Indian TakersA lot has been made of Arrested Development’s dense, complex narrative structure. Some have praised this new season’s labyrinthine approach to storytelling, while others have held steadfast in their belief that, in this instance at least, complexity does not necessarily equate with quality. At points as we make our way through the season I’m sure we’ll see examples of the show’s structure masking weaker scenes and papering over some pretty large cracks, but there’s not much chance of that happening in this episode. It comes as a relief somewhat that Lindsay’s first episode, Indian Takers, is told almost entirely in a linear fashion. There are no lengthy flashbacks to earlier events. This story takes place at the beginning of the new timeline, but there are no big leaps forward in time either. In true Arrested Development style it’s a ridiculous story, simply told, and that’s a refreshing change even just three episodes into the run.

We first meet Lindsay in a scene that presents her exactly as we remember her. Lindsay’s defining characteristic was always that she wanted to be more liberal, to campaign for righteous causes and let go a little. But in reality she was always more conservative, driven by status and money, and had a lot more in common with her uptight (adopted) mother than she’d like to admit. So here she is, in India, trying to get in touch with her spirituality, but instead buying what she thinks is a designer handbag and proving to be as naïve and frivolous as ever. It’s a nice re-introduction to the character, and it’s a pretty funny scene too. I could have done without the same joke being repeated later in the episode, but in that moment it works and it’s a solid opening scene.

The first half of the episode then moves at a furious pace, burning through plot at the kind of speed we’d previously grown accustomed to from Mitch Hurwitz. Lindsay separates from Tobias in the fallout from the events in Development Arrested and decides to travel to India. We see her fly there, have the aforementioned struggles with Indian traders, meet with a suspect Indian shaman, get kicked out the hotel, fly home, meet up with her family, rekindle her relationship with Tobias… and we’re still less than ten minutes into the episode. During all of those scenes we also see little flashes of jokes that will make sense later on, foreshadowing plotlines that we’re yet to see, but at the same time none of them are intruding on Lindsay’s story. This is the season’s complex structure working at its best, and it makes it seem remarkably simple.

But what of the episode itself? Is it funny? Well Lindsay was never the funniest of characters herself, but luckily it’s very easy to pair her off with Tobias, and a lot of the best lines come from him throughout the episode. He gets the first big laugh early on when he forgets Michael’s name, but remembers the names of all the “hot seamen.” And when he comes back into the episode after Lindsay’s Indian jaunt, he again raises a hearty laugh with the expression, “oh ninja please.” And that’s not to say that Lindsay isn’t funny, but her jokes tend to get chuckles, whereas Tobias can elicit huge belly laughs. That’s always been the case, and there probably shouldn’t have been any expectation going in that it would be any other way.

So to cut a long story short, yes, it’s funny, and it’s easily the funniest episode so far. That may not be down to Lindsay entirely, but she certainly plays her part. And we haven’t even got to the best bits yet. After reuniting with Tobias the pair head off to buy a new family home from Ed Helms’ returning estate agent James Carr. There’s a decent sketch there (although not for the first time this season, it outstays its welcome) and another decent one in which they communicate across their over-sized house. What’s nice about these scenes too is that there’s a ambitious bit of economic satire filling in for the political satire the show had ably tackled before. It might not be quite as hard-hitting, but it’s certainly more relevant than the weak George W. Bush retread we saw in the previous episode.

But the episode really takes off just after that, with three great jokes serving as the basis and jumping-off point for a number of great scenes. First there’s Tobias confusing a Methadone Clinic for a method acting clinic, which leads to a brilliant scene where he thinks new character DeBrie (Maria Bamford) is delivering a heartfelt monologue about drug addiction. At the same time Lindsay is meeting and bonding with the brilliantly named Marky Bark (Chris Diamantopolous), the son of Johnny Bark who appeared way back in season one. With Tobias and DeBrie amped up on “acting juice,” the foursome head off to a restaurant called C.W. Swappigans, where you pay for your meal by bartering with items rather than using money. It’s an incredibly funny concept and it makes for a really funny scene. Tobias again probably lands the best joke when he assumes the methadone-addicted DeBrie is still improvising, but can’t keep up with her yes and-ing, and there’s also a fantastic pay-off to the scene when Lindsay leaves her shoe as a tip. That’s that economic satire again, and this time it’s a whole heap more successful.

Then for the second time in the course of the episode, Tobias and Lindsay split up. Lindsay heads off to embark on a new life with Marky Bark, but it’s not long before she discovers something new about him. Absurd in all the best ways, it turns out that Marky Bark has a condition called face blindness. He can see everything else perfectly well, but when it comes to faces he can only make out a blur. Chris Diamantopolous doesn’t even need to do an awful lot with the joke, it’s just an inherently funny concept that could only work on Arrested Development. Marky never knew that Lindsay was pretty, so when he tells her that he loves her at the end of the episode that’s huge for her. At the beginning of the episode she walked away from a family (and in particular her mother) who seemed to only ever value her for her looks, and here she is as the episode draws to a close and she’s got the kind of emotional validation that she could never have imagined to find in a methadone clinic. Unlike the previous episode, we have a really great central character arc and a believable one at that. “She tells me that she’s pretty,” Marky tells his mother, and it’s actually quite a sweet moment.

So Lindsay’s gone on a journey, and who thought it would be so enjoyable to go on it with her? One thing that made me a little uncomfortable, however, was the discussion of Portia de Rossi’s appearance that took place on twitter (and on certain trashy websites) that arose from the episode. Sure, she looks a quite a bit different from the last time we saw her; she was 33 when the third season finished and now she’s 40. She’s also very obviously wearing a wig for continuity purposes in this episode, and that makes her look different too. Once she crops her hair short in the ‘Next time on AD’ segment and from there on in, she looks a lot better. In fact, scratch that, she looks great. She may well have had some plastic surgery, but so what? Who cares? If anything it’s appropriate for her character. I didn’t see anyone commenting on certain male actors who have lost hair or gained weight. Let’s try and comment on how effortlessly de Rossi slipped back into the character of Lindsay and what a great episode she’s helped create here. It’s the best so far by a comfortable margin.

Any Other Business:

– Some great work has gone into the set dressing of the Methadone Clinic. I particularly enjoyed seeing a recreation of the ‘Feeling Blue?’ poster that Tobias first found back in season one.

– Two great lines from Tobias when he’s shouting at Lindsay in the house. “I wish I had the luxury of not being believable,” and on his Carl Weathers acting classes he says “I’m sorry, but I’m such a star fucker that I didn’t listen to anything he said.”

– Another sitcom reference? Buster wears a t-shirt on a magazine cover that says ‘The New Normal?’

– I loved the flashback to a young buster with Kristen Wiig’s Lucille and the “suckled at her champagne glass breasts” line. The Buster-Lucille relationship is one I always enjoy the show exploring.

– Our first Anus Tart joke!

– Was the shaman’s identity obvious to anyone else the first time around? I have to admit, I didn’t catch it.

Grade: B+