Of all the relationships established in Rick And Morty’s first season, Beth and Jerry’s troubled marriage was the least promising. Pairing a self-pitying manchild with a control freak, uber-compotent, probably-too-good-for-him woman has been a comedy staple for decades now, and while this particular version pushed that scenario almost to the breaking point, it still didn’t seem to yield much in the way of results. Watching Rick and Morty and (eventually) Summer galavanting around the galaxy was the pull; watching Jerry and Beth have the same fight again, only to realize at the last minute that maybe they really are right for one another (in a way which nearly, but not entirely, transcends the dysfunction that brought on the fight in the first place), was cute, but had the potential to get real old, real fast.
Here we are over halfway through season two, and the scenario is still running. “Big Trouble In Little Sanchez” has Rick dropping his daughter and son-in-law off on Nuptia 4 at the universe’s greatest marriage counselor, and once again we see the two of them square off against one another, only to realize in the end that their particular brand of awfulness might actually make for a good fit. I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, this premise is still sort of flat to me, if only because the show returns to it so regularly. The Simpsons goes to the “Homer fucks up, has to save his marriage” well on a regular basis, but at least in the show’s heyday, that didn’t happen every week. Plus, the fights between Homer and Marge, and most other fictional couples on TV shows that go through this back-and-forth, are rarely as damaging as Jerry and Beth’s blow-ups. Divorce gets mentioned here, and it can’t be the first time.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the way the show takes such a trite concept and pushes it to its absolute extremes. Beth and Jerry are both deeply screwed up, and the fact that the continued existence of their marriage might be a factor in why they’re so screwed up makes those otherwise tidy resolutions play just a bit more subversive than they might have otherwise. After all, the counselor they meet tonight (Glaxo Slimslom, voiced by Jim “the Dean” Rash) literally tells them they have the worst relationship he’s ever seen, and he’s presumably seen quite a few. It feeds into the show’s thrilling, unsettling, and oddly inspiring core philosophy: that happy endings are really just a temporary stay of execution, and “healthiness” is just a lie we tell when all that really matters is whether we’re breathing, and for how long.
That’s a factory in the episode’s other storyline (which is not, as Rick himself points out, thematically connected to the counseling one), where Rick puts his consciousness into a teenage clone of himself and proceeds to go all Teen Wolf on Morty and Summer’s high school. He’s a huge success (one of the better gags is that everyone involved knows that he isn’t actually a real teenager, and no one cares), but being in the young body has him pushing his bad thoughts away, to the point where he keeps coming up with excuses to stay a kid, even as his old man body dies in a vat in the garage.
I’ll be honest: this concept is a little too, well, conceptual for me, in that it relies purely on Summer’s explanation of teen psychology, an explanation that I’m not sure I entirely buy. (I’m pretty sure at least half off my adolescence was spent feeling miserable about pretty much everything.) The execution is swell, as Rick’s subconscious mind keeps trying to find ways to get the message out, but without a more grounded conflict, the result lacked needed tension. It was great to see Summer getting a chance to solve things, though, and Rick’s brutal destruction of his other stored clones was a decent pay-off.
While the underlying relationship problems that drove Jerry and Beth’s story weren’t new, the fact that the marriage counselor took those problems and made them literal flesh was a great twist, creating immediate, thrilling consequences for a familiar conflict. Nothing is resolved, really, but on a show like this, little ever will be; people change in small shifts if they change at all, which means that writers still have access to the same conflicts if they need them to drive plots. Fingers crossed that we’ve seen the last of Beth and Jerry squabbling for a while, though, if only because it’s hard to imagine another episode topping the sight of a crazed alien bitch queen using Beth’s mind to generate a horde of giant, submissive slugs to take over the universe. Ah, love.
- I was half expecting Glaxo to show up at the end and explain the whole thing had been part of their therapy. Probably for the best that this didn’t happen.
- The Tiny Rick story is kicked off by the discovery of a vampire at Morty and Summer’s school. The vampire stuff happens entire off screen (alas, poor Coach Feratu) until the post-credits tag, when a newly raised vampire king gets annoyed by his disciples choice of names.
- Hey, Jessica’s back! And she’s exactly like she’s always been. As much as we’ve gotten to know the Sanchez family, this is not a show that worries about developing its secondary characters.
- “Oh dear god no. They’re co-dependent! Run!” -Glaxo
- “Get your shit together.” -Morty (a quote doesn’t really do the whole weird “shit getting” speech justice.)
- Summer saves the day by forcing Rick to listen to Elliott Smith.
- “Let me out! Let me out! This is not a dance!” -the Tiny Rick dance