Archer is back, and not a moment too soon, but when I say that this singular gem of a series has returned, I mean it’s really back. Season 5’s Vice set-up was a fun diversion that still felt like a gimmick throughout its length, despite some characters changing for good during that wacky time period. But it’s clear from “The Holdout” that creator Adam Reed and company are committed to getting the show back to the raunchy, action-packed workplace comedy it was in its prime (which I firmly believe is in season three, circa “The Limited”).
After all, the premiere opens, as the pilot did, with the aftermath of one of Archer’s all-night benders. And later, when Pam and Cheryl mischievously show Mallory the swanky, high-tech new offices afforded to them by their new CIA overlords, they flip a switch to reveal that it’s really just the same office they’ve always had (complete with Brett’s blood all over the carpet!). Despite the fact that Lana is now carting around a baby (brought about via artificial insemination with Archer’s sperm, a fact that has driven him to regress into a season 1 man-child state, terrified of responsibility), Archer is going back to basics.
Luckily, that strategy appears to have worked. The main storyline, in which Archer enters a jungle in an attempt to sabotage a downed plane containing sensitive data, is action-packed and very funny, while the requisite B-plot, in which the rest of the gang deals with their new/old office, features enough entertaining character moments to not feel like deadweight.
Let’s talk about that A-plot first. Archer’s slow road to accepting responsibility for the people he loves has been a recurring thread throughout every season of the show, from the wee baby Seamus to Lana’s desire for increased commitment, but his usual escape route is complicated this time around by someone who is his polar opposite. Whereas Archer is running away from commitment (to his job, as always, but also to Lana, now the mother of his child and unquestionably the most important person in his life), the soldier dubbed Ken committed his entire life to the Japanese war effort, sacrificing every imaginable freedom to serve his commanders. You get the sense that Archer understands this, even if he can’t bring himself to appreciate the irony.
The odd couple march through the jungle (Archer having tied up Ken to avoid a repeat of their first encounter, in which Archer almost got skewered on the end of Ken’s bayonet), and of course the jungle native succeeds in getting one over on Archer, who ends up with a sharpened stake through his foot. That near-disaster (with guerrillas approaching, Ken reluctantly pulls Archer out of the stake pit) leads them to have a heart-to-heart in which Ken expresses remorse for abandoning his family and tells Archer that “you have the chance I never had.” It leaves an impression on Archer, albeit a foggy one, given that he handles his injury by popping a ton of painkillers.
Ken and Archer do succeed in blowing up the plane, after a mission fraught with innuendos and Archer trying to shirk his duties, as per usual. When they (unwittingly) reach the extraction point, however, Archer demonstrates a surprising amount of compassion given his characterization, phoning up Ken’s old village and letting him talk to his family, which had presumed him long-dead. This being Archer though, he’s more than happy to spray bullets at the people rescuing them in order to give Ken a few uninterrupted minutes on the line.