Love potions are gross. For decades—centuries, even—people have told stories about magical concoctions that will win the hearts of the woman or man of their dreams, and the patina of fantasy (or an inability to grasp the finer points of individual rights) always makes it sound sort of romantic and sappy, even if the effort is doomed to fail. Besides, most everyone has been there; even if (hopefully) we haven’t tried to dose the object of our unrequited affections, the desire to want someone who doesn’t want you back is pretty universal. Infatuation makes it harder to see where certain lines are, and the idea that there might be some simple solution that would circumvent all the terrifying, tedious steps of flirtation, conversation, risk, and the ever-present fear of rejection, is mighty tempting. But still: love potions are gross. As Rick points out near the end of “Rick Potion #9,” they’re just roofies with a different name. You aren’t trying to build a relationship with a person you care about, you’re trying to cheat-code your way through their subconscious and turn an individual with agency and personality into an object programmed for fucking. The punchline isn’t that it doesn’t work out; the punchline is that you were a big enough ass to think it could work at all.
In Morty’s defense, he is just a kid, and teenagers don’t tend to have the best sense of perspective when it comes to putting the rights of others ahead of their own throbbing biological urges. And when he demands Rick help him out in his pursuit of Jessica, he has, from a certain perspective, a bit of a point; while the specific request is creepy and gross, Rick has asked a lot out of Morty in the past, and Morty hasn’t had all that much to show for it, apart from still being alive and everything. “Rick Potion #9” is another episode where the story hinges on a family member asking Rick for help, and that help going fantastically awry. It’s a fertile ground for plot, because both the request, and the inevitably horrible result, make sense. There’s a reason “The Monkey’s Paw” is a story that keeps getting retold, and it’s not just because we like gusts of wind that might have been zombies. The promise of a quick fix to our problems is such a powerful lure that the consequences don’t really enter into the decision making process. Morty asks Rick if there’s any potential side effects from the potion, because he’s not a complete idiot; yet if he was thinking clearly at all he’d realize that of course there will be side effects, whatever Rick says. (In this case it’s a “No,” followed by an unheard, “Unless she has the flu.”) But the moment before you make the wish, or grab the potion, or use the mad science that will ultimately lead to the downfall of civilization as we know it, you don’t really care.
The episode starts off on the slow side, if only because it’s initial concerns are so mundane. There’s a school dance coming up, and Morty wants to ask Jessica (even though she’s going out with Brad, the football guy), but he knows he doesn’t have a shot; and Jerry is once again insecure about his marriage. This goes on for a bit, with Rick offering his typically jaded perspective on things (love is “a chemical reaction that causes animals to breed,” and Jerry’s marriage is doomed), and it feels a bit like old ground. Even the love potion is initially sort of a shrug. The fact that it works too well, turning Jessica into a crazed, Morty-obsessed lunatic, is expected, and the way her flu allows her to infect others with the craze, leading almost immediately to an entire school full of Morty-lusting lunatics, is fun, but not as clever as the show has proven itself in the past. The Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” had a similar premise, and while that show used magic instead of animal pheromones, the end result, at least initially, is the same: boy does it suck when everyone wants to fuck you.
Thankfully things get weirder as they go, with Rick trying various solutions that only make things much, much worse. First he creates a planet full of Praying-Mantis/Human hybrids who are still obsessed with Marty, but now want to screw him and then kill him; then he creates a planet full of Cronenberg-type (i.e. hideously deformed, à la Jeff Goldblum in The Fly) monsters that, well, the basic root problem doesn’t go away. The best episodes of Rick And Morty combine sharp, logical plotting with biting humor, so that the jokes develop out of the situation and become funnier in context of the very real stakes. “Rick Potion #9,” while far from bad, doesn’t have that kind of furious rhythm to it, and it’s best moments stand in isolation.
The ending reinforces that sense, albeit in a brilliant, unexpected way. Rick’s made such a mess of things (and, to be fair, Morty never should’ve asked for the potion in the first place; remember that next time, kids, when your hormones entice you to exploit the genius of others) that the only way to save the day is to, well, not. Rick finds a parallel universe in which Another Rick and Another Morty somehow figure out a cure to the crisis; only when they get home after having saved the world to finally finish work on the machine Rick was working on at the start of the episode, it explodes, killing them both, allowing our Rick and Morty to take their place. It’s dark, and the montage at the end of our Rick and Morty burying the bodies of their duplicate corpses is appropriately eerie and funny in its eeriness. But as resolutions go, while it’s effectively unexpected and satisfyingly unpleasant, it’s also completely unconnected to the rest of the story; Rick’s meta comment about how they can only do this sort of thing again “four, five times tops” is the writers acknowledging that this is kind of a cheat. It works because it’s weird, and because we get a glimpse of the “old” universe with Jerry having turned into a badass road warrior type. The credit stinger of the Cronenberged Rick and Morty winding up in our Rick and Morty’s old place is also pretty great, as it’s the kind of thinking-through-a-concept that the show does so well. Overall, the episode was fine, just not quite inspired. There are worse things to be.
- Another week, another subplot about Jerry feeling inadequate. At least this time he got to turn into the road warrior for some reason. Some of the Jerry plots have worked out fine, but the show really needs to start developing the rest of its cast; the joke of “wow, he really is pathetic!” could use a rest for a few weeks.
- I was a little worried how the episode would handle a plot focusing on Morty’s crush, if only because of earlier stories in which the kid’s sexual needs felt weirdly wish-fulfillment-y, but it was fine. Jessica isn’t really a person or anything, but the bit where she aggressively starts rubbing herself all over Morty goes from “Aw yeah” to “Oh dear god” almost immediately. It’s such an effective deconstruction of the short-sightedness of Morty’s goals that it doesn’t feel exploitive in the least.
- “Principal Vagina here. Don’t let the name fool you, I’m very much in charge.”
- “You want good words? Date a languager.” -Brad
- “Careful, Dad. Jealousy turns women off.” “Isn’t that convenient.”
- “You’re not gonna believe this because it usually never happens but I made a mistake.” -Rick
- “Okay, sometimes science is more art than science.” -Rick
- “I’m Mr. Crowbar. And this is my friend who is also a crowbar.” -Jerry
- “I wish that shotgun was my penis.” “If it was, you could call me Ernest Hemingway.” “I don’t get that, and I don’t need to.” -Jerry and Beth, the Nick and Nora of our time.