Shakespeare in the Model Home: ‘Arrested Development’ Rewind: ‘Marta Complex’

When someone uses the term “Shakespearian,” he or she usually refers to familial betrayal (Hamlet, King Lear), miscommunication (Othello), and love driving people to do insane things (Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Part of the genius of Shakespeare’s plays is they use multiple subplots and nuanced language to confuse the absolute shit out of the characters and move the plot along. “Marta Complex,” the twelfth episode of Season One, does the same thing.

First, Michael convinces Lucille to throw an anniversary party for Lindsay and Tobias by telling her it’s a Valentine’s Day party. After an awkward chant of “Speech! Speech!,” with no one around to give a speech, Michael steps up. As he toasts each couple, it becomes obvious that Michael is the only one at the party without a date (well, excluding George Michael and Maeby). At the end, he says “I love you all (Marta)!,” which Marta notices.

A speech is necessarily performative language. By giving a speech, you are attempting to affect the thoughts of your audience. Michael’s speech achieves this—except it’s the complete opposite of what he wants. Rather than celebrating love, it inspires the entire family to break up with one another.

Gob doesn’t notice Michael’s slip of the tongue, but he does feel like something is wrong with Marta later that night. The next day, he tells Michael he thinks Marta is cheating on him. Incredulous that Marta doesn’t share his same values, Michael resolves to find out the truth, telling Gob, “If she’s going to go out with anyone, it’s going to be one of us.”

The person Marta loves, of course, is hermano. For anyone who hasn’t taken Spanish 101, worked in a restaurant, or is dumb (this probably describes all of the Bluths), hermano means “brother.” In an effort to find out who “hermano” is, Michael follows Marta around, watching her buy a tuxedo (our version of Desdemona’s handkerchief). He then goes to the set of Marta’s soap opera, where he sees a man go into her dressing room.

Then the episode climaxes with Marta and Michael having a classic “hide-under-unspecified-pronouns” conversation, with no one coming out and saying what they mean. Michael is Othello here. He believes Marta is guilty of being unfaithful, but he is all she wants. Since he doesn’t know this, he’s angry, but not because of Gob. He only cares that she might be cheating because he wants to be with her.

We all know how the Michael/Marta story eventually plays out (and if you don’t, you don’t know a lot about TV. Also, where were you a decade ago?). In the end, Michael loses the beautiful Colombian woman and is stuck with his family—a rather un-Shakespearian ending in which no one gets married or commits suicide.

Michael’s speech also encourages Lindsay to ask Tobias for a divorce and Buster to move out of Lucille’s apartment. Given his Oedipal Complex and penchant for being completely unable to assert himself in any way, Buster is Hamlet. Chew on that, Romantics. Lindsay and Tobias might be a good example of the logical extension of what would’ve happened if Juliet and her fair Romeo actually married—it’s revealed in this episode that Lindsay went out with Tobias to piss off her boyfriend and married him to piss off her parents. Sound basis for marriage.

George Michael and Maeby are Romeo and an unsuspecting Juliet. Lindsay is the reverse of Juliet’s nurse, and Tobias is definitely not Romeo’s priest/adviser. The “Maybe Tonight” candy heart that George Michael uses as a sign of their unique love is not a one in a million chance, just like two sixteen-year-olds falling for each other isn’t even close to true love. As the narrator tells us, there was a one-in-eight chance that George Michael pulled the “Maybe Tonight” heart. It’s forcing fate, like Romeo and Juliet do. If you really want to stretch it, the candy heart is our version of the potion that puts Juliet into a coma or the ecstasy Romeo takes in Baz Luhrman’s adaptation (1996).

Now, what would Shakespeare be without some puns? Here’s a short list, excluding all the brother/hermano ones:

Michael to Marta: “There was someone [I was interested in], but it turned out to be too much of a brother. Bother.”

Carl Weathers: “Hey Buster. I thought you had class.” Buster: “I thought you had class . . . ” Lucille Two: “Buster, I thought you had class.” Buster: “I thought you had class.”

And, not quite a pun, but still a great bit of Shakespearian run-around dialogue:

Narrator: “The competition frightened Tobias, which he felt he could use in his performance. Unfortunately, this made him more confident, which frightened him again.” Tobias: “I’m ready.”

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