Season 1, Episode 17: Altar Egos

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Original airdate March 17, 2004
Written by Barbie Feldman Adler
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Production Code #1AJD16

BlueDot2 DECONSTRUCTION
BlueDot2 
HIGHLIGHTS
BlueDot2 NITPICKS/GAFFES
BlueDot2 EPISODE NOTES/TRIVIA
BlueDot2 HIDDEN DETAILS
BlueDot2 DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES

“The prosecution offers the Bluths a plea bargain, but George Sr. is adamant on fighting his charges. Michael tries to read the plea after Barry fails to do so, but is quickly blindsighted when he meets a flirtatious woman, Maggie Lizer, at a bar. Following Gob’s instructions, Michael assumes an alias and attempts to have a one night stand with her, but is wracked with guilt the morning when he learns that she is blind. George Michael also makes a shocking discovery when the Fünkes hire him to tutor Maeby, while Gob betrays his own advice on one night stands when he marries a stranger on a dare.”

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.

DECONSTRUCTION

Altar Egos makes up the first half a two-part installment alongside the following episode, Justice is Blind. It isn’t Arrested Development’s first two-parter – that honour goes to Marta Complex/Beef Consommé – but it does feel like the writers are committing more fervently to the traditional “two-parter” framework this time around. While Marta Complex works as a satisfying enough installment in its own right, watching Altar Egos on its own feels far more like reading the first half of a book; there is no sense that any sort of conclusive end point has been reached when the credits roll, just the feeling of being left halfway between points A and B (a creative approach that has more in common with the way dramas from this era handled two-parters, rather than sit-coms, where the individual episodes that make up a multi-parter may still have stand-alone qualities – ie. separate sub-plots). As such, it’s admittedly difficult to analyze Altar Egos as an independent episode on its own terms, as so much of this installment is about laying the groundwork for the next one, and everything is contingent on how it plays out from here.

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Altar Egos is perhaps best known for the introduction of the “blind” lawyer, Maggie Lizer. She is played by the inimitable Julia Louis-Dreyfus. who’s practically sit-com royalty at this point, having portrayed two of tv’s most iconic female characters across multiple decades (Seinfeld‘s Elaine Benes and Veep‘s Selina Meyer, though her role in Arrested Development predates the latter). Her talent as a comedic performer is unquestionable, and it’s put to good use here, cementing Maggie Lizer as one of the show’s more memorable minor characters, despite her only appearing in four episodes total. Seasoned viewers will know Maggie’s a compulsive liar who’s constantly embroiled in an elaborate long con, but this information isn’t communicated to us until the closing moments of the “On the next,” making Altar Egos a little more distinct from the subsequent Maggie Lizer outings. If anything, her defining characteristic initially seems to be telling bad jokes, as we don’t immediately realize Maggie’s blind either; the show clues us in with little moments like Maggie gesturing to no one at the bar. Like Michael, we are led to believe Maggie is genuinely blind for most of the episode’s runtime, making the A plot feel downright straightforward by Arrested Development’s standards.

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Of course, it isn’t long before the narrative is complicated significantly, as Michael soon discovers (along with the audience) that Maggie isn’t just any lawyer – she’s the prosecuting attorney in the Bluth case. But this moment doesn’t come until quite late in the episode, and up until that point, we’re operating under a different pretense altogether. In fact, the core premise here is as simple as a Maggie Lizer storyline gets: “Man has one night stand with a woman he meets at a bar, realizes the morning after that she is blind, finds himself wracked with guilt and is unable to end things with her.” Conceptually, it’s broad enough that it could work in countless sit-coms with just minor variations, and Arrested Development fully embraces the premise’s potential for physical comedy. There are visual gags galore here, and while they’re far from subtle – ie. Maggie commanding her dog Justice to stay, and the camera zooming out to reveal him long gone – they pretty much all land, thanks in no small part to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s wholehearted commitment to the joke. Narrative-wise, this episode also builds the framework for quite a few storylines to come (namely the Rita story arc that spans season 3’s For British Eyes Only to The Ocean Walker), as the writers would push the depths of how self-absorbed and oblivious Michael truly can be. These traits are briefly on display here, with Michael taking far too long to realize Maggie is blind; flashbacks to their boozy night showing Maggie outright telling him “I’m blind!”, and Michael cluelessly responding “I’m wasted!”

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Granted, Michael has some legitimate reasons to be distracted: He has volunteered to read a very long plea bargain offered to the Bluths by the prosecution – requiring a response in 24 hours – after learning Barry Zuckerkorn has failed to do so. An incredulous Barry even asks, “You’re going to read that?”, and when Michael insists he is, follows up with “It’s pretty thick.” We’d already glimpsed Michael’s need to blow off steam in Staff Infection, but here, Michael has signed up for a task he can’t bring himself to complete, and subconsciously, he wants a distraction more than anything; evidenced by the visible struggle whenever Michael tries to make sense of the dry legal jargon. Naturally, nobody winds up making it through the plea at any point in the two-parter, despite Barry buying the Bluths more time in this episode’s closing act –  it was doomed to go unread the moment they received it. As is often the case with Michael, he finds himself in this predicament out of pride; his adamance about reading the plea himself stems from his deep-seated desire to be a lawyer, which dates back to a tenth grade play. It’s clearly a sore spot for Michael, as evidenced when Lindsay taunts him about it (something the show would expand on significantly in seasons 4 and 5). Michael subsequently adopts maritime lawyer as a profession when he dons a fake persona while following advice from Gob, coming to be known to Maggie as “Chareth Cutestory”. As it would seem, Lindsay isn’t the only sibling who strikes a nerve with Michael.

