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On Rick & Morty, dragons are more trouble than they're worth

Illustration for article titled On Rick & Morty, dragons are more trouble than they're worth
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Well, this is sad: I just got the pun in the title. The “Ricktim’s” is what threw me. Without the context of the rest of the episode, with its emphasis on soul-bounding and slut dragons, the joke was just too much of a stretch for my old man brain. It’s a good bit, though, for an episode that’s… hm. Well, on the plus side, Rick did not destroy an entire planet in order to stop his grandson from successfully pitching a Netflix series. So that’s nice.


So, Morty wants a dragon. He’s never going to be a genius, but he’s at least learned to try and demand some kind of recompense for the hell Rick puts him through, and before tonight’s episode begins, he managed to get his grandfather to promise to give him a dragon if Morty would follow through on helping him get a certain kind of crystal. (The crystal turns out to be purple, so fuck that. Sorry Chachi.) Rick does his best to weasel out of the deal but only succeeds in crashing his ship—and once Beth finds out about the arrangement, it’s more or less a done deal.

That’s not a bad set-up for a story. The biggest potential drawback would be familiarity—the show has done “Morty thinks something is going to be cool, ignores Rick’s advice, and it turns out Rick was right” many times before, and on a macro level, that’s basically what happens here. After he gets some fun flying time, Morty realizes having a dragon is way more uncomfortable trouble than its worth, and by the end of the half hour, he’s ordering Balthromaw off his lawn and out of his life forever. What makes this work, and what also makes it kind of icky, is in the details. Balthromaw isn’t a bad “pet” because he’s evil or dangerous or even boring. He’s bad because “soul-bonding” is a very thin metaphor for fucking, and things get really uncomfortable, really fast.

Look, I don’t know about this one. It’s pretty funny, and I admire how relentlessly the episode commits to the gag. Weirdly, it reminded me of that Simpsons bit that had Bart saying he “faked it” when Homer used to push him on the swings. If you watched that scene and thought “This is funny, but what I actually want is about fifteen minutes of this sort of thing where it just really, really doubles down on the idea, just really luxuriates in the subtext until it is pretty much literally text,” well, you’ll enjoy this. If you didn’t, it might be a little rough. I enjoyed having an episode of Rick & Morty that was off-putting for reasons that had nothing to do with violence, and I definitely laughed at a couple of the jokes, but I’m also not sure it entirely works.

The Simpsons joke was funny because it was shocking, and because it took something that was true about the relationship between the characters—Homer was feeling betrayed because Bart had replaced him, and Bart wanted him to feel bad about that betrayal to cover for his own guilt—and tweaked it just enough to make it into something else. The “soul-bonding” jokes here have shock value and not much else. Rick’s friendship with Balthromaw feels legit; it’s well-observed, fits with what we know about Rick, and for a while, it looked like this was going to turn into some kind of battle for the dragon’s attention between Rick and Morty. But once the phrase “slut dragon” pops up, the whole thing goes off the rails as a relationship metaphor. Hell, once Morty, Rick, and Summer find the cave of the slut dragons, it seems to stop being a metaphor at all.

All of which isn’t automatically bad; I don’t need episodes to be based on deep emotional truths to be entertaining and funny. But it just seems kind of lazy here. There are laughs in just how far the concept gets pushed, and some of them are pretty great, but it also ends up getting weird in a way that doesn’t really go anywhere. They don’t even do much with Rick suffering the dragon’s injuries. By the time Bathlormaw is begging Morty for a “quick hand bond,” the whole thing has more than overstayed its welcome (something Morty himself acknowledges). It’s fine, but it feels like the absolute least interesting direction to take either Rick’s connection with the dragon, or him briefly being in a realm where his knowledge of science can’t save him.


That last bit is especially odd. After making it a point to set up that Rick’s technology doesn’t work in magic land, and then having Morty actually knowing useful shit for once, the episode does nothing basically nothing with this. Rick’s figured his way through the problem in the space of a commercial break, and while he and Summer manage to fuck things up by ignoring Morty later in the episode, it has no real consequences and exactly no pay-off. I guess you can argue that’s a joke in and of itself, and that subverting expectations is a big part of the show’s appeal, but this doesn’t really seem to be doing that. Again: there’s humor in just how far the episode commits to its premise. But as a story, it all just sort of sits there.

The subplot with Jerry and the talking cat was great, at least. It’s slight, but the slightness works to its benefit. Jerry finds a talking cat in his bed, they go to Florida for an adventure, the talking cat is kind of a dick. Then Rick scans the cat to figure out what the hell is going on, and what he sees is so horrible that it almost breaks him and Jerry. That’s more or less it, but it works, and it’s good to see Jerry going on an adventure that doesn’t end with him doing something stupid and pathetic. I like the low-key weirdness of it all, and just how resolutely the episode plays the reveal of the cat’s history (which we never see), with Rick wiping Jerry’s mind to protect him from madness, and the cat wandering off to go hook up with the dragon. Both this and the main plot were clever, but the talking cat (!?!) benefited from being short enough to not need to be anything more than that.


Stray observations

  • It’s weird that this batch of episodes is almost over. Waiting two years for this is kind of a bummer.
  • “You know who’s into dragons, Morty? Nerds who refuse to admit they’re Christian.” -Rick (This has the cadence of a cutting joke but it doesn’t really land. Personal taste, really, but Rick being dismissive works better when it feels like it’s based on something that’s kind of true, and this just seems like the cadence of an insult without the insight to make it effective.)
  • Summer is into a show called Ass. It’s like Bones, but they solve “ass-crimes.”
  • Balthromaw had a Duckman lunchbox. Neat.
  • “It takes, like, 78 years to hang a dragon to death.” -Morty
  • “Shadow Jacker, you haven’t come out of your Masturbation Cave in eons!” Okay, that one got me.
  • “He was in my home, where I keep photos of my parents!” -Jerry