After spinning its wheels for the first half of this mini-season, “Rom-Traum” finds Arrested Development finally revving up on plot. The penultimate episode of the half-season offers the first tantalizing clues to the nature of Lucille 2’s disappearance, explains those mysterious men in the desert, and (hopefully, please, God) wraps up Michael and George Michael’s ongoing father-son romantic conflict over Rebel. And it’s even got show tunes!
With Buster still in lockup and Lindsay on the lam, the remaining family members are getting pretty desperate — and when a Bluth is desperate, deception is sure to follow. After Lucille 1 refuses to visit Buster in prison, citing potential negative media coverage for Lindsay’s campaign, Michael convinces Barry to announce the discovery of some fake “evidence” in the Lucille 2 case, in order to get Lucille 1 and George Sr. to make a move and shed some light on their role in her disappearance.
The gambit seemingly works, but, of course, Barry is about as trustworthy a lawyer as he is competent. He immediately turns on Michael, explaining to Lucille 1 that the evidence — traffic-camera footage of two heads, “one spiky, one bald,” at the wheel of the stair car — is the real deal. Lucille 1 identifies the drivers as Lucille 2 and Oscar, whose involvement makes sense, given his lack of appearances this season. She tells Barry that Oscar has screwed up her orders to keep Lucille 2 hidden, though it’s still not clear how or why Lucille 1 managed to get him to take her away. All we know is that she “will not let that woman steal everything I’ve taken from her,” as she vows to Barry.
More importantly, George Sr. doesn’t seem to be in on whatever Lucille’s plotting. Michael follows him back to the desert retreat, thinking he’ll lead him to Lucille 2’s whereabouts, but George Sr. is just returning to the maca plants, in a desperate attempt to reclaim his masculinity and reverse the supposed curse of Marky Bark’s fake “shaman” so that Lucille will stop hooking up with Dusty.
But the real culprit for George Sr.’s flagging testosterone is actually estrogen pills, which Lucille has been subbing for his Viagra as a form of “soft time” in exchange for her hard time. (In a funny bit of foreshadowing, Maeby plots to do the same to Stan Sitwell.) While George Sr. has faced two years of unintended testosterone depletion, Oscar’s sudden virility is seemingly attributable to the maca plants being downhill from the port-a-potty used by all of Father B.’s testosterone-fueled “sweat and squeeze” clients.
While George Sr.’s sexual crisis is manufactured, Gob’s is real. He admits for the first time that he’s in love with Tony Wonder, to the surprisingly open-minded staff of Laguna Closet Conversions — which really does just convert closets, not gay people. Heartened by their response, he purchases the company (the Bluth-Austero accounts have to be pretty dry by this point), enlisting the staff to help him design “a classic two-fister” for him and Tony to perform in the coming Second of July parade. In a Pride-worthy flourish, Gob’s demanding design sequence is soundtracked to the strains of another notorious perfectionist, Barbra Streisand. I’m honestly surprised she was that okay with Tobias’s “ass-masking pantsuit” joke!
Similarly, it’ll be interesting to see how yet another famous perfectionist reacts to the revelation that the mysterious MRF gang are actually the Mexican Romney Family, given that Mitt’s long tried to distance himself from the whole Mexican-polygamist-colony part of his family history. It’s a joke that Mitch Hurwitz & Co. very cleverly set up last season, but which I thought they wouldn’t go through with, in large part because Hurwitz already blew it in an interview. (Sadly, Hurwitz’s dream of having George Clooney play one of the marauding Romneys appears to have gone unrealized.)
Given this episode’s inflated run time, I’m surprised that more time isn’t devoted to politics. We’re told that the election is supposedly taking place in two days, as is the Second of July parade Lucille has declared in order to preempt any revenge from Newport’s Mexican community over Cinco de Cuatro. Even by the standards of a wacky comedy, it seems odd that Sally Sitwell would be able to take over for Lucille 2 as the candidate two days before an election, but hey, Donald Trump is president, so what do I know. In any case, the stage appears to be set for a big finish: the election, another festival, the possible reappearances of Lucille 2 and Lindsay, and if Stan Sitwell gets his way, a hookup attempt with Maeby. Let’s hope those estrogen pills work fast.
• Is Michael’s preprogrammed address of “Mom’s Fucking Cottage” in his self-driving car the first unbleeped Arrested Development swear? (Barry’s “fucking/frolicking” joke in the episode does get the bleep, which makes it even more confusing.)
• Speaking of driving destinations: For you non-Californians, all those “pea soup” references that George Sr., Michael, and George Michael make are about Pea Soup Andersen’s, a pair of restaurants that are a popular stop on highway drives from L.A. to San Francisco.
• The Blendin gag returns: Laguna Closet Conversions is located right next to Blendin Home Décor, as well as a closed location of 90-Minute Tooth. Guess Gob was right about Hour Mouth.
• Did you spot the “We Forget But We Never Forgive” needlepoint in the room where Lucille tells George Sr. to leave so she can get it on with Dusty?
• George Sr. telling Michael to “get into the anus cart” — a.k.a. Tobias’s ANUSTART convertible — might have been one of the funniest lines of the season, topped only by Tobias’s physical comedy as he endlessly struggled to walk downhill.