Arrested Development: 4.15 “Blockheads”
Posted by therebelprince on June 9, 2013
Welcome back as we finish up our examination of Arrested Development‘s fourth season, and find out just who’s out of the movie…
“You’re out of the movie!” — Michael Bluth
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the show.
written by Mitch Hurwitz & Jim Vallely
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
So, what is Arrested Development‘s fourth season about? And why does it exist? Just because the fan clamour finally reached the ears of a network willing to take a risk? I’ve seen some pretty aggrieved responses to this season – “they broke something that didn’t need fixing”, “they lost the atmosphere and the pace of the series”, “it wasn’t funny”, etc. Look, generally I’m all for spirited debate but, after rewatching this season, I just can’t see how anyone could honestly believe those things. Season four is a true gem of television: it’s as funny as anything the original series did. Sometimes it’s more languid in its humour, yes, like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Louie that has the time to savour the delicate interplay of characters or of an atmosphere rather than racing through a compressed and convoluted plot like its spiritual predecessors, Seinfeld and the like. And I can appreciate the argument that being forced into a 22-minute timespan (even when they usually shot half-an-hour or more of footage in the first cut) made the show tighter and more reliable. Yet, the problems that stem from this argument is that the show we’re dealing with here is in a new format. It’s like asking Lou Grant to be hilarious in the series of his own name just because Mary Tyler Moore was a sitcom. Devoting the time to the comic byplay of the Fantastic Four cast in Smashed creates an episodic unity rarely seen in the original series. Working through the psychological nuances of our characters – formerly reduced to being the butt of jokes in B- and C-plots – gives us such strong (if bizarre) installments as Colony Collapse and Señoritis.
Is it fair for people not to enjoy the new Arrested Development? I suppose so. I think of the characters of my other favourite sitcoms – NewsRadio, Seinfeld, The Dick Van Dyke Show – and wonder if I would enjoy a deconstructed, (slightly) more naturalistic approach to them on an individual basis. I don’t know the answer, and so you’re within your rights if this season of television didn’t resonate with you. Yet I can’t help but feel that the tightly-constructed season (my timeline reveals only a few slight issues with minor elements such as Steve Holt’s rapid aging and when exactly Buster joined the army) yields a vast wealth of comedy. It plays out over 15 episodes, and I actually think Mitch Hurwitz did the series a disservice by advising fans not to watch it all at once. But season four is a work that honours the comedic and character work that the previous three seasons built up while also creating its own rich thread of running gags, wonderfully smutty humour, and a thematic unity between the core nine characters.
How about that structure, then? I raised some questions throughout, particularly with regard to the early climaxes in episodes like Double Crossers and the late introduction of key figures in episodes like It Gets Better. When all is said and done, I believe those quibbles are still valid, but ultimately I can live with them. With the sense of how it all fits together, every episode is considerably funnier than on first viewing. All of the series’ characters proved they could handle a story arc of their very own, even if a couple may have run one or two scenes too long.
If there’s one thing I wonder, before we get to Blockheads proper, it’s how much of this season exists solely as set-up for the oft-theorised Arrested Development movie. Sources differ as to whether Mitch Hurwitz has actually written the script or just devised it as a treatment, but there are certainly plots this year that raise questions. Some of them don’t reach a climax: the obvious examples being FakeBlock and the murder of Lucille Austero. Some of them seem naturally built to follow on, like the political rivalry between Bluth and Sitwell. And some just seem like odd grace notes to the season unless they are the foundations for further storytelling, as with the mysterious parentage of Ann Veal’s baby, and who exactly locked GOB in that tomb. We won’t know for a while, of course, and I don’t think any of them protrude too much from the cohesiveness of the season, but it’s fair to say that it was a bold move for the series to pin so much of its structure on a murder mystery that may or may not be advanced, depending on network whim.
Which brings us back to Blockheads, and the season’s most overtly thematic thread: whether any of the Bluths can choose reality and self-growth over delusion and fantasy. Lindsay and Michael give in to ambition and money, Maeby seduces a child, Tobias and George, Sr. retreat into literal fantasies, and GOB never stood a chance. While Lucille’s arc raised questions, this episode’s tag – where the matriarch herself anoints GOB as President – suggests she’s far, far gone. Buster isn’t quite evolved enough as a person to ask this question, but he’s a pretty literal embodiment of the show’s title, and always has been. Which leaves us with George Michael: the only hope for the Bluth family’s future? Perhaps.
