Sterling Archer bonded pretty fast with the Wee Baby Seamus, a child he only thought was, biologically, his. This week, we finally got a chance to witness his first solo outing with Baby Abijean, a child he knows, biologically, is his. While “Sitting” generated a good share of “Archer the Bad Parent” laughs, it’s just not a strong as it should have been—mainly due to strangely gormless story choice that resulted in some of these well-established characters coming off like complete strangers.
It’s a fairly basic setup: Lana’s going on an overnight retreat, and leaves AJ (You reallllly wasted a healthy backbone for a season-long running joke on the baby name, guys!) with Archer. (Woodhouse is on his annual three-day vacation. Archer: “Normally it’s two, but I let him roll over one from last year.” Lana: “Your largess knows no limits.” Archer: “Well, it’s not paid.”) Archer promises not to drink as he shoos Lana out the door, and then promptly conjures up a cocktail he christens a “Black Mexican.” (“That’s not racist, AJ. If I added milk instead, it would be a ‘White Mexican.’”)
Immediately into Archer’s condo bursts a wounded Slater propped up by Farooq, a Pakastani defector. (“Black Mexican?” says Archer, offering a drink to the new arrival.) Slater informs Archer that he’s got to, basically, babysit Farooq in addition to AJ, as security at the CIA has been compromised. “Uhh, isn’t Pakistan an ally?” asks Archer. “Ehhh…” shrug Slater and Farooq, in a pretty funny geopolitically cognizant moment for the show. After Slater leaves, Farooq asks to hold the baby, then immediately pulls a gun on Archer, revealing himself to be the leak within the CIA. I turns out he needs Sterling to get him access to the (former) ISIS database to cause a massive CIA security breach. Archer (cannily) assumes the entire turncoat scenario is a setup by Lana to gauge how trustworthy he is with a baby in tow, until Farooq plugs him in the shoulder with a real bullet. (“I don’t know who this ‘Lana’ is, but she definitely sounds like a real practical joker!”)
Holding the baby hostage in order to force Archer to lead him to the office, we actually witness a growing rage bubbling in Sterling as it becomes clearer he’s genuinely upset about AJ’s safety being threatened. It’s a great direction for the character to go, because even revealing some sympathetically parental behaviors can still belie his raging narcissism. After arriving at the office, they find the rest of the employees still there—they apparently regularly get together for poker on Fridays. (“…Are you guy playing strip poker?!” Pam: “No, it just gets hot as balls in here.”) Despite the gang’s preoccupation with their game, they do astutely take note of Archer’s peculiar conduct, after Farooq introduces himself as AJ’s “Manny.” (“Black Mexican?” inquires Pam. “No thanks, I really shouldn’t,” declines Farooq. “Shouldn’t what?” she replies, downing a cocktail.)
Finally, they all figure out Archer and the baby are in legitimate peril, and rally to take down the traitor. Archer distracts Farooq long enough to allow Pam the chance to grab the baby from him, resulting in one of the most hysterical visuals Archer ever pulled off: Having a half-nude Pam, cradling the baby and leaping, ape-like, across the desks in the office (but stopping at the roof: “What am I doing? The roof’s the first place they’ll look!”). (Expect this inspired sequence to arrive in GIF form across social media outlets in 3…2…1…)
But after Sterling and the rest of the team finally get the best of the data thieving babynapper—surprise!—Lana reappears, revealing that Farooq is an improvisational actor, and the entire scenario was a setup, as Archer’s initial instinct suggested. And therein lies the biggest problem with the episode. The (not really) twist was completely unnecessary, and paints Lana, in particular, as the real monster. Was she so willing to prove Archer is unfit to care for a child that she actually put the small-time improv actor Farooq’s life at risk? She knows Archer well enough to be acutely aware he’s quickly and mercilessly dispatched his enemies for way, way lesser transgressions. And then finding out Farooq swapped out the blank rounds for real bullets? She could have (and justifiably, maybe, should have) murdered, or at least broken every damn bone in his body after that revelation. Was being right really enough to override all sense and mothering nature? It’s baffling, and seriously makes me wonder if Adam Reed was in a hurry to finish the script, or if he stopped bothering to respect Lana as a character. And Malory was in on it, too. That’s frickin’ cold, even for her.
Either way, it made “Sitting” end on a fairly sour note, which is a shame, given some strong material (particularly the staff poker night bits) preceding it. It’s great to have the characters grow, as Sterling did—albeit egotistically as ever—but it’s… not so great to have them regress to a state that renders them unrecognizable from where they even began.
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter @scottcwold, if you must.