Archer 5.8, Archer Vice: The Rules Of Extraction Review

rating: 5

Malory says it herself in part one of this two-part episode: "No more of that bush-league nonsense." For much of the fifth season, it's felt like Archer has been pussyfooting around in the bush leagues. As if in conscious recognition of that fact, Malory declares the team done with it, and boy, does the show deliver. The Rules of Extraction, along with part one, Smugglers' Blues, is the best episode of the show since season 4's Midnight Ron. Even the episode titles have even improved. Smugglers' Blues is a nod to the very Archer-appropriate 80s Glenn Frey classic, and it fits with the Vice theme perfectly. Archer, Cyril and Ray smuggle their cocaine into Colombia in the hopes of getting a sample to the Colombians' biggest distributor. Things don't exactly go the team's way, and by the episode's end they've been deceived by the godmother of Colombian cocaine and are on their way €“ or so they think €“ to a dreaded Colombian prison. That's when The Rules of Extraction picks up, and it holds the suspense from beginning to end. This is, by far, the funniest episode of the season. It's a hallmark of the show's greatness that its humor thrives in direct relation to its story. Episodes with weaker plots tend also to have fewer funny lines. Compare, for instance, season 4's Live and Let Dine to the same season's Midnight Ron. With The Rules of Extraction's far more compelling story comes much funnier dialogue.
For all that Archer softened up in this season, I'd almost not noticed that Lana, too, lost some edge. Here, she gets it back. I love it when Aisha Tyler uses that, "I have no fucks to give," tone: "If he calls here, my plan €“ in its entirety €“ is to ask him where he is." Pam's suggestion of dressing up like Sterling and using a strap-on to have sex with Malory is just the kind of deep, dark, twisted depravity that makes Archer such a unique show €“ it can wander into that discomfiting territory and back without skipping a beat. Oh, and check out Cheryl's guitar €“ it's a genuine Stevie Ray Vaughan knock-off with her initials. Meanwhile, in the jungle, the laughs come almost too fast to track. It's so refreshing to see Archer back in command of his own presence. Between bungling cocaine deals and being an all-around pushover the last few episodes, it feels almost like a different character entirely to see him returned to his badass glory. All the "phrasing" opportunities, his giving Cyril a gun-shaped stick and then actually using it to hold up a narco, and the revelation of character when Cyril criticizes his plan to steal a plane with no pilot €“ leaving Archer honestly vexed as to why Cyril is worried about a detail that hasn't even come up yet €“ are instant-classic moments for the character. The episode is also visually stunning. The Colombian jungle and its waters are rendered so beautifully that it makes you wonder whether you're looking at a drawing at all. I'm still not sure how much of Archer's art is drawn from scratch and how much is rendered from photographs. Either way, I watched carefully as the team rafted down the river €“ there is no Flintstones-style recycling of backgrounds.
From an animation standpoint, the dizzying car crash that opens the episode just may be the series highlight. The animation puts you in the car, tumbling down hills, through trees and over cliffs with everybody else; the camera jerks around rapidly and there is no slow motion to pull you out of the action. And talk about careful touches €“ did you notice the birds flying away when the vehicle comes to its first stop, suspended ominously in a thatch of vines? Yet that isn't even the most suspenseful part of the episode. The scene of the caimans devouring the wounded policia is graphic, harrowing, and beautifully accomplished, especially when two of the beasts rip apart one of the policia's legs right in front of Archer's horrified face. It's also pretty funny, given Archer's dramatic preamble to the scene outlining his obsessive fear and extensive knowledge of the Amazon's apex reptilian predators. The Rules of Extraction is an exemplar episode of Archer all the way around. It's packed so full with classic moments that it's hard to recall any single episode of any 20-minute show having as many: the caiman attack; Archer's stick gun; the car crash; and Malory, Lana, Cheryl and Pam's entwining sexcapades are just at the top of the list. And the episode ends so perfectly, with multiple running gags happening at once: Archer has a perfect "phrasing" setup while Ray affects a very Archer-like ambivalence toward their predicament. It may have started off weak, but if the rest of season 5 is in line with the quality of Smugglers' Blues and The Rules of Extraction, it'll be well worth the wait.
Contributor
Contributor

Kyle Schmidlin is a writer and musician living in Austin, TX. He manages the news blog at thirdrailnews.wordpress.com. Follow him at facebook.com/kyleschmidlin or twitter.com/kyleschmidlin1.

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