Are you ready for the final countdown? Because I know for a fact that you’ll never be able to do it. You’re too good. You’re the noble one. The one who never wins. The loser. The fool. …Not to mention the difficulty in getting two Alliance-approved assistants with such short notice!
SEASON 1, EPISODE 9: Storming the Castle
Written by Brad Copeland
Directed by Greg Mottola
Original airdate January 4, 2004
With the episode count for Arrested Development very close to exceeding single digits at this point, the show finds itself more thoroughly exploring the Bluths’ (somewhat well-established) love lives, along with their (very well-established) questionable notions of morality. The Michael/Gob/Marta love triangle arc is now at roughly its mid point, and while Gob’s adultery had been touched upon previously in Visiting Ours and My Mother, the Car, it has now finally become a plot point. However, if there’s one unifying theme in this episode, it’s identity. Each character, in some way or another, wrestles with the concept of who they are as a person. And most (even Lucille!) find out that they’ve got a little bit of good in them, alongside that token Bluth awfulness.
I’ve previously noted (both in the comments and the actual installments themselves) that Michael becomes a worse person each season, in a gradual – but noticeable – progression, but the truth is, the Michael Bluth that we see in season 1 just isn’t the same Michael Bluth we’ve since grown accustomed to. Now obviously, character traits evolve in a comedy, both due to the writers and the performers, but at this point, the show is still very much painting Michael as a good guy for the most part. In fact, those very words are explicitly stated more than once in this episode alone. Perhaps Michael’s elaborate scheme to break up Gob and Marta could be seen as an early sign of his eventual moral downfall, but really, there’s never any doubt instilled here that Michael would ultimately back out of his plan, in spite of his thiefing, unfaithful brother dating the woman of his dreams. We’re still a far cry from the Michael who lies to his own son about seeing the same woman as him.
All seriousness aside, Storming the castle is actually a pretty funny installment of the show, utilising ever-reliable sources of humour such as The Alliance of Magicians, among some other tried and tested devices to varying degrees of success, which I’ll get into later. Having said that, it’s still not an episode you often see topping many “favourite episodes” lists. I struggled to find the right word to describe Storming the Castle, because it’s certainly not “unmemorable.” This is, after all, the episode that contains Gob’s first magic show (and there’ll be much more on that in my list of favourite jokes/moments) and Tobias’s infamous “leather daddy” plot – not to mention George Sr’s conversion to Judaism (and his ever-amusing misguided understanding thereof), which would become a major sub-plot for the remainder of the season. But the A story with Michael is certainly forgettable, putting all the heavy lifting on the subplots instead.
This is totally fine, though the end results still feel a tad underwhelming, if only for the fact that the episode retreads a lot of ground the show had already covered in the previous eight episodes. Buster’s bizarre relationsip with both Lucilles is almost always good for a few laughs, as is Maeby’s attempts to rebel against her parents – which leads us to the aforementioned Tobias sub-plot. As Tobias attempts to bond with his daughter (for reasons that are never quite made clear, given how largely apathetic he’s been towards her for the most part thus far), he makes some very questionable fashion choices, and ultimately ends up surrounded by gay men again, completely unaware of the fact. This also gives us one of the earliest moments that made me wonder “how the hell did they get away with that?”, in the form of Tobias’s taxi driver mistaking “The Gothic Castle” for “The Gothic Asshole.” Granted, he runs the words together, and his accent technically means he’s saying “arsehole,” but it’s still an impressive feat of slipping past the censors nonetheless – and the image of Tobias decked out in suggestive leather was guaranteed hilarity from the moment it was scripted.
Despite having quite a few classic moments, Storming the Castle still feels a little off overall – and if I had to pinpoint it, I’d say the writing falls a tad short of AD’s usual high standard. Jokes like Michael riding off when Rollo tells him to get in the car if he cares about Gob, Michael pointing out that “dating, mom” sounds like “dating mom,” not to mention the almost groan-inducing pay-off with George Michael’s smooth, effeminate legs… Frankly, they feel like something a far lesser comedy series would do. Storming the Castle’s also not quite as densely-packed as the show usually is (as evidenced by the significantly shorter episode notes & trivia section below), and while the different narratives certainly intersect at various points, there’s no real token genius AD pay-off to any of those instances. Having said that, it’s still a damn good episode of television overall, and a perfectly fine episode of Arrested Development… Hey, they can’t all be brilliant.
MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS
* Michael’s idea of “a little fun” is doing a cost projection analysis for a mini mall.
* MICHAEL: Since when are you against leather?
MABEY: Yeah, you’re not even a vegetarian.
LINDSAY: I’m not against the insides. People need meat to survive.
MICHAEL: You are aware that they don’t remove it from the cow surgically, right?
* MARTA: He thought I was belittling his career, but I never would do that.
MICHAEL: Neither would I… What career?
MARTA: The magic?
MICHAEL: Oh, the tricks, the little tricks. Those are great.
* Gob’s “real needle, real apple, real neck” trick is wonderfully gruesome, though the flashback’s capper really sells it:
“Oh, sure, first you dump all over it, now you want to know how it’s done.”
* This very amusing photo montage for Lindsay’s charitable causes:
* Michael Cera’s delivery on “Yeah, I’m gonna need a leather jacket for when I’m on my hog and need to go into a controlled slide” utterly slays me. Every damn time.
* TOBIAS: There’s my little girl. I’ve got great news. Daddy has the entire day off.
MAEBY: But you have every day off. You don’t have a job.
TOBIAS: Well, I don’t need money to hang out with my daughter. Where are you going?
MAEBY: We’re going shopping.
TOBIAS: Oh, no, no, I can’t do that.
* Rollo very evidently pulling his broken car window up by hand after giving Michael his threat to Gob:
(On a side note, it’s just struck me: That’s why he’s named Rollo!!!)
* MICHAEL: Mom, I think you might be overreacting.
LUCILLE: She changed him as a baby.
MICHAEL: Okay, that’s about the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.
BUSTER: That’s why she didn’t look surprised.
* LUCILLE: You’re the only child who chose a spouse I liked, and she’s the one who had to die.
MICHAEL: I know. That’s rough for you.
* There was so much to cover in the Pilot that I neglected to make a note of the original image (though this episode uses a different one), but any promotional photo for The Alliance of Magicians is pretty much a guaranteed laugh for me:
* Gob shaking Michael’s hand and saying “Hey, I appreciate your time,” later revealed to be a play on words when we learn this was actually a way for Gob to steal Michael’s watch.
* I’ve mentioned that I’m not usually the biggest fan of the runner of Tobias and Lindsay completely ignoring Maeby, but damn if Portia de Rossi doesn’t make this one of the funniest moments in the episode:
* “You have to be some sort of she hulk to get this…”
* Gob saying “You’re a good brother, Michael,” followed by an immediate cut to Lindsay and Michael having the following conversation:
LINDSAY: You’re a horrible brother, Michael.
MICHAEL: Pretty good, huh?
* MICHAEL: Call me what you want…
LINDSAY: An impotent man-boy.
* A rare moment of physical comedy on behalf of Jason Bateman:
* And a not-so-rare (but still very funny) moment of physical comedy on behalf of David Cross:
* LUCILLE: Buster’s been humping the widow Austero.
GEORGE SR: Is that true?
BUSTER: No. We’re taking it slow.
LUCILLE: He stays there sometimes until 7:00, 8:00 at night. Peanut brittle on his breath. Is she the one who’s going to take him to the dentist?
BUSTER: She already has!
* MICHAEL: My watch…
GOB: I want you to have it.
* And, of course, Gob’s magic show, the highlight for me probably being the image right at the top of the page. Unfortunately, this was the best clip I could find online (the quality’s quite shoddy and the uploader appears to have dubbed in the proper song rather than the audio from this episode, putting it out of sync), but I couldn’t not post a video of this:
I just adore this entire sequence. Everything about it is completely perfect. The fact that Gob’s magic show consists almost entirely of him dancing around the stage with various props. The expression on Gob’s face, like he truly believes he’s blowing the crowd away. The deadly serious look on the other magicians’ faces as they watch on. Buster being completely elated by the entire thing… You put all that together with the most ridiculous (and perfect) song choice possible, and it’s very easy to see why it’s become such an iconic sequence for AD fans – and why Gob is such a common favourite character. This brief 20-something second sequence has reduced me to tears of laughter on more than one occasion, and I was truly heartbroken to see there wasn’t a better-quality clip of it on YouTube.
