Lawyer is Latin for Liar: Arrested Development Rewind: ‘Altar Egos’

I’d like to imagine the practice of law is a proper and dignified animal. This is idealistic. And boring. So I also like to imagine it as a libidinal comedy where lawyers are gorgeous and charming buffoons who sleep with one another during recess and have time to fight for the common good. Think Alley McBeal if Aaron Sorkin was writing it.

The reality lies somewhere else, in a murky realm between chicanery and decorum, where everything is subject to speculation and debate and no one is ever one hundred percent in the right. “Altar Egos” gets, in my estimation, at the heart of the problem.

When the Bluths are offered a plea bargain, they are hesitant to take it. It’s pretty long, and no one is willing to read it. Certainly not Barry Zuckerkorn, who’s busy getting back in the dating world (read: trolling for prostitutes). Michael takes on the task, attempting to read the plea at a bar when he meets and beds Maggie Lizer—played by the always impeccable Julia Louis-Dreyfus, now starring in the new HBO comedy Veep with Tony Hale (Buster). How’s that for intertextuality, AD fans?

Maggie and Michael get in on some great screwball miscommuniqués. She takes him for maritime lawyer named Chereth Cutestory and he doesn’t realize she’s blind. When he discovers her impairment, he’s far too wracked with guilt to leave it as a one-night stand. He wants to go out again to clear his conscience. But Michael’s not really a good person. Using her blindness, he attempts to read the plea and get his conscience-cleansing second date. Fortunately, Maggie’s not that good a person either. By the end of the episode we learn her ocular retinoblastoma is a ruse.

These exploitative relationships are the thematic meat of this episode. Maggie exploits Michael’s and juries’ sympathies—she’s not that good a lawyer, we’re told, just a sympathetic one. Michael exploits her blindness to meet his familial obligations. Maeby cons her school into thinking she’s a sick girl named Surely. George, Sr. tries to use Cindy’s attraction to him to get information concerning the government’s evidence against him. The level of intrigue and duplicity in this episode! It’s like a John Grisham novel, only far more plausible.

Cindy, it turns out, has no evidence to exonerate him. Only faith. A dubious philosophy she picked up by misreading a blooper from George Sr.’s Caged Wisdom video: “Faith is a fact.” Learning this, George Sr. wants the plea bargain, despite the fact that no one has actually read it. The Bluths have to go on faith that what’s in the plea is better than any sentence he could receive.

Which brings me back to that favored pastime of lawyers and biblical scholars, interpretation. In the aforementioned litany of con artists, who is the real bad guy? Where should our sympathies land, with the mark or the confidence man? Each character commits more or less the same offense to another, so it’s hard to judge who is worse. I could make the argument for any one of these characters, but then I’d be playing lawyer and would be no better than any of them.

 

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