4.08- "Coyote Lovely"
I've been unfair to Archer in the past.
What I like most about the show is what everyone likes about it — the clever, fast-paced banter of its characters — so that's what I fixate on. I overlook the truth of the show, and I don't think that's fair. I overlook the depth underneath the humor and underneath Archer's sarcastic exterior.
The show itself is sort of a metaphor for its main character. The real heart of the show is the story of how Archer came to be who he is. Through flashbacks to Archer's upbringing, we see how he was fatherless, neglected by his mother, raised by a servant and shipped off to boarding school. He's really a sympathetic character, a broken man that serves as a vehicle through which his mother carries out her agenda via ISIS.
This week's storyline balanced these underlying traits with a storyline that allowed the writers to comment on social issues — it contemplated illegal immigration, modern racism and even, briefly, the dangers of ignoring the symptoms of concussions (that was more of a throw-away joke, but as a sports fan, I take head trauma seriously). It delved into the morality of ISIS, the greed of Malory, and the way that Archer is manipulated to carry out the whims of others.
The episode's basic storyline places Archer and the other agents in southern Texas, where they have been assigned to detain a criminal that is enabling Mexican immigrants to enter the United States. But when Archer discovers that Moreno, the notorious coyote, is a beautiful woman, he decides to help her and the illegal immigrants hiding in the back of her truck.
Archer is surprised when Lana tries to stop him from assisting the Mexicans; he stands up for them, saying they are just in pursuit of better jobs and a better life, while she complains that illegal immigrants place undue strain on the health care system and public schools that they don't help finance. "How is a Lorax-blowing tree hugger like you anti-immigration?!" says Archer. I was interested in the way the episode successfully argues both sides of a controversial issue, and even more interested in the way that it did so without overly politicizing the issue.
I was interested in the way that the morality of ISIS was examined in this episode, which bore a striking resemblance to the episode "Once Bitten," which first ran two weeks ago. In both episodes, Archer and the other ISIS agents were manipulated into traveling to an exotic locale (okay, maybe the border between Texas and Mexico isn't that exotic, but it's not exactly New York City). In both episodes, Malory's invisible hand moved the agents like puppets to take part in ethically questionable practices. And, in both episodes, Archer dealt with life-threatening injuries and shook them off without Malory seeming to care at all.
Archer is rarely overtly political, but underneath the humor, there has always been a framework conducive to analysis of the way that government agencies operate in morally questionable ways, and this episode had Malory tricking her son into enabling trucks full of armed Mexican cartel agents to enter the United States and almost dying in the process. ISIS is technically not affiliated with the government, but the comparison still stands — there are undercover operations taking place at the behest of the government every day that most people will never know about (and that most people probably don’t want to know about). Malory's actions are a comedic version of this; I don't think the U.S. government has ever approved a military operation to raise funds for white carpeting, but it shows how strong the writing is that making these arguments doesn't come off as abrasive because the writing and art direction allow the pace of the comedy to never waver.
Archer is living a tragic existence. But it seems like he hasn’t really realized that until this year. He's always latched on to — and taken advantage of — the glamorous aspects of his life as an ISIS agent; much like James Bond, he drinks, sleeps with women and travels around the world. But this season, we've seen a more vulnerable Archer. Two weeks ago, he almost died, and through the dreamlike homage to Heaven Can Wait and The Natural, Archer remembered (and then forgot) the identity of his biological father. In "Coyote Lovely," Archer was taken advantage of by Moreno and Malory, almost died again, and no one seemed to care.
I keep wondering if Archer has grown over four years, and I'm not sure what the answer is. Part of me wants to say that, while he was certainly motivated to help Moreno based on how she looks and because he wanted to sleep with her, he goes to great lengths to help the Mexican immigrants and his behavior at least approaches the border between selfish and selfless. He's not a hero by any stretch of the imagination, but his actions are a result of his upbringing and the world he lives in. He is still egotistical, shallow, selfish, and superficial, but at least he is motivated by something. I feel like the writers have tried to maintain a season-long narrative, but with Barry thrown into every third episode, details about Archer's real father injected in there somewhere, and Malory somehow growing more and more contemptuous and antagonistic, I'm not really sure where this is going. Yet I liked this week's episode a lot — it was funny, seemed to really be trying to say something, and had enough fresh humor thrown in to give it a unique storyline.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.