* Followed shortly after by Buster giving a solitary standing ovation:
* A boom mic can be briefly seen in shot when Marta’s kids are running away during the demonstration of Gob’s new tr- errr, illusion.
* So, ummm, nobody in the audience noticed the completely different skin tone between Marta and “the legs?”
* In the “on the next,” the tv Michael looks at in his office is different to the one he’s shown riding away with.
* This last nitpick is a strange one I noticed – and a complaint about the dvd as opposed to the episode itself. But, last year, I upgraded my Arrested Development dvds from my well-worn region 4 copies to some brand spankin’ new region 1 editions (for multiple reasons, the first being that my old dvds had started to skip and I needed new copies, and I opted for region 1 because PAL conversion has a 4% speed-up that notably increases the pitch of all the voices, and it’s annoying as shit). And I noticed THIS in the region 1 intro:
Yep, the broadcast rating and a little “widescreen” banner are both present on the DVD edition of this episode. I went back and examined my old region 4 copy, and indeed confirmed that this is something specific to the region 1 version:
Very strange indeed, seeing as the interface, menus, etc. for both editions is completely identical.
EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA
* The episode title refers to the phrase “have fun storming the castle” (a sarcastic expression of optimism in a hopeless situation, I believe coined – or at least popularised – by The Princess Bride), and the venue in which Gob performs his magic show, The Gothic Castle.
* Another reason why the dvd order (production order for season 1) is the “correct” order – the narrator refers to George Sr’s escape attempt, which happened in In God We Trust. Broadcast order puts My Mother, the Car in between In God We Trust and this episode, creating another continuity issue there.
* There’s a running joke in this episode where Michael leans back in his chair (generally after getting too cocky) and either falling off, coming very close to falling off, or injuring himself in the process. This joke is later reprised in season 4’s Flight of the Phoenix (and agin in season 4’s It Gets Better, though this time with George Michael).
* Gob inadvertently gives another magic trick away to his audience. The first instance was the Aztec Tomb in the Pilot, which was arguably exposed by Fox News, though only because Gob hid George Sr in there.
* When Marta says Gob called her a “once-in-a-lifetime woman,” they briefly play the footage of Michael saying the same line, syncing the dialogue up perfectly in the process. This is arguably the beginning of one of my favourite editing techniques in the show – overlaying dialogue (usually the narrator’s) syncing up perfectly with other characters’ mouth movements. They would do a lot of this from season 2 onwards.
* As mentioned above, George Sr’s conversion to Judaism would become a significant part of season 1’s overarching plot, particularly once Cindy Lightballoon shows up in Shock and Aww. It arguably fizzles out somewhat after Altar Egos, though his yarmulke does, of course, prove to be a major plot point in the season finale, Let ‘Em Eat Cake.
The scene in which George Sr has his epiphany is later mirrored again in season 2’s The Immaculate Election, though this time with Christianity (which also fizzles out shortly thereafter).
* Lucille briefly mentions Buster having a “hole in his heart,” one of several weird medical facts about Buster which is mentioned several times throughout the series.
* Gob’s name is pronounced as “Gahb” for the second time (the first being by Trisha Thoon in the Pilot).
* We hear Europe’s The Final Countdown for the first time! It is used again for one of Gob’s magic shows later this season in Missing Kitty, ultimately becoming a theme song of sorts for Gob.
* The dvd contains one deleted scene, extending the beginning of the scene at the Playtime Pizza Theater. A visibly tipsy Gob performs a “trick” that’s actually just a lengthy, profanity-ridden rant about Marta, with the names substituted with cards. Michael approaches and makes a wisecrack about seeing David Copperfield performing the same trick on The View.
THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
* Following up on the mention of strange medical facts about Buster, the above-quoted line “That’s why she didn’t look surprised” is later recontextualised in season 2’s The One Where They Build a House, where Buster briefly whispers a description of his unusual looking genitalia to a military physician.
* When Tobias sits down on the couch with George Michael and Maeby, we briefly catch a glimpse of his cut-offs through his assless leather pants:
* And lastly, Freedom Sign Guy can be seen leaving The Gothic Asshole as Tobias goes inside:
THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION
Following up on my comments about The Gothic Asshole: Are there any jokes/lines you’re completely shocked the show got away with during its broadcast television run?