when the people in Dreamland are being threatened.

In terms of displeasing scenes, Lana getting killed off out of nowhere and with the flimsy excuse of a “hair trigger” takes one of the top spots. I mean, really, shooting your only African American main character so unceremoniously was not only over the top but also gratuitous. The implications that come from that are pretty obvious: given how Archer didn’t wake up from the coma in the finale, the writers may be planning to either go back to Dreamland next year which would be without Lana (maybe Aisha Tyler wanted some time off?) or next year we will see yet another season in Archer’s imagination as the show reboots itself again. Or maybe Archer will wake up in the next premiere and all will be well again.

What can be said about the situation in which Lana was killed is what Archer himself yelled: Lana was shot six times (he says seven, but it was six) and no one can survive that. This is clearly supposed to be a mirror to the real world where Sterling was shot thrice by Veronica Deane, implying that, really, Archer will never wake up from his coma. The show is already renewed for two more years, which are supposed to be the last ones, so maybe this is gonna be it.

Something I feared for before the season started was whether some characters would end up being underutilized. And by “some characters”, I mean Cheryl Tunt, because she is my favorite. The truth is I was expecting a case-of-the-week kind of deal where each of the main characters would get only one episode to shine. Given how different things turned out, I am glad for Cheryl/Charlotte who had some pretty amazing scenes, but sad for Lana and Ray. The former was underutilized during the first half of the season, and Ray only had significant screen time in one measly episode.

Now, about Archer. There are definitely layers to Dreamland’s rendition of the character. While he maintained the usual qualities we love/hate — his womanizing was a bit retracted, but his alcoholism, drug abuse, lack of fear towards dangerous situations, and general ” swagger/assholism” —, this version of Sterling Archer was also a veteran war hero who got constant flashbacks to his time in the military as a potential sign of PTSD, especially in times where he became violent. This was a real interesting addition to the season, particularly as it climaxed to him realizing that he often engages in these ” unhealthy”  situations one way or another: he merely wanted to find out who had killed his partner but ended up on a five-day spree with multiple casualties.

Aesthetically wise, what can I possibly say about Dreamland that hasn’t already been said? It is stupendous. The animation is so perfect, the movements are so fine tuned, the brand new scenarios are colorful and exciting… Hell, the artists even took the time to pat themselves on the back by creating some very unconventional transition and close-up shots probably just to show off their skills. And you know what? They deserve it. This is a show that in three of the last four seasons had to create pretty much all new backgrounds, clothes, and themes, so they might as well do a close-up of ice falling in a glass of brandy to show the goddamn bubbles! The sad part about it is that for the second season in a row, the episode order has been decreased.

It’s also worth mentioning the noir vibes that inspired Dreamland. Now, honestly, I have barely watched any noir movies whatsoever, so I dug up some information to compare with how Archer took on the genre and, well, in my opinion, it more than succeeded in both homage and satire. You get your noir tropes — a private detective, a murder mystery, a rich woman, cops, mob bosses, the 1940s, a large city, voice overs — and Dreamland takes all of them and puts their own spin to it while adding humor and some anachronisms to maintain the Archer brand.

Overall, this was an amazing season in my opinion. It has a somewhat decreased level of rewatchability, for sure, but new fans might enjoy it given one does not necessarily need to have watched every single episode to get on board. Old fans like me, while probably stung by a year without resolution to the big question “Will Archer live?”, still got plenty to adore.


Images Courtesy of FXX

Matthew
Written By

Matthew is a 20-year-old sucker for the superhero/fantasy, crime, and queer genres. He is doing his best to become a forensic scientist, but, alas, he gets easily distracted with how much great TV is being produced right now.

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