Regular Show: "Survival Skills"
B+

Regular Show: "Survival Skills"

B+

Regular Show

"Survival Skills"

Season 5, Episode 7

Mordecai and Rigby’s incompetence reaches almost mythic, lyrical levels in tonight’s episode. That’s really the best way to approach an episode like “Survival Skills,” which isn’t terribly concerned with making strict narrative sense. Everything that happens can be understood as a coherent story, but the viewer has to really be paying attention to piece it all together—the fact that the demonic, horned predator was apparently Thomas trying to bring them back to the campsite is a particularly nice, subtle touch—and even then, it may not be possible to explain just how Rigby and Mordecai really do appear to grow bushy, full-length beards in the space of a few hallucination-filled hours. While it’s fun to puzzle out precisely what happens here, the real takeaway is that Rigby and Mordecai are capable of screwing up even the most basic of tasks, and this just might be their magnum opus of idiocy. Even when they do manage to remember Benson’s invaluable survival tips, it only happens within the context of a shared, bark-fueled delusion. Besides, their best idea is to warm up by layering themselves in tortillas.

Of late, Regular Show has made some effort to differentiate Mordecai and Rigby, with episodes like “Wall Buddy” suggesting that Rigby is the real source of their mutual incompetence and that he might even be stifling Mordecai’s full potential. No such interpretation is possible in “Survival Skills,” as the episode opens with both playing video games and ignoring Benson’s lecture about drinking dew. Their distraction extends back through the flashbacks, which paint Mordecai at his selfish worst and Rigby at, well, his selfish average. Their resentment of Benson runs high in this episode, and they spend most of their ill-fated drive back to the campsite mocking his penchant for enraged commands. Although Regular Show has never made any secret of the tension between its heroes and their boss, it’s relatively rare for them to show such unrestrained disrespect, even if the worst things they say occur once they are out of Benson’s sight. Benson is more usually a figure of fear, a capricious dispenser of threats and punishments that Mordecai and Rigby don’t intentionally mean to upset.

After all, look at an episode like “Benson’s Car,” the most recent story built around this particular relationship. There, the damage that Mordecai and Rigby do is strictly of the accidental variety, and the resulting trouble is fundamentally born of their being too scared to tell Benson what really happened. Going further back, “Blind Trust” explored similar territory as tonight’s episode—right down to the woodland setting—but it made it clear that Mordecai and Rigby were trying to do the right thing, even if Benson had trouble believing that. “Survival Skills,” on the other hand, paints the pair as distracted at absolute best, dangerously insolent at worst. Now, it’s hardly unusual for our heroes to ignore what Benson has to say to them; the day those two actually start listening to Benson is the day Regular Show as we know it comes to an end. But that inattentiveness is seldom malicious—it’s just the way Mordecai and Rigby are, for better or more usually for worse—and so it’s striking to see “Survival Skills” push their refusal to pay attention well past the point of absurdity, particularly when the pair’s subsequent reaction is to mock Benson behind his back for daring to anticipate their incompetence.

None of this is a criticism—quite the opposite, if anything. “Survival Skills” aims to make Mordecai and Rigby the butt of its jokes, and it earns that by showing them at their least likable, or, perhaps more accurately, at their hardest to root for. Their time spent wearing tortillas and almost dying in the woods is entirely of their own making, and each gets to show off his own particularly brand of incompetence. For Mordecai, it’s his belief that he knows what he’s doing when he really, clearly doesn’t. It would be going too far to call Mordecai arrogant, because he doesn’t have high enough self-esteem for that, but he’s probably a good example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which incompetent people tend not to recognize their own weaknesses. After all, it would be difficult for Mordecai to not overestimate his own skills when his main point of comparison is Rigby. Mordecai’s miscalculation of his pathfinding abilities is what gets him and Rigby so lost that they have to start eating tree bark, although it should be pointed out that Rigby’s terminal inability to concentrate is what actually leads them to chow down. It’s Rigby who suggests tree bark is surprisingly nutritious, all because he saw it on a television show this once time, and it’s only after their meal that Rigby remembers the precise show was one where the entire point was to eat inedible, probably dangerous non-foods. Plus, he’s the one who didn’t bother to gas up the golf cart, and it’s telling that he would even need Benson to tell him to do that in the first place, regardless of whether he bothered to listen.

Perhaps in an attempt to redress Rigby’s voluminous, episode-specific mistakes, “Survival Skills” makes Rigby the one primarily responsible for remembering Benson’s survival advice. It says something about just how low our heroes go in this episode that the ability to remember basic information plays like it’s their very own superpower. The woodlands sequence is wonderfully absurd, as Mordecai and Rigby use tortillas to make clothes (including nifty sandals), build a shelter, and fashion the torches necessary to fight off monsters (who, again, I’m pretty sure is Thomas). This episode incorporates both main strands of Regular Show’s surrealism, as the obvious craziness of the hallucinatory dream sequence is followed up with the more subtle lunacy of Mordecai and Rigby’s tortilla-centric efforts to survive. The repeated escalation of the pair’s situation makes for some gloriously silly moments, culminating in a tortilla-clad Rigby lying on a tortilla sled, his injured leg wrapped up in a tortilla dressing, using a tortilla pen to write in his tortilla journal about how he doesn’t expect to live much longer. I didn’t quite appreciate just how brilliantly dumb that moment is until I wrote all that out.

Benson mostly makes his presence felt off-screen and in flashbacks here, but it’s intriguing to consider just how he fits into the larger story. The end of the episode reveals that the rest of the park staff was well aware of Mordecai and Rigby’s troubles, but the duo’s frenzied state made it impossible to come to their aid. More tellingly, Benson mentions that backup burgers are on the barbecue, suggesting he knew full well that Mordecai and Rigby would fail in their mission. That tracks with the fact that Benson typed his letter telling the pair what type of tortillas to bring back to the campsite, which suggests he wrote those instructions before he even left for the retreat. Taking that idea to its logical conclusion, Benson knew all along that his employees would mess up, preemptively writing the instructions they would need to navigate out of their latest mistake and stocking up with backup foods for everyone else on the assumption that the pair would still fail anyway. It’s almost as though Benson has been around long enough that he now understands the rules of the Regular Show universe and the demands of the show’s formula, and so he’s willing to let Mordecai and Rigby stumble into their latest misadventure, but he now takes steps to make sure that, even if those two fools must suffer, nobody else has to. That’s a truly weird, wonderful kind of self-awareness.

Stray observations:

  • I’m always a sucker for a good audio joke, and the moment where Mordecai and Rigby’s screams cut out as they disappear behind a hill was most definitely a good one.

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