[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Archer Dreamland,” Season 8, Episode 1, “No Good Deed.”]
Those waiting to find out the fate of Sterling Archer will have to wait a little longer. Following last season’s cliffhanger ending where Archer, shot and bleeding, passed out in Lana’s arms, Season 8 picks up with a bait-and-switch. The tombstone the entire cast huddles around isn’t Archer’s, but Woodhouse’s. Archer is alive, but he’s been in a coma for the last three months — and he may never come out of it.
He could wake up “tomorrow, could be another three months, could be…” Mallory trails off. “There’s no telling what he knows, or what he’s thinking about. Well, dreaming about, I suppose.”
And with that, we enter “Dreamland.”
As mentioned in our season review, the primary concern with the set-up for Season 8 was whether or not “Dreamland” could prove relevant and/or entertaining enough to distract us from Archer’s life or death state. And while the premiere doesn’t definitively answer that question, it went a long way to build faith in what’s to come by instituting a deeply personal mission for Archer and building a beautiful new world for fans to enjoy.
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In “Dreamland,” Archer is focused on avenging the death of his partner, Woodhouse. Though the cops — Cyril and Poovey (not Pam) — think the heroin addict was killed by an unpaid dealer, but Archer quickly proves otherwise. By interrogating Krieger, who’s now a bartender in the Dreamland nightclub, he’s led to “Mother,” a crime boss who’s not too happy that a P.I. is snooping around her club.
Lucky for Archer, she’s got a bigger plan in mind for the decorated soldier. After discussing his background in the Army — including the invasion of Normandy — she promises to help Archer find Woodhouse’s killer in exchange for spying on Len Drexler (voiced by Jeffrey Tambor) and his enforcer, Dutch Dillon, who bares a striking resemblance to Barry. Just as Archer’s about to bail, he hears Lana singing in the club and decides to stick around.
Things, of course, go awry during Archer’s hands-off mission, leading to a high-speed chase culminating in a newfound friendship between Archer and Poovey, a crippled Dutch/Barry, and quite a few Asian immigrants being freed from sex slavery. More pressing to Archer, though, is that his office was ransacked and the envelope containing crucial information about Woodhouse is gone. We’re guessing Charlotte Vandertunt (Cheryl!) didn’t do it, but we’re also guessing she won’t make anything any easier on the suddenly very busy Archer.
But what matters here more than plot is context. Obviously, we’re all still itching to find out whether or not Archer wakes up, but Adam Reed made two key choices in framing the episode. First, his loving tribute to George Coe provided a deeply personal connection to the first half of the story. Woodhouse was a beloved character, and honoring him by framing a season around his passing helps give meaning to this dream. Even if Archer isn’t really avenging his death, he believes he is, and that belief provides catharsis for the audience. (Not to mention Coe, himself, deserves a season of television devoted to his memory.)
Reed’s second notable decision was how he incorporated the noir genre with the classic “Archer” vibe. By episode’s end, a ton of plotting was coming together. We’d been introduced to our favorite old faces in their new identities, and Archer was wrapped up in every one. This early onslaught of obstacles — especially mysterious figures and missions — is integral to the noir genre, which was well-established throughout. From the ice cubes dancing in Archer’s glass to the new opening titles, “Archer Dreamland” quickly felt period appropriate without distancing itself from the characters and humor we’ve all grown to love in the series.
And yet perhaps the easiest way to frame the premiere’s most vital accomplishment is posing a modern query: If Season 8 was available all at once for you to binge, would you skip to the end and find out Archer’s fate, or watch all of “Dreamland” and wait? I’d stick with “Dreamland,” even if how it ends will be just as important as how it started.
“Archer Dreamland” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FXX.