Arrested Development: “Blockheads”
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Arrested Development: “Blockheads”

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Arrested Development

"Blockheads"

Season 4, Episode 15

Erik Adams: When Arrested Development ended for the first time, it did so with some difficulty. It couldn’t have helped that Mitch Hurwitz and company were handed an abbreviated episode order with which to wrap up the dense-and-detailed saga of the Bluth family, but “Development Arrested” has never seemed to me like the send-off the best TV comedy of the 2000s deserved. Thankfully, it was merely a temporary send-off, but the rush to tie up loose ends while giving the show a suitably climactic sense of coming full circle resulted in an erstwhile series finale that’s more than a little half-baked—though part of that was a calculated risk to leave behind parts of the story that could be completed by whatever form Arrested Development took after it left the air.

I get a similar sensation from “Blockheads,” which, thanks to season four’s experiments in TV storytelling, had most of its “finale” moments taken care of by previous episodes. And, once more, that feeling of being left hanging is intentional, providing the writers with the seeds they need to cultivate whatever comes next: Another Netflix season, the movie fictionalized Ron Howard and fictionalized Brian Grazer are now dead set on making, or maybe Fakeblock’s first venture into semi-original programming. (It wouldn’t be the first tech-based venture wander ever-so-slightly away from its original mission statement.)

That said, conclusion is overrated, and I’d hate to see Arrested Development force an ending on 15 episodes that defy so many other TV expectations. Besides, this is a series where the main characters are caught in loops of their own making, so most of what happens in “Blockheads” can be construed as “coming full circle.” 

Even George-Michael repeats his own patterns in “Blockheads,” achieving a triumphant catharsis with his fist. It’s important to finish season four with an episode told from George-Michael’s perspective, because more than any other Bluth, he’s felt the full brunt of his family’s misdeeds. Noel wrote two weeks ago that Maeby is the closest thing the show has to an audience surrogate; George-Michael, meanwhile, is our best vessel toward understanding the Bluths. We saw the outcome of all the lying and the love (but mostly lying) in his gawky, teenage form, hopelessly naïve but able to see the good in each of his relatives. In his overtly sexual season-four guise, however, he’s finally discovered how to harness the full potential of his Bluthness—all the while casting off both of the names given to him by his father. And when George Maharis finally channels the last decade of frustration and disappointment into a punch to that father’s face, a transformation is completed. Anakin Skywalker has become Darth Vader, and his punch is backed by millions of fraudulently accumulated dollars. 

George-Michael Bluth always seemed like the role that trapped Michael Cera into perpetual man-childhood, so it’s exciting to watch the character become one that takes on the darker edges of the actor’s persona. (Because this site simply hasn’t written enough about the Scott Pilgrim franchise, there’s probably a good For Our Consideration to be written about how George-Michael is the true villain of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World film.) By forcing him down a spiral toward selfishness and self-preservation, “Blockheads” gives George-Michael the final weapons necessary for Arrested Development to end season four in the same way it started: With the Bluths scattered and squabbling. We already saw him do this to Maeby in “Señoritis”—that firing is presented here for comprehensiveness’ sake, but the truly important development in “Blockheads” is the one that brings the episode (and the season) to a close.

To my eyes, “Blockheads” embodies the qualities of season four’s best installments—a full-ish story for the main character, a light touch when representing the other side of events we’ve seen previously—while doing some necessary plot work that echoes “Double Crossers” and “Indian Takers.” The episode is at its least exciting when it inevitably arrives at the boardwalk for Cinco De Cuatro, if only because we’ve already seen the most explosive, climactic incidents of the season’s ostensible climax. There’s really only one surprise left in the sequence, and considering it involves neither a literal explosion nor the mysterious disappearance of a Bluth rival, the reveal that the “blow back” is actually the work of a Mongolian horde—hired by GOB to build the fake barrier between the United States and Mexico—is a bit of a letdown.

A letdown in terms of storytelling, maybe—but in terms of thematic resonance, it’s rich: The disgruntled Mongols mistaken for insulted Mexicans were hired in lieu of the Chinese workers whom George Sr. sought to not construct the border wall. Appearances are always deceiving on Arrested Development, but “Blockheads” takes this conceit to new heights of daffiness. Just take a look at how both GOB and Michael end up talking themselves in circles at separate points of the episode, beginning on one note (GOB decries “the age we live in” and its attendant pill-popping) and ending on the exact opposite (having worked his way through the benefits of various pills, GOB declares “What an age we live in, it’s great, isn’t it?”). He’s hiding his true feelings behind that front, and Michael later builds a similar façade as an attempt to return to Rebel’s good graces. It’s a hysterical illustration of the loops the Bluths get themselves stuck in, the cycles that begin anew in the “On the next…” portion of “Blockheads,” which finds GOB re-installed (or re-re-re-installed? How many times has this happened now?) as president of the company while yet another Bluth is rung up for yet another major offense.

