After the great, Mallory-centric episode that was “London Time” I was concerned there would be a lull in Archer’s quality. Fortunately, that proved not to be the case as the show delivered two solid episodes centered around The Agency’s attempts to clean up its image. “Photo Op” brings Lana and Sterling to Africa to return a kidnapped gorilla infant to the wild while filming a promo, and “Shots” has the entire gang trying to reconnect through a night out in New York. Needless to say, neither goes as planned.
“Photo Op” is actually a success, in the strictest sense. Not for Dr. Kreiger and his latest foray into automated building systems/artificial intelligence, which inevitably turns homicidal. It’s just how Maximum Overdrive started! That’s what happens when Mallory’s too cheap to pay an actual contractor. Thank Cthulhu for unpaid interns. But in the main storyline Sterling, Lana, and environmental scientist Sandra (Pamela Adlon) are brought to the African mountains by marketing team Alton (Harvey Guillén) and Kaya (Natasha Rothwell) to help a kickass all-woman anti-poaching squad led by Neva (Anniwaa Buachie) return little baby Poko to her family. The footage they can upload to Global Spywire as positive publicity is merely a bonus. Archer, of course, immediately bonds with Poko, even battling crocodiles and one-eyed Afrikaner Janco (Andrew Morgado) and his team of mercenaries to get his little gorilla buddy safely into the mountains. Lana, meanwhile, only bonds with nature when it’s on her plate, perhaps in the form of a delicately prepared venison entree. Despite Archer and Neva’s expectations, Lana doesn’t so much connect with her “homeland” as she does feel completely out of place. She belongs in Berkley, not the bush. Still, despite their lack of firearms and basic outdoor competency, they do an admirable job fending off Janco’s mercenaries. It’s also an opportunity for the writers to let the audience know how very real companies hire men like Janco to kill endangered wildlife and locals so they can strip-mine the area for the rare metals corporations such as Dell, Apple, and Sony need for their electronics. Like the desktop on which I’m writing and the phone you use to read it, I assume while on the crapper. Just another of the hidden costs of modern society. But who has time to worry about that when the iPhone 13 is available?! The important thing is Poko makes it home safely and the Agency looks good for a hot minute.
“Shots,” on the other hand, is a more typical example of The Agency’s lack of basic competency. After burning down a warehouse, sinking a mega-yacht, and crashing a school bus through another school bus (“X marks the tragedy!”) Mallory breaks out the F-word for the first unbleeped time ever, and the team is ready for a break. So when Sandra suggests a night on the town everyone is in! Until it all goes horribly wrong, of course. Kreiger takes some of his homemade psychedelics with the usual unknown side effects; Sandra is accidentally ditched by everyone else; Cheryl and Lana quickly end up in over their heads as they try to keep with a classic Poovey Pampage; and Archer is forced to confront the effect his constant abuse of Cyril has had on the man, and by extension the team.
An interesting shift in seasons 11 and 12 has been the acknowledgment that Sterling is merely an excuse for the others on Team Archer to indulge their worst selves. Cyril went from competent field agent to incompetent office boob. Pam and Cheryl returned to their hard-drinking, sex and thrill-obsessed selves. Ray went back to bingeing and has now been missing from the past several episodes, perhaps having defected to rival agency IIA. And Lana? Well, Lana’s been a mess for a while. Never one for honest self-reflection, in the last few years Lana placed her 6-year-old in boarding school almost 4,000 miles away, married a billionaire she clearly doesn’t love for the comfort it provided and buried herself in work to distract herself from the responsibilities she doesn’t want. When Robert confronts her on this in “Lowjacked” she literally hands him over to terrorists rather than admit her issues. In “Shots” she moves on to meaningless sex in a doomed effort to prove she’s still fun. It’s quite the change from the woman who spent ten years acting like The Agency’s moral compass and/or occasionally nagging hypocrite.
Still, Lana’s downward spiral makes for good television, particularly when she hooks up with Fawad Fawaz (Sammy Sheik), the princeling whose V-card she almost took back in season 6. In a scenario clearly stolen from Very Bad Things the night goes from bad to worse when Fawaz ends up dead on the floor, slathered in more lube than a greased pig.
Sterling, meanwhile, makes a genuine effort to connect with Cyril and rebuild some of his confidence. It’s difficult to say which of them is more surprised by this, but Archer shows a surprising amount of tolerance as Cyril brings him first to a planetarium and then a teenager’s basement for some D&D. Sterling might be an alcoholic, immature manwhore, but he is still struggling towards character growth, which is more than can be said for his teammates. Still, Archer’s relief at finding out he isn’t entirely to blame for Cyril’s backslide, compounded by his relief at having to cut things short, shows us he hasn’t matured that much, thankfully. In the end, all’s well that ends well. Unless you’re an endangered harbor seal, anyway, in which case you’re probably one dead pinniped.
Header Image Source: Hulu screenshots