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Indeed, Michael has fallen under the influence of Gob (while also being under the influence in the other sense of the phrase), as was the case when Michael’s dry spell was broken in Shock and Aww. Season 1’s had quite a few short-lived romances for Michael Bluth now, and as time has progressed, we’ve seen him slowly venturing back into the dating world again since the death of his wife two years prior. Public Relations, for example, had him gradually working up the nerve to flirt, while being hesitant to take things further, suggesting that Michael from earlier in the season may not have made the same decision to go home with Maggie. But now that Michael’s sex life is no longer dormant, his reservations on the matter have begun to subside. And Gob proves to be the biggest instigator of all in Michael’s renewed sex life (which is funny considering he was very recently trying to get even with Michael over Marta, and yet his taunting of Michael has now twice had the opposite effect). It’s no more evident than when he jeers his brother over the number of women he’s slept with, while Michael struggles to get past the early pages of the plea; “I can’t believe I’m still reading the same sentence. How can something be no less than three if it exceeds six? I mean, six is still more than three, right?”, to which Gob responds, “Yeah, and it’s still more than five.”

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Gob continues to give amoral advice throughout the episode. When he first learns of Michael’s one night stand with a blind woman, he completely fails to register Michael’s quandary, instead telling him, “You just won the gold medal at the sexual Special Olympics. She can’t ever find you again! Don’t you see that you’re so lucky?” And when he learns she’s also the prosecuting attorney, he instinctively asks Michael to do the wrong thing again. All the while, Gob has neglected to follow his own advice in the first place, having married a complete stranger overnight; the culmination of an escalating series of dares. In a lot of ways, it’s not surprising this happened – Gob’s playboy persona has always been his greatest illusion, and he was very likely overwhelmed by the acceptance and approval he felt in the moment. Gob instinctively tries to find a way out of the relationship, as he usually does when he forms a connection with someone, and it isn’t long before he’s looking into annulling the marriage. Unlike Michael, Gob hasn’t actually gotten any sex out of his new relationship (not that this stops him from claiming otherwise), but getting an annulment would mean admitting this fact to his brother. And so, Gob finds himself uncharacteristically sticking around out of sheer pride, while failing to make any progress on his initial objective, much like Michael and the plea bargain.

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Michael isn’t the only Bluth who makes misguided decisions about the plea deal, as George Sr. is adamant on fighting his charges, despite everyone else’s insistence that the plea – however mysterious its contents may be – is his safest bet. Like his son, George Sr. has found himself in a forbidden romance, if that’s the correct term for his nipple tweakings. Cindi Lightballoon (the undercover agent introduced in Shock and Aww) comes clean about her true identity, revealing that, while she was initially posing as an adoring fan, she has now genuinely fallen for George Sr. As she tells him, “I know you can beat this case they have against you. I know this for a fact.” And sure enough, it puts George Sr. at odds with Lucille and the rest of the family. The show hasn’t covered the legal side of the Bluths’ predicament all that much so far, though their return to the courtroom has been inevitable since George Sr’s initial hearing in Beef Consommé (an episode that kept the legal proceedings brief, using the court primarily for the staging of a physical setpiece). It was a smart move to build a two-parter around George Sr’s plea hearing, giving the storyline some much-needed breathing room, and more time to explore some of the narrative opportunities afforded by the premise.

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George Sr. eventually comes around on the plea when he learns Cindi doesn’t have any actual information (in one of the episode’s most amusing reveals, she’s acting on advice she’s misinterpreted from the Caged Wisdom blooper reel), but the brief dispute between him and Lucille gives us some interesting insights into the couple’s dynamic. George Sr’s infidelity was first communicated to us in Visiting Ours, and Lucille witnesses it first-hand here, asking “Is this why you wanted to fight this thing, so you could run off with this great redwood of a whore?” George Sr. eventually patches things up with Lucille for the time being, insisting he was only pumping her for information – an excuse Lucille naively buys, despite demanding a divorce just moments earlier. The foundations of their marriage are shaken, but wouldn’t be truly tested until much further down the line, when that empty threat of divorce becomes a reality in seasons 4 and 5. George Sr. ends up parting ways with Cindi Lightballoon here nonetheless, wrapping up their small story arc (it’s the one plot thread that doesn’t carry over to the second part, just as Justice is Blind introduces a new plot thread with the ten commandments). Much like how Gob’s marriage mirrors Michael’s getting in too deep with Maggie, the A-plot is also reflected in George Sr’s fling with Cindi, with father and son both realizing too late that they’re in bed with the enemy, and have put the family in jeopardy.

