Jessica Walter’s absence has left a huge void in the Archer-verse, a void that she clearly struggles to fill. Malory’s departure has not only meant the loss of many of Archer’s more scathing gags (“If I cared what you did over the weekend, I’d stick a shotgun in my mouth and pull the trigger with my toes.” ), but also robbed the show of one of its main comedic axes. Without Malory, there’s no confused Sterling struggling with his psycho-sexual attachment issues, no belittled Ray struggling with his superior’s intolerances, and no more Cheryl’s endlessly entertaining ups and downs at the expense of the world’s hottest CEO. of espionage.
Malory’s final goodbye was sweet and heartfelt, an understated coda that had H. John Benjamin fighting back tears as he bid Walter goodbye, and it’s perfectly understandable that there was no attempt to replace such a beloved character with someone as… similar substitute. Still, it’s been a strange quirk of this season that many of the core cast seem strangely absent for long periods of time, leaving for inexplicably arbitrary reasons only to return to the fray when the plot deems it necessary. Archer’s cast may be substantial, but you still feel a huge absence when Ray, or more inexplicably Cheryl, is absent for oddly long periods. The lack of great characters and one-shot cameos only exacerbates the problem.
This leaves gaps that need to be filled, which very often are not. New boss Fabian Kingsworth has established himself as a regular, but there’s a lingering feeling that the writers aren’t exactly clear on what they’re supposed to do about the slippery Brit now running ISIS and its parent conglomerate, the IIA. Kayvan Novak again shows off his absurdly brilliant ability to slip into virtually any voice he chooses, even if fans of the chameleon-like Brit can occasionally spot a few old Fonejacker voices creeping into Kingsworth’s snotty rhotacism.
Season 12’s biggest hits were built on exploring, or indeed exploiting, the adorably dysfunctional character dynamic of ISIS, but it’s this force that has been in danger of falling by the wayside during season thirteen. Dynamics that once turned out to be so comically rich, whether it’s Archer’s jealousy of Robert and Lana or Pam and Cheryl’s dysfunctional loving bond, seem to have been thrown out the window, most of the plots centering on a shady operation orchestrated by Fabian or , more vaguely, Archer’s increasing alcoholism. caused by the departure of his mother.
Perhaps that’s a roadblock that has led the writers to not have a clear vision of where they see Archer going in the future. It might seem strange to bemoan the removal of many of the cast’s established core dynamics while simultaneously criticizing this season for not allowing its underappreciated agents much active character development, but it feels like they’re giving us the worst of both worlds. When old dynamics resurface, they usually exhibit their character’s worst tendencies in a way that feels less comically gratifying and more unnecessarily cruel.
Archer, for example, is supposedly dealing with his mother’s departure by drinking himself into oblivion and caring even less about his job than he did during season 1, but that seems to have provided the world’s greatest spy with an excuse to be an irredeemable dick. The reprehensible way Archer, not to mention Lana, treats Cyril makes it hard to find any real comic justification for any of the characters’ cruelty.
Cyril, in turn, seems to have lost some of the development and growth he enjoyed when his great rival was left in a coma, acting as the scapegoat for everyone from his disparaging co-workers to Archer and Lana’s own pre-teen daughter. Lana’s attack on her bookish colleague as “the most irritating human being alive” during episode 6 is not only out of character for one of the most empathetic and emotionally mature members of ISIS, it feels misdirected when it is considered how terribly Archer has behaved for most of the time. from season 13.
Lana’s fall from grace has been particularly undignified, spending more time worrying about custody of her daughter AJ than exhibiting a three-dimensional personality or operating as the team’s most effective field agent. It’s been sad to see a great character reduced to defeatist bits like “I just want to keep my head down and do my job.” Lana’s sole motivation this season is to pay for her daughter’s custody battle, most of which takes place off-screen. Aisha Tyler used to act as one of Archer’s certified trump cards. However, she more and more, she gets lost on the cover.
Still, the various adventures shown throughout Season 13 are enjoyable, even if there’s nothing particularly noteworthy that stands out above what might be termed “standard” Archer outings. Season 12 wasn’t universally popular, but standout episodes like the poignant and revealing ‘Dingo, Baby, Et Cetera’ or the anarchic fun of ‘Shots’ marked a solid season with moments of vivid inspiration. Season 13 feels a bit like a relief map of Holland: flat and featureless, not suffering many valleys but also failing to scale any particularly notable peaks.
In fact, that may be the biggest flop of this season, as it seems completely inconsequential and almost completely irrelevant. There’s still fun to be had every time a mission goes wrong, Pam finds a new romantic outlet, or Krieger exhibits his continued desire to do more “weird science,” but it’s hard not to wonder how much of a loss it would really be to Archer’s canon. if Season 13 just ceased to exist. Evaluating this latest run, I came away wondering if I had simply forgotten all the salient information and action, or if there was nothing of note or interest that really stuck with me.
Either way, it feels like a disappointment. For better or worse, I rarely walk out of a season of Archer without a clear impression of what the show was trying to accomplish. From the glory days of the early seasons to the frustrating missteps of Danger Island or Dreamland, FXX’s animated spy adventure used to leave a lasting impression each time a given season reached its climactic conclusion. This year’s race, however, has felt a bit too meandering, a functional exercise that hasn’t disgraced itself but hasn’t set the world on fire either. Season 13 is still pretty good, but for a show with Archer’s reputation, pretty good just isn’t good enough.
READ MORE: Archer: Season 12 REVIEW – Still Spy Time
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Adam Reed’s spy caper is still pleasantly biting fun, but the show’s thirteenth season feels compromised by inconsequential plotlines and too many underused characters.