Archer: Season 3, Episode 8
Though I don't often admit this, people are allowed to have different opinions that are perfectly valid. Some people will love things that I hate, and have a rational basis for holding the opinions they do. Other people will dislike things I adore, and make perfectly cogent arguments in support of that proposition. Put simply: certain things aren't for everyone. This is almost certainly true of Archer as a whole. It is a show with a very particular brand of humor, a brand of humor that I fully understand does not appeal to everyone. The show is hyper-literate in its references in a way that can make it dense watching, but it can also be ludicrously dumb when it wants to be. In addition to that, it unabashedly revels in comedy that is sexist, racist, and incredibly, incredibly crude. I know a lot of people, people whose opinions I respect and whose taste I admire, who do not like Archer, and I understand why completely. And, I expect, even many people who do love Archer might consider "Lo Scandolo" a bridge too far. If you found the episode too vulgar, if you found it crassly sexual in a way that was more raunch for raunch's sake than plot and character driven, I completely understand and respect that opinion. All of which is to say, I fundamentally disagree, and think that "Lo Scandolo" is not just a great episode of Archer, but in a lot of ways is a fundamental argument for why this show is not just vulgarity for vulgarity's sake. Stick around for a moment and let me try to explain why I think this is the case.
To begin with, it is important for me to mention that "Lo Scandolo" is a bottle episode, with all of the virtues and few of the vices those usually contain (I could spend large swaths of this review discussing those, but instead, I will direct you over to Bottle Up and Explode, where I have spilled thousands of words on the subject already). Excepting the episode's closing moments, it takes place entirely in Malory's apartment, but in a larger and more important sense, it takes place in Malory's headspace. I have already made clear my theory that Archer is at its best when it mixes its rapid-fire comedic absurdity with meaningful character development and plot movement, and "Lo Scalando" has both in spades. This is a Malory Archer episode through and through, for all of the darkness that implies (and, as we will discuss below, I think the episode's crowning achievement may be how dark it lets itself be).
The episode opens with a catatonic-seeming Malory quietly draining a glass of bourbon, cradling a silenced pistol, and waiting for help to come. It arrives, in the form of a characteristically pissed off Lana and Archer, both of whom are furious at their boss (and Archer's mother) interrupting their Friday night to ask for their help cleaning up another one of her messes. This is not a standard mess, though, even by Malory's metrics (and, as Cyril readily points out, this is not the first time the ISIS gang have had to get rid of a dead body in Malory's apartment): the Prime Minister of Italy is dead, complete with zentai suit and anal accoutrement, and there is no convincing evidence that Malory didn't kill him. I think a great subtle point the episode makes is that Lana and Archer are never particularly convinced of Malory's innocence here. There is never a sense that they need to help her exonerate herself, or that there are real bad guys out there in the night, waiting to be caught and clear Malory's name. It is pretty obvious from the get go what happened, and rather than be horrified y the situation, the two are just miffed in a world weary way at another mess they have to clean up.
I want to emphasize what I think is a very brave thing Archer did in this episode. I don't imagine many long time viewers doubted Malory's capacity to kill in cold blood or to further her own agenda regardless of the costs, yet having her kill a foreign leader in cold blood is a serious step for the show to take in terms of her development as a character. Additionally, having Lana and Archer (and to some extent, the rest of the ISIS staff) react as cavalierly as they do to the situation tells us a lot about these people and the lives they have gotten fairly used to leading. I don't want to make more of this point than there is, especially in an episode with as many dildo jokes as this one had, but I think it is a sophisticated point the show makes here, and one that most other comedies on television would likely be afraid to tackle.
This episode could easily have focused entirely on the Lana-Archer-Malory dynamic, and if the first half is any indication, it could have done this in a way that is both funny and consequential. Yet instead, it escalated, bringing in the rest of the cast and letting everyone go wild for a while in a way that was deeply comedically rewarding. Archer is frequently at its best when all of the characters are in the same place, just bouncing off each other and letting the comedy escalate naturally, and this was certainly the case in the back half of "Lo Scalando" which has Krieger professionally carving up a cadaver while the rest of the staff pretends to be New York's elite at a swanky dinner party (the highlight: Judy Greer's ridiculous accent).
This episode had a propulsive element that the show occasionally lacks (see: last week's episode, which despite my lack of review I thought was the low point of the season so far), building the comedic stakes by bringing in first the rest of the cast, and then the police detective who manages to be competent enough to raise the stakes a bit and funny enough that he doesn't feel out of place in the rest of the proceedings. "Lo Scalando" is, at essence, just a well executed parlor room murder mystery that happens to focus on characters that are as hilarious as they are dynamic. From plot, character, and joke perspectives, this is Archer firing on all cylinders.
And oh, what an ending. As I said earlier, there was never really a question about who killed the Prime Minister (unless you're Cheryl, who thinks it was clearly "that stupid king"). There was always only one suspect present, and any mystery lover knows that no good whodunit ever answers that central question with a new character. Malory was always the killer, but the elegance of Lana's little Poirot act and how it dovetailed with the wonderfully revelatory flashback that explained Malory's motives was a wonder to behold. This is the capper on the subtle runner about Archer and Lana's weary ambivalence; they are good enough at their jobs (alright, Lana is good enough at her job) to put the pieces together, but ultimately they don't really want to know why Malory killed the Prime Minister of Italy. They just want a crazy evening with their demanding boss to be over as soon as possible, regardless of the international consequences of what they just took part in. Add to all of that the revelation that the killing was an act of revenge for the murder of the man who might have been Archer's father, and you have a nice tidbit of masterplot as the cherry on top of this ice cream sundae of an episode.
I have never been particularly enthralled with the "who is Archer's dad?" plot line that runs through the series, but the way I am interested in the way it effects the characters I have come to care a lot about. The death of the Prime Minister seems like the sort of thing the show may address in the future or completely ignore from here on out just as easily, and I am pretty much ok with either choice. What is important here is what we learned about Malory, and I think we learned rather a lot. This was an episode of television that functioned as a window into the mind of a character who keeps her intentions rather opaque, and also allowed for some insight into the attitude the rest of the cast takes towards her. That it was also a perfectly executed murder mystery and a hilarious episode of television just means that "Lo Scandolo" will join the annals of classic Archer episodes, an example of the show doing everything it does well, and doing all of it about as well as it ever has. And that is not half bad.
-"Wait, doesn't Italy use a King?"
-"What year do you think it is?" "I, uh...good question." Can we take a moment to appreciate this joke for how smart it is? Archer has always been wonderfully vague about the time period it exists in (either still during the Cold War or in an alternate history where the 20th Century is condensed or where the Cold War still hasn't ended, depending on your point of view), and this slight acknowledgement of that made me a very happy geek.
-"Your hands are like cricket bats!"
-"Man, if I don't get some spaghetti and meatballs, I may literally die." A great example of H. Jon Benjamin's deft skill at quick comedic escalation and a hilariously depraved window into Archer's Oedipal hang-ups with his mother.
-"We're not burning down my apartment." "Are you sure?" "Shut up. I hit broil instead of bake."
-"Wait, seriously? They were Nazis?" "No!" "Well they're not Japanese..."
-"You got a potato?" "What is this, Christmas?"
-And perhaps my favorite joke of the evening, muttered by an off-screen Krieger as he hacks up a dead body for his acerbic boss: "Yeah, take that tone."