Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 12: Marta Complex

Greetings, hermanos! Woah, woah, woah, there’s still plenty of meat on that bone! Now, you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato… Baby, you’ve got a stew going!

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 12: Marta Complex
Written by John Levenstein & Jim Vallely
Directed by Joe Russo
Original airdate February 8, 2004

When I think of Marta Complex, I tend to group it with Key Decisions as being one of the more grounded and emotional episodes of Arrested Development. Having just rewatched the episode for the first time in a few years, I dare say it may be the mostgrounded and emotional episode. From a season-wide structural standpoint, it makes a hell of a lot of sense – with the writers induldging some of their broader whims in the previous batch of episodes (in the form of fake drug busts and large public fights, among other things), bringing things back down to Earth was the logical next step, especially seeing as the show had originally only been picked up for 13 episodes, and Beef Consommé may have very well been its finale (Marta Complex and Beef Consommé are also somewhat of a two parter, seeing as the latter continues virtually every storyline established/explored here, and concludes many of them at the end). Marta Complex also takes many of the long-running stories from Arrested Development’s first season – the Michael/Gob/Marta love triangle, George Michael’s crush on Maeby, Buster’s relationship with Lucille 2 – and either begins spinning them towards their natural conclusions, or throwing wrenches in the works to ensure they won’t remain exactly the same going forward.

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The main focal point of Marta Complex is the Michael/Gob/Marta relationship the show has been establishing since Key Decisions. Following multiple jokes about the Bluths’ tenuous grasp on the Spanish language, this character trait finally becomes a plot point, as Michael and Gob become convinced that Marta is cheating on Gob with a man named “Hermano” – which is, of course, the Spanish word for “brother” (no AD fan will ever forget that). The show also sticks to the theme of strained romantic relationships for most of its sub-plots, as Buster and Lucille 2 break up (and Buster moves out of Lucille’s penthouse), and Tobias and Lindsay. The only glimmer of hope is George Michael learning that Maeby may not be his biological cousin – though, of course, any chance at a relationship there was doomed from the get-go. The Arrested Development universe may be one of the most amusing and entertaining fictional universes ever conceived, but it’s also one of the most merciless.

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To say that Marta Complex isn’t funny would be a blatant lie, for even the weakest episodes of Arrested Development still pack a significant amount of laughs (and I’m sure that any chant of the word “speech” will forever be amusing to any fellow ADdicts out there), but it’s certainly less concerned with being funny than most other outings of the show. The final scene in particular – when Michael confronts Marta about what he believes is adultery, only to discover she was about to leave Gob for him – is played almost entirely straight, running at about 3 minutes in length without a single joke (and 3 minutes in Arrested Development time is a good 6-7 minutes for most other shows!), and is genuinely heartbreaking.

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If there are any gripes with this episode, they would be the more sit-com-like aspects of the script. For instance, Michael’s constant slip-ups – “it was too much of a brother,” “I love you all, Marta” are a little too on-the-nose, and seem more like something a far less intelligent sit-com would do. And I’m not sure I buy how quickly Michael gets turned on to the notion that Marta is cheating on Gob. Granted, Arrested Development’s narratives are largely built around misunderstandings, but Michael should know better than to buy into any hunch Gob has. The fact that this episode is rooted in such emotional arcs makes for some jarring contrast against its hokier plot elements, but ultimately, Marta Complex comes out being a very strong and confident installment of the show.

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MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* LUCILLE: You tricked me.
MICHAEL: I deceived you, Mom. Trick makes it sound like we have a playful relationship.

* This brief shot after Lucille yells out “Lupe, untie the balloons!”

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(Lucille later asking “Lupe, where are those balloons?!” is also excellent)

* Carl Weather’s anecdotes about creating makeshift stews from leftovers are fantastic, though I also love David Cross’s dismissive response of “Yes, that’s fine,” coupled with the excessively dramatic moment when Tobias tells Carl he’d like his money back.

I found a clip of the scene, though the quality’s not spectacular:

* “Actually, ‘Maybe Tonight’ was a very popular candy slogan and the chances were one in eight.”

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* And, of course, the classic “speech” moment:

Again, the quality on the clip isn’t great, but the biggest crime is that they left out Michael’s perfect deadpan “Gee, after all that, I was kind of hoping somebody would make a speech,” followed by Buster excitedly launching back into the chant by himself. It really is one of the funniest moments of the entire first season.

* MICHAEL: To Buster and Lucille….
BUSTER: Don’t forget my girlfriend!
MICHAEL: That’s who I meant.

* One of Lucille’s finest moments:

* GOB: Great speech last night.
MICHAEL: Really? What did it inspire you to do, kill somebody?

* The visual of Gob getting increasingly angry at Amable making noise while on the phone will always make me smile:

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* It’s not a side-splittingly hilarious line, but the play-on-words with “I thought you had class” is very clever.

* GEORGE SR: Hey, Bruno, any chance that the hole is available between 4:00 and 6:00?
LUCILLE: I don’t even want to know what that means.

* LUCILLE 2: Buster, this is exactly why our relationship does not work.
BUSTER: Our relationship doesn’t work?
LUCILLE 2: No, not as long as you keep getting me all mixed up with your mother.
BUSTER: It is exactly the opposite. I’m leaving my mother for you. You’re replacing my mother.

* “I think the world is about to fall in love with Frightened Inmate #2!”

