The Season of ‘Archer’ That Completely Changed the Show


The Big Picture

  • Archer Season 5 takes a sharp turn as the gang transitions from espionage to the drug business, shaking up the narrative.
  • Each character gets to go on their own journeys in Season 5, revealing more about their personalities and motivations.
  • The transformation in Archer didn’t stop with Season 5, as subsequent seasons explored different arcs and settings, taking creative liberties with the story.

If there’s one thing Archer‘s multifaceted narrative has offered over the years, it’s a sea of endless possibilities. From high-stakes espionage to space adventures and evil cyborgs, the show has taken viewers for a ride during its 14-year run. But before all the layers and nuances, it was but a mere spy show — not your run-of-the-mill one, but a spy show nonetheless. One particular season saw the show spin on its axis, in turn shaking things up within the ragtag crew of talented, but somewhat incompetent spies.

Sure, Archer Season 8 probably offered a more clear-cut transition from the norm. With the titular character stuck in his dreamscape while in a coma, new identities were formed and the adventures were out of this world (literally). However, the transformation started much earlier in Season 5 of the show, AKA Archer: Vice. At that point, Archer adopted more of an anthological approach to chronicling the gang’s wacky adventures and, in the process, flipped the narrative on its head. Going from a spy agency to a drug cartel was, let’s face it, not out of the question for the group. Altogether, it was the start of a whole new era for Archer in more ways than one.


The suave and self-absorbed Sterling Archer, codename “Archer,” alongside his equally dysfunctional colleagues, embark on dangerous missions while constantly getting into hilariously absurd situations.

Release Date
September 17, 2009

H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer

Main Genre




What Is ‘Archer’ Season 5 About?

Archer Season 5 cold open-1
Image Via FX

Originally all about the ins and outs of a private secret agent syndicate, the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), Archer takes quite the turn in its fifth season. Instead of saving the world one martini/disaster at a time, the gang ends up in the drug business. The cold open is almost idyllic, but it soon goes from Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) offering everyone in the office flowers — an apparent sign that something is off — to a huge explosion.

Needless to say, this is the beginning of the end… of ISIS (it would appear that phrasing is still a thing). After being raided by the FBI, the agency is shut down for “conducting espionage operations for years with no authority or permission whatsoever from the United States government.” After narrowly walking away from hard time, the agency is dissolved and in its place, something else arises. You know what they say, “When life gives you a ton of cocaine, form a drug ring.”

The decision to take this sharp turn in a whole new direction was not just for the narrative’s sake — viewers can chalk it up to the fact that ISIS (the Jihadist group) was becoming closely associated with Archer’s popularity. Overall, it was not a great look for the show and was just the right move to make going forward. As Archer’s executive producer Matt Thompson told The Daily Beast, “It’s just the most awful thing, and we didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

‘Archer’ Season 5 Further Explores Each Character

Image via FX

With the whole espionage arc out the window, Season 5 shakes more things up way beyond the narrative. In a way, each character gets to go on a journey of their own, and in the process, viewers learn more about what made them tick. Characters like Malory (voiced by Jessica Walter) pretty much remain the same — crafty, abrasive, yet fiercely protective of the people she cares about. It’s safe to say she simply switches out the title head of ISIS for drug lord.

Similarly, Cheryl (Judy Greer) is the same unhinged and irrational heiress she’s always been. Her latest delusion? Becoming the number-one country singer in America. While her country-singing alter ego, Cherlene, adds more intrigue to the character, at her core, she’s still their resident wild card. Proving that we only scratched the surface of an already reckless character, Pam (Amber Nash) got a character overhaul. The season sees her in a more central role, albeit a more problematic one on more levels than one. For once, Archer isn’t at the center of all the group’s mishaps; it’s Pam who unintentionally develops a cocaine addiction. Overall, she displays this “lust for life” that reaches its all-time high in Season 5. From eating nothing but pounds of cocaine every day to constantly putting the entire team in danger — mostly because of cocaine — Pam takes the crown. Was she likable in this season? Not so much, but in a world where Lana (Aisha Tyler) steals Archer’s sperm and Krieger (Lucky Yates) sells Archer’s information to a homicidal cyborg, a cocaine-munching Pam fits right in.

Then there’s Archer himself, who doesn’t lose his core “Archerness,” but the season does make the effort to give the tin man a heart. Not only is he heavily invested in Lana’s pregnancy (to Lana’s dismay), he seems almost level-headed in the wake of Pam’s destructive nature. But, then again, some things will never change and one of those things is Archer’s attitude towards Cyril (Chris Parnell). From the get-go, it’s established that he’s Archer’s whipping boy, and more often than not, he ends up with the short end of the stick. Perhaps the height of the season for him is when he becomes the new president of San Marcos and gets to exact some much-deserved revenge on Archer — it’s oddly cathartic to watch.

It goes without saying that Lana (Aisha Tyler) is another character whose emotional growth is closely explored in Season 5. Cop it up to the cocktail of pregnancy hormones coursing through her system, or the fact that Archer occasionally puts his foot forward. Their relationship proves that no matter how crazy things get, they always find a way to share profound moments. By far, it’s Krieger’s (Lucky Yates) character development that really takes the crown. Sure, it was already established that he was a mad scientist from the get-go, but audiences get to catch a glimpse of the man behind the unethical experiments. At the end of the day, it’s evident that Krieger will remain the enigma of the team.

‘Archer’s Evolution Didn’t Stop With Season 5

Archer: Vice no doubt stirred the pot, but that was only the first step on a long and transformative journey. With the spy format out the window, the show took on a different approach to its storytelling. Subsequent seasons went on to hone in on specific arcs, unique characters, and tons of adventures that widened the scope of the show. Soon enough, the team went from being incompetent drug dealers to private detectives, and it was at that point that things got abstract and experimental.

From the 1940s detective noir landscape in Archer: Dreamland to the corners of outer space explored in Archer:1999, showrunner Adam Reed took numerous creative liberties with the story and the characters as a whole. While the gang of misfits did eventually return to the world of high-stakes international espionage, it’s safe to say that things were never truly the same after Archer: Vice.

Archer is currently streaming on Hulu in the U.S.

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