Jessica Walters has made a niche for herself in the last few years playing borderline psychotic mothers on two shows in particular: the cult classic Arrested Development as Lucille Bluth, and Mallory Archer on Archer. At first glance, these two may not seem related, but at a closer look the head of ISIS and the matriarch of the Bluth family are incredibly similar, and not just for their shared love of furs, martinis, and secret relationships.
Both Mallory and Lucille are manipulative woman who use their sons, for their own gain in both their personal and business lives — at a great disservice to both of their sons.
Mallory Archer is the head of the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), where her son, Sterling, is considered the ‘best agent’, despite his penchant for using his job for luxury and women (Sterling can be described as a corrupt James Bond). He relies on his mother for his job, but Mallory and Sterling lead mostly separate lives despite how intertwined they are for ISIS. He is able to lead a life mostly free from guilt about his mother — unlike Michael Bluth. Michael, as the lone ‘sane’ member of the corrupt Bluth family who’s patriarch has been arrested for defrauding investors, feels an immense need to keep his family together, fueled by Lucille’s meddling and her constant providing of guilt.
Both sons act differently, but the end result is the same — the mother domineers and the son ultimately (whether or not they want to) kowtows. For Michael, it’s a compulsion to put ‘family first’, while for Archer, the motives are less noble — his mother is his boss, and he wants to keep his job.
While Mallory and Lucille are similar, Sterling and Michael are worlds apart; Sterling is constantly out for his own gain despite the feelings of others, while Michael regularly sacrifices for his son and family. One could say Sterling is a product of Mallory’s negligent upbringing — it is frequently referenced how Mallory wasn’t there for Sterling throughout his childhood, and her dismissive coldness is still evident even as Sterling is grown. Lucille, however, plays the part of dependence to garner sympathy from her son despite her apparent independence. We do see her falter at points, though, when she realizes that she needs Michael to be there for the good of the family. Mallory has moments when she falters as well — she understands ISIS needs Sterling. Sterling, in the same way, needs ISIS to maintain his lifestyle that he so loves — without ISIS, Sterling can’t fly around the world in a private jet, seduce swedish models, or wear five-thousand dollar suits.
Are these woman secretly noble, unable to show love for their sons but ultimately realizing the love and need they have for them, or are they cold and calculating, looking out for no one’s good but their own, using their sons?
At the end of the day, the relationships are balanced between love and need, although neither son can quite figure out why they feel an allegiance for their mother. For both, there is a dependence that they cant quite shake — whether for a job, or because of familial guilt. Both Mallory and Lucille are unlikeable but their sons have a loyalty to them that has a basis in guilt and a staying power because of how dependent Michael and Sterling are on them. The fact that this is a theme in both shows — and in many other shows — plays on a common sympathy that we all have. The loyalty to mothers, despite their shortcomings, is a theme that goes back hundreds of years in literature and film. Everyone’s family is a little crazy; we all have someone who we don’t like who we deal with out of guilt, or because we are inexplicably dependent on.