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These two storylines (Cindi Lightballoon and Gob’s wife) both carry across to episodes outside of this two-parter, with the former having been established a few episodes earlier, and the latter continuing for another couple of episodes after. No installment of Arrested Development is ever exempt from serialization, but here, this element of the show is predominantly confined to the sub-plots. That may also be why this two-parter feels more self-contained than Marta Complex/Beef Consommé, where every storyline was the culmination of things that had been building for some time prior. Conversely, everything concerning the A-plot in Altar Egos/Justice is Blind gets established in part one and resolved in part two, putting a bow on all things Maggie Lizer, at least for the time being. There’s another reason Maggie’s two-parters feel more insulated than others, and that is Maggie herself. She isn’t so much as mentioned outside of the episodes where she appears, and it leaves her storylines feeling somewhat divorced from the show’s ongoing narrative. Whenever she and the Bluths cross paths, multiple characters wind up getting pulled into whatever long con she has running – sweeping up everyone in the drama like a hurricane – but it’s all forgotten about the moment she’s out of their lives.

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While Maggie has a lot of Bluth-esque traits herself, she probably has more in common with Maeby than any other family member, and this episode makes that very apparent. George Michael is initially called upon by Tobias and Lindsay (who unfortunately have little else to do in Altar Egos outside of this scene) to tutor their daughter. While they are unable to offer him payment, he quickly discovers the same is not true of Maeby herself, who’s come into some considerable cash. She also couldn’t care less about being present for George Michael’s lessons, which is hardly out of character, but her request that he provides the correct answers without explanation sets off alarm bells. Naive as he can be, George Michael’s smart enough to know Maeby’s up to something, and surely enough, she’s been posing as her own twin sister, Surely, who is both confined to a wheelchair and dying (having presumably gotten the twin idea from her mother and Michael, Maeby’s con also brings twins back into focus in time for Oscar’s introduction a few episodes down the line). The parallels between Maeby and Maggie become even more obvious in the closing moments of the “On the next,” when we learn Maggie is also faking her disability. Admittedly, it’s a creative choice I’d have personally preferred the show not gone with; it seems like it would’ve been more in the spirit of Arrested Development to clue the audience in more gradually, saving this reveal for the titular line of dialogue in Justice is Blind (it at least would’ve made for a more rewarding rewatch).

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Morality becomes a major theme in part two, and unbeknownst to Michael and George Michael, they each find themselves in similar moral conundrums going into the next episode. Much of this season (and indeed, the series) sees Michael placed in moral dilemmas, consciously trying – and often struggling – to do the right thing, or at least be a better person than the rest of his family. The choices he makes Altar Egos aren’t particularly upstanding –  after all, he has spent most of this episode lying to a woman he believes to be blind –  but they lead him to a crossroads. While the Surely subplot is largely left in the air here, we do see Michael eventually making a choice on how to proceed with Maggie. In the episode’s closing scene, he visits Maggie with the genuine intention of coming clean aout his true identity, but before he can do so, he finds himself placed in an even more precarious situation: Maggie an overview of the government’s case against the Bluth family, neatly packaged in a file, and wants the advice of fellow attorney Chareth Cutestory as to whether or not she has a case against the family. The Bluths – who’ve been in the dark thus far as to what information the government actually has on them – may have just found a way to finally get the upper hand in the trial, and all Michael has to do now is the wrong thing.

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 HIGHLIGHTS

BlueDot2 BARRY: They offered us a plea bargain. (produces a thick binder from his briefcase)
MICHAEL: Really? There’s a chance we don’t have to go to trial?
BARRY: Absolutely, and I say we take it because we will never get an offer this good again!
LINDSAY: Wow!
MICHAEL: Great, what’s the offer?
BARRY: …Well, I- I didn’t read it. Ah, I just got it yesterday… FYI, I’m trying to get back out into the dating world.

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BlueDot2 CINDI LIGHTBALLOON: I’m a mole.
GEORGE SR: You know, god… God doesn’t care how big your teeth are. Yes, you could go to a dentist and you could, whoo… You could grind off about, I dunno, 30%. Maybe more. Yeah, I wouldn’t miss it.

BlueDot2 LUCILLE: We’re taking the plea.
GEORGE SR: Lucille, we’re not taking a plea.
MICHAEL: Well, we don’t know what the plea is yet.
BARRY: Is that a shot at me? Because that makes me want to read it all the less.

BlueDot2 Lindsay brings up Michael’s role as Captain Hook in a tenth grade play:

LUCILLE: I don’t remember that.
MICHAEL: Well, you left during my solo. And I’m surprised my twin sister can remember that, considering she was repeating the ninth grade at the time.
LUCILLE: I don’t remember that.

BlueDot2 LINDSAY: We would like you to tutor our daughter.
TOBIAS: Of course, we’re having a bit of a cash flow problem, but I assure you, if you bring our little girl’s grades up, I will pack your sweet pink mouth with so much ice cream you’ll be the envy of every Jerry and Jane on the block.
GEORGE MICHAEL: But we’re the only house on the block.

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“…Perhaps we should ask somebody else.”

BlueDot2 MICHAEL: I’m not a one-night stand kind of guy. I don’t like lying to women.
GOB: These are lawyers. That’s Latin for “liar”!

BlueDot2 MAGGIE LIZER: What’s your name?
MICHAEL: Chareth.
MAGGIE LIZER: Chareth? So then what’s your last name?
MICHAEL: Cute story…
MAGGIE LIZER: (interrupting Michael) Cutestory?
MICHAEL: …Yes. Chareth Cutestory.
MAGGIE LIZER: That’s an interesting name.
MICHAEL: Is it?

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BlueDot2“There was some talk of ice cream, but not exactly on my terms.”

