I want to start by acknowledging that “Morty’s Mind Blowers” was terrific—inventive and unsettling and frequently hilarious, and the fact that the show can still surprise is impressive as hell. (To the person who is definitely typing “I figured it out in the first five minutes” right now in the comments, congratulations! You must be fun.)

I also have to express, well, a certain reservation. Not about this episode! No, this was, as mentioned, great. And I think this has been a strong season on the whole; I’ve read criticism that it’s been too dark, and I get that, but it feels like a sort of necessary darkness. To not be dark at this point would be to deny the essential truth of a show whose leads have, on occasion, destroyed civilizations. The fact that it manages to be dark without being completely miserable is, I think, a sign in its favor.

But I’m just wondering how much deeper this particular rabbit hole can go. Self-awareness is ultimately a dead-end street, but it’s the sort of dead-end that tricks the eye; the further you walk, the more there is to comment on or parse out or underline, the more tropes you can mock, the more cliches you can burn for warmth. Some of the best jokes in “Morty’s Mind Blowers” are jokes that serve as self-critique for the show’s own tricks, and while that’s been baked in more or less from the start, it’s the kind of humor that gets uneasy after a while. If these characters become too conscious of the narrative form, then they stop being fictional people living in a story and turn into constructs that offer the writers a chance to point out to us and themselves how smart they are.

Which sounds super harsh of me, actually, and let’s try and contextualize this as much as possible, because I’m not saying this kind of humor is automatically an across the board bad thing. Honestly, one of the big appeals of Rick And Morty has always been the fact that it recognizes the nonsense of classic genre structures but can never entirely escape them. Rick and Morty go through worlds inspired by TV shows or comic books or movies and they (well, Rick mostly) point out how stupid those worlds are, but they are still vulnerable to the effects those worlds have on their lives.

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The danger at this point is that the vulnerability is increasingly less relevant. Last week’s episode ended with Evil Morty (or, as a commenter suggested, “the Rick-est Morty”) triumphant and the Citadel of Ricks entirely under his command. On most shows, that would be a holy shit moment. On this show, there’s a decent chance it’ll never come up again. Not an even chance, I think; the fact that Evil Morty has shown up twice means he’s important enough not to disappear, but who knows.

That’s not really my point, though—my point is that if he does come back, what possible threat can he represent at this point? Rick is more or less a god now, and while there are ways to walk that back, I’m not sure how to do that without cheating or breaking continuity in a non-funny way. The stakes on this show have become basically existential: How can you have a meaningful or remotely happy life when nothing and everything matters at pretty much the same frequency. At one point in tonight’s episode, Rick and Morty inadvertently erase each other’s memories. It’s a bit other shows have done before, but it creates potential suspense, right up until Rick and Morty are on the edge of a suicide pact. Then Summer comes in and we find out the whole thing has happened before, to the point where Rick has worked out instructions to fix everything. It’s a “scenario” on a show where any sort of narrative stakes are rendered largely moot because they’re all scenarios.

Which is also hilarious. “Morty’s Mind Blowers” works, and this season as a whole as worked, because everything I’ve just described is a huge risk that I’m sure the writers are well aware of, and instead of dodging the risk and compromising, they doubled down. Which means instead of a season about, I dunno, Rick’s family rescuing him from jail and lots of betrayals and crazy villains and increasingly predictable resolutions, we get something twisted and weird and funny as fuck and actually kind of moving about what it’s like to be a human in a world where the smarter you are, the easier it is to fuck up everything that matters.

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I worry because I don’t know if it’s possible to keep doing this kind of thing for multiple seasons. Every episode like this one, that burns through a dozen or more Purge-planet-level ideas, sets off the old brain endorphins, but also makes me wonder (because that is more or less my job) how long this can last. To be sure, the sad tale of Mr. Lunas, or yet another “alien who collects other aliens in a zoo,” or Morty Inadvertently Sends That Alien To Hell (through the power of over-thinking it, it’s almost like there’s a theme)—none of this has enough depth to support a full half hour, and it’s a brilliant way to keep the clip show idea alive without resorting to the shame shtick as the past two seasons, even while acknowledging that that’s what they’re doing like some super-smart, self-loathing genius who keeps pointing out how he’s manipulating you into saying nice things about him no matter what you say.

I don’t think this show has completely given up on hope. But I do worry that it’s writing itself into a corner that has a sign that reads “We’ve written ourselves into a corner, ha ha.” I dug the hell out of “Morty’s Mind Blowers,” and I can’t wait to watch it again. I worry that one of my favorite shows is going to burn itself out simply by staying true to itself. It’s a dumb thing to worry about, really.


Stray observations

  • So, blue memories are for Morty’s fuckups or horrible experiences, red was for whenever Rick fucked something up and wanted Morty to forget it. (There was third one as well, but I missed it.) The absolute best of the red ones, and maybe my favorite joke in the episode, was Rick saying “We shouldn’t take things for granite.” (There’s also a later one of Morty beating Rick at checkers.) The reason this season has worked so well despite all my dithering is that the characters have gotten super sharp—which is really the secret to making this work long term.
  • That dude chasing them at the beginning of the episode looked like a riff on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
  • “They don’t all have titles.” —Rick
  • “Hey, how come I was able to see those other people’s memories?” —Morty (Because the joke wouldn’t be funny if he couldn’t.)
  • “They have a hell and it does not look good.” —Rick (I feel like Hell would be “losing your memory but still being able to remember Men In Black 2.”)
  • “It’s a freeform anthology. I’m getting annoyed you’re not hearing that.” —Rick
  • All stories are dead-end streets eventually. I guess the real dead-end was the friends we made along the way. (No, wait.)
  • Credit teaser: There’s a Jerry’s Mind Blowers memory. He let an E.T.-like alien die of heat exhaustion in his car, because Jerry.
  • “You fucked with squirrels, Morty!” —Rick

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