4.12- "Sea Tunt: Part 1"
As all great writers do, I will begin this review with a disclaimer: I am biased against this episode of Archer because I’d heard rumors that the episode would (sort of) be a crossover with Sealab 2021. If you’ve never heard of the show, here’s a nifty tool that lets you sift through the bounty of information on the World Wide Web to (legally) watch every single episode. It’s one of my favorite shows ever – an animated series that was one of the original shows on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, created by Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, the executive producers of Archer.
This episode was not that at all – in fact, it featured the voices of Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, H. Jon Benjamin’s co-stars on Bob’s Burgers, who were not included in the season premiere’s opening sequence in which Archer thought he was a small-town burger chef named Bob. The episode did, however, conclude with the introduction of Captain Murphy (voiced by Jon Hamm), the commanding officer of an underSEA research LABoratory with a list of demands and nerve gas missiles aimed at major cities.
The episode contained a lot of moving parts, even though all the characters were on Cecil’s monstrous airship, and I wasn’t sure where the plot was going. It was clear from the beginning that Cecil had an unspoken secret agenda, and although Cheryl saw right through his plan, she’s paranoid and not exactly the most trustworthy person in the world – after all, she does hear dramatic music in her head. The unpredictability of the plot was a positive because it seemed much more planned than the surprising plot details in previous episodes of this season (for example, Barry pulling the strings in “Live and Let Dine”).
I latched on to an early detail from a scrap of dialogue that I couldn’t let pass without commenting on it. In Malory’s office, Archer asks if Bub is finally dead. Bub is Malory’s mother, who apparently is still alive, which surprised me, as I can’t recall hearing about her until this point. It’s also somewhat unbelievable – she would have to be about a thousand years old, if I’m doing the math right. Her mother being alive is almost as unbelievable as Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett playing Dr. Elliot Reid’s parents.
The episode’s flaws were common to non-cliffhanger two-part episodes: the entire time I was watching it, I felt that I was just being prepared for next week’s episode. When you see a two-part episode that bookends a season break, there is real suspense because you know you have to wait a whole year to find out what happens next. But I just felt mild annoyance that the story was really only beginning. It’s reductive of me to see this as an episode that only exists as a primer to a more compelling story to be told this week, but as a viewer, I can’t help but to feel unsatisfied by only having the opportunity to hear half of a story. And since I was already looking forward to the promise of next week’s homage to Sealab, it was all the more frustrating.
I also was unclear exactly where we left things at the conclusion of the episode. ISIS was looking for a hydrogen bomb in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle so they could sell it back to the United States government. Cecil, Cheryl’s wealthy, philanthropic brother, provided them with transportation. But there was no bomb. He wanted to prove that Cheryl is insane so he can have access to her share of their inheritance, as well as to bring them to Sealab. Captain Murphy, commanding officer of Sealab, one of Cecil’s philanthropic ventures, wants revenge on mankind at large for polluting the seas. So is Cecil’s plan to have ISIS stop Captain Murphy, or did Murphy lure them there himself? Are they somehow supposed to meet his demands?
Last week, I talked about how I want Archer to do more with the real-world topics it comments on. But this episode actually made me rethink that point of view. The dialogue made comments about Cecil’s philanthropic nature and veganism. They were overt statements, but they really only touched on those topics. And even though it contradicts most of what I wrote last week, I think that’s exactly how the show should have approached them. Cecil lists the charities he is involved with (including One Laptop Per Child Soldier, which quickly became 1,000 Laptops Per Warlord). Archer jokes about how contributing to charity is squandering money by giving it to the poor. Tiffy, Cecil’s vegan girlfriend, swears to “goddess” and requires Cecil to stock the airship with seafood made of tofu.
So by making fun of types of people rather than a movement or set of ideas itself, they are able to avoid arguing against behaviors that are generally inoffensive (and, honestly, admirable). Archer can make fun of Cecil for giving to charity without the show actually saying that’s a bad thing (it’s not). They can make fun of the often-true stereotypes of vegetarian and vegan culture without actually saying it’s stupid (again, it’s not). The show can comment on social topics without actually taking a stance, making jokes without making claims or trying to dictate that people should act a certain way.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam
collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.