Season 1, Episode 4: “Key Decisions”—November 23, 2003
This is the one where…
Michael sells the corporate jet. Because the buyer has no interest in it, and because the Bluth family needs a vehicle, Michael decides to make the jet’s stair car the family’s main source of transportation.
Lindsay wants to save some trees, attempts to help cut them down, and then tries to save them again. In the end, her negligence contributes to their destruction.
GOB willingly goes to prison because he wants to break out in twenty-four hours for a publicity stunt. Instead of escaping via the key he swallowed, White Power Bill (David Reynolds) stabs him so that he’s transported to the hospital…“Ta da.”
The romance between Buster and his mother’s friend, Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli), commences.
The most unfortunate thing about this episode is that it lacks the ever hilarious David Cross (Tobias Fünke). However, a few guest stars make entertaining appearances.
Clint Howard guest stars as Johnny Bark, an environmentalist attempting to save the trees that Michael wants to bulldoze. Bark ends up falling in love with Lindsay, who responds to his affection with, “I think you’re gross.” Clint is the younger brother of Arrested Development’s narrator and executive producer Ron Howard. The appearance of Clint demonstrates a developing proclivity in the series to feature actors who are in some way related to the stars and crew of the show.
“Key Decisions” also features the debut of Liza Minnelli as Lucille Austero. Minnelli’s turn as Austero marks another trend in the series to regularly feature well-known celebrities, as well as to create recurring roles for many of these celebrities.
Although not nearly as well known as Liza Minnelli or even Clint Howard, Leonor Varela guest stars as Marta Estrella, GOB’s Spanish soap opera star girlfriend (and Michael’s new love interest). Interestingly, although Marta becomes a recurring character, Varela doesn’t become a recurring guest star. In subsequent episodes, Patricia Velasquez takes over the role.
A recurring theme in “Key Decisions” is the discrepancy between projections of reality and reality itself. Buster, Lindsay, and GOB in particular demonstrate a tendency to overwhelm reality with their imaginations.
Buster receives a written request for a date from Lucille Austero, but he is unaware who the note is from. Nonetheless, he begins discussing his anonymous admirer as though she is his girlfriend. He tells Michael, “I cannot tell you how liberating it is to be with someone who’s not Mom,” as though the relationship has already begun. Yet he has never spent any time with this woman and, more importantly, has no idea who she even is. He has imagined a relationship that doesn’t exist.
Similar to Buster’s distorted view of reality, GOB has misconceptions about prison, as well as his own capabilities. GOB views himself as a talented magician, which makes him confident he can break out of prison easily. In reality, GOB is the antithesis of a talented magician and has no idea what prison will entail. He fails to anticipate that a publicity stunt in prison will inevitably have mishaps. Mishap one: he swallows a key, assuming that he’ll “pass” it and be able to break out within twenty-four hours. However, once in prison, he discovers the toilet is in his jail cell and in order to pass the key, he’ll have to go to the bathroom in front of everyone, which he cannot or will not do. Mishap two: he unwittingly gives White Power Bill the nickname “Dirty Ears Bill,” for which, White Power Bill stabs him.
Lindsay’s perception of herself also contradicts who she actually is. Although she fervently denies being materialistic, she shops constantly, doesn’t return the rental car, and is horrified at the prospect of driving the stair car. When Michael tells her that he’s had to sell the company jet, she responds, “Great now we don’t have a car or a jet? Why don’t we just take an ad out in ‘I’m poor magazine.’”
Although Lindsay is undoubtedly materialistic, she views herself as a passionate activist— specifically as an environmentalist, in this episode. Yet she doesn’t know what it means to be an environmentalist. She tells Michael, “I care deeply about nature,” to which he responds, “You’re wearing ostrich skin boots.” Lindsay: “Well I don’t care about ostriches.” And although she is initially adamant about saving the trees around their house, Michael manipulates her into helping him when he says that clearing the lot will give them enough money to get rid of the stair car.
As for the protagonist Michael, we see another discrepancy between self-perceptions and reality. Although he’s not deluded in the same vein as his siblings, his actions do contradict his words. In this episode and throughout the series, Michael purports that family is more important than anything. Yet his behavior suggests otherwise. Immediately after telling GOB that nothing else matters besides family, Lucille enters the house, and Michael says, “It’s Mom, hide!” Michael often fails to lend sympathy and emotional support to many of his family members and is more often judgmental and condescending.
Additionally, Michael develops feelings for GOB’s girlfriend, Marta. Michael realizes he is falling for Marta when she says, “I just don’t think that GOB understands family. Commitment. Those are the only things that matter in life.” Because Marta’s values coincide with the values that Michael vehemently insists that he has, he believes that he and Marta are compatible and that he wants to pursue her. Yet doing so contradicts the importance of family because pursuing Marta would be an act of betrayal against GOB.
To Michael’s credit, he respects (in this episode, at least) GOB’s decision to make things work with Marta. Despite his flaws, he exercises self-awareness, which is more than we can say for his siblings. Throughout the series, Michael continuously engages in the struggle between being the person he wants to be and the person it’s easy for him to be.
- Michael, referring to Buster’s admirer: “You’re just jumping right into this, huh?” Buster: “Oh yes, that’s what you do when life hands you the chance to be with someone special. You just grab that brownish area by it points and you don’t let go no matter what your mom says.”
- Michael to Lindsay: “After we get that lot cleared, we’re gonna have enough money for you to neuter thousands of animals. You can make dogs and cats a complete thing of the past. No more dogs and cats.”
- Lindsay to John Bark: “I’m an activist too, and I appreciate what you’re doing for the environment, but we’re not the only ones who destroy trees. What about beavers? You call yourself an environmentalist, why don’t you go out and club some beavers?” Johnny: “You don’t really get nature, do you?”
- Lucille to Michael: “My dear friend Lucille Austero was part owner of a television station and I want to show up and hold my head high. I may not have her money anymore but at least I have a live husband.” Michael: “Ah, she’s lucky to have you as a friend.”
- Michael: “Shouldn’t Buster be spending his evenings with women who aren’t so much his mother?” Lucille: “He’s a beautiful boy. They don’t appreciate him. It’s his glasses. They make him look like a lizard. Plus he’s self-conscious.” Michael: “Gee, I wonder why.”
- “I’ve made a huge mistake,” GOB, on discovering he can’t get the privacy he needs in order to pass the key, and after telling Marta they’re going to be together for a long time.