BlueDot2 MAEBY: (putting cash in George Michael’s shirt pocket) Now, look, don’t feel guilty. I don’t really need tutoring anyways, okay? Enjoy the 200 bucks.
GEORGE MICHAEL: Oh, there- there’s six 20s here.
MAEBY: That’s right. (nonchalantly leaves the room)
GEORGE MICHAEL: … Right.

BlueDot2 Even in the sober light of morning, it still takes Michael a while to register that Maggie is blind:

MAGGIE LIZER: (petting Justice) Is he as handsome as he smells?
MICHAEL: I-I didn’t know that, that you had a dog.
MAGGIE LIZER: How else am I gonna get to work?
MICHAEL: You ride a dog to work?
MAGGIE LIZER: (pauses, then laughs) You are funny. Lemme see that smile… (touches Michael’s face)
MICHAEL: Well, it’s tough with your hands in the way…

BlueDot2 MICHAEL: So, tell me something personal about yourself.
MAGGIE: Uhh, well, I have an irreversible case of ocular retinoblastoma.
MICHAEL: Hey, I thought we said no more law talk.

BlueDot2 “Come on, I took a blind woman home with no intention of dating her again? Please!”

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BlueDot2 George Sr. and Cindi Lightballoon go back to what they do best:

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LUCILLE: George!
GEORGE SR: Lucille. Hi. This is not what it looks like.
LUCILLE: It looks like you’re tweaking her nipples through a chain-link fence.
GEORGE SR: Yep. Yeah, that’s it.

BlueDot2 GOB: You should have stayed with me last night. You could have seen me get some major action from a major blonde. Who just majored in marine biology, if you know what I mean.
MICHAEL: I-I don’t know what you mean. I can’t imagine what that means.

BlueDot2 MICHAEL: I went home with someone.
GOB: What’s wrong with her?
MICHAEL: Nothing’s wrong with her… She’s blind.

BlueDot2 MICHAEL: I certainly can’t take advantage of her now, knowing what I know.
GOB:
MICHAEL: What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you bag some woman that you’re never going to see again?
GOB: Well, I screwed up. I kind of broke a couple of my own rules last night. I… She knows that I’m Gob Bluth, and… we got married.
MICHAEL: What?
GOB: Well, she was a darer. She’s one of those girls who just dares you to do things.
MICHAEL: You married her?
GOB: I needed a dare!

BlueDot2 Gob goes to consummate his marriage:

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GOB: Time to seal the deal…
GOB’S WIFE: Oh wait, what time is it?! Oh god, “seal the deal,” my seal deal! I gotta get to Sea Land, I’m selling five of their sickest seals to a third world zoo.
GOB: Did you say seals?
GOB’S WIFE: Yes, I told you, like, four hours ago, I sell seals! God, do you ever listen to what I say?
GOB: Oh, I’m sorry that I don’t memorize every single word that comes out of your mouth! Sometimes I just like to think… Think my thoughts.
GOB’S WIFE: Ugh, we’ll talk about this when I get home.

We then cut back to Gob recounting this to Michael; “It was hot.”

BlueDot2 MICHAEL: Boy, the lengths you’ll go to sleep with a woman.
GOB: Believe me, we didn’t do any sleeping… I had sex last night.
NARRATOR: But he really didn’t.
GOB: Yes, I did.

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The joke is then repeated in a later scene when Barry advises Gob he can only get an annulment if he’s consummated the marriage:

GOB: Well, I guess I’ll just stay married then, because… we all know that I closed that deal, right?
NARRATOR: But he really didn’t.

BlueDot2 MAGGIE: So you didn’t get a case of “I-just-had-a-one-night-stand-with-a-blind-girl-itis?”
MICHAEL: No, of course not. One night stand, please! This is our second date now and-and I wanna… and I wanna see you again tonight, so, um… if it’s a one-night stand, I’m not very good at it.”

BlueDot2 Michael attempts to describe the park to Maggie while covertly reading the plea deal:

“Oh, I wish you could see it. It’s just beautiful. There’s an elderly couple, walking hand in hand, they’re having a wonderful… Time already served, not to exceed six years, but no less than three… Uh, three years is what I give ’em, and then one of them dies and the other one is not too far behind…”

BlueDot2 GEORGE SR: You keep talking about a fact. You keep saying, “I know for a fact.” What fact?
CINDI LIGHTBALLOON: Faith. I have faith my prayers will free you.
GEORGE SR: Faith is not a fact.
CINDI LIGHTBALLOON: Oh, yes it is. You said so yourself in Caged Wisdom.
NARRATOR: George Sr. had said faith is a fact. Unfortunately, it was in the Caged Wisdom blooper bonus footage.
GEORGE SR: (in a Caged Wisdom clip) Faith is a fact… No, faith is a facet. I almost said faith is a fact!

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“I am going to trial because you don’t understand what a blooper reel is? Guard!”

BlueDot2 BARRY: So, did you read the plea? We’ve got minutes here, not hours.
MICHAEL: I did read it, most of it. Um, I-I definitely, definitely read this, uh, this first part of this first, uh, section, umm… No, did not read it.

BlueDot2 GOB: You and dad are getting divorced?
LUCILLE: Oh, don’t worry, sweetie, no one is fighting over you.

