Arrested Development: 4.14 “Off the Hook”
Posted by therebelprince on June 9, 2013
We hustle toward the climax of Arrested Development‘s fourth season, finally checking in on the least prominent character of the fourth season: Byron “Buster” Bluth. It’s a hot mess.
“What happens when you stick your head in the sand?”
“Don’t be surprised if someone uses you as a footstool.”
— Balding, Bespectacled Ostrich and Curvy, Older Brunette on addictive juice box.
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the show.
4.14 Off the Hook
written by Mitch Hurwitz & Jim Vallely
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
Whenever I praise the actors on this show, it’s easy to enjoy how perfect Jessica Walter is in the role of Lucille, or how well Will Arnett plays the delicate mixture of GOB’s personality. Yet sometimes, I forget about Tony Hale’s Buster, which is actually a good thing. Somehow, Hale so completely absorbs himself in the character – surely one of the most bizarre human beings ever to appear on network television – that it’s profoundly disturbing to see him in anything else (such as his current, much valued role on the highly-recommended Veep). I hope that Walter and Hale have as much fun playing their claustrophobic, borderline-incestuous relationship as I do watching it. I’d be interested to see how much of the concept of Buster was figured out on the page, and how much was only brought to the table once Hale was hired, but the complexities of his character have long been a delight. On the other hand, they make Buster the hardest character to figure in to the thematic undercurrents of season four. Sure, Buster’s development has been arrested since those 11 months he spent in the womb, but he’s rarely been faced with making tough moral choices, and Off the Hook suggests Buster still functions on a different plane to the rest of the family. He’s perhaps more a logical endpoint of the excesses of the senior Bluths rather than a character prepared to make his own decisions.
Still, Off the Hook goes a long way to shading in some of the darker edges to the character hinted at occasionally in the original series. While waiting for Lucille to return from her arrest at the marina, Buster spends a hellish 48 hours creating a lifeless mother substitute. It’s an astonishingly creepy sequence, complete with Buster sewing in his long johns as he mutters to himself. The fact that Lucille is so nonchalant upon finding this scene adds further to its harrowing nature! Lucille’s return to the penthouse gradually wears away at the pair to the point where the young Bluth flees the penthouse on the night before the trial, coming across a suspiciously available Lucille Austero. Waking the next morning with a juice hangover (and having killed his fake mother – “that was a freebie”), Buster misses the trial and contributes to his mother’s incarceration. Off the Hook is Buster’s entire arc in microcosm. This moment could be where he moves on from his mother; instead Buster moves in with the nearest convenient old lady and visits his mother (unsuccessfully) at the OFFC every day. Lucille 2 eventually realises what he’s doing, so Buster finds another home playing glorified video games. When that gets too real, he finds another lover/mother figure in Ophelia Love (Garcelle Beauvais).
Like It Gets Better, this episode is precariously placed in the season due to the fact that it spends much of the running time covering the history of a character largely disconnected from the main plot. At the same time, Off the Hook provides much more justification for its late appearance, since it also ties up many of the season’s gags or mysteries in a satisfactory manner. Army fixes Buster up with a big hand (courtesy of Dr. Fishman, now returned from the subcontinent). His time at the Anaheim sees Buster take out an art museum in Madrid, which may or may not connect with George Michael’s time in Spain. (It’s also a neat callback to Buster’s skill on the claw machine.) Buster may also know more than he realises about Lucille 2’s disappearance: we see a suspicious maintenance man outside her apartment, wearing a “Blendin'” uniform, which we all know leads back to the Feds.
Buster’s storyline perhaps doesn’t tie in to the season’s themes quite as well as the others when it comes to self-deception, but it paves the way for something else thematically relevant: a change of attitude. His big hand isolates him from society, and it turns out the lustful Ophelia was just using him to get back at her husband. “I don’t wanna be a monster anymore”, Buster says, and perhaps he means it. Sure, it doesn’t help that he closes out the night of Cinco by blindsiding Herbert Love, but Buster Bluth failed the Cute Test, and that’s something that his parents – and at least two of his siblings – would have no trouble achieving. Lucille Bluth will always be in her son’s life (he can’t help but gloat to her about being with a black woman), but perhaps Buster Bluth can escape the Motherboy cycle after all?
(Down below, we’ll consider the new evidence in the Lucille Austero case, which this episode’s tag blows wide open.)
Thoughts and musings:
- Hey, it’s Lupe! B.W. Gonzalez gets a neat little cameo in this episode. Buster checks her bag but, on seeing the bottle of perfume, acknowledges it isn’t his mother’s: “She wouldn’t wear that.”
- I’m a little disappointed that George, Sr.’s credit in this episode said “his father” rather than “his uncle-father”.
- Lucille Austero didn’t mishear the situation; Buster dropped the “2”.
- Buster misreads an army propaganda poster of a happy couple: “She certainly looks proud of her son”.
- Buster’s instrument in the opening credits? An accordion.
- After 14 episodes (and a fair warning), the Trial Version of SHOWSTEALER PRO PLUS has expired.
- The army doctors aren’t super keen on the Anaheim Plaza. “Why do they have us at the Mini Mall?”
- Lucille on Buster’s new hand: “this looks like you’re pointing to a place that buys your gold”.
- Buster on the army’s training methods: “maybe it would work with icecream”.
- Just like she does at the Correctional Facility, Lucille stores her vokda in a Saltines box at home.
- References to Buster’s genitalia make a welcome return; it’s been too long.
- At the family meeting, Buster still scares George Michael.
- Much as Lucille 1 predicted at the trial, Lucille 2’s hair dye comes off on Buster’s forehead.
- Lucille on Getaway: “It’s as if they wrote that song for my own son.” If only she knew.
- Buster’s rehabilitation therapist, played by Lennon Parham, bears more than a passing resemblance to his former paramour, Nurse Adelaide.
- It’s some pretty shitty green screen, but the Queen Mary is half-sunk in the background as Buster runs to his mother’s trial at the oyster bar.
- According to Buster, Herbert Love is in “some pretty hot ham water”.
Off the Hook gives us our strongest clues yet. The episode seemingly knocks Herbert Love out of suspicion, implies Lucille 2 was being monitored by the Feds, and shows us what appears to be her dead body. Things end on Cinco de Mayo with Buster being arrested for Ms. Austero’s murder, but are things that cut and dried? Coming up, I’ll do a proper post about the mystery – the footage of Buster finding her body perhaps suggests there’s some kind of… illusion… going on. But for now, the suspects below:
#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.
#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 – motive unknown.
#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?
On the next Arrested Development – the end’s not near, it’s here.