When the going gets tough, the Bluths have always retreated to Mexico. So it’s not surprising that almost the entire main cast goes south of the border in this episode, as the show vigilantly attempts to kill off the last of the previous season’s plotlines. In fact, some of season four’s biggest conflicts are resolved in just a few sentences, from George Michael admitting to Maeby that Fakeblock was made up (and Maeby responding that she knew it all along) to Michael telling Kitty he’s leaving the movie business (though not before Ron Howard and Brian Grazer get in a few last gags at their own expenses).
Other season-four plotlines are simply vanishing into the background. Michael briefly mentions to his Google colleagues that he’s done with his relationship and George Michael is attempting a rebound with Maeby, so it seems unlikely we’ll see Rebel Alley again. And thankfully, George Sr.’s flirtation with transitioning — a wrongheaded idea even five years and one Tambor-Transparent controversy ago — has been downgraded to more of a “sexual slump” situation.
There is one season-four plotline that the show is sticking with this go-round: Lucille and George’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico, a concept with which viewers have unfortunately become all too familiar since Arrested first aired it. Yet even the biggest Trump hater might have to admit a sort of perverse pleasure in watching the president finally merge with his truest fictional counterpart, who huffily exclaims “That was my idea!” before conceding that having Mexico pay for it was admittedly “a clever twist.”
Of course, there is that whole matter of the Bluth land actually being in Mexico, a fact George Michael and Maeby rediscover after their car breaks down there on an impromptu road trip with Steve Holt. But we’ll have to wait to see why they were hassled by a mysterious gang of horseback-riding, sombrero-wearing old white guys with a familiar moniker: MRF. (Hey, shouldn’t that be “Señor Efe?”)
Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat’s scenes together have been a highlight of the new season so far, like the exchange in this episode where Maeby decides she needs to “get going with her own Goop.” (That is, if she can figure out what Goop is: “Maybe it’s go-op?” she asks George Michael, who responds, “To me, that makes less sense.” “Maybe that’s what go-op is, not everything always making sense.” (Ron Howard: “It isn’t.”)
Unfortunately, our primos are soon split up and sent into less interesting adventures, particularly George Michael, who settles in with a group of exchange students largely named Noah for a long, clichéd montage mocking subtitle-hating, Pinkberry-slurping ugly Americans in Mexico. Maeby, on the other hand, throws in her lot with some Good Samaritan locals helping immigrants make their way to the U.S. “despite the cruelty of your President … Barack Obama.”
Sadly, barbs that fresh remain in short supply in these new episodes, which mostly confine their more acidic potshots to safe targets like the Hollywood Foreign Press taking bribes or Lucille “doing what her own government would do” by borrowing a bunch of money from the Chinese. It also remains a little too eager to mine its own backlog of jokes without doing the hard work of advancing them further, from the Bluths not understanding the meaning of hermano — er, I mean primo — to resurrecting Buster’s spectacular filthy-mouth moment, only twice as long and half as funny.
In true Arrested Development fashion, some of the writers’ own anxieties about joke quality have ended up on the screen. Buster questions whether the Army “spent $27 million on the wrong guy,” a price tag I wouldn’t be surprised to learn corresponds with last season’s budget (though I couldn’t find any hard numbers on a certain unnamed search engine). And when he returns to Newport Beach after a month of living the good life at said search engine, Michael literally finds himself haunted by the echoes of the original seasons’ best lines.
But there is one trope that Arrested Development appears to be officially done with: the one son who has no choice but to keep it all together. As Buster tells Michael, “You always come back to save the family, Michael. We joke about that all the time. ‘Oh, I’m Michael, I came back to save everyone so I feel special, even though you don’t deserve it, so I won’t be coming back.’ Then it’s oh, look who’s back, I thought we were supposed to go fuck ourselves.”
For once, the other Bluths get the jump on Michael, luring him back from Unnamed Search Engine with a letter from Lucille 2 forgiving his $700,000 debt. Of course, that brings up a big question: Where the hell is Lucille 2, and is she still alive? We’ve heard her call Michael twice, but he’s talked over her both times; for all we know, those could be robocalls from her congressional campaign. And Buster, after promising Michael he’ll go to the cops and tell them everything he knows about the case, is nowhere to be found in Lucille 2’s penthouse — which the Bluths are mysteriously occupying. Even as most of season four’s plotlines are put to the sword, there’s still more to this story.
• The MRF member who strums his guitar on command is unquestionably the best guitar-based backup soldier since Mad Max: Fury Road.
• Without actually doing much to parody Google, the show still somehow manages to nail its cheery-creepy vibe, especially when the employees who rescue Michael’s map car introduce themselves. “I’m Dave, from mapping! That’s Lisa, from traditional search! And I’m Jeff, from Earth!”
• I loved the callback to Lucille’s aphorism about the murderer and rapist island, and Tobias struggling to figure out the math. When are we going to get the Lucille equivalent to Sterling’s Gold?
• The singles bar at which Gob and George Sr. turn down two cute primas with daddy issues is appropriately called Pescados en el Barril (“Fish in a Barrel”). But they’re ultimately more enticed by a ten-gallon Hefty bag on the roadside; Will Arnett’s deeply weird line reading of “I like … a 10” is a highlight of the episode.
• Buster telling Michael that psych panels are “so easy to beat” sure does explain a lot, doesn’t it?