BlueDot2 “You’d think a man locked up in prison would able to abstain…”

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BlueDot2 LUCILLE: Oh George, I should have never doubted you… Even when you slept with my sister it was for a good reason.
GEORGE: Got her to stop drinking, didn’t it?

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BlueDot2 MICHAEL: We cannot accept their conditions if we don’t even know what their conditions are.
BARRY: Do you want to read it? (holds up the plea deal)
MICHAEL: …No, it is thick, why don’t we just take it.
BARRY: I could kiss you on the *beep*.
MICHAEL: Yeah, well, it’s- what?

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BlueDot2 BARRY: Objection!
JUDGE PING: What?
BARRY: We haven’t read it… It’s very long, your honor.
GEORGE SR: (whispers) Sit down.
BARRY: We haven’t read it. We’re going to get to- I’m going to start right now.

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BlueDot2 GOB: Michael, you can save this family. Please, do the right thing here… String this blind girl along so that dad doesn’t have to pay his debt to society.
BARRY: The solution to all our problems is staring you right in the face and it can’t even see you!

BlueDot2 Maeby attempts to deposit her check:

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BlueDot2 GOB’S WIFE: Unbelievable. The seal deal fell through. Three of the seals died on their way to Chad. How am I ever going to find a maritime lawyer?
GOB: I’m sorry, did you say seals?
GOB’S WIFE: Yes, I trade trained seals for a living. Do you ever listen?!
GOB: Do you ever stop talking?!

(It’s clever how the absurd profession of Gob’s wife comes together with the absurd profession of Michael’s alter ego – and it wouldn’t be the last time the show tied something back to maritime law, either)

NITPICKS/GAFFES

BlueDot2 When Barry tries to get back into the dating world by cruising the streets for “one of those silly men that’s dressed like a woman,” there’s a stylistic anomaly in the on-screen text:

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While the yellow coloring on “one night earlier” is deployed with consistency throughout the series, the cyan coloring on “CITY OF INDUSTRY, CA” is something I don’t recall seeing the show use at any other point in its run (typically, on-screen text either appears in white, or the aforementioned yellow).

BlueDot2 A boom mic appears in shot when Judge Ping asks the courtroom to be seated (in between Gob and Lucille):

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EPISODE NOTES/TRIVIA

BlueDot2 This episode and Justice is Blind were broadcast as episodes 16 and 17. Missing Kitty – which was intended to follow Staff Infection as the 16th episode – instead aired after the two-parter, making it episode 18 in the broadcast order. As mentioned in the previous deconstruction, this created several continuity issues, specifically with the “Tobias in prison” and “Gob gets married” story arcs.

BlueDot2 This episode was broadcast in a special Wednesday night timeslot, in between Staff Infection and Justice is Blind, which aired one week apart from each other in the show’s usual Sunday slot. It was part of a promotional gambit built around Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s guest role (Maggie Lizer was heavily featured in the show’s promos at the time), which appeared to work; Altar Egos received the highest ratings of any episode in the series, pulling in an admirable 9.62 million viewers. For comparative purposes, the next highest-rated episode of the series – the Pilot – had 7.98 million, with most other episodes in seasons 1 and 2 averaging 5-6 million.

Looking at the broadcast tv lineup the night of Altar Egos’ premiere, its competition was mostly reruns, which must’ve also been a contributing factor in the viewer bump – and the fact that Arrested Development was airing immediately after American Idol at a time when that show was pulling 22+ million viewers an episode. Justice is Blind managed to retain some of these extra eyeballs and pull in 7.02 million viewers, making it one of the few other episodes to crack 7 million in the ratings (a list that only contains two other episodes; Pier Pressure and The One Where They Build a House, which received 7.2 million each).

BlueDot2 As mentioned in the deconstruction, this episode and Justice is Blind form a two-parter. The show’s next two-parter, Out on a Limb/Hand to God also functions as a sequel to this one.

BlueDot2 The episode’s title serves as a reference to the various alter egos donned by characters throughout this episode – primarily Michael’s “Chareth Cutestory” persona and Maeby’s double life as Surely, though it also works in reference to Cindi Lightballoon being an undercover agent, Maggie Lizer posing as a blind woman, and the advice Gob gives Michael. Additionally, the spelling of “altar” is a nod to Gob’s marriage.

BlueDot2 This is the first of four appearances from Maggie Lizer (the others being Justice is Blind, Out on a Limb and Hand to God, all of which feature her character prominently). As mentioned, Maggie is played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best known for her roles in Seinfeld and Veep; the former of which probably did more to deal to pave the way for Arrested Development than any other show before it (both being experimental sit-coms widely considered to be ahead of their time, centered around inherently bad people, with similar approaches to plotting/narrative dovetailing, among other commonalities). She was also part of the Saturday Night Live cast from 1982 to 1985, and played the titular characters in the short-lived the short-lived sit-com Watching Ellie, and the considerably longer-lived The New Adventures of Old Christine (in addition to serving as a producer for its fifth and final season). Like her other Seinfeld alumni, she also has a recurring role in Curb Your Enthusiasm as a fictionalized version of herself. Most recently, she played the lead role in the 2020 film Downhill (which she also produced).