For an episode with so many parallels to another temporary Arrested Development conclusion, the season four finale also has a good time with the show’s twins/duplicates theme: Whereas “Development Arrested” found Michael learning he doesn’t have a twin sister, in “Blockheads” he’s assaulted for insisting that he and George-Michael could be twins. Noel, one of your pet Arrested Development themes shows up as the kicker to Lem Depardieu’s visit to Sudden Valley—did you catch it? And as someone who’s savored over the fourth season rather than binge on it, how does taking two months to arrive at “Blockheads” affect your opinion of the episode?

Noel Murray: I assume you’re referring to the rapidly deflating bouncy-castle? I suppose that would qualify as another example of the erection/impotence motif, though given the kind of people who were in George Maharis’ backyard immediately before Lem made them scatter, I’m not sure they’d be feeling all that deflated. (And now I’m regretting that I ever had to think about that. In fact, the whole sexual predator subplot this season, while frequently hilarious, has also been pretty discomforting. I don’t mean that as a slam; good for Arrested Development for still being willing to toy with taboos. That kind of comedy is supposed to be troubling. And, like I said, it was mostly very funny. In fact, one of my favorite characters in this episode is the Sudden Valley resident who lurks in the bushes at the party for George M., watching him wrestle shirtless with his neighbors.)

As for whether slow-watching instead of binge-watching season four affected how I felt about “Blockheads”—that’d be impossible for me to say, really. I will say that I found the loose-end-tying of this finale less enjoyable than the snappy brilliance of the previous three episodes, yet nowhere near as exhausting as the rehash-heavy episodes from earlier this season. Maybe that’s a case of my having gotten used to this season’s storytelling over the past couple of months. Or maybe—more likely—it’s because George-Michael’s storyline is one of the ones I’ve found most rewarding.

Like you, I was never the biggest fan of “Development Arrested,” but I think “Blockheads” works fairly well because it has more modest goals. It’s really about defining the differences between Michael and George-Michael, by putting them through a similar wringer. They’re dating the same irresponsible single mom. They’re both in charge of companies selling a nonexistent product. They’ve both been kicked out of a dorm room in a vote-first/no-talking scenario. They even nod to themselves in the same awkward way (as seen in a well-placed split-screen during one of their games of telephone lie-tag).

As you mention Erik, Arrested Development has always gotten a lot of comic mileage out of what I’m now going to call “approximate twinning”—as though that were a real thing and not something I just made up. I’m thinking not just about all the people who look and/or act like each other without being exactly alike (Oscar and George Sr., GOB and Tony Wonder, and so on and so on), but also the similar-looking places (model homes here and abroad), and similar-sounding words (bees/beads). This season has never made a big deal about it, but I’ve often wondered whether George-Michael’s “privacy software that also prevents piracy”—a description that doesn’t make a lot of sense, if you think about it for more than two seconds—came into non-existence because of the Bluth habit of mishearing things. (“Privacy” becomes “piracy,” which eventually becomes both.)

So now, in “Blockheads,” the man who no longer wants to be George-Michael also rejects being “same” with his dad. Just as much as Buster, George-Michael is like the product of some twisted science experiment: placed in a crib with a Cornballer, motherless from a young age, compelled to do whatever his father asks, etc. Now he’s a grown-up with no romantic game (when Rebel says she’s coming over to his dorm and bringing birth control, he pseudo-suavely replies, “That’s perfect, because I’m not ready to have children,” and after they’re done being overtly sexual, he says to her, “Thanks for keeping it down for my R.A. … You were keeping it down, right?”); and a man so out of touch with the world outside Sudden Valley that when he buys a new house he makes plans to furnish it with Homefill. Even when George-Michael exuberantly bangs on a wall, he knocks down a picture, teaching him not to be too excited or happy.

The punch that ends “Blockheads” is satisfying initially, and then becomes a “wait… what?” moment after the credits abruptly roll; and then it gets funnier again in retrospect. What I liked best about that punch though is that comes at the end of an episode filled with long, uncomfortable silences (something Arrested Development rarely does, given that it has a Narrator). Right before the punch, when Michael realizes he’s just inadvertently revealed how terrible he is to his son, his face falls in a way that’s made even more heartbreaking by the lack of any dialogue or commentary. (Perhaps after 15 episodes of explaining Bluth misbehavior with an “and perhaps…,” The Narrator figured his comments would be implied.)

