Arrested Development: 4.10 “Queen B.”
Posted by therebelprince on June 7, 2013
Today, we follow my favourite Arrested Development character as the fourth season builds towards its climax.
“I’m so tired of being the villain.” — Lucille Bluth
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the series.
4.10 Queen B.
written by Dean Lorey & Richard Rosenstock
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
Lucille Bluth is my favourite character on Arrested Development, no doubt. Like all (fictional) high-functioning alcoholics, she’s prone to sudden outbursts of hysteria or sly plotting, and able to shatter the confidence of the strongest hearts with her burning ripostes. Her addictions and personality loom large over all the Bluth children, and although her cold-hearted, leathery turtle-necked exterior conceals a slight weakness, it’s really not to enough to suggest that her actions cover up a gentler inside. No, Lucille Bluth is genuinely a grand old dame, primarily because of Jessica Walter’s delightful performance. To look at her this season, one would never assume the lady was 72. Walter is a divine performer, able to turn the weakest lines into zingers and the strongest lines into something approaching nirvana. But anyway, that’s enough of my crap, let’s take a look at Queen B.
If the tale of the Bluths is primarily one of openly resisting change, Lucille Bluth is perhaps the exception. She’s the smartest Bluth in the family by a long shot, and so season four doesn’t send her along the same path as the others we’ve seen – George, Michael, Tobias, Lindsay, GOB – to making a choice. No, Lucille made her choice long ago. While one could argue much of this episode is simply an excuse to throw Jessica Walter into a variety of absurd situations, it becomes clear at episode’s end that Lucille’s arc is almost the inverse: can she unmake her choice?
In the months after the Queen Mary incident, Lucille finds herself under house arrest with only youngest son Buster for company, and it’s a situation likely to drive them both insane. Tony Hale slides so effortlessly back into the character of Buster that it’s a shame we’ve seen so little of him this season, and it feels like Walter never left her character behind. If the penthouse eventually becomes Grey Gardens, Buster and Lucille are some kind of warped spin on the Edies: when they’re not watching craft shows (and discovering the phrase” hot mess”), Buster is making her toast with “hook holes” and Lucille is mollifying her son (and alibi) by having his hook bejeweled. They’ve always been codependent, but the fact that Buster is a fake alibi for Lucille’s theft of the Queen Mary makes this association explicit. As far as anyone is concerned, “homosexuals kidnapped the boat and took it on a joy ride”, causing Lucille to jump off to save Buster. (Oh, and a fish swam by his ankle. Wait, make it an eel.) Again, the season’s structure yields treasures and moments of dissatisfaction. On the one hand, the gradual reveal of what happened during that family meeting (not coincidentally the only time in the season when all the Bluths are in the same room – if never at the same time onscreen) is absolutely elegant in construction. What was initially a forum for Michael to leave the family (again) has become so much more: a therapy session for the Fünkes, a wedding announcement, part of Lucille’s masterplan, and eventually George Michael’s graduation party. It’s no coincidence that the direction has prevented us from ever knowing exactly how many Bluths were present on that sunny day at Balboa Towers. The flipside of this is that Buster’s gradual development (he finally snaps at Lucille, yelling that he’s “staring A HUNDRED YEARS in the face!”) pops up here as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment to be resolved further along in the season. Still, the experiment continues.
Lucille’s trial is held at an oyster bar because, of course, it’s been entirely consigned over to the Maritime Law Courts, and the whole thing goes about as well as we expected, with not one member of the Bluth family showing up and the key witness – Lucille Austero – easily led into a seemingly endless cycle of bon mots. (Bernie Kopell as the Judge sits there eating his lunch throughout the scene, which is quietly hilarious.) Liza Minnelli and Jessica Walter have great fun outdoing each other on the stand, in a script that is chock full of classic Lucille banter. My favourite is probably Bluth’s capper, “your pillow must look like a Rorschach test, not that there’d be anyone to see it”. Things fall apart (“No further questions!” “No further answers!”). Barry doesn’t think it went well, and he’s right: Lucille is found guilty (although only of the maritime theft, not any of the light treason) and sentenced to three to five years. Queen B. does a good job of capitalising on Lucille’s deeply inbuilt fear – being abandoned by her children – after she realises they’ve already been divvying up her stuff. So the only choice is to do what Michael, George Michael, and – to an extent – Buster and Lindsay have done this season: reject her family and find a new home and a new life. In a delightfully apropos series of events, this new home is the Orange County Correctional Facility – a “four star hellhole” that is more of a country club than a prison. Before long, she’s known as “Lu” and is a member of the Jade Triad, a group of Mahjong-playing criminal doyennes, among them Noh (Amy Hill), Mrs. Oh (Bobby Lee), and China Garden’s aunt Olive (Suzanne Whang). “There’s always a way to get what you want”, Lucille informs them, and she’s not wrong. Even during the lowest days of the family’s finances back in season 1, Lucille’s lifestyle never seemed to change, and it’ll take more than some prison guards and a sharpened noodle to put an end to that.
