The 10th (and apparently final) season of Archer, the retro sci-fi themed Archer: 1999, kicks off this week on FXX. It’s been a long road to get the gang to outer space (or back to outer space, technically speaking), and while recent seasons haven’t seen the spy show in top form, 1999 looks likely to end the series on a high note.
With that in mind, here are some of our favourite Archer episodes from seasons past. To list every favourite moment, pun-tastic insult, wacky caper, and celebrity cameo would be akin to writing an encyclopedia—this show runs a mile a minute, loves to make hilariously obscure references, and has been on the air since 2009, with over 100 episodes to date—but we’ve picked out some highlights from over the years, with an eye toward installments that helped shape the show and its characters.
1. “Skytanic,” season 1, episode 7
Team ISIS (an acronym the show later did away with, for obvious reasons) boards the maiden voyage of the helium blimp Excelsior to investigate a bomb threat. Of course, it’s soon revealed the threat was called in by a jealous Malory Archer—but as it turns out, there actually is a bomb aboard, rigged by the disgruntled blimp captain, who skydives away after it’s discovered.
Sterling Archer and Lana Kane phone up fellow agent Ray Gillette back at ISIS headquarters, and he talks them through disarming the bomb in a scene that illustrates both Archer’s delighted skewering of spy thrillers as well as the dynamics between some of its key characters.
Namely Archer (whose dimwitted reading of the serial number—“M…as in ‘Mancy’”—leads Ray to tell him to snip the wrong wire) and Lana (who shoots him in the leg for being annoying). Ultimately, Lana and her on-again, off-again beau Cyril Figgis end up shoving the bomb overboard…and accidentally bombing Wales.
2. “Placebo Effect,” season 2, episode 9
With Dr. Krieger’s help, Archer realises the pricey chemotherapy drugs he’s been taking for his breast cancer are fake. His quest for vengeance—both on his behalf and (in an uncharacteristically tender move) an elderly fellow patient he befriends who ends up succumbing to the disease—leads him to the Irish mafia, guns and grenades blazing, despite the side effects when he starts getting actual chemo (of losing his hair, he remarks to Lana, “it was my fifth-best feature”).
Meanwhile, we learn a little more about Krieger (turns out he’s a Boys From Brazil-style son of a Nazi scientist who came to Malory and ISIS when he was just a teen; in later seasons, we meet Krieger’s clones) as well as Malory’s relationship with Archer, or lack thereof, as we see when she flips through an album of family photos that show she wasn’t present at any milestones of his life.
With his cancer in remission, Archer’s back to his selfish self by the end, but “The Placebo Effect” is the rare Archer episode that, between all the jokes, digs a little deeper into its characters on an emotional level.
3. “El Secuestro,” season 2, episode 10
In which ISIS learns that the agency’s secretary, whose first name tends to slightly change according to her whim (in this episode, at least, it’s Cheryl), has been keeping her last name a secret all this time, with good reason: “Tunt” reveals she’s a billionaire heiress. The truth comes out when ISIS head of HR Pam Poovey is accidentally kidnapped in her place; Cheryl’s massive wealth and eccentric extended family (including her brother, Cecil, who pops up on the show from time to time) have been a recurring Archer theme ever since.
“El Secuestro” also showed a new side of Pam, who lets it slip that she was a bare-knuckle boxer back in college, then reveals her spooky array of back tattoos—including a Lord Byron quote that begins “For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast/And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed”—while threatening to beat up Malory for lowballing her ransom.
4. “The Man From Jupiter,” season 3, episode 4
Of all the Archer voice cameos over the years, this one’s at the top: Burt Reynolds, playing himself, or at least a version of himself. Archer’s delight at meeting his idol turns to shock when he realises that the star of Gator, The Longest Yard, Deliverance, and so many of his other favourite movies is...dating his mother. Naturally, even though he’s currently being targeted by a Cuban hit squad, Archer’s main objective is to break them up at any cost.
The scenes between Archer and Reynolds are pure comedy gold—but the best moments come when Reynolds urges Archer to see Malory as more than just his mother, but a person with genuine wants and needs (a conversation that unfolds while they’re involved in a high-speed chase, of course). Reynolds saves the day in every way possible, and the episode is Archer’s ultimate tribute to one of its celebrity touchstones, just barely edging out the season five episode where Kenny “Danger Zone” Loggins pops up to perform at Lana’s baby shower.
