Original airdate January 4, 2004
Written by Brad Copeland
Directed by Greg Mottola
Production Code #1AJD08
“Michael’s decision to steal a chair from the office sends him down a slippery moral slope, and before long, he finds himself actively plotting to break up Gob and Marta. George Michael undergoes a comparable crisis of character when he embraces a new all-leather look in an effort to impress Maeby. Meanwhile, Lucille wants George Sr. to meddle in Buster and Lucille 2’s relationship, but his recent conversion to Judaism inspires an unexpected reaction, and Gob has a chance to get back in The Alliance of Magicians with a performance at The Gothic Castle.”
NOTE: Deconstructing Arrested Development openly discusses spoilers when relevant (which can include episodes that come later in the series). Readers who have not seen the series in its entirety are advised to proceed at their own discretion.
“Magicians, they start their day by like, strapping a magnet to their knee just in case they want a spoon to move. A packet of milk on the shoulder … and then pass the whole thing off, like, “I’m James Bond.” No, you’re walking carefully so you don’t kill a bird. So it’s just such a funny, ridiculous thing. And yes, I love it.” – Mitch Hurwitz said this in a 2013 interview with Vulture. Hurwitz’s fascination with magic is well-documented, with him citing similar sentiments across multiple other avenues. Magic is perfect fodder for Arrested Development; an industry rich in colorful stage personas and elaborate theatrics, yet still ultimately rooted in its parlor trick origins. Sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors – call it whatever you like, magic is an exercise in deception, and pulling it off often requires one to do highly impractical and peculiar things. It’s comparable to how the collective Bluth family maintains the illusion of affluence.
Gob’s desire to become a successful magician is a constant element throughout Arrested Development’s entire run. While other character traits and narratives would be sidelined during certain periods of the show, Gob’s magic career frequently generates plot for the character across all five seasons (the only real change over time being a gradual shift away from “Gob wants to rejoin the Alliance” stories, and later, a few rebrandings of Gob’s stage persona). It’s as much a staple of the show as, say, Buster’s unsettling relationship with Lucille, or George Michael’s crush on Maeby (both of which are also major factors in this episode’s supporting narratives). Storming the Castle places a particularly strong focus on Gob’s magic career, though just as magic is a field where identity is everything, so too is it the unifying theme of the episode.
While Gob is trying to reclaim his professional identity, several other Bluths are also wrestling with who they are as people. Storming the Castle’s A plot is all about Michael having a crisis of character – though more on that later. Meanwhile, Maeby, George Michael and Tobias adopt a new all-leather leather look, each adding some edge to their palette in an attempt to get the attention of a disinterested party. George Sr. has similarly taken on an entire new persona overnight, now embodying his closest approximation to a devout follower of Judaism (initiating an ongoing story arc that plays out over the remainder of the season). Even Lucille shows an uncharacteristic change of heart at this episode’s end when she buries the hatchet with Lucille 2, having shunned her since learning of her relationship with Buster. Though it’s anyone’s guess whether Lucille does so because she genuinely wants her bridge partner back, or because she knows it’ll drive Buster mad.
The aforementioned leather subplot actually hits a lot of familiar beats. George Michael’s crush on Maeby has motivated more than half his storylines so far, and Maeby’s rebelled against Lindsay multiple times now. In fact, the Tobias portion of this is almost identical to what transpired with him in the Pilot; a misunderstood statement leads to a misguided fashion choice, subsequently sending Tobias to a separate venue from his family, and into the company of welcoming gay men. But it’s the specifics where this subplot really sings, with the combination of Tobias’s “Leather daddy” outfit and his nonchalant demeanor as he struts his new get-up providing some of the episode’s most amusing moments (not to mention the other visual gags it inspires, such as Tobias choking himself with his chain). And the “Gothic Castle/Asshole” exchange pushes the envelope of broadcast television standards in a way that’s actually quite clever when one considers all the other factors in the misunderstanding. It’s as if Arrested Development is announcing it will gladly seize any opportunity for filthiness it can, while also assuring viewers that this will never come at the expense of wit.
The gradual escalation of the leather subplot is comparable in absurdity to Gob’s magic show, which appears to consist mostly of him dancing on the stage, goofing around with props (in that same Vulture interview I quoted earlier, Hurwitz revealed that they reached shooting day with virtually nothing scripted for Gob’s magic show, and his on-stage antics were entirely improvised by Will Arnett). Despite the lack of actual magic we see Gob perform, and his main draw being one of the oldest tricks in the book – which he barely even pulls off, considering the obvious difference in skin pigmentation between “The Head” and “The Legs” – The Alliance of Magicians are fully prepared to let Gob rejoin, presumably having assessed his act solely by the dancing. It’s all wonderfully absurd, and punctuated by the perfect anticlimax, for there is no greater absurdity than bureaucracy, and alas, it’s a breach of regulations that puts Gob back on the blacklist.
