Oh hey, let’s do an episode about a timeline that’s split in two. No, wait, four. Oh, fuck it, we’ll include eight, 16, 32, and 64 as well, because everybody loves squares, right? But that’s not tricky enough, so let’s start off the story with the instigating incident—namely, the time freeze that kicks off this whole mess—already having happened. Which means we’re assuming the audience remembers last season well enough to grasp the concept without too much explanation. Oh, and we’ll also break up the segments about timeline bifurcation (quadfurcation?) with a b-story that has no science fiction elements in it whatsoever, but still manages to keep up the a-story’s momentum, so that the episode never drags or becomes too fragmented. Yes, that’s right. We’ll do an episode in which one scene has 64 boxes of semi-distinct visual action on screen at once, and somehow it will not be too fragmented.
Welcome back, Rick And Morty. Boy how we’ve missed you.
“Rickle In Time” brings back everybody’s favorite psychotic (sociopathic?) mad scientist grandpa, along with his nebbishy grandson, granddaughter, daughter, and son-in-law; and the episode wastes absolutely no time in jumping straight into the action. The episode picks up after the events of last season’s finale, in which a crazy house party drove Rick to freeze time so he, Morty, and Summer could clean everything up before Beth and Jerry saw the horrible, horrible mess. Six months is a long time to stay on pause, which is what leads to the story’s main crisis: by being out of time for half a year (wait, does that makes sense?), our three heroes are extremely vulnerable to disruption when they jump back into the flow. They can’t touch their parents, but, even worse, they can’t be uncertain about anything. The moment they’re unsure of their place in the universe, all hell breaks loose.
That’s a terrific concept, one which works as both a narrative and psychological device. It establishes rules that the characters have to work within, but those rules have a deeper meaning than just their immediate impact on events. And the episode manages to be consistent with those rules without falling into the trap of becoming too blatant about that consistency. Later in the story, Rick gets the drop on the Testicle Monster (Did he get a name? I don’t think I caught it if he did) by intentionally splitting up the timeline over and over again, shouting about how uncertain he is in order to create dozens of Ricks to beat the shit out of the creature. But the first few breaks are far more subtle. In one, Morty and Summer split because of their actions during a fight; later, Morty throws Rick off, which leads to a terrific sequence of paranoid Rick trying to stop his other selves from killing him.
While the fundamental concept here operates in a consistent, easy to grasp framework, the characters working within that framework never feel like pieces being moved on a gameboard. By now, Morty’s uncertainty about his place in the universe is one of the most consistent aspects of his character, and Summer’s jealousy over her brother’s relationship with Rick was established last season. Of the three of them, Rick, with his lack of scruples and his open contempt for, well, everything, is the most sure of himself, but even he’s vulnerable to the weaknesses of the people he works with, and, ironically enough, to his own self-knowledge. Only Rick would be paranoid enough to think other versions of himself would be trying to kill him, and only Rick would be (sort of) right to think so.
While the incredibly clever (and visually stunning) central gimmick of the episode takes up most of our attention, it’s also impressive how much this episode works to continue the course corrections made over last season’s run. This has always been a good show, but one of its flaws in the early going was that the focus on Morty as nominal protagonist meant that the other members of his family aside from Rick didn’t get much in the way of development. Summer was a predictably snotty older sister, Beth was the supremely capable woman married to a putz, and Jerry was the putz. Most of the early family-centric stories revolved around how much of a putz Jerry was. While the draw of the series was (and is) always going to be Rick’s crazy sci fi adventures, the one-dimensional family stuff was frustrating, albeit odd enough to avoid being a total drag.
That changed by the end of season one, and the change is even more obvious in “A Rickle In Time.” Oh, Jerry’s still a putz, but this episode allows him a win—and more importantly, it allows him a win that lets Beth be the crazy one for once; her obsession with proving herself by saving an injured deer (that Jerry hit with his car) reveals that her uber-competence is cover for a raging, injured ego. Summer is still clearly a teenage girl, but she’s stopped being just a problem Morty has to deal with occasionally, and become a likable, interesting character in her own right. While this episode sticks to one of last season’s typical structures, with Rick and the kids doing crazy shit in the main story while Beth and Jerry have (comparatively) more down to earth time of it in the b-story, it still feels like new ground.
As for that aforementioned gimmick, it’s super cool, and it allows the animators all sorts of chances to stuff in easter eggs for patient viewers with a good pause function on their DVR. It rewards you for paying attention, and the direction does a great job of making sure we understand what’s going on even when we can’t necessarily see every square at once. The story’s direction remains clear. The timelines split, there’s a limited amount of, um, time before everything goes to shit, and just when Rick, Morty, and Summer think they’re saved, the Testicle Monster tells them they’re all going to time jail. So Rick beats the shit out of him, but there are problems fixing everything, and those problems lead to Rick (temporarily) sacrificing his life to save his grandson.
That’s something else the show has developed over time: a surprising amount of heart. Not so much that Rick ever truly softens into a nice guy, and this is still a series where characters are routinely killed, and where Rick did inadvertently destroy most of the people on the old Earth forcing him and Morty to swap dimensions, but there’s a limit to the cynicism. When Rick dives into the void after Morty and saves him at the (apparent) cost of his own life, there’s a moment in which he accepts his fate, and it’s played completely straight. “I’m okay with this. Be good, Morty. Be better than me.” Sure, this makes Rick’s discovery of the second collar (“I’m not okay with this!”) both funnier and more exciting, but the acceptance still lands. Which, really, is this show’s genius in a nutshell. It finds time for absurdity and sincerity, with both enhancing, rather than undermining, the other.
- My only real reservation with the episode is that, while Beth and Jerry’s storyline is a lot of fun, it doesn’t compliment the main storyline. It’s a tricky criticism to make, because I’m not sure I’d want to see the writers start forcing connections, but the result is two plots which, while great on their own, don’t add up to anything more than themselves. A really great entry of the show has multiple plots that tie together in a way that makes them all more interesting.
- Morty: “What kind of monster are you?” Summer: “A competent one.”
- Okay, if time really was frozen, how could Jerry have mildew growing on him? (I guess Summer could’ve been lying.)
- The running gag about Mr. Benson falling of his roof is neatly done. Somehow, the fact that he survives the fall (only to be apparently crippled) makes it funnier.
- Coldstone Creamery will do anything for its customers. ANYTHING.
- Rick: “We’re entirely like a man capable of maintaining a platonic relationship with a physically attractive co-worker. We’re entirely hypothetical.”
- Rick: “If I die in a cage, I lose a bet.”
- The post credit scene has Testicle Man and a friend track down someone who looks like Rick and beat him up. The someone is Einstein. And now you know the rest of the story.