On first watch of the season, I came away with the notion that Queen B. was the least thematically relevant of the episodes, partly because of the Lucille traits mentioned above. On looking back, I still think that isolating the Bluth matriarch was a strange choice for such a dynamic character (even if does invite links back to George’s predicament in the first season) but there’s much more to the script than just letting Jessica Walter riff on a string of puns and one-liners. The series has often examined Lucille’s effect on her youngest son, and this season has played around with the notion of how much Lindsay resembles her adoptive mother. But Lucille Bluth casts a long shadow over her other sons too, reminding us – in a season that has enjoyed cutting Michael down to size – of just what lies in store for them in their future. On the phone with her husband, Lucille ponders where they went wrong with Michael, having somehow raised a son who would rather blow the whistle than reap the untold benefits of corporate espionage. Because Lucille remains the corporate mastermind and she already knows how to play both sides against the middle: they’ll get the Chinese to build the Wall, become rich from that, and screw the Mexican land.
Reality television is also a motif that pilfers through the season. We first saw it back in Flight of the Phoenix, when a camera crew filmed The Real The Graduate at UC. At the time, it felt like a reference that was never followed up, but we’ve since seen reality cameras everywhere from GOB’s storage locker and his wedding, through Maeby’s highschool and of course the Correctional Facility. (“This’ll be even more exciting if you jump cut it!”, Lucille screams.) The series’ uncertain divide between documentary and sitcom has seen it parody reality television before, but the references this year seem less like parodies and more like a resigned acknowledgment of the vastly changed television landscape in the ten years since Arrested Development premiered. I’m not sure if there’s anything more to it than that but it should be said, one of the most common complaints against Arrested Development during its original run was that it was too “complex” for viewers to follow. While I think the DVD era has rendered this concern moot, it’s clear to me that anyone who has an instant recall of the contestants of American Idol or Survivor ten years ago can surely pay enough attention to a sitcom to remember what a hop-on is.
But all good things must come to an end, and soon it becomes clear that Mrs. Oh’s sharpened noodle is destined to find a place in Lucille’s throat. So, it’s off to court-appointed rehab at Austerity and an excuse to lock Walter in a room with David Cross and let comedy ensue. It should be as simple as Tobias signing his mother-in-law’s release, but Tobias doesn’t work that way. “You don’t work any way”, Lucille responds. “This is your first paying job in 10 years.” The therapy sequence is just great. Lucille decides to go mute, Tobias (who looks very hetero) struggles to keep his cool under her calm, frozen glare, and he then proves his lack of worth as a therapist by ignoring the first psychological breakthrough the Bluth matriarch has had in 60-odd years. So, she casts herself as the villain in The Fantastic Four, gets herself signed out with the rest of the cast, and escapes into the night.
There’s a lot of plot to be furthered in the last ten minutes of Queen B. Gene Parmesan obtains pictures of Herbert with his redhaired whore (Lindsay) and passes them on to Lucille, photos we’ve found out will make their way to Herbert’s wife Ophelia. Michael meets Rebel’s son (the second time he’s asked a child what he knows about someone who is dating a member of Michael’s family), finding a dead dove (“I probably should’ve expected that”) leading him to assume his brother is the guy in question. Lucille and Michael have a wonderfully arch confrontation on the morning of Cinco, in what seems to be largely a treat for the continuity fetishist like myself: Lucille knows most of Michael’s story with Rebel except the part where she’s Ron’s daughter (which Michael has only just found out), and Michael explains what’s happening with Lindsay. (There’s a fair bit of ADR in this scene, which makes sense given that some of this exposition was probably rewritten after production had wrapped.) The complicated George/Michael pact gets another clause added (“I heard that’s been happening”) when Lucille signs away her rights to the movie in exchange for Michael signing over his interest in the company.
Whereas most of the characters make their choice midway through their season 4 arc, Lucille (along with only George Michael) is left with her moral dilemma at season’s end. Realising George has been using her, she pushes for a real divorce on the night of Cinco. It’s actually a bit heartbreaking seeing this woman’s world order shattered when Lucille gives herself to Oscar only to find that he’s dating the other Lucille. (“And the Oscar goes too.”) Realising she’s the invisible girl, Lucille Bluth decides it’s time to get her life back in order once and for all. Will this lead to a reformed Bluth matriarch in season 5… at least for a little while? As we’ll see in the season’s epilogue, the disappearance of Ms. Austero sees Lucille straight back onto the corporate bandwagon, so perhaps not too much. Then again, what exactly did the Queen B. do as her last action before heading back to rehab? Questions abound.
Thoughts and musings:
- Lucille’s instrument of choice is the violin, of course.
- Buster can’t make the money gesture with his hook.
- Even the court stenographer wears an oyster bay uniform. HA!
- If you’re sexually assaulted by a guard at the Orange County Correctional Facility, press 7 on your phone., If you go through the front desk, it will take forever.
- Some of Lucille’s choice lines: “Their bark is louder than the dogs they eat back home”, “I’d be one unfortunate cookie”, “That’s a gang? I thought they were Tech Support”.
