TV Club

Archer season 4 recap: Cheryl Tunt is the craziest, funniest person at ISIS.

Cheryl Tunt is the most deranged person at ISIS. She’s also the funniest.

Cherly Tunt (Judy Greer) is glared at after saying something invariably brilliant.

Courtesy of FX Networks.

In Slate’s Archer TV Club, Jeremy Stahl will IM each week with a different fan of the FX spy comedy. This week he chats with Slate editorial assistant Emma Roller.

Jeremy Stahl: Thank you very much for joining me this week, Emma!

Emma Roller: Hey! I’m excited to pop my Slate TV Club cherry talking about Archer. Gurp gork!

Stahl: Was “gurp gork” also hello? I can’t remember.

Roller:  I’m not sure, but I’m definitely going to start using “gurp gork” as a stand-in for awkward pauses in conversation.

Stahl: So many great potential meanings—jokes-wise there was a lot going on this week. As far as the plot was concerned, though, it was pretty straightforward. Archer gets Cyril and Ray stuck in the desert because of his reckless driving, then he makes their situation more dire by getting his taint bitten by a Caspian cobra, which leads to a hallucinated memory sequence about how two femme fatales ruined his life: the first by seducing and then shooting him when he was just a star lacrosse recruit in prep school, the second by being a neglectful mother. And finally, there was the big, perfectly executed non-reveal about his father. What did you think of the flashback stuff?

Roller: I liked the snakebite-induced, It’s A Wonderful Life-esque jaunt with “cut-rate James Mason.” Between the running flashback this episode and Archer’s fugue state in the first episode, it seems like Adam Reed is playing around a lot with Archer’s mental state this season. There have also been a lot of hallucinations, whether it’s Cheryl tripping balls and hallucinating an ostrich or Archer hallucinating alligators in the desert.

Stahl: I, too, was going to note the similarities to the first episode. I generally like it when shows do weird stuff to get inside of characters’ heads, so these two episodes have been the season’s big winners for me. Exploring Archer’s emotional trauma is ripe territory. The fact that his subconscious, in the guise of a ‘50s movie star, has to force Sterling Archer to examine his true self when he says he’d rather not is a wonderful play on an old trope. Also, there’s a great element here of the show knowingly saying to us, “what Archer really wants be dammed, the viewer wants to see him emotionally tortured.” As for the callback to Carol’s ostrich hallucination, I think that might simply have been the writers and animators recycling an amazing sight gag.

What do you think of Carol, by the way? She might be my favorite character on the show.

Roller: I love Carol. She’d maybe be my favorite character, too, if I didn’t love Jessica Walter so damn much. I think her character gets at something that I can really appreciate, which is the tendency for some women to downplay how smart they are by assimilating into the role of “the ditz.” One amazing example is when she informs Malory of the name of the Turkmenistan ruler’s pet dog, Gurp Gork, then immediately acts shocked that she knew something useful. Another is when she absolutely reams out Lana later in the episode, then pauses and says, “Ohmygod, was I talking?” Not to get too into third-wave feminist theory, but I think the way she’s written is brilliantly subversive in a way that’s a lot more subtle than, say, Lana’s butch persona.

Stahl: I love Carol for the same reason but have a different interpretation of the character. I kind of think she is actually that insane and oblivious. I don’t read this vapidity as her being a ditz, but more as her being delusional and psychotic, while at the same time exceptionally intelligent and lucid. That heartbreaking psychoanalysis of Lana is not the first time she has come up with a very smart assessment of an Archer character’s psychological makeup. But I kind of figured that she probably doesn’t have any clue where all of her great insights come from. Her mind is probably just addled by either drugs or mental illness. This week she really didn’t remember how she knew about Gurp Gork and she really did think that broadside on Lana was an internal monologue, just like last week she really did internalize the idea of opposite day.

This off-the-wall craziness is what makes her such a perfect Archer character. Krieger would also be in the running for the most mentally disturbed (and funniest) person at ISIS, but because he fits into a very stereotypical mad scientist trope, he seems less compelling. I can kind of buy your interpretation, though, in that maybe Carol’s psychosis is just a brilliant mask. But I don’t think she actually believes anyone is buying her as a ditz—rather they think of her, rightfully, as a lunatic.

Roller: Good point—and being intelligent doesn’t necessarily preclude you from also being completely psychotic. The case might actually be the opposite. Anyway, I’m going to go back to watching YouTube videos and pretending to work. Ohmygod, did I say that out loud?

Stahl: Pretending to work is the best. Luckily, it’s not long until Gurp Gork. Thanks again for chatting with me, Emma! And TGIGG!