“My plan is in shambles!” moans Mr. Rompers, the murderous clown who’s taken the Figgis team hostage in the latest episode of Archer. He and his clown crew are still on the hunt for Veronica Deane and her emerald-studded “Tzarina” necklace in “Bel Panto, Part 2,” but she and Sterling are nowhere to be found. Not that this is at all surprising; Lana, pissed that Sterling’s got a raging Oedipal erection for the elderly star, decides to take the crew’s escape into her own massive hands. Unfortunately, she, Sterling — and, unexpectedly, Pam — are all trying to save the day by disguising themselves as clowns, which inevitably ends in havoc, not heroics; ultimately, it’s the cops (or are they cops?) outside, barging into the mansion with beanbag cannons, that put an end to the crisis.
But the season’s overarching plot has only begun to thicken. We’re still trying to figure out how Sterling ends up face-down in Deane’s pool, and the clown clusterfuck only makes things more complicated.
The lawyer Shapiro, grilled by Archer in the gala’s aftermath, confesses that he hired the clowns to steal Deane’s necklace, only so she could collect insurance on it. Deane, it turns out, is flat broke, and Shapiro, head over heels for his longtime client, will do anything — like take a speeding beanbag to the nuts — to preserve her dignity. His admission explains the clowns, but it doesn’t address the presence of Harris and Dietrich (played hilariously by J.K. Simmons and Keegan-Michael Key), the two police officers we met in the season’s opening moments, who ditch the crime scene when the actual cops show up. Were they hired by Shapiro too? Or are more sinister Hollywood forces at play?
The only downside to having such an ambitiously complex season-long storyline is that it requires a lot of explanation. This week’s episode, mired in exposition, didn’t leave much room for the extended bickering, or even phrasing, that’s been so successful in the past. But Archer mastermind Adam Reed works within his limits, using this opportunity to show off some of the best animation the show has ever featured.
The hostage crisis ends in a glorious slow-motion beanbag assault, classically soundtracked by the (now-clown-faced) orchestra as if it were The Godfather’s baptism murder scene. The shot pans slowly over each member of the crew — Sterling takes one to the face while cracking up at Shapiro, who’s been slammed in the crotch while leaping to shield Deane — lingering on their rippling skin as beanbag meets flesh.
Farce isn’t necessarily LOL-level funny, so it’s a good thing that the consistently hilarious Pam and Cheryl got more screen time than usual in this episode. Yakuza Pam, cracking her knuckles against her massive chin, makes a very welcome reappearance, wrestling down her captors and owning her characteristic crudeness (“Eat my asshole!”) the entire time. In the end, it’s Cheryl’s freewheeling descent into Stockholm Syndrome — it’s not long before she’s painted herself clown-white — that provides the undercurrent of unhinged hilarity to the episode (“I’m so turned on, I think I might be dehydrated,” she sighs, as Mr. Rompers terrorizes his hostages) that keeps it Archer-worthy.