In addition to our Arrested Development season 4 review, Splitsider has also been posting episode-by-episode recaps that will cover two episodes at a time. So if you haven’t yet plowed through all 8 hours of the new season, and instead opted for a slower, more leisurely approach to screening the episodes, these weekly recaps should suit your old fashioned and increasingly obsolete lifestyle perfectly. These articles will be written from the perspective of someone watching the episodes sequentially, with no knowledge of future reveals or plot twists. That said, there may be some discussion of running gags or seemingly throwaway jokes, which, given the show’s reputation, may very well likely serve as setups or foreshadowing of events to come. We ask that commenters refrain from discussing information from episodes past the ones reviewed below.
Episode 9 – Smashed
What Happened: After being falsely accused and arrested as a sex offender, Tobias takes a job as a therapist in Lucille Austero’s rehab clinic, Austerity. Having Debrie as a patient creates a conflict of interest, so Tobias pitches to Lucille Austero’s brother Argyle (Broadway legend Tommy Tune) that he direct a Fantastic Four musical with the patients instead. Tobias crosses paths with GOB, who is struggling to sell Michael’s Sudden Valley units. With the development so remote (away from schools and playgrounds) sex offender Tobias offers to buy one. Tobias and Argyle begin rehearsals for the musicals, with Mark Cherry (having checked into rehab) composing the music. Debrie struggles with the pressure of the lead role of Sue Storm, but rehearsals crawl along and Tobias hopes to take the production to Broadway. Argyle says they will need funding, a preview show at Cinco de Quatro, and for Tobias to obtain the rights from Imagine Generic (Ron Howard’s company that produced a low-budget 1992 version of The Fantastic Four).
At the Balboa Club, Argyle runs into Michael (who just had an argument with Rebel and kicked Lindsay out of the movie) and threatens him to pay the $700,000 debt he owes Lucille 2. Tobias is unable to obtain the rights, but they find a new financial backer for their production: Lucille Bluth. Tobias joins Michael in a haircut meeting with Ron Howard, whom Michael tells to move on from Rebel. Michael finally learns that Ron is Rebel’s father, not lover. Ron tells him that his daughter is seeing someone else and warns him to stay away. He also denies Tobias the rights, and Tobias tries to strangle him, prompting Michael to remove him from the movie as well. Tobias lies to his cast about obtaining the rights, and the production moves on, with an overly critical Lucille Bluth on board. On the night of Cinco de Quatro, Tobias sees children are present, which, especially in his recognizable rock suit, puts him in obvious violation of parole. Debrie tries to calm her nerves but finds Dr. Norman’s drugs floating in the harbor, and she relapses. After convincing Buster to wear his rock suit and play The Thing, Tobias tries to revive Debrie, and Lucille Austero threatens to fire him and cancel the show. So Tobias assumes the role of Sue Storm, wearing Debrie’s blond wig and his blue body paint. But Tobias never makes it to the play, having accidentally boarded Marky Bark’s boat, forcing the show to go on with the Invisible Woman played by… no one.
Our Thoughts: With the season’s second Tobias episode, the plotlines of the various characters begin to fold in on themselves. Like the previous few episodes, “Smashed” takes a break from Tobias’s musical arc to catch us up on one of the two central story threads: Michael’s balancing act between Rebel and his movie deal. While it is a bit uncanny to see the manner in which all the threads intersect, the fact that the bulk of the season’s plot points occur in one of a handful of locations (the Cinco de Quatro celebration, the Opie Awards / Herbert Love rally, etc.) makes all the situational irony come off as somewhat contrived. I’m also not sold on Tobias making his choices based on his love for Debrie, which feels like a temporary device this season that works only when it coincides with his aspirations in show business. But seeing him back in the roles of incompetent therapist and director, along with the blue body paint, was a fun bit of nostalgia, even if the rehearsal montages dragged at times.
