Arrested Development: 4.02 “Borderline Personalities”
Posted by therebelprince on June 3, 2013
“I’m not an iguana, it’s part of the process” – George Bluth, Sr.
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the series.
We’ll take a look at the episode and the season, followed by some musings and callbacks, and our growing list of suspects in the Who [bleeped] [bleep] mystery.
4.02 Borderline Personalities
written by Jim Vallely & Richard Rosenstock
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
Jeffrey Tambor has always been a welcome comic presence on television, and he’s gamely tackled the most ridiculous aspects of both his characters on Arrested Development. How many actors could convincingly have tea with a bunch of attic-bound dolls in such a manner? Watching Borderline Personalities reminds me of the intriguing little differences between Tambor’s portrayals of George and Oscar Bluth, and I’m glad to see the script remembers all of the varied strengths of the Bluth patriarch. At the same time, devoting two full half-hours to this character definitely stretches our willingness to engage with a shallow man and his reasonably shallow twin brother. The second of these, Double Crossers, actually becomes much more than a George episode, but even Borderline Personalities suggests that Tambor’s relative availability allowed the writers to explore many of the other story arcs while flying under Father B’s banner.
Whereas Flight of the Phoenix attempted to bring us up to speed with the aftermath of season 3, Borderline Personalities largely goes off on its own tangent. This episode has little in common with the season premiere, although it prefigures the same story we’ll see for the next three episodes – a Bluth family member leaving the comforts of their everyday life behind. Here, George, Sr. visits Stan Sitwell (rocking a new blonde wig) in the aftermath of the Queen Mary disaster. Here, he learns that Sitwell has a new plan to be “bigger than Halliburton… or maybe not Halliburton. Halliburton Teen.” The scene is largely an excuse for Ed Begley, Jr. to look ridiculous and utter the phrase “human chest hair nipple tufts”, and for George to mock the “bald bastard” with his few remaining grey hairs. It’s also, though, the first scene to suggest the complex ways we’ll be digesting season four. George discovers – with Lucille’s help – that Stan is planning to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep immigrants out. Like so many scenes in Arrested Development, it’s the seed of something big. Unlike most seeds, however, we realise this because we’ve already heard talk of the wall’s importance from Lucille Austero last week. This season’s structure is far from perfect, and I’d credit that to its experimental aims – stranded halfway between the traditional sitcom season and some kind of “new viewing format” Netflix would like us to believe in. In 20 years time, I’m sure the 2033 sitcom format will be as unfamiliar to 2013 viewers as Arrested Development would be to original viewers of Mary Tyler Moore. But the timeline is almost flawless in retrospect, and the parceling out of information is cleverly managed by Mitch Hurwitz and his editing team. For now, it’s just about finding those little advances and appreciating them.
George sets out to the border, where he finds brother Oscar living on a piece of land with a series of social rejects, among them the mute but telepathic Heartfire (Mary Lynn Rajskub), the shrill China Garden (Karen Maruyama) – the latest in a long line of Arrested Development names that people are bound to keep confusing with the original – and disgraced Dr. Norman (John Slattery), whose moral is that “nobody cares about the part of the oath you kept”. They’re all phenomenal performances (I love Rajskub’s face when Oscar orders her more crackers), particularly Slattery, who must love playing these scruffy, no-moral characters. At the same time, I’m slightly less forgiving to Borderline Personalities than I am to its predecessor. Everything in the premiere eventually fits in narratively or thematically to the season. Much of the character work here falls more into the realm of cameo appearance (China Garden provides some important exposition in A New Attitude but Heartfire fade out of the season reasonably quickly). Arrested Development has always enjoyed a good ridiculous character cameo, but one feels as if more time is spent on the social structure of Father B’s Colony than necessary. It surprises me a bit that Heartfire’s muteness never really has a climactic moment (although I do laugh at her “reading the plan” back to George). Yet while the episode is less thematically coherent than the premiere, it has more of a unified narrative structure.
Season four has been labelled the “first act” of Arrested Development‘s return, and – while some of the complex plots set in motion here are used to bring the Bluth family to blows – some of these plots simply bide their time during season four, functioning either as red herrings in the Lucille Austero missing person’s case, or sometimes not even that. Netflix has suggested it will buy more episodes of Arrested Development if a contract can be worked out. I’ll be pretty unhappy if it does not.
The two George, Sr. episodes are among the most plot heavy of the season, centering around a Wall with political flip-flopping that is complex even by this show’s standards. The Bluth brothers and their posse spend plenty of time taking maca (an “Ancient Aztec power herb” legal to grow in Mexico but not to consume there, in another example of the legal differences between the two countries) and running a long con as they scam CEOs out of money at a sweat lodge. It all feels a bit inconsequentia, but perhaps this is just because I feel as if there’s less depth to explore in George’s character. Whereas most of the series’ characters easily fit into the “arrested development” theme of the show’s title, George is a different breed of character. He’s a spider, someone who knows how to get out of any scrape regardless of what it takes. When he’s around his children or minions, George Bluth can be a formidable corporate presence (Barry brings us back to this when he suggests George does have the clout to talk a politician into building or not building a wall) but in his personal life, the man is incapable of much of anything. Despite Tambor’s masterful performance, he’s the character who fits most into the fringes of storylines (which is, after all, exactly where he was for most of the series’ initial run).
