Archer: Danger Island Episode 5, “Strange Doings in the Taboo Groves”, sees the anarchic show at its very best, honing in on one of its integral relationships in a surprisingly meaningful (and, of course, hilarious) half-hour.
After last week’s episode pushed Archer and Pam to the breaking point of their relationship, Archer: Danger Island Episode 5 – Strange Doings in the Taboo Groves brought their bickering to a surprisingly charged confrontation, in which the long-suffering Pam morphed into a self-aware sidekick and finally, in the show’s ninth season, came into her own as a character.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Pam. Always have. But I love her for her bum fights and sexually-charged one-liners and the fact she drinks BBQ sauce as an aperitif. But Archer: Danger Island Episode 5 made her reimagining as Archer’s burly right-hand man the most thoughtful and impactful change to the show’s relationship dynamics in ages; a proper blossoming of a punching bag into a three-dimensional human being who forcibly claimed some respect. It wasn’t just an argument between Pam and Archer, but an argument between Pam and the years of jokes at her expense. This is why Archer can be so great, when it bothers to be. It can take years of silly in-jokes and running gags and wring them for pathos when it counts.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. But “Strange Doings in the Taboo Grove” opened with the unhealthy clattering of Archer’s seaplane, rebuilt “literally from garbage” by Pam as a goodwill gesture that didn’t go down too well. The simmering tensions are still there; the back-and-forth is saltier than usual, and it isn’t an accident that Adam Reed draws our attention to it. The pair is on the trail of the fabled hidden idol that’ll make them millionaires – and that’ll hopefully allow Archer to extricate himself from Pam, who he sees as the common, unlucky denominator in all the worst things that have ever happened to him.
Hunting for mysterious McGuffin trinkets through dense Pacific jungles is never an easy gig, and for much of Archer: Danger Island Episode 5 Archer and Pam are submerged up to their necks in quicksand, being harassed by ill-tempered howler monkeys. But it’s only when they’re faced with imminent, inescapable suffocation that they can finally be honest with each other. By the time Pam bursts into tears and starts lamenting the direction her life has taken, it’s rather obvious that she has recognised her supplementary status. It’s a weird thing, to have a character in a TV show – an animation, no less – suddenly become self-aware; weirder still when you find yourself agreeing with them. By the end of “Strange Doings in the Taboo Groves” I was firmly on Pam’s side. Amber Nash sold the moment so convincingly that I almost felt guilty for every time I’ve laughed at Pam, including during the extended joke earlier in the episode about how much heavier she is than Archer.
Other things happened in Archer: Danger Island Episode 5, including more bickering between Cyril and Lana, the first foray of Cyril’s idiotic men into the jungles in search of the idol (“Yes, you can shoot the monkeys,”) and Cheryl’s continued exploitation of her status as the island’s undisputed sexual queen. A lot of it was funny. But none of it mattered quite like the significant declaration that Archer and Pam are the most important parts of each other’s lives. It might not matter in the episodes that follow, but it’ll matter to those of us who have been here since the beginning, who have seen the show’s ups and downs, and who know how integral Pam and Archer are to the show’s bizarre comedic fabric. Archer might be imagining the events of Danger Island, but he isn’t imagining that.