Private investigation is a “grubby” business, Malory Archer declared early this season. The series’ latest episode, “Bel Panto, Part 1,” proves her point: The Figgis Agency is hired by the lawyer Alan Shapiro to stand guard over aging glamazon Veronica Deane, who insists on wearing the priceless “Tzarina” necklace, a blinged-out, emerald-encrusted breastplate, at her ex-husband’s Hollywood gala for the American Tinnitus Foundation. Archer and the gang are now, essentially, glorified security guards, but with Shapiro dropping $50,000 on the table for a no-brainer gig, the job is hard to decline.
It’s only when a gang of hostage-taking clowns storms the party and threaten Deane that they realize the job isn’t as simple as it seems.
Though the money is big, it’s clear Sterling would’ve taken the gig just for the chance to cozy up to Deane. He’s had a not-so-secret crush (and erection) for the silver fox since she glided into the Figgis Agency to ask for their assistance in recovering the still-mysterious Longwater files, much to Lana’s — and Malory’s — chagrin. Sterling makes no attempt to hide his recurring Oedipal tendencies when he meets Deane face-to-face at the gala; starstruck and mildly irritated that Lana’s off flirting with Deane’s “jit-rag” of an ex, the director Ellis Crane, he folds Deane into his arms and swoops in for a deep, Hollywood kiss — just as the murderous clowns, led by the unnervingly polite Mr. Rompers, storm the mansion doors. “Welcome,” Mr. Rompers says, “to this robbery.”
In a scene reminiscent of the Joker’s party-crashing scene in The Dark Knight, the, well, insane clown posse rounds up the guests — the undercover Figgis Agency crew, included — at gunpoint, assuring them they’re only here to get the Tzarina necklace. Suddenly, the team’s mission seems suspect; could it be that Shapiro (voiced, hilariously, by Patton Oswalt) only hired them knowing the clowns would show up?
It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time the lawyer pulled a fast one on them, but after Mr. Rompers knocks Shapiro unconscious with a backhand to the eye, it’s hard to say. As the first episode in the two-part Bel Panto story arc comes to a close, Pam and Cheryl reveal that all of the hostages, with the exception of the Figgis crew and the waning string quartet, have been let go.
For the first time this season, the gang seems comfortable in their new role as guardians of the Hollywood elite. Hell, they almost seem to be having fun. The idle cocktail party scenes bookending the action in this episode make room for some of the best jokes (“How’s nobody?” Malory quips at a loveless Cyril) and asides (“Who is she, Kate Warne?” the increasingly esoteric Cheryl asks) this season.
And Archer, to Deane’s delight, gets the chance to flex his old spy muscles when he’s forced to disarm a bloodthirsty clown. Even Malory, decked out in mink, seems to be appeased by the glamor of it all. Maybe it’s because L.A. has made them unapologetically mercenary; for $50,000 a night, they’re as easily bought as the people they’re guarding. Private investigation may be a bit grubby, but hey, isn’t everyone?