Still, perhaps I’m being overly critical. The flashback sequence in which young Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler’s real life son Max) convinces his new clients to start holding business on boats is great fun, from George’s suggestion they become a “no liability corporation… no liability, just nothing” to Herb Zuckerkorn (Allan Wasserman)’s chagrined “sure” when asked if Barry’s comments are within the confines of the law. The writers continue to perfectly capture the nuances of the older generation’s relationships. George trusts Lucille so little he “won’t even leave the table during a dinner party” and I enjoy the mocking tone Jessica Walter adopts when she realises George has failed to realise the blueprint is a wall. (The family have never had good luck recognising blueprints.) The Bluth men witnessing an ostrich spirit is another scene that makes it clear there’s a joke happening, but doesn’t let new viewers get close enough to the truth to find it funny. However, the script makes up for this by allowing the brothers to mostly want Ray Romano tickets, and for the line “I don’t know what you saw, but I got an ostrich and no boner”. And one of the series’ comic highlights must be the (literally) breathtaking sequence where Jessica Walter continuously breathes cigarette smoke into Tony Hale’s mouth until Buster can take it no more. (Honestly, is it any surprise that one of the most enjoyable Tumblrs on the internet is one born out of a recognition that only Arrested Development can rival Game of Thrones in the “TV Series with Most Incest” stakes?)
While it may lack some of the series’ narrative direction, Borderline Personalities is emphatically a part of the grand plan. The series’ obsession with doubling is nowhere more literal than Oscar and George, who this week play tandem sweat lodge instructors and then both sleep with Lucille. This doubling is echoed throughout the season’s plot (Michael and his son, the two gay magicians, the two Lucilles, political campaigns, and – in George Michael’s case – further sets of literal twins) which begins in earnest here. Oscar is going to get kicked off his border land, so George agrees to buy it, in the hope of “gouging the government” when they need the land to erect Sitwell and Herbert Love’s wall. Of course, Lucille is still the brains behind the operation – something we finally get to see, after the series deliberately obscured it for three years – and the pair decide that the only way to keep their scheming off the radar is to pretend they’re divorcing, even though part of each of them would like to divorce anyway. It’s the usual Arrested Development complexity, but whether the payoff is worth it remains to be seen.
Thoughts and musings:
- The show looks great! Whatever disadvantages the return may have, the cinematography is crystal clear.
- An acoustic guitar plays over the opening credits this week, a nice contrast with the trumpet in Michael’s credits.
- It’s an election year, and we get our first mention of Herbert Love, who will ultimately play a crucial role in several of the characters’ lives.
- Lucille’s “look what the homosexuals have done to me!” is a neat callback to the pilot, although I feel as if it’s one of those jokes that’s a bit of a stretch, and is just there for the fans to smile and nod – similar to the “loose seal” in the fake courtroom last week
- The series has joked about brand name rivalries as often as it’s been honest, but the bitterness in Ron Howard’s voice suggests that Google really wouldn’t let Arrested Development mention its name.
- Oscar Bluth is “not a member of the Balboa club”.
- “Don’t call me that. Call me Father B.”
- The oddest cameos of the season come from Busy Phillips and Natasha Leggero, giving John Beard an actual beard on his show.
- The Oscar double is easy to make out in some of the desert long-shots, but the script neatly makes up for this by referencing that very fact. “I’m gonna sit opposite you”, George says to his brother at lunch, “so it won’t look bad”.
- People not at Lucille’s trial this week: Michael, George Michael, George Sr. (Gee, I wonder where this is going?)
- Maeby is the only main character to sit this episode out, although we only see Tobias, Lindsay, and George Michael in the background of shots.
- Hey, it’s Dan Harmon!
- Seth Rogen’s George Bluth is impressed: “We have the best fucking attorneys”.
- Lucille’s prison number is 07734, which upside down reads “Hello”.
- George apologises for giving Lucille the “old noodle stab”, a reference that will take on another meaning in Queen B.
- The Divine Spirit who appears to George in the wilderness (reminiscent, of course, of his “Jewishy video series”) is played by Rich Chrisandanost, an anagram of Chris Diamantopoulos. As we’ll see, the Bark family compound is mere minutes away.
- “Dr. Norman, we have a hot mess.”
- Lucille 2 has taken in a Latino foster child, Perfecto Telles, which will give rise to an increasingly complex plot later in the season. In publicity photos, Perfecto is dressed as one of those redheaded freckly kids from Marta’s soap opera, El Amor Prohibido!
- Oscar sleeping with China Garden is a further instance that he’s a better lover than George Sr.
Who killed Lucille 2?
#1. Michael Bluth – owed Lucille 2 $700,000. Despite his implication that he [bleeped] his way out of it, that doesn’t really seem to fit with the timeline. So what exactly did Michael do to sort out the problem?
#2. Stan Sitwell – sold his shares to Lucille 2 and has a lot at stake against both the Wall, and the Austero-Bluth company.
#3. Lucille Bluth – leading proponent of the wall Lucille 2 is fighting against.
#4. George Bluth, Sr. – puppet of #3.
#5. Heartfire – potential puppet of #4.