Rick and Morty has gotten increasingly better animated over the years (and it started off fairly strong, if I remember right), and there were sequences in tonight’s episode that have to rank up with the best stuff the show has done yet; not as wildly creative as the never-ending cavalcade of guest stars from last week’s episode or “Total Rickall,” but in terms of just making action look cool? It’s top notch shit. And it’s not just an excuse to show off, either. The joke when Rick and Morty are escaping Glorzo land and just murdering the hell out of everyone is that, since it’s a guilt-free slaughter (just like Star Wars), they can have a fun time shooting anything that moves. And we can have a fun time watching it. “Promortyus” is an episode in which characters shitting themselves to death onscreen (in order to lay “wet” eggs, and perpetuate the Glorzo circle of life), but it’s never less than a pleasure to watch. The show’s sharp writing tends to get the lion’s share of the credit, but the visuals have always been a big part of its success; that ability to balance the grotesque (which is often a requirement of the humor) without making it overtly horrific or gut-churning, is an impressive bar to hit.
I liked this one better than last week’s. It’s more conventional, but in the best possible way; “Never Ricking Morty” ultimately felt more invested in showing off its own cleverness than in telling a story, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but I’m always going to prefer something that doesn’t work quite so hard to remind us how sharp the writers are. There’s no deep message or theme, apart from reaffirming the essential Rick-and-Morty bond and reminding us that our heroes are kind of shitty, but also kind of defensible, and not really that much worse than we’d be under similar circumstances, provided we just didn’t get instantly killed. But it’s solid in a way I appreciate. There’s at least one terrific surprise, and the central conceit—a culture of face-hugging aliens who, on Summer’s advice, decide to expand their horizons—is a good one. The show has done “alien that takes over other people’s bodies” stories before (well, one at least), but this one distinguishes itself enough to avoid feeling like a retread.
The in media res opening doesn’t hurt. The problem most shows have with over using the “start in the middle of the action, and then flashback later to show how it went down” trick is most times, there’s no effort made to justify its use beyond the obvious meta reason; if you start when everything’s exciting, it’s easier to hook viewers in. But in “Promortyus,” we start with Rick and Morty already taken over because the structure mimics their disorientation. When they get free, they don’t remember anything beyond seeing the egg, and so we learn about the Glorzo situation along with them, including the fact that Morty’s face-hugger was apparently a genius, and Rick’s led him into being a kind of pseudo-Alex Jones type. (Albeit one who is later revealed to… well, not have a point, exactly, but at least be describing an actual reality. Also, he’s motivated by love.)
When our heroes escape, we get to enjoy their killspree with a guiltless conscience, right up to and including the Pearl Harbor bit. But it’s okay, they don’t do a 9/11, because it’s still too soon. (The reveal of the “twin towers” in the alien city just after Morty and Rick finish talking about how much of a blast they’re having is one of the episode’s best jokes.) And honestly, even in the latter half, when they come back and murder everyone again but we’re maybe supposed to feel a little bad about it, I didn’t. I mean, I did wonder why Rick hadn’t figured out a way to knock the face-huggers off and free the people wearing them, but since nobody else was going to bring that up, I decided to just not think about it. This is not a show for anyone who gets upset about fictional collateral damage. (It helps that the rampant death always feels like it’s part of the gag, even if it isn’t specifically acknowledged.)
The other reason the in media res opening works is that it allows for the episode’s greatest joke, when Rick and Morty are having pancake breakfast and talking about their adventures, and Beth asks where Summer is. This is the best kind of twist, because while there are no clues that it’s going to happen leading up to the reveal, it also makes perfect sense; it’s one of those hiding-in-plain-sight bits, and while I’m sure there are people watching this who saw it coming, I absolutely didn’t. I laughed very, very hard.
The rest of the episode has Rick and Morty returning to the Glorzo home… huh, is it an asteroid? I’m not sure it’s a planet. But whatever, they go back to rescue Summer, and find out she’s face-hugger free and being worshipped as a goddess. We learn via flashback how all this went down (and, cleverly, Summer’s the one who tells the story because she’s the only one who remembers all of it): how Summer’s toothpick affectation protected her from face-hugging long enough to point out to a few of the aliens how their “live 30 minutes, shit out an egg from your host and die” cycle kind of sucked. The aliens decided she was right, and managed to build a civilization in a week or two. Maybe a couple of hours? Time is funny.
The only other new info we learn here is that the reason Morty and Rick got free at the start of the episode was that their face-huggers were actually in love with each other, and wanted to go off and start a family together. There’s a scene where face-hugged-Morty and face-hugged-Rick (Steve and Bruce) make out, and it’s the kind of super uncomfortable vague incest-adjacent (without being actually incest) humor that the show likes to work with from time to time. It works here, stopping just before it gets outright horrible, and also making the beginning, where Rick and Morty wear Steve and Bruce’s corpses around as a disguise, that much funnier in retrospect.
After that, it’s just another escape, this time via a harmonica song that forces the face-huggers to submit to their biological imperatives, a conversation about whether or not our heroes learned anything (I feel like the show has done this bit in the past? It’s come up on The Simpsons before. I think we’ve gotten past the point where characters have to lampshade a lack of lesson in a half-hour comedy script), and a great final joke where Rick and Morty are convinced they’re going to die, but just end up shitting on the rug. Character-wise, this has some nice stuff about the show’s titular characters squabbling all the time but still basically caring about each other, but it’s probably a mistake to take anything that ends in “fart noise” too seriously. But hey, if you want theme, it’s there. And if you don’t, glory to Glorzo, I guess.
- The runner about our heroes almost getting away with an incredibly stupid plan, only to have one of the face-hugger aliens pop up and point out how dumb it is, really worked for me. It’s a kind of self-awareness that mocks convention in order to raise stakes.
- Jerry is into bee-keeping now. One of Summer’s friends is into it, for some reason. I really hope this is a one-off, and not them setting up Jerry having to fend off the advances of a teenager.
- Morty is getting a little too confident talking about his masturbation routines, although hey, at least he’s standing up for himself.
- “Shitting the bed isn’t better than not shitting the bed!”
- “No bad story ends with a cape.”