And here we are once again, with the first half of a two-part season finale for Archer. “Sea Tunt Part One” delivers no less than four surprise guest stars (three real, one fictional), and sets up one wild, envelope-pushing finale.
In their latest in a long string of morally ambiguous operations, the ISIS team is hired by Cheryl’s long- discussed brother, Cecil Tunt, to “retrieve” (ie, hold for ransom) a hydrogen bomb lost at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle. The setup lends itself perfectly to the whole crew heading into the field, along with Cecil and his wife Tiffy (Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, who oddly enough did NOT guest star as their Bob’s Burgers counterparts earlier this season).
The mission quickly turns out to be not one but several ruses, the first being Cecil’s scheme to prove his sister too mentally unstable to keep her inheritence. I loved his shrewd use of the ISIS team’s tendency to smack talk one another, quietly recording all the awful things said about his sister (who yes, is probably NOT mentally sound to begin with). It actually makes sense why Cheryl would have such negative feelings for her brother, though, as we witness his underhanded, passive aggressive behavior in action. As Cheryl has put it before, Cecil is actually quite creepy.
While Cecil schemes, Archer has his hands full (literally) with complimentary “hairy navels” he’s drinking from the bar, and Pam helps herself to the raw bar, compulisively indulging in the vegan crab legs she’s clearly highly allergic to. Cheryl, under the scrutiny and recordings onboard her brother’s ship, actually begins to go crazier (there’s a fantastic bit where she begins to hear the show’s score, which is fantastic), and then all hell breaks loose–
Cecil’s scheme part two is revealed in the episode’s final moments– he lead the ISIS crew into the Bermuda Triangle in service of Captain Murphy, the mad captain of an undersea laboratory who’s planning to bomb America with nerve gas-tipped missiles in under 12 hours!
What I loved most about this setup (and there’s a lot to love) is the stakes at play– like any good spy story, stakes on Archer as a series tend to go up and down, from the small, personal missions to the big ones… but I don’t think the team has ever faced odds this big (I mean, they’re the only ones who can save AMERICA. From getting BLOWN UP.). That feels appropriately hefty for the culmination of a strong season, one which has time and again called into question the ethics behind the spy organization. I’m sensing the mega-scale action we’ll see play out next week will offer a sense of redemption for Mallory’s often-grey motives (at least a little bit).
Equally great was the reveal of Captain Murphy (voiced by Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm), who is clearly based on the Sealab 2020/ Sealab 2021 leader. His appearance bookends the season brilliantly after the cast of Bob’s Burgers showed up in the first episode’s opening moments. These references have been very well-handled– they’re cool pop culture nods, for sure, but they’re also woven into the show just enough to avoid feeling like Family Guy fanservice. Murphy here is a character, not just a self-knowing nod to get a laugh… and that the unstable Captain of Adam Reed’s former show would be re-imagined as a straight-up evil madman in the world of Archer is inspired casting, both in real life and ink and paint.
“Sea Tunt Part One” featured all the ingredients for the very best of Archer— we get the whole cast into play, and even if Sterling himself doesn’t take center stage this week everyone is given their moments to shine. There’s quite a few nods and payoffs– from the introduction of Cecil to the continuing ISIS disgruntlement over their bonuses– and a methodically slow build in the scope of this episode. It’s smart, well paced and very, very funny… and it sets us up a finale that may be the biggest espidoe of the show we’ve ever seen.