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She isn’t the only Saturday Night Live cast member to make her Arrested Development debut, as this is also the first appearance of Gob’s wife, played by Amy Poehler. It’s actually a rather meta casting choice, as she and Will Arnett were married in real life at the time. The character herself does not have a name, though she appears in the next three consecutive episodes, before returning for a small storyline in season 2. She doesn’t even receive a consistent name in the credits, listed here and in Justice is Blind as “Gob’s Wife,” then credited as “Wife of Gob” in Best Man for the Gob, before a third “Bride of Gob” credit gets deployed in Whistler’s Mother and Motherboy XXX (she also appears in some still-frame images in Out on a Limb, though does not receive a credit for it). Amy Poehler is perhaps best known for her role as Leslie Knope in Parks & Recreation, for which she was also a writer/producer (Will Arnett similarly did a cameo on the show playing a man who goes on a blind date with Leslie). In addition to this and SNL, she has starred in a slew of other notable projects, including Baby Mama, Inside Out, Making It, Welcome to Sweden, and Wet Hot American Summer (and her resume as a producer includes some of these, as well as Broad City, Difficult People and Russian Doll). She’s also the first member from improv/sketch comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade to star on the show, with two more (Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts) later appearing in the season 1 finale, Let Them Eat Cake.

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This marks the third episode for both Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler) and Warden Gentles (James Lipton), the latter of whom would not show up again until season 3’s Prison Break-In. It’s also the second time we see Judge Lionel Ping (Michael Paul Chan) presiding over George Sr in a courtroom, following his introduction in Beef Consommé. Likewise, it’s the second appearance for Cindi Lightballoon (Jane Lynch), having been introduced in Shock and Aww, though unfortunately, this episode is now a series wrap for her character. In addition to this, Michael Bartel portrays a young Michael Bluth for the third time (having first played the role in Top Banana), while other credited performers are Verda Bridges as the sex worker Barry accosts, Tim Starks as the bailiff, and Angela Russo as the teacher who speaks at the fundraiser for “Surely”. IMDB also lists uncredited appearances from Ernesto Trinidad as a bar patron, and Mason Musso as the student who yells “Somebody get her a cupcake!” – a possible callback to the Saddam Hussein cupcake from Shock and Aww.

BlueDot2 Gob says Michael has slept with four women – something he’d repeatedly taunted his younger brother about in Shock and Aww. Later in that episode, Michael slept with George Michael’s ethics teacher, Miss Baerly, putting that number up by one; a fact that is referenced here when Michael responds that he has indeed slept with more than four woman, and Gob correctly ascertains the new number (“More than five? …Let’s say five”).

BlueDot2 The Trial of Captain Hook is a reference to The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf, a play by Joseph Robinette widely performed in schools (while that play dramatizes several fairy tales, Arrested Development’s version seems specifically geared towards Peter Pan).

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The Trial of Captain Hook gets expanded upon with new footage in the season 4 premiere, Flight of the Phoenix. In this same episode, we also learn that Michael’s role in this play eventually led to him spending a year at law school with an emphasis on maritime law; something he finally gets to put into practice in the season 5 finale, The Fallout.

BlueDot2 The letter Lindsay receives from Maeby’s school is presented the same way as Lucille’s adoption letter in Shock and Aww:

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Those who paused the episode to read the letter may have also noticed the misspelling in the word “parent” (“paent”), near the center of the page. It is unclear whether this is a genuine typo or a hidden joke.

BlueDot2 Tobias uses the phrase “sweet pink mouth” when asking George Michael to tutor Maeby. It is heard again in the original composition All You Need is Smiles, which gets introduced later this season in Whistler’s Mother. Tobias would also use the similar phrase “little pink hand” in season 4’s Smashed, before dying his mustache pink to portray Michael in season 5’s Everyone Gets Atrophy, believing this to be the color of Michael’s skin.

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George Michael would also come to tutor Maeby again in season 4’s Señoritis.

BlueDot2 Maggie’s dog marks the second character on the show with “Justice” in his name; the other being the Orange County Prison inmate Little Justice (who George Sr. attempted to convert in Staff Infection, and who later became the Tin Man to Tobias’s Dorothy in Missing Kitty). Amusingly, Justice is significantly smaller than Little Justice.

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BlueDot2 This episode contains an implied breaking of the fourth wall, as the narrator clarifies that Gob didn’t really have sex with his wife, and Gob looks into the corner of the screen and says “Yes, I did” as if he’s responding directly to the interjection. Of course, the gag still works if the narration is removed – it’s perfectly in character for Gob to stare off into space and reinforce his lie to no one in particular – but it’s another example of the writers finding new jokes within the show’s established story devices. The functions of the narrator are really starting to expand at this point in the series.

BlueDot2 The still frame montage of Gob and his wife on their series of escalating dares would receive several callbacks down the line. It plays out again in season 2’s Out on a Limb (only this time, we get one image per scenario with the camera zooming out on each shot, and the picture of them robbing the grocery store is replaced with a picture of the two eating Skip’s Scrambles from Skip Church’s Bistro – introduced earlier in that episode), and is followed by some new images of Gob’s wife engaging in dares in the army, with a recreation of the shot with the shopping carts. The picture of the pair at the altar is then seen again in Motherboy XXX, appearing in a still frame shot of Gob being served with divorce papers (in which he is mimicking the pose from the photo). We also see a similar series of stills in season 4’s A New Attitude, this time of Gob and Tony Wonder, with another iteration of the shopping cart dare.