But what’s saddest/funniest about “Blockheads” is the way it depicts George-Michael on the cusp of adulthood, in that nether-world of college where he still has to tell people who to call in case of an emergency, and he still has to answer to an administration that can’t be bothered to get to know him or his problems. (P-Hound’s grievance against his roommate is summed up as “messed with his stuff and stole some software thing,” which is true and yet not.) George-Michael’s dilemma is encapsulated by his interactions in “Blockheads” with his Uncle GOB, who listens to his nephew’s problems and then says, “From my perspective… something about… there’s a girl?” and then offers up a wan, “Love each other.” “That’s great,” George-Michael says. “But I actually need specific advice.”

EA: And I think that’s where The Punch matters the most: It’s George-Michael making himself heard. Not in the way his father would prefer, and not in the way he was taught at Openings, but certainly in the way that has the greatest impact. It’s the perfect punctuation to Michael’s behavior this season, too. The Narrator’s typically right on the money, but Michael doesn’t hit his lowest point on the stair car with Lucille 2 in “Flight Of The Phoenix”—he hits it when he’s hit by George-Michael. I love that Jason Bateman doesn’t crumple after taking the blow, instead regaining his balance and squaring off with his scene partner. After indulging his own Bluth side throughout season four, he’s suddenly aware of what a prick he’s been. If the family history repeats itself (and it always does), someone’s eventually going to serve George-Michael with his own haymaker.

I’m eager to find out who that is, and that’s a significant achievement for “Blockheads”: After all this time, here’s an ending that would give me no hesitation about clicking over to the next episode. But there’s no next episode to speak of, as much as this season finale argues that the story of Arrested Development remains incomplete. I can wait, though, because if there’s anything we can learn from “Blockheads”—and the season it concludes—it’s the virtues of patience. As for this particular follow-up, it’s awful nice that seven years of patiently waiting for more Arrested Development was, more often than not, rewarded.

Stray observations:

  • Did you notice? The opening credits for “Blockheads” put all the character’s individual music cues together. [NM]
  • Rebel Alley turned out to be a fine addition to the Arrested-verse, capable of delivering solid one-liners like her bit about her dad “getting drunk and bitching about Don Ameche not knowing his lines in Cocoon,” but also funny for having her own particular quirks and weaknesses, like everybody else in the Bluth circle. The “Rebel does court-ordered PSAs” running gag hits its peak in “Blockheads” with the cut from her telling George M. that she’ll text him from the car to her looking into her dad’s camera and saying, “Tweet and drive” (forgetting the words “text” and “don’t”). [NM]
  • When discussing their relationship (or lack thereof), Rebel tells George-Michael “This is all backwards.” She’s more correct than she knows, considering she’s having this argument on a set that’s the mirror image of the Model Home. (Or possibly the existing model home set, rotated 180 degrees. [EA]
  • It’s the precision of Arrested Development pronunciation that makes lines like GOB’s “I remembered how much you like bologna” so delightful. Perhaps someday George-Michael will have the kind of confidence that allows his cousin Maeby to ignore his “serious or seriously” dilemma and just say “seri-ish,” all easily breezily. [NM]
  • Or what about the way P-Hound buys George-Michael a “peace pizza,” which then becomes a “war pizza.” It’s not just the “peace pizza” pun (y’know, like “piece of pizza”) that makes it fun, or the fact that P-Hound acts like peace pizzas and war pizzas are things people give to each other all the time—it’s also the utter conviction with which Richard Jin Namkung declares “Enjoy your war pizza!” [EA]
  • Also, did you notice that P-Hound looks like it should phonetically be read as “found”? No? Look, it’s been two months, so I’m starting to grasp at straws. [EA]  
  • Arrested Development has never been above a bad pun or piece of wordplay, which may be why I laughed unashamedly at the rioting hordes having “a major Mongolian beef.” [NM]
  • Anything goes in a dorm! (But they don’t like you hanging out in the hallways.) [NM]
  • The most likely source of George-Michael’s comeuppance will be the hacktivist network known as Anonymous, one of season four’s more unexpected intrusions from the world of 2013. Still, the group makes itself at home within Arrested Development by following an old J. Walter Weatherman lesson: That’s why you always leave a note to declare your desire to keep the Internet free and open. [EA]
  • The best “on the next” in this episode: GOB, after getting a fresh sexual overture from a Forget-Me-Now-ed Tony Wonder, stares at his partially shaven face in the mirror for a long time, dabbing at the shaving cream, in another of this episode’s strangely quiet moments.
  • That does it for The A.V. Club’s coverage of Arrested Development, season four. Only Netflix knows if there will be more to cover—but I’d like to thank each and every one of you for sticking with us as we tried out our own Arrested Development experiment. (I’d also like to thank Noel, who never has to think so deeply about the Bluths again, for having me along for the ride.) Our deepest gratitude to every last one of you who read these discussions—and started your own in the comments. This is Erik Adams—remember, love each other. [EA]