[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Archer” Season 10, “Robert De Niro,” including the ending.]
It was time to move forward. Over the last three seasons of “Archer,” creator Adam Reed sent his merry band of marauders to “Dreamland,” “Danger Island,” and “1999,” resetting their surroundings and professions each year without altering their enticing character dynamics. The results made for grand entertainment — and proved how far the series’ core could be stretched without cracking — but the set-up demanded a return to the present, sooner rather than later.
Thus, the Season 10 finale abides, wrapping up a series of silly, lush, and barely connected space adventures with a big bang that doubled as a jumpstart back to reality. As unveiled at Comic-Con, “Archer” finally wakes up. The coma he was sent into at the end of Season 7 comes to a close, as do the dreamy adventures he went on while unconscious that shaped each previous season.
And yet, what Reed has accomplished over the past three seasons works in beautiful harmony with what he built over the previous seven. Aside from the loose plot of Season 10, nothing about the finale is an ending: Archer is awake and can move forward with his “real” life (a timeline Reed calls “Archer Prime”), but there’s no reason more one-season adventures can’t be resurrected, as well. By flexing its creative options, “Archer” has set up a future that’s wonderfully unpredictable.
Still, it had to start with an answer. Archer’s life has been hanging by a thread for three years, and fans have been right there with him. Each season that took place in a dream served as a safe and enjoyable diversion, but its mere existence reminded viewers that Archer’s ultimate fate remained undecided. Delaying the answer for three seasons seems like a lot to ask fans, and yet Reed pulled it off with style. While some viewers may have craved the “old” “Archer” more than others, the dream seasons were well-received, held up in the ratings, and kept the creators creatively satisfied.
They also weren’t ignoring Archer’s coma. Though “Archer: 1999” was the first to blend the various worlds — shown by characters shifting personas during the last few episodes, as Archer would see Lana shift from her “Dreamland” look to “Danger Island” and back to “1999” — the seasons still engaged ever-so-slightly in Archer’s internal strife. Whether it was his perceived immortality or how he viewed his friends, these standalone efforts weren’t just aimless larks: They helped expand our view of Archer, just as much as past seasons (and let’s be clear: there’s never a ton of change).
It’s also worth noting each dream season ended in tragedy. “Dreamland” paid tribute to the late George Coe, who voiced Woodhouse, with Archer saying goodbye at the character’s grave. (Plus, the last shot was of Pam weeping at her coffee table while reading a goodbye note from the Chinese refugees she’d been housing.) “Danger Island” saw Sterling fall into a crevice filled with lava, right after speculating about his immortality. “1999” flashed back to that image at the end of its “Archer” montage, which served to bridge the gap between Archer dying yet again in an explosion set off by his nemesis, Barry, and his return to the real-world with his mother.
In this way, Reed seemed ready to say goodbye to his lead character of 10 years, and in another way, he did. Though “Archer” has been renewed for Season 11, Reed is handing off showrunning duties to longtime executive producer Casey Willis. He’ll stay on board and has shaped the future story, but the cult favorite creator of “Sealab 2021” and “Frisky Dingo” may be looking to explore stories beyond his breakout hit.
That’s great news for everyone. These past few seasons have proven that “Archer” can adapt into just about anything its writers and animators dream up. If they ever need to return to the standalone season format, they can do so without the high stakes question of whether or not Archer is really going to die — maybe he goes on a bender and dreams up a Western. Maybe he’s injected with a trippy truth serum that makes him hallucinate Bible stories. Maybe he just bumps his head while watching TV and suddenly “Archer” is a “Cheers”-riffing studio sitcom for a season.
These can be interspersed as needed in between Archer Prime’s ongoing “real” life, starting with whatever’s in store for him during Season 11. His kid is three years older and all his “friends” are three years moved on — only Mallory stuck by his side, refusing to change during his coma, but everything else promises to be a surprise. It’s one more fresh start for a series that’s proved excellent at adapting to drastic change. Now, it’s set up for a long future filled with even more.
What’s next won’t be exactly what came before: “Archer” is starting over one more time, and it can do it again and again and again, as much as it needs to, or as much as its creators want. Long live “Archer” — may it forever change.
“Archer” Season 10 will be available on Hulu. FX has renewed the series for Season 11.