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BlueDot2 The Blendin Mobile Pet Grooming van can be seen again, after being established as cover for Cindi Lightballoon and her team of undercover feds in Shock and Aww. Typically, “Blendin” is a ubiquitous front, masquerading as a different kind of business each time it’s deployed, but this is the one instance where the show re-uses a Blendin cover businesses from a previous episode.

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BlueDot2 It is mentioned in dialogue that Lucille has a sister, which is new information to us viewers. It doesn’t prove to be particularly important information however, as the only other time she is alluded to is in the following episode, Justice is Blind, when Buster makes mention of an aunt (and even then, he could potentially be referring to another relative on George Sr’s side of the family).

BlueDot2 During this episode’s initial broadcast, Barry Zuckerkorn’s beeped dialogue to Michael apparently made it to air uncensored in some places. As it turns out, the line was “I could kiss you on the nuts.”

BlueDot2 When the Bluths finally enter the courtroom, the bailiff announces the honorable Lionel Ping presiding, and Barry remarks “Oh, we’ve got Ping again!” This is a callback to Beef Consommé, when Judge Ping was first introduced in the same manner, and Barry reacted with dread, “Oh, we’ve got Ping!” He also has a similar reaction when he learns the prosecutor is Maggie Lizer.

BlueDot2 After Barry announces he’s going to take a scenic drive down to the City of Industry (a callback to earlier in the episode), he does the iconic pose of his Happy Days character, Arthur Fonzarelli (A.K.A. “The Fonz”):

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BlueDot2 Maeby dons the persona of Surely Fünke for the first time here. She continues to pose as her fake twin in Justice is Blind, before briefly reviving the character in season 3’s Notapusy, this time with a prosthetic nose. The name “Surely” – modeled after Shirley – is a play on Maeby’s name being a homonym for “maybe” (an antonym to “surely”). A similar name gag occurred a few episodes back in Shock and Aww, when George Michael had a crush on his teacher, Miss Baerly (“barely”).

BlueDot2 This marks Arrested Development’s first cliffhanger ending. While the final scene of Marta Complex comes close to fitting the bill, it also has a semblance of momentary conclusiveness that’s not really present this time around. Indeed, Marta Complex’s ending only really becomes a cliffhanger when the story is picked up again in Beef Consommé, whereas this ending is specifically manufactured to leave the viewer clamoring for the next installment.

BlueDot2 The closing “On the next” – where Tobias is sent to sneak into Maggie’s house to steal evidence – actually does happen in the next episode. And unlike the scene from Staff Infection’s “On the next” where George Sr. sells Tobias for a pack of cigarettes (which appeared in the following episode, but was presented as a flashback), this really is a sincere preview of what’s coming next. We can perhaps assume that being a two-parter exempts this segment from its usual rules.

BlueDot2 Buster does not appear in this episode.

BlueDot2 Altar Egos has a total runtime of 21 minutes and 55 seconds, and is rated TV-PG-DLS.

HIDDEN DETAILS

BlueDot2 The courtroom offices are decorated with pictures of Republican presidents.

BlueDot2 Cindi Lightballoon is wearing a Caged Wisdom top during her visitation with George Sr.

BlueDot2 Michael and Maggie share drinks together at the side of the courthouse bar; a subtle lawyer joke (“sidebar”). When the pair leave together, we can also see that the bar is called “Deliberations”:

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In addition to this, a large prop gavel can be seen on the wall behind the bar – although it’s more visible when the location is revisited in part two. Furthermore, season 5’s Saving for Arraignment Day goes on to introduce a second courthouse bar, actually named “Side Bar.”

BlueDot2 The flashback footage of a young Michael Bluth’s performance in The Trial of Captain Hook foreshadows the eventual loss of Buster’s hand (in season 2’s Out on a Limb), with the titular character’s hook falling off. The song lyrics also portend Michael’s throwing a bible at Maggie in the following episode: “You’re a crook, Captain Hook. Judge, won’t you throw the book, at the pirate…”

BlueDot2 There are several hints that Maggie Lizer is faking her blindness. The first comes in her introduction to Michael: “I’m Maggie Lizer. As in, Maggie lies-her-ass-off.” The line comes just after Maggie says she’s a lawyer – linking back to Gob’s piece of dialogue earlier about all lawyers being liars. Later, when Michael meets Maggie at the park, she briefly slips up and calls him “handsome”. It’s during this scene when the most overt hints are deployed in the form of Justice, whose behavior is the exact opposite of what one would expect from a guide dog (for reasons that will become far more apparent in Justice is Blind – and a point emphasized when Michael insists Maggie can smell him, when Justice is the one running up to him).

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When we come to learn exactly why Maggie is the most feared prosecutor in all of Orange County, the ensuing montage also establishes the motivation for Maggie’s long con. As the narrator explains, it’s “not because she was a particularly adept lawyer,” but rather, the sympathy she garners from pretty much everyone in the courtroom. The examples we witness take on a very manipulative context in the light of Maggie’s big revelation, clearly calculated to generate said sympathy at just the right moments.