5-6. “Space Race” season 3, episodes 12-13
The two-part season three finale—which riffs on James Bond’s Moonraker, as well as sci-fi classics like Star Wars and Aliens—sees the ISIS agents (plus Malory and stowaways Pam and Cheryl) summoned to stop a mutiny on the space station Horizon.
Turns out it’s a trap, and “these nut sacks want to take us to Mars to make us baby factories,” as Pam puts it, though Lana—who spends most of the episode in her underwear, wearing stickers as pasties—is their main target.
“Space Race” has some nifty moments (love that heated discussion of Animal Farm in a moment of crisis), but it’s mostly included in this list for contrast, because it looks nothing like what Archer: 1999 has in store, despite the similar setting. In keeping with seasons eight and nine, which actually take place in Archer’s comatose mind, season 10 will feature versions of the characters native to their new environment, like a version of Pam that’s actually a giant rock monster.
7. “Fugue and Riffs” season 4, episode 1
Actor H. Jon Benjamin’s two most iconic voice roles intertwine in this inevitable (but still clever-as-hell) mash-up with Bob’s Burgers, in which an amnesiac Archer drops out of sight, only to resurface a few months later running a diner with his newly-acquired wife and kids (who look just like they do on Bob’s Burgers, except re-tooled in the style of the Archer characters).
At any rate, ISIS catches on when “Bob” has a History of Violence moment on the job, surprising himself with his badass combat moves when KGB agents barge in while he’s flipping patties. The rest of the episode sees Archer’s fellow agents gently trying to jog his memory without causing a total mental freakout, a plan that goes typically sideways when the KGB show up again. Weirdly, this episode is also full of newly-relevant Shazam references.
8. “The Rules of Extraction,” season 5, episode 8
At the beginning of season five, ISIS gets shut down by the U.S. government, and Archer transforms into Archer: Vice as the former spies turn their attention to a different, yet equally perilous business arena: selling massive amounts of ill-gotten cocaine.
By episode eight, things have gone haywire enough that Archer, Cyril, and Ray find themselves stranded in the South American jungle, where Ray finally gets the chance to confront Archer about his constant habit of casually putting everyone in danger, simply because he knows things work out for him most of the time.
It’s an observation that’s basically a meta-commentary on one of Archer’s longest-running themes. Also, Archer gets the opportunity to come face to face with one of his biggest fears—crocodiles—in a scene that’s as screamingly funny as it is luridly gory. Eat a dick, jungle!
9. “Vision Quest,” season 6, episode 5
This brilliantly self-contained, dialogue-heavy episode finds the team—now working freelance for the CIA after the events of Archer: Vice—reporting for a mandatory early-morning meeting at Malory’s insistence, only to get stuck on the elevator on the way up to the office.
The notion of rational problem-solving evaporates almost immediately when cell phones fail, the elevator phone fails, everyone decides they’re starving (except for Pam, who gobbles her bear claw so she won’t have to share it), and long-simmering frustrations and conflicts bubble to the surface.
Chaos descends, bodily functions let loose, graffiti referencing a gruesome elevator scene in The Untouchables gets splashed on the wall, and Malory—who appears just as the ordeal is ending—doesn’t quite reveal that she orchestrated the entire thing as a team-building exercise.
10-11. “Deadly Velvet,” season 7, episode 10
Season seven took inspiration from and uprooted the crew from New York to Los Angeles, where they become private investigators. Almost instantly they’re tangled in a case involving a sultry movie star whose motivations are not what they seem—and in this, the two-part season finale, we see how and why Archer came to be floating face-down in her swimming pool, riddled with bullets, as glimpsed in the season premiere.
Moving forward, making the show about Archer’s coma dreams allowed the show to change to an anthology format, opening up the possibilities for settings and new spins on familiar characters.
Season eight’s noir exercise Archer: Dreamland kept the action in Los Angeles but in the year 1947, with Archer as a private eye and Malory as a kingpin nicknamed “Mother,” among other twists. Season nine’s less successful Archer: Danger Island jumped a decade prior and set the action in the South Pacific, with Archer and Pam as boozy, treasure-hunting pilots.
Archer: 1999, as we’ve mentioned, will see the crew zipping through the galaxy—and while nothing will replace the show’s spy-fi heyday (seasons two, three, and four in particular), all those aliens and killer space robots look poised to supply some new classic moments.