* Michael and Gob’s phone call has so many highlights:

GOB: I’m gonna speak very carefully in case she’s with you.
MICHAEL: You’re right.
GOB: Right about what? She’s there? What’s going on? Who’s with you? If it’s Marta, say ‘nobody.’
MICHAEL: Nobody.
GOB: Well, now I don’t know what’s going on!

GOB: For some reason, women feel safe around you. Maybe because you’ve only had sex four times.
MICHAEL: Four women, not four times!

And, of course, the cherry on top:

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* “The competition frightened Tobias, which he felt he could use in his performance. Unfortunately, this made him more confident, which frightened him again.”

* Lindsay trying to bond with Maeby:

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* TOBIAS: Do you know the last time that I made love to my wife?
GEORGE MICHAEL: No.
TOBIAS: I’ll tell you when.
GEORGE MICHAEL: No, don’t.

Tobias being paired up with George Michael is guaranteed hilarity – with the former overstepping so many boundaries, and the latter forever uncomfortable in his own skin. It’s a shame we didn’t get more scenes with the two of them while the two were sharing a room.

* Michael and Marta’s vague dinner conversation, despite not being laugh-out-loud funny, is still beautifully awkward: “But… he who often suggests uh, working on another thing, which, when the first thing is not…”

MINOR NITPICKS

* Here we see George Michael attending the same party as Lucille 2, sitting just a few feet away from her at one point, which contradicts his statement in season 4 that he doesn’t know who she is. Granted, they never shared any dialogue today, but he at least knew ofher.

* Chalk it up to digital video technology in 2003/2004, but the night footage of the show (namely Lucille’s drunken montage in the apartment and Michael’s outdoor dinner with Marta) is pretty damn grainy. Despite having a significantly high budget for a tv comedy, Arrested Development has suffered a little from some glaring technical flaws (perhaps the most jarring for me personally would be the slew of obviously looped lines – namely in season 2 – which I’m sure I’ll get to eventually).

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* This episode’s title is a reference to the phrase “martyr complex.”

* Lucille throws yet another party in this episode; clearly not taking on board Michael’s demands that the Bluths stop wasting money.

* Carl Weathers’ line about ham – “No. I love it.” – would later be repeated by Steve Holt in season 3’s For British Eyes Only.

* This marks the beginning of Caged Wisdom, the tacky infomercial-style VHS tapes George Sr has begun marketing. As anyone who’s watched late night tv would know, the commercial he sends them really is pitch perfect.

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* It can be easy to forget that the show actually had multiple puns about autofellatio, given how iconic Tobias’s “I just blue myself” from The One Where Michael Leaves is now, but this episode marks the first instance of such a joke:

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* This marks the beginning of the small story arc with Tobias’s bit part as “Frightened Inmate #2,” which would continue through several episodes this season; most notably Staff Infection. This plot unfortunately fizzles out without any resolution, though a more substantial ending was filmed for Missing Kitty – it just wasn’t included in the completed episode. More on that in my write-up for Missing Kitty, when we get to it.

* This episode also plants the initial notion that George Michael and Maeby may not be related (though the first hint was right there in the Pilot when Maeby’s name was first uttered). It would come up again in several episodes over the course of the Fox run, though wouldn’t be resolved until the season 3 finale, Development Arrested.

* Lucille’s “alone in the penthouse” montage is later mirrored by Buster in season 2’s Spring Breakout (complete with the same song; “Rose’s Turn” from the musical Gypsy, which is referenced again in the next episode, Beef Consommé).

* The dvd includes an extended version of the opening scene. Nothing essential was lost, though there was a funny bit with Buster acting aggressively inappropriate with his mother (well, moreso than usual), getting the two Lucilles confused with one another – featuring Jessica Walter giving a flawless delivery on the line “A son doesn’t spank mother!” We also briefly see Gob trying to talk Marta into having sex on Lucille’s bed.

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* Lupe continues to wear hand-me-downs from two holidays behind again – this time she can be seen in a thanksgiving sweater.

* Maeby can be heard blowing bubbles into her soda several times during the party.

* Back in Key Decisions, I mentioned my affection for the bizarre runner with Spanish soap opera actors portraying children via wigs and painted-on freckles, which continues here, when Michael goes to the set of El Amor Prohibido:

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* When Tobias moves in to George Michael’s room, he can be seen unpacking several pairs of cut-offs:

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* Okay, it’s time to talk about one of the show’s weirdest (and most subtle) runners – which is also a storyline Mitch Hurwitz has had in mind since season 1, but has never quite been able to properly work into the show, leaving us with a bunch of odd hints instead. This is, of course, the running gag that Tobias is actually an albino black man.

A few hints are laid throughout the series (much like Maeby being “George Michael’s cousin – maybe,” the first instance is with Tobias’s name – “Fünke” being very similar to funk, a genre of music of significant cultural relevance to the black American community), and two of them are subtly planted in this episode. The first being a black Tobias doppelgänger present at the Frightened Inmate #2 audition:

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And the second being Tobias’s mention that Lindsay only married him to “piss off her mother.” There are few more than a handful of such jokes in the show, but it’s a hilariously insane idea, and I really hope they go into it a little more in the upcoming Netflix season(s).

THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Given this episode’s Valentine’s Day theme: Do you have a favourite romantic interest on the show? This includes romantic interests for characters other than Michael.

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LINK TO PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT

LINK TO ORIGINAL DISQUS THREAD