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BlueDot2 Likewise, it’s also possible to figure out Maeby’s ruse before the show formally reveals it to us. Earlier the season, in Shock and Aww, a “Hold on Surely Fünke!” poster could be seen in the school hall (with a reasonably clear visual of a girl in a wheelchair in the accompanying photo, even if it is a little too small for one to identify her as Alia Shawkat) – and the poster is once again makes it into the background of this episode. With multiple opportunities to register the name “Surely Fünke” before her on-screen introduction, the show clues in its most eagle-eyed viewers accordingly:

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Maeby then instructs George Michael, “Just fill in all the right answers here, and I’ll see where I went wrong.” As it would appear, Maeby is taking – and failing – tests as Surely (“S. Fünke”), so she can take them again as Maeby (“M. Fünke”). And the cover story she tells George Michael also plays into the episode’s wider marital themes!

BlueDot2 The check for Surely Fünke is made out simply for “Life”.

DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES

BlueDot2 This episode contains the show’s longest deleted scene, clocking in at two minutes. It may also be the funniest of them all, crafting an inspired misunderstanding around Maeby’s ruse and the pun in the name “Surely” (as such, the double-meanings in the dialogue below become far more apparent when read aloud). It presumably would’ve been slotted in between George Michael’s arrival at the school fundraiser, and Michael’s visit to Maggie’s home, in the closing minutes of the episode:

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NARRATOR: Lindsay and Tobias were unaware that Maeby had not only convinced the principal that she had a twin named Surely, but that Surely was dying.
LINDSAY: …And we wanted to share that information with you. I guess it’s an example of some pretty deft parenting.
PRINCIPAL: Please… I didn’t mean that letter as a criticism, I was just concerned for Maeby. I know this must be a difficult time for your family, a terrible trial for you…
(Lindsay groans)
TOBIAS: Ugh, boy, you said it. This cannot be over soon enough.
LINDSAY: It’s like pouring money down a sinkhole.
PRINCIPAL: …Well, I’m sure you’re… going through so much grief you don’t even know what you’re saying.
TOBIAS: Mrs. Dr. Funke and I truly believe that people get what they deserve.
LINDSAY: Hm. (nods in agreement) But we’re not here to talk about all that messiness.
TOBIAS: What a mess, ugh.

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LINDSAY: No, we’re here to talk about Maeby. You know, I had a twin, and he graduated ahead of me, and I don’t want that to happen to our daughter. So, for the next few years, all we’re going to focus on is her.
PRINCIPAL: But… Surely, she needs special attention!
TOBIAS: (chuckles with Lindsay) Well, it’s nothing that a few mouthfuls of ice cream can’t take care of!
LINDSAY: We want Maeby to graduate on time.
TOBIAS: Yes. Surely, she won’t be here one second longer than necessary.
LINDSAY: Hey, if we’re lucky, maybe she’ll even check out a year early! Hah!
TOBIAS: Okay, let’s not get greedy!
LINDSAY: Okay, you’re right, I’m so bad.
(laughing, Lindsay and Tobias get up from their chairs and go to leave the room)
PRINCIPAL: … I have to tell you, I’m stunned. I’ve never spoken to parents like this in my life.

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TOBIAS: Well, huh! If that’s how you feel, uh…
LINDSAY: There’s a chance we might have to get up on the witness stand. So, if you could write a letter to the judge telling him what you think of us as parents…
TOBIAS: Hm! We would be most obliged. (curtsies)
PRINCIPAL: I’m going to do that right now. (stands up to let the Fünkes out)
TOBIAS: Well, thank you!
LINDSAY: Well, alright! Thank you.

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Deconstructing Arrested Development is in no way affiliated with Imagine Entertainment, The Hurwitz Company, Netflix, 21st Century Fox, Disney or any subsidiaries thereof. It is a completely unofficial fan-made project.

4 thoughts on “Season 1, Episode 17: Altar Egos

  1. I’m confused by that deleted scene, because I’ve seen it somewhere! I have no idea where, but I could have sworn that was in the show somewhere… I think I first saw the show and this season on disk with a friend so I dunno, maybe we watched the deleted scenes too, but… man I’m really confused on this. And yes, it is really good, it’s a shame they cut it.

    Not so confusing is finally watching these in proper order though! This is probably the first time I’ve seen them right… unless I did with my friend too. Did the DVDs have them in the right order?

    Louis-Dreyfus is indeed very good in this, and in some ways I liked that her lawyer was pretty much on the same “bad people” level as the Bluths She fit right in with the show that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, the dvds have the episodes in the right order.

      Most of the deleted scenes can be found on YouTube quite easily – I believe I’ve shared the link to this one in the past, which may have been how you saw it. Really unfortunate they had to cut this one!

      Like

      1. Yeah, after I posted I had considered that I might have seen it from a posted link somewhere. Still, this is one of those Berenstein/Berenstain Bears situations, any answer that’s not “someone’s pulling a bizarrely complex prank on you” is just not going to feel like a REAL solution.

        BUY GOLD!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael’s repeated starting (and failing) to read the plea deal is one of my favorite jokes. Maybe it just ties into the criminal justice classes I took in school but his struggle with legal language is great (and also understandable).

    And I remember this deleted scene! It’s long so I get why they cut it but its so funny I wish there’d been somewhere else that cuts could’ve been made (but I really cant think of anything since every scene in this episode is pretty great).

    Also I love that GOB doesn’t pull the pantyhose down over his face in the robbery dare. I’m a little surprised that never became a story thread (at least I’m assuming him and his wife rob the store!)

    Liked by 1 person

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