- Lucille knows how to play Mahjong: her beach club used to have a Jewish day.
- “Loophole” was definitely a rough choice of word.
- Lucille has a picture of Lindsay by her bedside table at the Correctional Facility. Yet another element making me ponder Lindsay’s true parentage.
- This is weird, but it looks like Jessica Walter is in front of a green screen for her audition as Lucia.
- We meet Rebel’s adorable son Lem, whose father appears to be Gerard Depardieu. (We’ll later learn he visits his mother during “French pilot season”.
- One of the most obscure references must be that of George Michael’s secret name, George Maharis. Maharis – an actor in the ’50s and ’60s – was (like the original George Michael) arrested for lewd conduct in a bathroom stall, making a mockery of our George Michael’s assumption that his new name is “untainted”. As an extra gag, the man Maharis was cuaght with? Perfecto Telles.
- DeBrie would like to get back on the horse.
- Props to Andy Richter for spending half the season with his face blurred.
- George “got in there” a couple of times when he had Oscar faking for him.
- The narrator gets confused during the Oscar/Lucille scene, and ultimately just gives up on his script.
- The Tobias/Marky plot also climaxes in Queen B., with the anus tart realising he got on the wrong boat and that he packed the wrong suitcase. It’s pretty clear that both men survive the bomb explosion, though.
- The kids sit this episode out entirely.
- Lucille’s wink still haunts me. And clearly it also haunts Tobias.
- After leaving us hanging all season, Queen B. reveals the wonderfully petty reason why Lucille turned back on that fateful day aboard the Queen Mary: to give Lucille 2 the bird.
- The odd George/Buster scene from Double Crossers, in which they faked construction on the Wall, finally gains a purpose, as it becomes clear that George “Steamboat Willied” the plan by letting Buster get out and be seen intermittently jumping up and down behind the truck.
- Lucille had a sunspot checked at Orange County Imaging.
- Queen B. gives us some intriguing background on Lucille Austero: what exactly does Lucille Bluth’s comment about her “imaginary boy” mean? Off the Hook will suggest that Lucille 2 only adopted Perfecto “recently”, as part of her campaign bid – assumedly at the start of his senior year. Has Ms. Austero been waiting for a son for a long time before that?
- “Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?”
- Lucille’s “drunk act” is definitely as good as anything you’d see the Method One Clinic.
- The prison guard thinks Lucille looks like “that horrible monster” from the Gangie films. Shirley MacLaine was in Gangie 4!
- At Austerity, of course, Lucille Bluth is Lucille 2.
- Lem’s nanny appears to be French, but Michael blithely assumes she’s Mexican.
- GENE PARMESAN! Without any exaggeration, I could watch Gene revealing his identity and Lucille screaming all day long. Gene now works at Chicken Dan’s, which is “embarrassing”. (Is he talking about his job or that pun?)
Who killed Lucille 2?
No new suspects, but some more evidence against a few.
#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 and blatantly suggests in Double Crossers that something might just happen to her rival. Also seems mighty convinced Lindsay really is a Bluth after all. Realised her second love, Oscar, had been stolen by her rival, and pledged to “pay [Lucille 2] back once and for all”.
#4. George Bluth, Sr. – puppet of #3.
#5. Heartfire – potential puppet of #4.
#6. Oscar Bluth – had an affair with Lucille 2 and clearly wanted to keep it quiet. He also spent part of the night making out with her by the staircar.
#7. China Garden – slept with Oscar, and seems like the possessive type.
#8. Tobias Fünke – only has til Monday to come up with the funds for his musical extravaganza. He can’t go back to prison.
#9. DeBrie Bardeaux – a meth addict who we know will end up at Cinco de Cuatro, and whose current state received no kind words from Lucille 2.
#10. Cindy the Ostrich – perhaps the bird inherited some of the Bark family’s anti-capitalist beliefs?
#11. Byron “Buster” Bluth – clearly susceptible to his mother’s wishes, one of which primarily includes defeating Lucille 2. (Also, he’s got some serious issues controlling his appendages.)
#12. George Oscar “GOB” Bluth II – the new President of the Bluth Company, destined now to share his parents’ rivals.
#13. Marky Bark – sure, his main beef is with Herbert Love (and the guy has face blindness, not colour blindness), but Marky insists Lucille Austero is part of the problem as well.
#14. Herbert Love – clearly has no morals, may know about the compromising photographs, and will do anything to win. He went missing on the same night as Lucille. (cue Indian singing voice) Coincidence?
#15. Lindsay Bluth Fünke – now aware that Lucille has compromising photos of her, and needs to do anything she can to sabotage a rival. And is Lucille 2 her real mother?
#16. David the campaign strategist – would presumably do anything for his boss, as evidenced by his “giant!” snipe.
#17. Argyle Austero – no clear motivation, except Lucille may have blamed him for the failure of Fantastic Four: The Musical. But we’ve seen him kick, and it looks dangerous.
On the next Arrested Development: GOB finds love where he least expects it.