Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast is returning to their new (or is that old?) lives as freelance secret agents. After the ISIS office was destroyed last season, Malory put Cheryl and Pam in charge of renovating the base and moving the team into the 21st Century. And at first glance it looks like it's been pulled off spectacularly, with futuristic desks, holographic computer interfaces, and even a floating drink tray.
Except it turns out to be a complete fake: Cheryl and Pam used the money to painstakingly recreate the original office in every possible way, then cover it up with a hologram. We're back in the exact same hideously colored 1960s office as before - Cheryl and Pam even went so far as to put a facsimile of Brett's blood in the spot where was killed. But why go to such lengths to create a futuristic vision only to pull the rug out from them? To make Malory, who becomes increasingly upset the more time she spends looking at the old office, go through a breakdown.
There seems to be a message here: Don't like Archer moving in exciting new directions? Fine, we'll give you what already happened. We'll give you so much of the past that creator Adam Reed might as well be shoving it down your throat. (Yeah, I know, phrasing.)
It's obvious that Archer is returning to its classic roots after the hard left turn of Archer Vice. Archer still practically considers himself to be God's greatest gift to espionage, despite refusing to read mission briefings and generally complicating objectives with his very presence. Any time he interacts with another operative (specifically the ones who took him to Borneo) you quickly realize how criminally negligent he is. But then he arrives at the mission and thanks to a combination of fighting skill and insane blind luck resolves the problem in a way that won't completely destabilize the region, all while dishing out rapid-fire jokes and reminiscing about pop culture.
That all being said, while Archer is as funny as ever, the whole "Archer runs from responsibility" gag is getting really old. The past few seasons developed his character into something beyond a secret agent with the mind of a ten-year old, however slight those changes were. Vice even suggested that Archer hoped to be a father figure to Lana's baby, even to the point of running away with them and starting a new life. Yet for some reason, finding out that he's the literal father drives him away again.
Sure, this isn't out-of-character for Archer, but after five years we've already been through all of these plot points. And not just how Archer runs away from anything potentially traumatizing (between Seasons 2-3 and 3-4). Remember how he was mistaken for the father of Cyril's baby and had to pay child support way back in Season 1? No comedy can get away with making the same joke without changing some part of it, which is why we're not using "phrasing" anymore. But sticking with the same joke after painstakingly building a new connection with Lana just makes Archer even more dickish and unlikable than before. And so far, the premiere suggests he's not about to change: He even goes so far as to admit that he'll probably break any ground rules they set in the future.
That's not to say I'm not glad to be watching Archer again. Its unique combination of crude humor, witty dialogue, and surprisingly deep character moments is as exceptional as ever. I just hope that we're not rolling back the clock so far that Archer's good developments get swept under the rug as well.
Bottom Line: Archer's premiere returns us to the classic spy agency fans fell in love with, which is both a blessing and an annoyance. But while it covers a lot of old ground, it's hard not to enjoy the performances, raunchy jokes, and a tender conclusion based on actual historical events.
Recommendation: If you love Archer, you'll love this episode. If you hated Archer Vice, you'll probably love it even more.