Image: Adult Swim

When Morty referenced his long-standing crush on Jessica in last week’s episode, I remember thinking, “Oh right, I forgot about that.” For the first five episodes of season three, Morty’s school life had been completely ignored. Of course, the show has had bigger problems to address, like the fallout from Beth and Jerry’s divorce, and Rick turning himself into a pickle, but it was nice to see Morty in class again. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before he’s accosted by Rick for an adventure that he swears will only take 20 minutes.

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This is the first of many tricks the episode plays on us in the first five minutes. We know the journey will last a lot longer, but what we don’t expect is for things to fast forward six days until the pair have apparently gone through one of their most brutal brushes with death yet. With Morty in tears, and both hyperventilating, they head to a luxurious space spa for a nice detox. When Rick is rude to a worker at the spa, we see the two vanished to a murky garbage world, which Rick initially believes is the result of the worker getting revenge on him. During this short scene, Rick is a bigger prick than usual, and Morty is more timid than usual. Soon after, Rick realizes that the Rick and Morty that we’re seeing are actually the toxins that were removed from their bodies. The actual Rick and Morty walk out of the detox machine feeling good as new, and Rick apologizes for his rudeness. The fact that Toxic Rick is really only a little more toxic than Rick normally is speaks to what a prick he’s been lately, which the writers apparently realize.

Devoid of their toxic aspects, Rick and Morty go through a bit of a role reversal. Rick is less ambitious and more relaxed, while Morty, devoid of his insecurities, develops a take-charge attitude. He quickly becomes massively popular and finally gets a date with Jessica. In an amusing twist, by the time their date comes along, he becomes so confident that he loses interest in her, and doesn’t seem to care when she decides to leave their date early. It’s enjoyable to see Morty free from his anxiety, even if, in true Morty fashion he takes things a bit too far. Some of the episode’s best humor comes when he picks up Stacy, a woman about twice his age at the bar who gets some of the best lines of the show (“Is this a sex dungeon? I should have been paying more attention”). After the ending of last week’s episode, many noticed that Morty was acting more like Rick, and indeed, free of his toxins, he shares his grandfather’s ambition, and it becomes clear that for all the problems Morty often has, he is weighed down by his sense of self-doubt more than anything else.

The good times can’t last forever, because Toxic Rick naturally thinks of a way to reach Non-Toxic Rick, telling him that he wants to merge back together, when really, he wants to kill Rick and cover the world with toxicity. Toxic Morty is pretty much a useless insecure mess, while Toxic Rick is a bigger super-genius than ever before without any of his conscience to weigh him down. Morty is brought down by his toxic aspects, but Rick is propelled by them. What’s really striking is that Toxic Rick and Toxic Morty are much closer to the Rick and Morty we see every week, while the de-toxified versions are radically different. Rick is normally an egomaniac who might be pure evil, and Morty is normally a timid sap who doesn’t want to rock the boat (although that has changed a bit this season). Toxic Rick and Morty just seem like an exaggerated version of who they normally are, or what they might be like if the show ever suffers the effects of Flanderization. If you’ve ever thought that both of the main characters are just kind of awful, this episode certainly supports that viewpoint.

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But hey, the pair still have to save the day. In an amusing scene, Toxic Rick covers the world in toxic goo, which results a preacher abruptly telling his congregation that God is a lie, and a children’s entertainer telling some kids at a birthday party that there’s no Santa Claus (apparently, it kicks in right away). When the toxic and non-toxic iterations of Rick and Morty meet up, the two Ricks combine together, and Regular Rick is back (yes, he actually says “REGULAR RICK!” as this happens), but Morty escapes, not wanting to have his toxins tying him down anymore. It’s a reasonable choice, since he’s now fully aware of how much that aspect of his personality has limited him. He takes off and becomes a stockbroker and apparently, his confidence makes him absolutely ruthless, so he naturally rises to the top quickly. This begs the question that if Morty’s toxins were removed, wouldn’t that ruthlessness have been removed along with it? Or maybe that aspect of his personality didn’t exist until his timidness was taken away? Eh, whatever, it’s a small gripe, and I was having too much fun to really care.

Morty is tracked down thanks to a call from Jessica (he correctly guesses that Rick is behind it), and things go back to normal. “Rest And Ricklaxation” was the best episode so far in a season that’s been full of strong efforts. The multiple misdirections in the first few minutes recall some of season two’s best moments, and the question of how Rick and Morty would act without their worst qualities is fascinating, and leads to some insightful exploration of their characters. The episode never directly mentions that Rick and Morty are more or less defined by their toxic qualities, leaving the audience to realize that for ourselves. If “Vindicators 3: Return Of Worldender” was a bit heavy-handed in making the “Hey, Rick sure is a jerk, huh?” point, this episode’s observations about its titular characters are far more subtle, and the show is better off for it (although for the record, I enjoyed the Vindicators episode, too).


Stray observations

  • Thanks to Zack for letting me fill in while he’s on vacation. He’ll be back for the next show, which will apparently be in two weeks.
  • “My entire body feels like a baby’s ass.”
  • “SEA CUCUMBER! SEA CUCUMBER!”
  • After his starring role last week, Jerry is once again nowhere to be found. It’s really starting to look like he might be done as a primary character.
  • Thought it was interesting that Toxic Rick actually does care about Toxic Morty. So… caring about Morty is part of Rick’s toxic qualities? Or is it just that even in his toxic iteration, he retains a bit of humanity? (Edit: Okay, a few of you have pointed out that they explain this in the episode, and that Rick considers it to be one of his toxic qualities. My bad for missing that (or at least not remembering it when I was writing the review).

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