And so Rick And Morty does its first sequel. (I think?) Not a continuation of a previously established plotline, but an episode that takes the underlying concept of an earlier entry and puts a new spin on it, while still acknowledging its debt to that original outing. “Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate” uses the same interdimensional cable concept that helped make “Rixty Minutes” so surprisingly effective back in season one, only here, instead of home, our heroes are watching TV in a hospital waiting area while Jerry decides whether or not he can sacrifice his penis to save the life of the universe’s most important citizen.

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I’ll be honest: I’m not sure quite what to make of this. The problem with sequels, in addition to running the risk of exhausting the goodwill of a previously thrilling premise, is one of expectation. “Rixty Minutes” is my favorite episode of the series this far (although “Total Rickall” might eventually pass it), so knowing I was watching something that was intended as a follow-up meant that I was hoping even more than usual to see something great—not just funny or unexpected or insightful, but all three and a little bit more. That’s unfair; it’s also unavoidable. “Interdimensional Cable 2” wasn’t as immediately powerful as its forebear, and it lacks the slap-in-the-face power of “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die.” But it still had a point worth making, and it was still funny.

The point: Jerry freaks out (understandably) when an alien doctor (actually not alien, just alien to Jerry) explains the situation—Shrimply Pibbles (voiced by Werner Herzog, which, holy shit right?), a civil rights leader who’s saved billions of lives, needs a new heart. As luck would have it, Jerry’s penis will serve as an adequate substitute. And they’ll even throw in a prosthetic replacement, one which (if Beth’s reaction is any indication) will almost certainly be superior to the original organ.

It’s an absurd moral dilemma; more, it’s a dilemma specifically designed to put Jerry in a position where any attempt he makes to hold onto his penis (heh) and avoid looking like an asshole ends up making him look even more like an asshole. You could criticize the show for the ridiculousness of all this, for the way it turns Jerry—poor, doomed, weasely Jerry—into a punching bag, but I think the obvious calculation of it all, the black-and-white nature of the question, is intentional.

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In “Rixty Minutes,” Morty and Summer’s conversation was powerful in part because of its directness, but also because of the context that conversation appeared in. After twenty minutes of increasingly bullshit improve (with all the “ums” and “ahs” left in), the sudden shock of having someone speak directly and forcefully about the inherent madness of existence was like cold water in the face. All those weirdly ornate and self-conscious TV shows on Rick’s interdimensional doohickey reinforced Morty’s point. How can you possibly cope in a reality where this stuff happens? In a reality where almost anything is possible? Your only real hope is to enjoy the ride.

Which, ultimately, is the same message here. While Rick, Morty, and Summer (and, for a little while, Beth) watch Man Vs. Car and Jan Quadrant Vincent 16 in the waiting room, Jerry struggles with his need for everyone to like him, even as he desperately wants not to have his penis removed. If he just said no and endured the contempt of creatures he’ll never see again, the crisis would pass. If he just said yes, he’d end up with a neat new mechanical dick which would almost certainly malfunction and generate new episode material, so thanks a lot for passing on that one, jeez.

The point being is that the real “message” of this show, if it can be said to have one, is that you can’t sweat the small stuff. You either let them take your penis, or you say no, but there’s no perfect solution that’s always going to make everyone happy. The only way to survive without holding a surgery room hostage someday with a futuristic genital prosthesis is to make peace with this. Beth tells her husband, “You can’t make people like you. You just have to wait for hating you to bore them.” And while most of us won’t have to deal with a crisis quite as personal as Jerry’s, the ultimate lesson holds true. It’s at once amoral and profoundly humanist: do as you will, and then figure out how to live with it.

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Stray observations

  • Justin Roiland’s sound booth improvisations strike me as a more accurate representation of the chaos of interdimensional cable (if that actually existed) than something more scripted would be; while I’m not sure you’d be likely to see a show about a guy who rips off his skin for more personal space (how do you top that?), the whole vibe makes sense to me, in a way I can’t really explain. It’s less about the specific and more about the reminder that our usual forays into parallel dimensional storytelling are far more predictable than they need to be.
  • But seriously, how did she get there?
  • Werner Herzog was an unexpected delight, but it was equally great to hear Gary Cole as Jerry’s doctor.
  • In the post credit tag, Jerry takes Rick’s box of Eyeholes cereal out of the cupboard, and is attacked by the Eyehole Man.

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