The two plotlines of “Something Ricked This Way Comes” play like dramatic re-enactments of the sort of conversations nerds always get into, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It’s most obvious in the episode’s A-story: Summer gets a job at a store run by the Devil (voiced by Alfred Molina, who just the right mix of soothing and vaguely diabolical), and Rick decides to fuck with him, because when it’s science versus magic, Rick is going for the nuclear option. Translating this into nerd-speech, it’s a question about all those magical shops in shows and movies and books where a person can buy something they think they’ve always wanted, but it turns out they get more than they bargained for. Ha. Mwaha. Mwhahahahaha. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
There are assumptions genre stories need to make in order to arrive at their conclusion. Like, say, the “Time Enough At Last” episode of The Twilight Zone, in which poor Burgess Meredith survives nuclear war only to break his glasses, which means he can’t read any books, which was the only thing really keeping him going. It’s a gut-punch of an ending, but to get the full effect, you have to stop yourself from thinking through the rest—like, how we don’t know the full scope of the damage, and if books survived than maybe there’d be other glasses somewhere, and maybe other people, and what was he going todo for food anyway, just read until he starved to death? It’s not that these questions ruin the ending, but they do make it less immediately powerful; complexity often diffuses strong emotion. Whenever a story (like Stephen King’s Needful Things, explicitly referenced in the episode because that’s the name of the Devil’s shop) wants an ironic punishment, it needs you to believe in an open-and-shut world. No second chances. No loopholes. Just hubris and suffering.
Enter Rick, the human loophole, and the exact kind of person to start deconstructing a shop full of potentially deadly answered wishes, just because he can. “Ricked” once again puts Summer in the lead, and to great effect; as Rick’s efforts to tear down Mr. Needful’s poorly considered business plan prove increasingly effective, Summer just becomes that much more determined to make sure the Devil has his due. She’s smart and resourceful, and while that doesn’t really mean that she “beats” Rick, the conflict wasn’t ever the point. The specifics here are less interesting than the way Rick and Summer’s arguments serve to bring them closer together. I’m not sure I’d call an episode that ends with two of its characters bulking up to beat the shit out of the guy who wronged one of them “overly sentimental,” but again the show has demonstrated that Rick, while batshit and a prankster and not someone you should trust with your car keys, is… well, I’m not going to say “good at heart,” but he’s not a caricature, and neither is Summer. Rick’s efforts to bring down the Devil’s store are a very funny way to mock some time-honored genre cliches. But Summer’s response enriches the jokes, allowing a potentially one-note situation some gratifying depth.
Morty and Jerry’s visit to Pluto is less satisfying. The premise isn’t bad: Morty needs help on a science fair project, Jerry demands in, decides they should make a model of the solar system, and then gets super upset when he finds out Pluto is no longer a planet. Jerry refuses to accept this because doing so would mean that he was wrong, and some stuff happens and then father and son wind up on Pluto, because the rich Plutonians have a real big investment in believing they’re a planet again. It’s a riff on climate change deniers: when the truth is that unsettling, people would much rather pretend they can make it go away by listening to an idiot.
That’s not bad, and it’s nice to see Morty and Jerry get some bonding time together, but the storyline lacks a energy, and there aren’t a lot of jokes in it beyond the inherent absurdity of what’s happening. Jerry’s decision to finally tell the truth and redeem himself by getting beat up and sent back to Earth is fine, and the final chat between him and Morty at the end is satisfying, but the whole thing never escalates the way the show’s best subplots do. The Plutonian culture isn’t striking; they look like goofy kid’s toys, and the names (King Flippy Nip, Scruppy Nuppers) sound like something a toddler might say, but that’s about it. Finding out the King’s son was the scientist trying to bring the truth to the masses was a twist designed to play into Jerry’s guilt over turning on his son, but there was little kick to it, and Jerry’s journey from insecurity to egotist to asshole father to okay father had no real kick.
I’m also not quite sure what to make of Rick and Summer’s “lets work out for a while and then go beat the Devil up” plan, so yeah, that’s where the grade comes from. They can’t all be winners, you know? It’s either that, or I purposefully dropped a couple letter grades down because you all needed to learn a hard lesson that grades don’t mean a whole lot, and you need to get over this part of your life. The grade part. “Ricked” is a shaggy kind of episode that doesn’t quite pull together by the end, but Summer’s work to help the Devil is pretty great, and it establishes an impressively broad baseline of reality for the series as a whole. Stuff is just possible here, if it’s convenient for the writers for it to be possible. Roll with that.
- I may also be grading slightly harder because the bit about the butter-serving robot is one of my favorite jokes the show has ever done, and it happens in the first three minutes. No way can the rest of the episode compete. (“What is my purpose?” “Passing butter.” “Oh my god.” “Yeah, welcome to the club, pal.” That’s like the entire show! In one exchange!)
- After Curse Purge Plus successfully puts Needful Things out of business, Rick doesn’t have much reason to go on. Which he demonstrates by torching the place the second owning a business becomes even remotely difficult. This is probably my second favorite joke, as the speed with which Rick just decides to start dumping gas everywhere (with people still inside) is perfectly timed.
- Morty, trying to explain to Rick why he shouldn’t use the word “retarded:” “I think that the word has become a symbolic issue for powerful groups who feel like they’re doing the right thing.”
- “Your sister’s boss gave me a microscope that would make me retarded.” -Rick
- “Is there a company hiring teenagers that isn’t evil?” -Summer for the win.
- I was going to point out that we have no idea what Summer and the Devil’s new company, n33dful.com, actually does, but that’s pretty much the joke.
- Okay, I laughed at “Plutanamo Bay.”
- “Because sometimes what you really need is someone else to pay a horrible price.” -Summer, getting some revenge.
- I hope the Devil comes back someday.
- The post credit teaser has Rick and Summer beating up some more jerks. It’s heartwarming.