New, Better Barry makes an appearance in “Robot Factory”, which is densely packed with classic Archer gags.
This recap of Archer season 11, episode 4, “Robot Factory”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I must confess that I laughed more during “Robot Factory” than I have any other episode this season, which is a bit telling considering it’s the most one-liner heavy and the least substantive. It’s also, probably not coincidentally, the most like previous pre-coma seasons – as a matter of fact, there’s an entire running subplot of Cyril basically regressing into his incompetent past self. And, of course, Barry is in it, Archer’s nutcase cyborg nemesis who is always a reliable source of status quo shake-ups and who here, in the episode’s big gimmick, is a nice guy.
That’s the hook this week – while Archer was comatose, Barry did a lot of introspection and is now a much better-adjusted indestructible killing machine who is a valued member of the team and isn’t as prone to the double-cross that Archer spends the majority of the episode insisting is about to happen. New, Better Barry accompanies Archer, Lana, and Cyril on a mission to shut down a Russian bot factory using Barry’s schematics to pump out more versions of various types, most of which constitute a joke, and we spend the entire time waiting for Barry to turn into a lunatic like he always does, and the moment never comes.
The lack of a double-cross might constitute a very minor subversion of the traditional Archer formula but we do get a double-cross of a kind – when things go wrong, Lana tries to kill Barry with an EMP grenade, which Archer won’t let her do since he has spent “Robot Factory” improbably bonding with his nemesis and suddenly considers him a friend.
I tend to see that last bit as a continuation of the season’s overarching theme, which is that while Archer was gone everyone realized they were better off without him and are struggling to pretend that wasn’t the case now that he’s back. In a Simon Pegg-starring B-plot, Mallory, Pam, and Cheryl interview a whole bunch of potential valets for Archer since he’s going through them so fast, which in some ways is towing the same narrative line; Woodhouse was the only person who genuinely cared about him and in the absence of that figure, Archer truly has no-one – except, perhaps, Barry.
It’s still a slightly new thread, especially since Lana is still resolute in her moving on while Archer was unconscious being a better, healthy decision, and she owes him nothing for having done so. She doesn’t yet share the fate of Cheryl and now Cyril of being driven back to old habits by Archer’s presence, but given how the season is going, it only seems a matter of time until that’s the case.
Nevertheless, “Robot Factory” had one quip after another, mostly at the expense of Cyril and Lana’s new husband, but there were also some great bits from Cheryl and Mallory back in the office. They were typical Archer gags, sure, but coming at such a rapid clip that I couldn’t help but sit back and howl at many of them. I also couldn’t help but note how good it feels to have these versions of the characters back more or less in the context that we met them in; there are multiple jabs in this episode at the idea that Archer might still be in a coma, which seems like an easy way of reassuring the audience that he isn’t, but it feels like the show itself has really woken up either way.
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