There’s a quiet grace to the mid-season point in a TV series that doesn’t have to work toward satisfying a greater seasonal arc. Simply delivering up a solid—if middling, compared to the show at the summit of its gathered strength—half hour of Archer-ized shenanigans will still likely end up the most entertaining 30 minutes of the evening. More importantly, this week’s is not sodden with characters made unrecognizable or an entire episode strangely timid toward joke-building, as the show this season, regrettably, has shown it’s indeed capable of.
It may be symptomatic of the same sensitivity that saw Archer dropping the ISIS name from its agency, so the target the gang is meant to spy on this week is from the “Kingdom of Durhan,” a fictional sovereignty of distinctly Middle Eastern flavor (Bahrain, probably?). After being handed the mission dossier, Archer deliberately drops the folder and inquires, “So, just in case I don’t read this, what are the rest of us doing?” While its Prince and Queen are in New York mansion-hunting, Slater wants Archer and company to sell them on a residence during which they can distract the Durhani security entourage and knock out the royalty long enough to bug and monitor. Say, who amongst them has a giant manor in the city they could use for such a charade? Cheryl, again demonstrating how little she values her vast family fortune, agrees (enthusiastically!) to pretend to have the place up for sale, and gets to pose as its real estate agent. (In an amusing extension of this aspect of her nature, it’s clear she definitely intended to sell the place, staying in character or not.) Lana, of course, would like to know why, seeing as Durhan is a US ally, prompting Slater to respond, “Sorry, let me back up. It’s all part of ‘Operation: Because I Said So.’”
So, while Cheryl excitedly plays the part of realtor “Ms. Escrow” (“Believe me, I’ve heard allll the jokes!”), Pam and Lana appear as French maids, and Archer—mustache included, naturally—plays the butler, “Butler.” (Believe me, I’ve heard all the jokes!”) Ray’s set up in the plant conservatory, put in charge of gassing the guards into needing emergency bathroom visits. Krieger’s on security camera duty with Slater, while Cyril’s dressed butler-y, but seems to only be around to further drive a wedge between Lana and Sterling. And therein is the real purpose of this week’s episode: All the ideal elements conspiring in getting the two antagonistic former lovers and (technical) parents of a new child hot enough under their respective collars to finally act upon it. But before that, Archer fully reveals to Pam his plan to seduce the Queen (who’s comically cruel and imperious) to complete the list of royalty and nobility he’s slept with, prompting Pam to wonder why he would tell her, leading to my favorite exchange of the week. (Archer: “Oh my god. I think you might be my best friend!” Pam: “I think you’re my best friend!” Archer: “What about Carol?” Pam: “You’re my second-best friend! …Honestly, by now, I thought I’d be doing a whole lot better in the friend department.” Archer: “Honestly, by now, I thought I’d be dead.” It’s a sweet little aside for these two, then perfectly undercut, all in the space of a few seconds—something the aforementioned “Edie’s Wedding” episode never managed in its entirety.)
Cyril begins his campaign of meddling by reporting this to Lana who, instead of looking to him for the “comfort” he was expecting to provide her, decides to seduce the Prince in retaliation. Slater’s plan proves to be too needlessly complicated for the agents (or, as Archer puts it, “Wile-E-Coyote”), and though Ray succeeds in scattering the security guards during his part, he ends up face-to-maw with a massive, Audrey II-esque man-eating plant. Slater doesn’t exactly add much expert integrity to the scheme himself, since he continuously plugs Krieger with tranquilizer darts every time the creepy scientist mildly annoys him.
The mission very quickly falls apart, just as Cyril’s plan to interfere in the revived passion between Archer and Lana. The two of them are forced to admit they were both playing at one-upping each other in the jealousy game. “Well, that backfired,” admits Cyril, “or did it…?” before immediately concluding, “No. That backfired.” Krieger, at least, gets the last laugh, as he wakes up in the control room in time to watch Archer and Lana have sex on one of the monitors. And Ray—poor frickin’ Ray—is again the one most punished, despite being the only agent to achieve his part in the mission objective. He managed to kill the plant monster, but forfeited one of his hands in the process. Back at the office, over Malory’s seething admonishments, the gang all seem united on their relative success in spite of the CIA’s “overcomplicated” plan. “Yeah,” explains Archer, “all it needed was a sign that said, ‘free bird seed.’” Of course, Ray’s rightfully furious, too, but if he doesn’t end up with a new robotic hand, I think we can officially declare that the Krieger ending last season is not, in fact, the original Krieger.
So “Pocket Listing” is no great standout amid the franchise’s finest, but it’ll make for a smooth middle while binge-watching the season. It’s good enough to be good Archer, which means it’s more than good enough to be great television comedy all around.
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.