Also, we got another heavy dose of Fünke schadenfreude with Tobias having to remind everyone of his sex offender status, as well as a delightfully cruel moment in which Tobias happily offers his signature for Michael’s movie deal and then watches as Michael immediately tears up the release and ousts him from the movie. Now that we know that the season’s various storylines are converging on Michael’s movie deal and relationship with Rebel, and the family’s political ties and border wall schemes, these subplots often seem like tedious means to a farfetched end. That said, Season 4 has proven repeatedly that these functional stories can still pack a fairly hilarious punch, and that’s to the credit of the intricate web of running gags the writers have woven.
Episode 10 – Queen B.
What Happened: Shortly after Lucille Bluth hijacks the Queen Mary and heads seaward, she turns the ship around simply to flip off her rival Lucille 2. Instead, she flips the entire boat and is arrested. Lucille awaits her trial date with Buster in the penthouse. Tensions brew between the two, with Lucille’s abrasiveness and smoking habits, and Buster’s role as witness (her alibi for her boat flip is that she was trying to save Buster, who fell in the bay). When no one from the family shows up at her trial, Lucille questions her only present witness: Lucille 2. The trial devolves into a trading of insults between the two, and Lucille is convicted. After Lucille checks into her country club prison, George Sr. connects her with China Garden’s family in prison: a gang of vicious Asian women called the Dragon Triad (one of them played by Bobby Lee), with whom Lucille shares her smoking “rooooop-hore” and forges a deal to have Chinese workers build the Mexican border wall. When the wall project stalls, Lucille’s friendship with the gang deteriorates (all documented on a Real Housewives-esque reality show) and they turn on her. Lucille schemes to get Herbert Love to kill the wall project while trying to convince the Chinese that it’s still moving forward, but feeling threatened, she gets transferred to Austerity, but fails to convince Tobias to release her. During their sessions, Lucille ends up auditioning for the villain in Tobias’s musical (plotting with Oscar to escape via a boat on the night of the show). Michael visits his mother, signing away his rights to the company while she signs her rights for the movie. Lucille convinces Michael that Rebel is also dating GOB, hoping to divide the two brothers.
On the night of Cinco de Quatro, the boat Oscar left idling for Lucille is stolen by Marky Bark, and Lucille discovers that George Sr. had been using his brother to fill in for him with her. Spurned, Lucille tells her husband she wants a real divorce. She embraces Oscar, but discovers that he has been with Lucille 2, which infuriates Lucille even more. Tobias asks her to play Sue Storm in the show, saying she’s “not the villain,” but rather “the invisible girl,” which causes Lucille to finally have an emotional breakthrough. Later, Lucille 2 goes mysteriously missing, and Tobias and Marky try to warn Lindsay that she’s on the Love boat, which they had planned to bomb, but in a suitcase mixup, Tobias and Marky’s boat is bombed instead.
Our Thoughts: As perhaps the most densely plotted episode yet, “Queen B” connects the dots between Lucille and nearly all of the major characters, from the border wall schemes, inadvertent affair with Oscar, exploitation of Buster, and antagonism to Tobias’s musical that we’ve seen in previous episodes, to her manipulation of Michael and GOB, as well as her long road of redemption that this episode charted out. Season 3 left us with the reveal that Lucille – not her husband – was the mastermind of the Bluth family’s corrupt dealings, so we needed to see the matriarch play a more active role in this season’s major storylines and begin to face her own demons. Her bickering with Buster and Lucille 2, as well as her interactions with the Dragon Triad and outright hatred of Tobias, comprised the episode’s best moments – I particularly enjoyed the sharpened noodle attack and Lucille’s repeated discovery of her belongings being claimed. Of course, the wall dealings are once again frustratingly difficult to follow, and the third act was a little sloppy, consisting of Lucille serendipitously wandering from character to character at Cinco de Quatro. But ultimately we were left with a conclusion that was satisfying, cliffhanging, and literally explosive.
For a full list of all the subtle and recurring jokes in Arrested Development Season 4, see Splitsider’s comprehensive list. (Warning: it contains spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen all the episodes.)
I’ll be next week with reviews from the next two episodes!
Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He hosts the Evil Blond Kid podcast and performs improv on the Harold team The Cartel at the iO West Theater.