A slew of questionable decisions pushes the members of The Agency to rally around Sterling Archer, only to be faced with the jarring possibility that he may not be the one who’s in need of help. Certain revelations come to light regarding Sterling’s mental health treatment that inexorably gets tangled up in the affairs of IIA. Insurance plans and assassination attempts collide in a surprising encounter that pushes Sterling and company to defy orders and do whatever it takes to prevent Archer from a messy psychological backslide that they’ll all be paying for later.
Everyone also gets jealous over Pam’s apartment because Pam has a really, really nice apartment.
After 13 seasons, Sterling Archer has become an efficient ecosystem of problems and compulsions that are worthy of examination. Accordingly, there’s limitless potential in sending Archer into introspective territory like therapy. It’s an idea that’s strong enough that it’d even make a compelling framework for an entire season of Archer, especially following Mallory’s absence, so it’s exciting to finally reach such a cathartic destination. As much as Archer is someone who can stand to benefit from therapy, many would argue that an intervention is another emotional catalyst that’s long overdue for the spy. “Out of Network” is a successful installment that blurs the lines between these two exercises, but it leaves the members of Agency and the series’ audience increasingly confident that Sterling Archer is getting his shit together and is going to be okay.
There’s no denying that something has been off with Archer post-Mallory and “Out of Network” aims to properly figure out what’s going on in order to prevent things from getting even worse. These developments build upon the compounded frustration from the first half of this season and “Out of Network” is an episode that’s very much a reaction to those earlier installments as Archer attempts to figure out the direction that it wants to take for its second-half. Sterling is past the point of sarcastic deflection and at any given point in this episode he maintains the most healthy perspective on therapy and self-improvement. It’s a direction that would have been impossible even two seasons back.
There are shades of The Sopranos here as someone as selfish as Sterling is willing to elevate Dr. Lacania to the importance of an international leader because of what it’ll cost him if she’s eliminated. There’s an innocent life on the line here, but the audience wants to see Sterling succeed in “Out of Network” because he deserves sound mental health and it’s not exciting storytelling if a year of progress gets washed away. The characters want the right thing in “Out of Network,” but the episode excels through how it casually skews their moral compasses (and makes the audience complicit in the process) to reach this place.
This story also opens itself up to some glorious opportunities in egotism where Archer is able to connect a few dots and basically equate his sound mental health with the fate of the world. As much as this is not the case and “Out of Network” technically doesn’t feature The Agency team thwarting international crises, there’s still a twisted logic that’s present wherein the death of Dr. Lacania might actually bring about a debilitating cause and effect disaster. On that note, it’d have been very easy to take out Dr. Lacania, further burn Sterling’s bridges with Fabian, and stall his treatment, so it’s deeply appreciated that “Out of Network” avoids this temptation.
What’s equally impressive about “Out of Network” is that the genuine growth that Sterling has made–and doesn’t feel the need to brag over–prompts the rest of The Agency to consider their own mental health and if their fears and concerns warrant professional help. Cyril becomes the most consumed with this self-doubt spiral, but some of the most entertaining moments in the episode are when Cyril, Ray, and Krieger just earnestly chat about their feelings and perform vibe checks on each other.
“Out of Network” continues a strong run of Archer episodes and if this season sticks the landing then it will be one of the series’ best in years. This installment features an effortless mix of comedy, action, and probing character development that pushes these individuals to important, challenging places. “Out of Network” is everything that a 13th season episode of Archer should be and it’s so encouraging to see this year continue to punch up rather than just go through the motions and call it a day. There’s also a blink and you’ll miss it confirmation that Pam and Alessia of The Invisible Hand have been seeing each other, which is fantastic, but also masterfully handled. These are satisfying stories that treat these characters like real people and it’s helping Archer do its very best work.
Oh, and hey, Krieger shouts out Sealab. I see you, Floyd County Productions. I see you.