There’s another theme that Storming the Castle studies, and it’s a subject that comes up often on the show, despite its characters’ lack thereof: Morality. This episode devotes more screentime than any other to date examining Michael Bluth’s moral values, as he debates whether or not to break up Gob and Marta (or, more accurately, knowingly betray Gob by putting Marta in a situation where she’s guaranteed to learn he’s cheating on her). On the surface, it’s a reprehensible ploy, but Arrested Development can always be trusted to shift things into a tricky grey area. Michael’s infatuation with Marta has been simmering for a few episodes now, as have the various acts of adultery committed by Gob (who also finds time to steal from Michael). It’s a complicated situation, but as Michael outlines his plan to Lindsay, he doesn’t even try to pretend he’s doing it because Marta deserves to know; Lindsay is fully aware of Michael’s true motivations after he confessed his feelings to her in the previous episode.
One key difference between the Pilot and the Extended Pilot is the inclusion of the line “He’s a good man” in Michael’s introduction. It’s a small change, but one with big implications as to how the show originally wanted the audience to perceive the main character. Those who’ve seen the series in its entirety (hell, even just the Fox run in its entirety) would know that Michael is far from a good man, and this is one of the earliest episodes to really start challenging that notion. Michael may insist he’s a “living saint” with only a slither of irony, but he genuinely does crave that “feeling of superiority” Lindsay jokes about. Because no matter how ethical and functional Michael may seem in in comparison to the rest of his family, he is ultimately still a Bluth. And while it’s doubtful Michael would’ve actually pulled the trigger here had his plan not fallen apart, Storming the Castle makes sure that, when the credits roll, the audience doesn’t see Michael in quite the same light they did before.
It would be fair to call Storming the Castle one of the first season’s more overlooked installments, if only in the sense that others are likelier to spring to mind first. Though granted, the episode has the misfortune of preceding what may very well be the most beloved episode of the series (not to mention the memorable string of well-regarded episodes it follows). But while Storming the Castle may not have a big show-stopping setpiece where everything comes together, it is ripe with funny moments, and even its most low-key scenes boast a near-constant stream of razor sharp dialogue. The episode has some minor shortcomings – for instance, while the dovetailing of the George Michael/Gob storylines is well-conceived, it’s hard not to groan during the line “Where am I going to get a pair of beautiful women’s legs on such short notice?” – but it’s nothing that can’t easily be overlooked in favor of its many positive qualities. Which is perfectly fitting for an episode that sees almost every Bluth discover a little bit of good in themselves.
NARRATOR: Before going to work, Michael decided to have a little fun…
GEORGE MICHAEL: What are you doing?
MICHAEL: I’m doing a little cost projection analysis for a mini mall.
“Maybe your old man’s just a little bit cooler than you thought he was, huh?”
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. Hi. Hey. It’s Marta. Hey, Marta, everybody!”
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.
“Real needle. Real apple. Real neck.”
MARTA: They’re children! How could you do that?
GOB: Oh, sure, first you dump all over it, now you wanna know how it’s done.
“Lindsay had always been celebrated for her wine and cheese charity fundraisers…”
“Yeah, I’m gonna need a leather jacket for when I’m on my hog and need to go into a controlled slide.” (This line doesn’t seem to get quoted often, but I find it to be one of Storming the Castle’s biggest laughs, thanks in no small part to Michael Cera’s delivery)
TOBIAS: 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.
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.
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.
MICHAEL: Mom, I’m looking for Gob. There’s some people after him and I don’t know whether it’s gambling or what, but, um, they want to break his legs.
LUCILLE: It’s good thing he’s already got that little scooter! (laughs) …Oh, don’t give me that look. I happen to be a more caring mother than most.
BUSTER: Where’s my bed?
LUCILLE: I put it in storage. I guess you’ll just have to decide which Lucille you want to spend your nights with.
GOB: No, not now! I’m showing him how to do the trick! Two chicks curl up in a box. We call one the head, one the legs.
KID: So that’s how they do it.
GOB: Oh god, I’ve got to stop giving these things away.
GOB: The old top half quit when she found out I was sleeping with the legs. Word really gets around in there.
MICHAEL: So, Rollo wants your legs, but you’re cheating on Marta with those legs, is that about right?
GOB: Would you give me a break, please? The legs are insanely jealous.
