“Lawnmower Dog” is the pinnacle of the show thus far, and the fact that it hit so early in the run is both a little daunting, and tremendously reassuring. After a solid but not quite fantastic pilot, episode two settles in to prove exactly how good Rick And Morty can be, with two terrific plotlines and a climax that mixes the two together without breaking a sweat. (Although there are some crapped pants. It happens. And it’s awful.) What struck me most while rewatching it for this review is just how utterly natural all of this seems, as though it’s perfectly reasonable and pretty much the norm for a new series to hit its groove so soon. There are character-dependent jokes throughout (most of what Jerry does is funny not just because of itself, but because we already know what a putz Jerry is), and the cleverness and speed of the storytelling never really lets up. It’s fast without ever being overwhelming, and Rick’s jokes about Inception to the contrary, most everything that happens basically makes sense.
Well, okay, maybe it’s unusual that Rick and Morty are able to “incept” themselves into dream figures who theoretically don’t exist outside of Mr. Goldenfold’s dream—you can’t really have a dream life if you’re not real, can you?—but that’s a gag in and of itself. The explanation Rick offers is that each successive dive brings them deeper into Goldenfold’s subconscious, which, hey, that’s reasonable. And even if it wasn’t, this kind of comic invention doesn’t need to pass an airtight logic test; it only needs to maintain internal consistency, which the episode does quite handily. Even more impressively, the dream levels get more interesting the deeper our heroes go. First, there’s a standard empowerment-fantasy sequence, with Goldenfold wooing one of his favorite actresses on a plane, before fighting to save her and everyone’s lives against Rick and Morty’s “terrorists.” Then, when Rick and Morty jump into Ms. Pancake’s head, they end up in a perverse sex-orgy dungeon-party thing, which makes sense in that it’s something you’d probably bury deeper into your mind (especially when part of the party features one of your under-age students in lingerie), and plus, where else would your grimy sex fantasies end up but locked behind your fantasy woman?
So yeah, this is all very smart, delightfully inventive stuff, while still making time for the sort of squirm-inducing weirdness that gives the show it’s texture. Like, say, Rick’s immediate willingness to strip down to blend in at the sex club, or “Summer’s” predatory avatar—poor Morty’s evident shock and disgust is constant throughout, and the sheer amount of therapy he’s going to have to go through if he ever wants to survive the psychological damage his grandfather has done to him is staggering. Then they go deeper by incepting a centaur guard, and find themselves trapped in a Freddy Krueger-esque boiler room nightmare, where they run into, as Rick puts it, “some sort of legally safe knock-off of an ‘80s horror character with miniature swords for fingers instead of knives!” Scary Terry (who says bitch a lot, bitch) initially comes off as a one note gag, a Freddy-parody so thin you can read a newspaper through differences, but after mocking the character’s shallowness, the episode digs in deeper. Terry has a home life, and a family, and he’s stressed, so Rick and Morty incept him, find out he’s struggling with memories of high school humiliation, and stand up for him so that he wakes up willing to help them in their problem.
That description reads odd, and the scenario is clearly a riff on clichéd high school nightmares (he has no pants and his teacher humiliates him); it’s not as though Scary Terry, who going by the story’s logic is really just a figment inside a figment inside a figment, is a richly complex and tragic figure. It’s silly to think that a Kruger-like monster really could be, bitch. Yet the episode manages to poke fun of the concept while still finding legitimate catharsis in having Rick and Morty team up with the boogeyman. To manage to be pessimistic, violent, chaotic, and somehow sincere all at once is a pretty neat trick, and so far, Rick And Morty has managed to pull that off consistently.
“Lawnmower Dog” also introduces one of the show’s strongest running gags: Rick’s overly complicated mad science-based approach to problem solving. The family dog, Snuffles, isn’t as obedient as Jerry wants him to be, so Jerry demands Rick come up with an answer. Rick gives the dog a helmet that makes him a bit smarter; but while Rick and Morty are off risking their lives just so Morty can get better grades in Math, Snuffles decides to make some adjustments to his helmet, eventually turning himself into a super genius in a walking robot body who pops into Summer’s bedroom in the middle of the night and demands (calmly) to know where his testicles are. Thus begins the war of Dog and Man, which mostly turns out to be another inception Rick cooked up at the last minute to try and undo the mess he (would never admit he) made.
The sense of invention that drives the episode—the way each new development builds on top of everything that came before it so that you have what looks like the end of free humanity and dogs ruling the world (check out the shot of the dumpster full of testicles) and it’s perfectly reasonable—that’s brilliant. The fact that the story makes moderate to full use of its entire main ensemble is great as well; instead of Jerry rediscovering his masculinity, it’s just jokes about him being a schmuck, which work quite well on their own. (Part of the reason Summer and Beth seem so under-developed is that neither of them spring from a particularly fertile comic archetype; Beth is just “wife who is way too good for her husband” and Summer is just “dippy teen,” and those aren’t very distinctive. Admittedly, Jerry’s “pathetic guy” isn’t breaking any new ground, but the character is far more lived-in at this point.) And again, there’s that weirdly unexpected moment of… I want to say heart, but that’s probably going to far. Regardless, after Rick’s final inception plan works, Snowball (“Snuffles” was his slave name) and the other intelligent dogs decide to leave Earth for another dimension to make their own world. Before they go, the dog and Morty exchange a tearful goodbye. It’s basically just a riff on E.T., but it’s not an entirely subversive one, not even after Jerry starts crying because, Beth points out, he’s thinking of Old Yeller. “Lawnmower Dog” is no “Jurassic Bark,” but it is hilarious, creative, and an incredibly promising start. Bitch.
I’m sure you all are too smart to need this, but the episode title is a reference to The Lawnmower Man, a goofy 1992 horror/sci-fi movie about a mentally handicapped groundskeeper (Jeff Fahey) who becomes an technologically enhanced cyber genius. I saw it in theaters, mainly because it (briefly) had Stephen King’s name attached.
“I thought the whole point of having a dog was to feel superior, Jerry. I wouldn’t pull that thread.” -Rick
“Inception made sense!” -Morty (and me, dammit.)
“You avoid getting shot all the time, Morty!” -Rick
“I should call Bob Saget! Is that still a thing?” -Jerry
“Let’s make an intergenerational sandwich.” -dream Summer, ew ew ew
“You think you can control me with a haircut?” -Jerry, as ever not quite getting it
“Sex is sacred!” -Scary Terry
- Oh, and the bit with Rick deciding that he and Morty should just hide, despite the fact that Scary Terry insists that they can’t hide, is great, bitch.