In Slate’s Archer TV Club, Jeremy Stahl will IM each week with a different fan of the FX spy comedy. This week he chats with Slate culture critic June Thomas.
Jeremy Stahl: Thanks for joining me, June! I’m very excited to chat about one of the silliest shows on television with Slate's most knowledgeable television writer.
June Thomas: Hey, Jeremy. You're much too kind. I'm very conscious of being very un-expert in the ways of Archer. By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!
Jeremy: And to you too! For me, this was the funniest episode of the season. I loved the subtle Valentine’s Day references (those romantic bodega robberies were great) and the whole general theme of loneliness driving everybody to make really bad choices.
Even though this wasn't technically a “Valentine's episode,” I think it's safe to say that "Viscous Coupling" is about loneliness and love. Loneliness drives Lana's long foreshadowed romantic reunion with Cyril. Loneliness makes Archer try to win back Katja in the most convoluted way possible—by getting Krieger to repair Psycho Cyborg Barry's spaceship and by attempting to frame PCB for cheating on Katja. Loneliness, presumably, brings us the return of the hologram bride of Krieger-San.
The only character whose motivations I couldn't figure out here were Katja's. Was she trying to get Barry back because she missed him, or because she wants a valuable new minion now that she has supplanted PCB at the top of the KGB’s pecking order?
June: The terrible couplings in the ISIS office—pyromaniac Cheryl and polymorphously perverse Pam going on a date with a couple of unsuspecting firemen; the lovely Lana back with that cheating loser Cyril; Malory with … well, anyone—actually made Archer’s decision to woo his ex-fiancée away from his mortal enemy seem downright reasonable.
That said, I'm not sure why Katja wants Barry back. She clearly wants to renegotiate the terms of their relationship, but is it "the romance" that led her to hatch that complicated scheme? Did she want to convince Barry that he’s no longer the head of the KGB? Or did that evil Ruski just want to break Archer's heart?
Jeremy: Yeah, I can't figure out Katja at all. She used to be one of the most sentimental characters on Archer, leaving the KGB for Archer, sacrificing her own life to save Archers', and then marrying Barry instead because their cyborg hearts went better together. But the way she played both Archer and Barry in this episode makes me think that she's put that squishy love stuff behind her and is back to being the canny superagent she had the potential to be when she was first introduced.
June: I have always wondered if the world of Archer is a gynocracy. ISIS is ruled by Malory Archer, and Lana is its only truly competent agent. (I mean, sure, Sterling Archer always comes through, but only because Lana makes it possible.) Now Katja has revealed herself to be a master manipulator. That final "who do I have to screw to get a drink around here" was very Malory, no?
Jeremy: It's absolutely true that the most competent and powerful people in Archer are women. Does that mean it's a gynocracy? Or is that a general nod to the End of Men discussions that have been so prevalent in recent years?
June: The truth is there aren't many genuinely likable characters of either gender on Archer. Woodhouse seems like a good cove, but he's basically a clapped-out slave. Lana is the only decent person on the show. I don't know if that represents the End of Men or the Rise of the Idiot.
Jeremy: I'm smiling right now just picturing Woodhouse trapped in a sideways dumb waiter. His meekness is a definite contrast with Malory's at-times ruthless efficiency. You're right, though, there are great idiots of both genders in Archer World—definitely NOT Carol, though, she's a GENIUS! (I forgot this entire time that it was Opposite Day as well as Valentine's Day, so I take back everything I said earlier about your incredible TV knowledge and criticism and about Archer being a hilariously silly show).
Anyways, it's been terrible chatting with you, June! Thanks for nothing!
June: You are so not welcome, Jeremy.