“Hey, she doesn’t respect my career…”
MICHAEL: You know, I’m a saint, you know, I’m a living saint. And I get absolutely nothing out of it.
LINDSAY: Well, you get a false feeling of superiority.
MICHAEL: Yeah, no, that is nice, but this time, it’s not enough.
Maeby’s hopes of raising Lindsay’s ire by wearing leather are dashed very quickly:
“You have to be some sort of she-hulk to get this…”
“I got my hands on some money. I can’t say how or when – or where my wedding ring is – but my purse overfloweth, as do my high spirits, so a-shopping we must go!”
GEORGE MICHAEL: If you ever need to borrow any money…
TOBIAS: No. Thank you. No.
MARTA: He showed me the watch you gave him.
MICHAEL: The watch…?
“You’re a good brother, Michael…”
LINDSAY: You’ll never be able to pull the trigger on this. You can’t escape it, Michael. You’re the good guy.
MICHAEL: Call me what you want…
LINDSAY: An impotent man-boy.
MICHAEL: …But it is done. The plan is in motion.
LINDSAY: This just isn’t you.
MICHAEL: It’s me now. It’s the me that can recline…
LINDSAY: Did that hurt?
MAEBY: Did you get a job or something?
TOBIAS: No. No, I didn’t. Unless you consider “world’s coolest daddy” a job. If I ha…
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, 8 at night. Peanut brittle on his breath. Is she the one who’s going to take him to the dentist?
BUSTER: She already has!
CAB DRIVER: Where to, mate?
TOBIAS: The Gothic Castle.
CAB DRIVER: Gothic Asshole?
TOBIAS: That’s what I said.
(I’d imagine the show largely got away with this because the driver’s technically saying “arsehole” rather than “asshole,” coupled with the ambiguity of his pronunciation. Case in point, The Simpsons has had Groundskeeper Willie utter the word “shite” uncensored in an episode that aired just a few months after Storming the Castle, so it stands to reason that the localisation of the word likely played a part in this instance too. “Asshole” would later cease to be censored altogether in the Netflix run.)
LUCILLE: You know, he’s damaged goods. He was born with a hole in his heart.
LUCILLE 2: Listen to me, Lucille. I’m going to fill that hole, ’cause we’re in love!
LUCILLE: Oh please, you’re no more in love with him than I am!
BUSTER: Okay, we’re all saying some things we’re going to regret…
“I can’t believe the legs would screw him like this!”
Gob’s stage show is pretty much gold from start to finish. And while it’s difficult to narrow it down to any specific stand-out moment, Buster’s reactions in the crowd are an often overlooked detail that deserve to be highlighted:
(Tobias also expresses genuine captivation with Gob’s magic in several episodes, though we would not learn of this trait until later in the series, thanks to his absence here.)
“I’m okay with myself, I’m okay with myself, I’m okay…”
“You guys are friends again! Play bridge together! Coul- Could you just… Just separa…”
ROLLO: Tell me, how did you get two Alliance-approved assistants with such short notice?
GOB: Oh, that was just my girlfriend and my nephew.
(The magicians briefly confer)
ROLLO: Well, you’re out.
“I got a gig…”
This isn’t really a complaint about the episode itself, but on the region 1 version of the season 1 dvd, the opening moments of Storming the Castle retains Fox’s on-screen graphics from the broadcast version of the episode:
The only other episode on the dvds to contain these is Best Man for the Gob, where the “available in widescreen” banner gets left in, but not the episode rating. Curiously, this only seems to be present on the region 1 version of the dvds (I can personally confirm these graphics are not present for these episodes in the region 4 sets).
There’s a slip-up in the first scene as George Michael refers to George Sr. by a term other than “pop-pop”:
A boom mic can be briefly seen in shot when Marta’s kids are running away during the demonstration of Gob’s new illusion.
The tv Michael looks at in his office in the final scene is different to the one he’s shown riding away with.
The episode title refers to the phrase “have fun storming the castle” (a sarcastic expression of optimism in a hopeless situation, that originated from – or was at least popularized by – The Princess Bride), and the venue in which Gob performs his magic show, The Gothic Castle.
Marc Grapey stars as the one-time character Rollo, who has replaced Gob in The Alliance of Magicians (information delivered alongside a funny callback to the Pilot). Marc Grapey had previously starred in the film The Daytrippers, directed by this episode’s director, Greg Mottola. He also had a slew of guest spots on various tv dramas and comedies over the 90s and 00s (in addition to some more film work), before finally landing a regular role on Chicago Med in 2015.
Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) and Marta (Patricia Velasquez) are the other recurring characters here, along with Marta’s children Cortesio (Casey Sandino) and Amable (Oliver Patrick Sandino). This is the largest role Marta’s had in an episode since Velasquez took over the role in In God We Trust.
Broadcast order switches My Mother, the Car around with In God We Trust; this episode should follow the latter, but instead follows the former. When viewed in the correct order, George Sr’s solitary confinement here makes a lot more sense, as he made an escape attempt at the end of In God We Trust – which should immediately precede this episode. The same can also be said of Lucille’s shunning of Buster and Lucille 2 (though, as previous deconstructions have established, the evolution of their relationship is a mess in broadcast order for quite a few reasons).
This episode’s running gag with Michael leaning back too far in his chair would be reprised in season 4’s Flight of the Phoenix (and again in season 4’s It Gets Better, though with George Michael instead).
George Sr’s conversion to Judaism would become a significant part of season 1’s overarching story, driving equally as many genuine plot points as it does running gags. It fizzles out somewhat after Altar Egos, though his yarmulke does prove to be a major plot point in the season finale, Let Them Eat Cake.
George Sr’s epiphany would later be mirrored in season 2’s The Immaculate Election, though this time with the image of a cross, sparking a conversion to Christianity (which also fizzles out shortly thereafter). George Sr. would similarly conflate something coincidental with a spiritual experience in season 4’s Borderline Personalities, later coming to the belief that he has been cursed in Double Crossers. In typical Bluth fashion, the snake oil salesman of the family is also its most gullible member.
Gob inadvertently gives another magic trick away to his audience. The first instance was the Aztec Tomb in the Pilot, which was technically exposed by Fox News, but a direct consequence of Gob’s actions nonetheless.
When Marta says Gob called her a “once-in-a-lifetime woman,” they briefly play the footage of Michael saying the same line, syncing her dialogue to fit his reading of it. This could be seen as the early beginning of an editing technique the show would later deploy regularly – overlaying the narration to sync up perfectly with characters’ mouth movements. It starts to become much more common practice in season 2.
Just as Tobias aspires to be a “leather daddy” here, season 3’s S.O.B.s would see him trying to become a “discipline daddy.”
Lucille briefly mentions Buster having a “hole in his heart,” one of several weird medical facts we would come to learn about Buster over the series.
A person pronounces Gob’s name as “Gahb” for the second time, after it was first uttered this way by Trisha Thoon in the Pilot.
The Gothic Castle would be revisited in season 2’s Sword of Destiny and season 4’s A New Attitude; the latter episode also reprising – and expanding on – its similarity in name to The Gothic Asshole. It is supposedly based on real-life LA club The Magic Castle (which, if you do a Something image search for, actually bears a considerable resemblance to the model home exterior).
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata can be heard in the background during the two Lucilles’ “damaged goods” exchange in The Gothic Castle lobby.
This is our first time hearing the theme music for Gob’s magic act: The Final Countdown by Europe. It is used again for one of Gob’s magic shows later this season in Missing Kitty, and returns at least once every other season too (generally used in the context of Gob’s magic act, though there are some exceptions, along with the occasional alternate version of the song). It remains Gob’s magic theme through to the very end of the series.
Michael erroneously thinks Rollo intends to amputate Gob’s legs, when the truth is a lot less sinister. Michael would come to a similar misunderstanding in season 5’s The Untethered Sole, when an ominous package leads him to believe the Chinese mafia are threatening the same to the family’s feet (with the innocent explanation for said package being revealed in The Fallout).
Michael also initially thinks Rollo is a mobster or a loanshark. Both of these descriptors apply to Argyle Austero, a man to whom both Michael and Gob would later become indebted (in season 4’s Smashed and season 5’s Taste Makers, respectively).
This is the first time we see Gob successfully pull off a magic show without embarrassing himself in front of the audience – his subsequent denial of re-entry to the Alliance of Magicians being the result of guideline violations. There would be a few other instances over the course of the series: His disappearing of the yacht in Missing Kitty (though history would only record his flubs, as later episodes would reveal), his performances with Buster in Sword of Destiny (which are only well received because the audience believes the pair’s mistakes to be intentional), his impromptu show for Marky Bark’s entourage in Colony Collapse (whom he subsequently alienates over time), and his border wall spectacle in The Fallout (which is actually an all-around success for Gob, but proves downright dire for Buster).
Storming the Castle has a total runtime of 21 minutes and 53 seconds, and is rated TV-PG-L.
Following up on the mention of strange medical facts about Buster, the line “That’s why she didn’t look surprised” would be recontextualized 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.
Michael is likely riding his bike again here because the car is still undergoing repairs after Lucille crashed it in My Mother, the Car.
