Archer returns after a crazy season five with a great episode that mirrors some of its greatest classic moments both in production and how the story plays out. “The Holdout” begins with one of Archer’s best repeating gags – Sterling’s fake voicemail always tricking Malory – and from then out it’s a wholly original episode with some great jokes, great characters, and a lot of unexpected laughs.
The episode is split pretty clearly between two storylines – one of Sterling in a remote part of the world, and another with the rest of the now-CIA agents getting back their headquarters. Both sides are about the group recuperating six weeks after the wild and crazy ride that was Archer Vice.
Sterling now knows he is a father so, in true Sterling Archer fashion, he copes with it by running off to a foreign country, drinking, getting some hookers, and piercing his ear. As luck would have it, the first role that the CIA is giving the spy group is located just near his current location, where he must recover a computer from a downed plane, and blow it up. His side adventure (which really is the main story in the episode) features a great new character who Archer calls “Ken.” At first the two fight, as Ken, is an ex-Japanese soldier who still thinks WWII rivalries are a thing, but they eventually become friends throughout the episode.
Their whole arc is rife with signature Archer writing and character dynamics. There’s a delicate balance of betrayal, trust, and coming together through adversity. Adversity usually caused by something Sterling screws up and someone else fixes, naturally. In all, this story line feels like a satisfying mirror of many of the character interactions we’ve seen through five years worth of the show. Not to mention that their precarious situations lead to some fantastic jokes, especially towards the end of the episode.
Perhaps the most clever joke in the episode is when Sterling is trying to convince Ken that WWII is over by showing him his satellite phone. He shows him the Japense signing papers of surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri, VJ day parades, and a “link to an episode of the Six Million Dollar man about the exact same thing we’re doing now.” What he’s reference is a real episode of the popular ’70s show where Col. Steve Austin does essentially the same exact thing as in this episode. Whether the writers wrote this episode specifically as an homage, or realized it afterwards, the joke and nod to the original concept was welcome and very cleverly done. If you’re curious, the Six Million Dollar Man episode in question is the classic “The Last Kamikaze.”
It’s been known for months now that the show would not acknowledge the name ISIS anymore since the brutal killings by the real-life terror organization that goes by the same name. While certainly disappointing that they take the easy way out of dealing with the controversy, all the dialogue and references to ISIS merging into CIA is done cleverly so it never feels like they should be saying ISIS and are avoiding it. Instead, it just never comes up naturally in the conversation so the group never bothers mentioning it. It’s also established several times that they are CIA now so it shouldn’t be a problem in the future either.
Now that they are part of the CIA and getting their office space back, Malory is expecting something new and fancy. Instead, Pam and Cheryl – who were put in charge of planning the new offices – remake their headquarters to look exactly like their old ISIS headquarters, but not before tricking Mrs. Sterling with a hologram in a great display of wasted money. This “new” office also introduces a character, who it’s assumed will be recurring, which is nothing more than a photocopier/toaster on wheels named Milton. Even in his debut episode, this little hunk of failed technology sets up several jokes that hit perfectly.
One reference or nod to a trope that I feel was missed was the fact that everything is just back to normal like nothing in Archer Vice ever happened (including Pam regaining all her weight back with only a trope-y explanation). They mention several times how the office itself is the same, and they clearly realize what they are doing, but some kind of nod to the fact that they are purposefully using a giant trope like this would have been welcome. All told though, this isn’t even as much of a negative as a stray observation about the episode.
The whole gag of Lana now having Sterling’s child could eventually become overdone, but as it was in this first episode it was fine. Nothing spectacular came out of it so far, but the baby didn’t detract from anything else, which is more than we can ask for out of it.
Overall, Archer is definitely back and just as good as ever. A lot of shows begin to run out of steam somewhere around the fifth or sixth season, but if this season premier is any indication, Archer is good to go for a while. Plenty of throwback jokes mixed in with new gags and great new characters. It never ceases to amazes me how quickly Archer’s writers can effectively develop a character and get them to be relevant on the show – and “The Holdout” is no exception. Four and a half
Mike & Vikes MOARGeeks out of five.
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