The first and most obvious joke of Rick And Morty is that Rick doesn’t act like we’ve been taught to believe brilliant scientists who take their grandchildren through the universe are supposed to act. Rick is not a good role model; he’s callous, drunk most of the time, and exposes poor Morty to any number of horrible situations. In one episode, he destroys planet Earth. This is a good joke, and the show still gets some mileage out of the subversions, but the surprise is gone. It’s not longer a shock when Rick acts indifferent or selfish or obscene. His character is clearly defined now.
That’s a good thing, because it means he is a character, and not just a collection of twists. It leads us to the second joke: that Morty, whose response in most situations not involving sex-bots found in strange alien pawn shops is what most of us would consider the moral, good person response, is more often wrong than not. Morty will see Rick acting some way, get upset about how Rick is being venal or cruel, and he’ll take steps, only to learn (almost too late) that he’s in over his head, and that Rick had the right idea all along.
This has come up a fair number of times this season, and it comes up in tonight’s episode, “Get Schwifty,” when Morty, outraged by Rick’s refusal to help him rescue his family, steals Rick’s portal gun and in doing so endangers the whole world. Then Morty shows up at Bird-Person’s place (Tammy’s still living with him, and I think that’s a nod to last season’s finale, but it’s too late and I’m too tired to check), and Bird-Person gives Morty a wake up call about Rick’s real intentions; about how Rick saved Bird-Person; and about how Rick isn’t such a bad guy, not really.
Which, eh. This half hour is the first real let down of the season—there are enough good ideas to keep it afloat, but there are stretches where the writers turns to absurdity in exchange for telling an effective story, and in doing so, rob the episode of energy and intent. Like that whole thing with Ice-T, which was cute and everything (and the post credits gag was amusing), but had nothing to offer beyond the fact that it was really fucking weird. Weird can be good, but it can’t support a whole entry on its own, not unless the show is going to double down and make everything batshit. Here, we had a surprisingly tired riff on reality show music competitions (the giant floating head judges were swell, but there wasn’t much more to it than that), and a decent b-story about a cult, and that’s about it.
About that b-story: it’s funny seeing how quickly everyone starts following Principal Vagina’s ideas, and I suppose it’s a cutting satire on how we’re often so obsessed with finding reasons in situations beyond our control that we’ll believe just about anything. But Summer’s immediate switch to fully committed cult member didn’t make a lot of sense, given how we’ve seen her behave in the past. She has, after all, gone with Rick and Morty on a few adventures by now, so you’d think her horizons would be sufficiently expanded. Beth and Jerry’s willingness to go along with things for a while because Summer is suddenly respectful and obedient made sense, as did their sudden, bold decision to do the right thing, but man, that joke (with them giving big speeches and declaring their love for each other before winding up under the balloons) took a long time delivering a really obvious pay-off.
And then there’s Rick and Morty, doing their thing. Both music performances were effective, the sort of loopy, improvisatory hip-hop that’s fits in with Rick’s catchphrase obsession, and is also just unusual enough that you can sort of buy it being a hit. But the arc is getting old. Morty’s objections are no longer as understandable as they once were—he’s getting dangerous close to Dana-Scully-in-the-later-seasons when it comes to once again not trusting that Rick knows his shit—and the triumphant resolution was neither earned nor particularly triumphant. There’s a distinct going-through-the-motions to the emotional beats, which is disappointing.
Still, this is an entry where President Keith David is really, really into “getting schwifty,” so it’s not all bad. It’s just more of a placeholder than anything else, and after the highs of the first few episodes this season, it’s probably more of a let down than it ought to be.
- A caveat: my DVR blew a gasket tonight for some reason, and I missed the first few minutes of the episode—I came in when the rabbi was talking to the priest in the church, before Rick and Morty had their first performance. So it’s possible that would’ve changed my take on things, although I’d be surprised. (I did still get the snake/disintegration joke.)
- “Stop saying it like it’s a thing. You made it up.” -Morty
- I still feel like we don’t really know Principal Vagina. What drives him? Apart from his last name.
- Possible reasons for “ascension:” Thief, Goth, Movie Talker.
- “Mr. President, if I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that sometimes you have to not give a fuck.” -Morty