Rollo manually pulls his limo window back up after his confrontation with Michael, implying his car window roller is broken. This gag is presumably where the name “Rollo” originated.
As for why he pronounces it “Rah-lo,” it’s a flip on how Gob’s name often gets said as “Gahb.” While most people would see the name “Rollo” and instinctively read the second letter aloud with a long “Oh” sound – like in Gob’s name when said correctly – he actually pronounces it the way Gob’s name often gets mispronounced.
Tobias wears a shirt with blue men on it, foreshadowing his season 2 story arc as an understudy for the Blue Man Group:
Tobias’s cut-offs can be seen through his assless leather pants:
Freedom Sign Guy makes his second appearance in the series (his first being in the Pilot):
The hole in Buster’s heart doubles as a metaphor for his darker side, which is explored in greater detail as the series progresses.
There was an extended version of the Playtime Pizza Theater scene left on the editing room floor, where a drunk Gob performs a card trick for a table of children before Michael arrives:
GOB: This one’s about a queen. We’ll call her Marta for squeaks and gigs. She had these two little precious jackies, and they were so important to her. And they all lived with the joker. Let’s go ahead and call him me. They all moved in together, wasn’t really s’posed to be a permanent thing, but y’know, she got kinda clingy and you know how that is, I mean, the sex is great, I was into it. But sex is always great with the crazy ones, right? I…
MICHAEL: Hey Gob.
GOB: Doin’ a trick here, Mike! … And I’m s’posed to just drop everything just ’cause she’s on a *beep*ing soap opera?!! (Gob pauses, then raises his drink) Ta-daaa.
(The table of stunned kids all clap awkwardly as Gob gets up to speak to Michael)
GOB: Sup Mike?
MICHAEL: I saw Copperfield do that routine on The View this morning.
8 thoughts on “Season 1, Episode 9: Storming the Castle”
Somehow I’m not surprised to find out that Will Arnett improvised his routine, he’s one of those cases where it feels like he was perfectly cast for this character, as himself (also as Bojack Horseman). I do wonder if he had that piece of music playing in the background when he did it, or if he was just just jumping about on stage in silence as I understand is common when shooting scenes with music behind them; if such was the case, that just makes the whole thing sillier to me.
I often watch these thinking who I’d choose as the MVP for the episode but I’m sort of torn here as everyone’s doing a fine job. I think I might have to go with Michael, as he got a lot of screen time if nothing else, but Buster’s reaction to seeing his mom close with Lucille again was just great too.
I enjoy reading these as sometimes more subtle thematic stuff escapes my attention, and I’d missed the running theme here of appearances with the leather and morality.
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Actually, Mitch Hurwitz talks about The Final Countdown in the interview linked at the beginning of the deconstruction. It was Brad Copeland’s idea to use the song (Hurwitz wasn’t even familiar with it when it was suggested), and it had indeed been written into the script, rather than being a decision they made in the editing booth.
Did they film the magic scenes at the Magic Castle in Hollywood?
I was trying to find that out when I wrote this, and all the evidence seems to indicate no. I couldn’t verify where it was filmed, but the venue depicted on the show has hardwood flooring, while its real-life counterpart is carpeted. They’ve definitely taken inspiration from The Magic Castle with the set dressing, though.
Its also worth a mention that “The Final Countdown” was (at least briefly I think) GOB’s ringtone. In the old MIDI style format. I do kinda miss MIDIs.
I absolutely love the look on Bateman’s face as he’s falling back in the chair. I feel like the look of shock and fear as he topples to the floor is genuine almost. It almost makes me feel guilty for laughing at that scene….almost. Not quite. Your point about this being the episode where some of the shine comes off of Michael and you see those Bluth tendencies within him emerging is spot on. I like how the slow burned that out on the show, it really does add to the enjoyment on rewatch!
The sign behind Tobias in the leather store says “Dude Hats”. I’ve Googled it before to see if that is the actual term (and just ended up with a bunch hats that say dude on them) so I’m wondering if its just slang or a term that’s no longer used.
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Yep,The Final Countdown was the ringtone on Gob’s phone when Tobias borrowed it in Sad Sack. Lindsay also has a variation on the theme music as her ringtone in The Cabin Show!
Your guess is as good as mine on the “dude hat” front, though. I think a lot of those very brief throwaway scenes in new settings are often shot on location, so maybe their options are more limited with set dressing in those instances.
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I didn’t realize that about Lindsay’s phone, I’ll have to look for that one!
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It can be heard shortly after the 13 minute mark, when Tobias calls Lindsay from Swallows.
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