Holy shit, Atlantis motherfuckers! I mean, I know I’ve been hyperbolic about this show in the past, but no joke, watching Rick and Morty take a trip under the sea was the best possible thing that could’ve happened to me, or you, or any sentient creature with the ability to process visual and aural stimuli. It’s been kind of a rough week, I won’t lie, but those 20-some odd minutes of aquatic innovation more than made up for everything. Honesty, I’m sort of at a loss. I don’t know how I could possible review any of that. I can barely describe it. My brain is still tingling. Atlantis! Who would’ve thought they’d ever go to Atlantis.

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Aw man. Jeez. Actually… dammit, I don’t really know where to start. I guess I could just, I dunno, pretend something else happened? Like, some way to contrast utter, mindboggling brilliance by describing that was also brilliant but at least, y’know, exists in a framework that we can recognize, if not entirely—not buying it? You’re not buying any of this. Fine. Sometimes I try to put a little effort into these, is all.

So: our Rick and Morty spend all of “The Ricklantis Mixup” having adventures in Atlantis, where Morty gets some “mermaid puss” (he’s hoping it’ll be a regular thing) and Rick does whatever the hell Rick does, which probably involves stealing some fancy science thing and/or heavy drugs. While they’re off having fun, we’re stuck checking in with the new and improved Citadel Of Ricks, rebuilt after our Rick murdered everyone in the season premiere. And things get complicated. It all comes together quite nicely in the end, but this is one of those tightrope episodes where I spent most of the time waiting for someone to fall.

Let’s try and unpack this, shall we? Even getting the names right is going to be a trip. The Citadel Of Ricks was introduced back in the show’s first season: It’s a place where Ricks and Mortys from the multiverse go to live to be with other people who understand exactly what they’re going through at all times. An extrapolation of infinite universe theory combined with a parody of the comic book trope of benevolent galactic organizations watching us from afar, the Citadel was the sort of “let’s push this to its logical conclusion” idea that the show had already made its hallmark. It worked in season one because it didn’t overstay its welcome, and because the episode was mostly about distinguishing our Rick and Morty from the rest of them.

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As concepts go, it’s both incredibly clever and damnably hard to make work as a narrative device. Coming up with myriad iterations on your two main characters (and it’s only Ricks and Mortys at the Citadel, which means if you don’t like Justin Roiland’s voice, you’re fucked) without ever repeating yourself or stretching plausibility past all hope of return isn’t a challenge for the faint of heart. “The Ricklantis Mixup” more or less solves this problem by not worrying much about plausibility at all. Once you accept that the multiverse is possible, that there are a near infinite (or just infinite) number of possible versions of Rick and Morty, then you have to roll with it. This is a show that had a world full of talking pizza. (And yes, I realize I’m underselling the weirdness of that gag.)

That’s fine as far as it goes, but you push this too far and it becomes difficult to tell a compelling story in the span of twenty-something minutes. Because no matter how bizarre the show’s reality gets, it still needs to work as a TV show; it still needs to have a recognize narrative with beginning, middle, and end, and it still needs to have stakes and character conflict. Artistic freedom in a narrative form can only elaborate as far out a its inherent structure allows.

“The Ricklantis Mixup” solves this problem by using the bizarre, mind-melting weirdness of the new Citadel to go through a handful of plotlines that, stripped of their strangeness, are all pretty familiar. We have a rookie cop on his first day at work with a grizzled, bigoted partner who might also be corrupt; we have a group of boys going on a very Stand By Me-style coming of age quest; we have a factory worker cracking under the pressure of a dehumanizing job and holding his workplace hostage; and we have an underdog politician who, it turns out, might not be such an underdog after all. The fact that these stories are all populated by various Ricks and various Mortys doesn’t alter the trajectory of these plots. It means the clichés are joke instead of just clichés.

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And it works, although if I’m being honest, I’ll admit that for a while, I was trying to decide if maybe the show had finally made the mistake of disappearing up its own ass. That’s always a risk with something this self-aware and determined to resist being predictable. I was impressed by the inventiveness—ah, so the grizzled cop is actually a Morty who hates other Morties, and there’s a creepy pseudo-strip club where Mortys dance; and hey, that factory the worker holds hostage makes wafer cookies flavored with the happiness of a simple Rick appreciating his daughter—but without the core bitterness or insight that runs through the show’s best mindfuck episodes, this was fun but maybe just a tad indulgent.

Yet this does all connect together in a very satisfying way, with the return of the other important figure from that season one Citadel episode: the Evil Morty. The character has been gone long enough that his return here has weight. It’s not hard to guess where the Morty for president story is going, but that doesn’t make the resolution any less satisfying, and the way that resolution more or less ties everything into one big, funny/creepy finale rescues the episode from just being an extended goof. Evil Morty is such an odd concept that it’s thrilling to know the writers haven’t abandoned him, and he might even provide something the show is going to need at some point in the future: a threat beyond Rick and Morty’s inherent dysfunctional natures.

That’s for later, though. For right now, what matters is the playful, unexpected worldbuilding that risks collapsing under the weight of its ambition but manages to stick the landing. The technical bravado is impressive, and the fact that this ultimately just managed to make our Rick and Morty seem that much more distinct and important may be the neatest trick of them all. It would’ve been nice to see Atlantis, though*.

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Stray observations

  • Man, the Citadel got rebuilt fast. Although that’s how the extrapolation works; if you have portal guns and a gaggle of super geniuses, shit will get done.
  • There’s a Snape-esque Rick at Morty Academy. Or at least, there was before President Morty shut the place down. There is also a Willy Wonka-esque Rick, although he’s dead now.
  • Okay, so the fact that all the Ricks and Mortys are supposed to be the same age means that even if there’s a multiverse, everything exists on the same timeline? It’s hard not to overthink this stuff.
  • “Think of him as a ‘drug lord’ and us as cops on his payroll.” Even when grizzled, a Morty isn’t all that clever.
  • “I wish incest porn had a more mainstream appeal.” -glasses wearing Morty
  • *-that’s a joke, I’m joking, no one cares about Atlantis.

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