Here were are the end of season one, with an episode that sits firmly in the show’s comfort zone; nothing remarkable, nothing really envelope pushing, but consistently inventive, funny, and just the right amount of sweetness to set off the sour. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, that’s probably inevitable. After a season that hit the sort of strange wonderful heights this one did, a relatively straightforward finale might seem like a comedown. And yet it serves as a solid and satisfying capper to the show’s initial run of episodes, centering on the relationships between the central characters in ways that confirm and underline that these people really are a family, as clumsy and strange and psychotic as they might occasionally seem.
After last week’s batshit vision of Rick-topia, “Ricksy Business” sticks to a (for this show) technically conventional plot. While Jerry and Beth go off to enjoy a Titanic-themed getaway, Rick is left to babysit Summer and Morty, with strict instructions not to get up to any shenanigans. Beth tells Rick that if anything goes wrong, Rick and Morty won’t ever get to go on adventures together again, and because Beth said it, you know it’s true. (Jerry: “What?”) Things start to go wrong almost immediately, with Summer deciding to throw a wild house party to get in with the cool kids crowd, and Rick deciding to throw his own wild house party, in order to temporarily distract him from the pain of being alive. (It’s subtext.) Morty spends all his time freaking out at both of them. Meanwhile, Jerry and Beth try and enjoy their vacation, although Jerry is way more into it than Beth, so Beth passes him off to an employee named Lucy who is just as much a Titanic fan as Jerry, and is also, ha ha, crazy.
The worst thing you can say about the episode is that the plot doesn’t really build up to anything. At its best Rick And Morty combines a relentlessly questioning intelligence with irreverence and compassion—sometimes one factor outweighs the other, but there’s almost always a crazy, unsettled feeling that everything is ready to spin off the handle at any moment, until it doesn’t. There’s a little of that feeling here, but Rick and Beth’s combined party never escalates into true chaos, not even when Morty inadvertently transports the entire house to a different planet full of giant monsters. The incidents of the wild creativity which has come to define the series are present—most prominently in the form of Abradolph Lincler, a failed experiment by Rick to create the perfect neutral leader by combining the DNA of, well, you figure it out. But these incidents never really combine into anything greater than the sum of their parts. Where other episodes run pell-mell towards an uncertain destination, “Ricksy Business” meanders, snorts some smashed crystals, and does its signature dance without much concern for narrative momentum.
But maybe that’s the point. There’s something refreshing about a show being this comfortable in being itself that can just muck about for a while, content to find pleasure in its own existence without striving for anything more complicated. The Rick Dance is delightful; Abradolph Lincler is pretty great; and the sub-arc of Summer turning her back on her nerdy friend adds to the subtle feeling of homage that pervades the episode as a whole, in ways both obvious (all that Titanic shit, including a ship designed to sink which does not sink) and less than obvious (anybody else get an urge to shout “Go ninja go ninja go!” during the Rick Dance?).
The emotional core of the story is centered, as it so often has been, on Morty’s relationship with Rick. At the start of the season, Rick’s willingness to throw his grandson into danger without any apparent doubt or concern suggested a comedic model of a patsy forever at the whim of a seemingly indifferent martinet. But Morty wasn’t quite as hapless as he initially appeared; learning disability or not, he realizes that his grandfather has a habit of putting him in mind-bendingly terrifying situations, often with no clear reason, and he’s starting to fight back. Much of “Ricksy Business” has Morty getting more and more freaked out by Summer and Rick’s casual disregard for the rules, until it seems like he’s the only one of the group with any real concern for consequences; the irony being that when disaster does strike, it’s because Morty knocks over a transportation device. (Admittedly, he did it because he and Jessica saw Rick’s friend Squanchy “squanching,” i.e. engaging in auto-erotic asphyxiation, so he was under some stress.)
All of this ties together in the end when Morty finally decides that he’s had it; that’s when Rick’s friend Bird Person tells Morty that Rick’s “Wuba-luba-dub-dub” catchphrase is, when translated, a desperate cry for help. It’s a tough moment to sell, and unlike, say, the emotional crux of “Rixty Minutes,” the impact isn’t immediate. There have been signs throughout the season that Rick’s behavior may be indicative of deeper psychological misery than just basic assholishness, and learning that he’s using drugs and partying and general insanity to cover his pain doesn’t come as a shock. But it does suggest a direction the show might move towards next season—not becoming serious, because good lord no, but maybe providing a glimpse or two into Rick’s past, and making him more than just a masterful the Doctor/Bugs Bunny/Woody Woodpecker mash-up.
Regardless, Morty decides he’s going to keep hanging out with Rick a while longer, which leads to the episode’s marvelous closing sequence: Rick stops time to give him, Morty, and Summer a chance to clean up the house, and they bond, and make fun of Titanic together, and Rick says he loves his grandkids. He then immediately tries to back out of it, but whereas at the start of the season, that might’ve seemed bitter and cynical, here, it’s just part of the character’s charm. After all the monsters and cloning and Cronenbergs and civilization-destroying; after “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die.”; after exploding dead hobos and Meeseeks; in the end, it comes down to honest, sincere affection. You hold on to that, and maybe everything will be okay for a little bit longer.
There’s probably a case to be made about how the Titanic storyline mocks a certain kind of reverent fandom that mistakes the effort replicating an experience for the joy of an actual experience in and of itself, but I’ll leave that to someone else. I laughed a lot, especially at Jerry’s bitterness when the fourth wall was broken. (Which Rick goes and breaks for real at the end of the episode.) Lucy was entertaining, and I liked the Cape Fear nod at the end which could also double as a reference to The Simpsons’ “Cape Feare.”
“I love watching bukakke, I mean, like, I don’t know if I personally would ever do it…” -Tammy, uttering maybe the filthiest joke I’ve ever heard on cable? Probably not, but still, wow. (I hope she and Bird Person have fun together, doing… well.)
“The thing people don’t realize about the Gear Wars is that it wasn’t really about the gears.” -Gear Head
“Knock it off, Slow Moebius!” -Rick
“This ship is about to completely miss the giant iceberg.”
Oh Squanchy. You keep squanching, man. You keep doing your thing.
The credit cookie showed that Abradolph Lincler was still alive, although he probably wishes he wasn’t.
- That’s it! Thanks for reading, we’ll be back next year. Wuba-luba-dub-dub.