In the week before Cinco de Cuatro, George Michael’s life reinvents itself – not entirely by choice. After a blatantly ridiculous voting scenario, P-Hound and a large band of twins vote him out of the dorm, but GOB has the perfect location – the Sudden Valley development which is miraculously full due to an influx of misplaced sex offenders (among them Tom from season 2’s Afternoon Delight!). Although he’s still living off the lie that his electronic woodblock app is a breakthrough in privacy software, it’s gained him the affections of Rebel Alley and a whole new life as George Maharis.
While I was surprised to find that the final episode of season 4 would largely be centered around one character, Blockheads manages to take all of the existing groundwork and add further resonance. Take the scene where GOB sells George Michael a house, for instance. It builds on the lie George Michael has built up around himself, lets the kid make a strong stand towards his father, plays into GOB’s plot while also giving him a necessary ego boost, and ties into the running sex offender theme that culminates here.
What makes Blockheads relevant as the season finale is that it builds toward George Michael having to make a concerted analysis of his own life. The cycle of dissembling phone messages is very funny in its own right and as a continuation of the running joke. But it also shows the kid developing his father’s dubious skill at telling lies; George Michael has come a long way from the kid who failed in his Jerky Boys prank calls – now he even names the paramedic! Face to face with Rebel, George Michael realises what his father realised: telling the truth might be the moral choice, but it’s often a risky on. In those 23 seconds he sits, stock still, in front of Rebel, George Michael makes the Bluth choice. The change that comes over him in those first few days of May is noticeable. Once, George Michael would’ve been the only Bluth to grow suspicious of those eager, constantly shirtless men whose new favourite expression is “put it in a Bluth”. Now he’s flattered by their kind neighbourhood welcome. Once, he might have grown concerned by keeping up a lie once it reached a public forum. Now, he mimics his cousin’s alter-ego Surely (and, more intimately, his aunt) by bringing a crowd to fever pitch over something that doesn’t even exist.
The night of Cinco brings about a lot of fun for some of the other characters, as GOB roofies Michael and Lucille makes her final decision about the family, telling George point-blank: “You’re out of the marriage”. The Bluths end the season in even worse shape than they began it. Maeby’s arrested as a sex offender, George is off embracing his femininity, GOB might just be pondering having further “secular intercourse” with Tony Wonder, and Tobias may have found the ideal relationship – someone who can’t even tell whether he’s a man or a woman. With the presumed death of Lucille Austero (about which, more below), a Bluth/Sitwell rivalry seems on the cards in more ways than one. They’re both families ruled by men in wigs, both heiresses are now running against each other for political office, and Tony Wonder is sleeping with the new Bluth Company President. It’s a lot to take on board, and that’s without the surprise appearance of Anonymous at George Michael’s rally, and the revelation that Buster is being arrested for Lucille 2’s murder. (On the plus side of that one, Michael might’ve kicked the rest of the family out of the movie, but Ron Howard still has Buster – he’s gonna be the next Da Vinci Code!) It’s a lot of excitement without an immediate pay-off, but further episodes seem to be on the cards for Arrested Development, so I remain hopeful.
By the time Michael and his son come face to face outside Rebel’s apartment, it’s as two men who have spent most of the last five years making their own ways in life, and who now are much more similar than they ever realised. Sure, Michael can’t remember all the facts thanks to a conveniently timed forget-me-now, and it’s a little hard for either of them to admit which one is “the other guy”. George Michael isn’t a completely lost cause yet, but he’s faking identities, sharing women with his relatives, and getting into family brawls. They’ll make a Bluth of him yet.
I’ll be back later in the week to take a detailed look at the players in the Who killed Lucille 2? murder mystery. For now, thanks for joining me for this marathon watch. Below, my final set of musings and callbacks, and a preliminary list of suspects:
Thoughts and musings:
- The running conceit of different instruments in the opening credit gets paid off here, with all the noises mixed in together.
- I’d concede that sometimes the connections between episodes are just there for show, as when George Michael and Rebel have sex in a photo booth – making them the third couple this season to do so.
- After George Michael says that the person to call is his “Dad”, we can vaguely hear the nurse respond, “we’ll need an actual name”.
- I’m beginning to wonder if I myself am a twinsist.
- GOB’s new Sudden Valley ad: “We’re sex offender free! Whether you’re a family or you just don’t like sex offenders.” I’m sold.
- GOB hired a Mongol horde: “That’s the minimum. They don’t come in anything less than a horde.”
