If we look at the trajectory of Archer’s eight seasons it can easily be split into two camps. We have the first four seasons where the gang was under the ISIS moniker performing hilarious and outlandish tasks.
Then we have everything from season five onwards. Archer Vice was a welcome breath of fresh air in the series but everything since then has felt like the show is trying to reinvent itself each season. Season six saw a slight return to the brand we knew from the ISIS era. Season seven moved to Los Angeles and Hollywood but it was still more or less the same show.
With the recently finished season 8 Dreamland, we pick up where we left off in season seven and (SPOILER ALERT) Archer is in a coma after getting shot by Veronica Deane. We then delve into the mind of Archer where we step back in time to post war 1940s.
It’s a brilliant move by the showrunners in that Archer feels fresh but also familiar. They’ve also moved away from an episodic format to a modern binge watch style. In fact, Dreamland feels more like a film than anything else, not least because the production is of a much higher quality than any of the previous seasons.
Admittedly, the show takes a while to settle into its new format, as it can no longer use the many tropes in its arsenal. It has to start new but when it does the show delivers. For example, Pam/Poovey’s fantasies about her future with the Chinese sex slaves was easily one of the best of Dreamland. Not only was it hilarious but also revealed a pathos to Pam that was hitherto unexplored. Underneath her rowdy facade there’s loneliness but also hope for a simpler life.
Archer himself has flashbacks to his time in the war which reveals itself in parallels to what is happening to him at the moment. Unfortunately, nothing really comes of these and so it feels like a wasted opportunity to examine Archer. Although, that begs the question if Dreamland is actually intended to be interpreted that way. When you have an exchange like “I got blood on you…Well, I blew a load on your dress so.” That tells me the show is trying to have it both ways: Dreamland is Archer but a noir semi-serious take on Archer.
As for the rest of the gang, they’re all basically the same as before but with enough twist in them to keep them interesting. Krieger is still up to his experiments, Figgis is still smart but foolish, Malory/Mother is still belittling and alcoholic. I was worried in the first half of the season when Lana was relegated to Archer’s eye candy but she broke out of that and you could see her growing (and hilarious) frustration with everyone else’s incompetence.
Cheryl and her 4/10 incestuous brother are a delight as are some of the smaller bits the show drops in. Take for instance Archer’s interior monologue’s to different passengers in his car, Ray’s jazz band providing a rimshot to any joke in the nightclub no matter how far they are, are standouts.
Lastly, the show experimented with fear and menace in a way that it hasn’t done before. The Last Supper style tapestry of dead bodies by Barry/Dutch was both truly horrifying and breathtaking. Equally shocking was the final fight sequence where in a matter of minutes, Archer’s arm is brutally broken in half, Barry’s neck gets snapped and body eaten and two half cyborg dogs are broken limb from limb. I’m not sure what to make of these scenes save for the fact that the former tapestry was almost like horror whereas the latter was quite gratuitous and menacing. Be that as it may they injected an unexpected jolt into the show that highlights the experimental nature of Dreamland.
Ultimately, it was all a dream and for Archer to make me feel even a little bit of fear feels like an accomplishment. Aside from that, Dreamland was fun and a nice detour from the previous seasons, experimenting just enough to not be off putting. Although, where this leaves us for season 9 is anyone’s guess.