- Lem’s father appears to be Gerard Depardieu; the kid only visits in March and April which, hilariously, is known as “French pilot season”.
- That punch Michael Cera throws at Jason Bateman is perfectly choreographed, even in slow-mo.
- “Who would not want to raise their kids here?” — George Michael Bluth
- John Beard’s timeline: quitting during the housing bubble, getting into reality TV, coming from that back into news, eventually quitting in late April after the cheesy copy he’s forced to recite becomes too much, and then hired for Imagine news – which Brian Grazer is still hoping will pay off.
- Sudden Valley still has some work to be done: “the guys from Homefill are coming this week”.
- George Michael, unsurprisingly, still can’t catch.
- Tobias is the only character we don’t see after Cinco, so perhaps he and Marky Bark really did find happiness?
Who killed Lucille 2?
The suspect list is extensive, and I’ll take some time to examine it later in the week. In the meantime, do let me know if I’ve missed anyone.
#1. Michael Bluth – owed Lucille 2 $700,000. [seems unlikely since he intended to [bleep] his way out of the problem on Cinco de Mayo]
#2. Stan Sitwell – sold his shares to Lucille 2 and has a lot at stake against both the Wall, and the Austero-Bluth company. May be connected to his daughter’s political aspirations.
#3. Lucille Bluth – leading proponent of the wall Lucille 2 is fighting against. Suggests in Double Crossers that something might just happen to her rival. 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 [but possibly dead due to injuries sustained in bee attack].
#6. Oscar Bluth – had an affair with Lucille 2 and clearly wanted to keep it quiet. 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. May have had a financial motive, as her Mongol connections were building the Wall.
#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 – who knows what dark intent lay in this bird’s brains?
#11. Byron “Buster” Bluth – clearly susceptible to his mother’s wishes, one of which primarily includes defeating Lucille 2. Realised Lucille 2 was responsible for him missing the trial. Also has some serious issues controlling his appendages. [However, he seemed genuinely shocked by finding Lucille 2 at the staircar.]
#12. George Oscar “GOB” Bluth II – the new President of the Bluth Company, destined now to share his parents’ rivals. May have suspected Lucille 2 of sabotaging his Christian illusion. [however, he would seem to have an alibi, given he leaves the party reasonably early]
#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. Was knocked unconscious by Buster on the same night as Lucille 2 went missing, but the timeline is unclear.
#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.
#18. Sally Sitwell – stole $100,000 from Lucille 2. Wanted to run for politics herself. Connected to Tony Wonder, so may have had some familiarity with using masks to impersonate others.
#19. Tony Wonder – he’ll do anything to save his career, and he and Sally have a lot of dark deeds going on. Familiar with using masks to impersonate others. He may have wanted to use GOB and the To Catch a Local Predator cameras as an alibi, but he arrived at the house later than the others. May also have been something “magical” about the disappearance, since Buster seems to see her body and then it’s gone again.
#20. Pastor and Mrs. Veal – may have suspected that someone in the Austero camp ruined their daughter’s wedding, leaving her pregnant and unmarried.
#21. George Michael Bluth – it’s a long shot, but he may have been bitter that Lucille 2 took his car (the very car on which she was murdered). And she was bankrolling what was ultimately a non-existent business. (And was George Michael lying about having never met Lucille 2?)
#22. Maeby Fünke – a new business partner for an unstable venture, and now at risk of being caught out as a sex offender.
#23. Perfecto Telles – possibly protecting Maeby, since we’ve seen in the case of Herbert Love that he’ll use violence (or have others use violence) when need be.
#24. Dr. Norman – was dumping drugs in the bay; perhaps Lucille 2 caught him in the act?
#25. Jade Triad – they and the Mongols had a clear financial stake in keeping Lucille 2 off their backs.
#26. Gene Parmesan – seems pretty desperate, since his night job is at Chicken Dan’s. Would he do anything for the right client?
#27. The federal government – While the shady aims of the government have been kept on the fringes of the series, it’s clear they were monitoring Lucille 2’s apartment. But are they actually competent enough to pull this off?
#28. Olympia Love – no clear motive, but what exactly did she and her husband plan when they made peace with one another?
#29. Anonymous – their shady presence had much more to do with FakeBlock, but who knows what went awry that fateful night of Cinco?
#30. Ann Veal – not an obvious candidate, and she spent part of the night at the model home, but she’s a lot more manipulative than that “good Christian girl” act would suggest, and she was showing her son how to wield that piñata stick pretty neatly.
#31. Annyong – well, obviously.