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Rick And Morty is back and back to basics

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It’s been a while since we’ve had any new episodes of Rick and Morty. Just a bit over two years in fact, so apologies if I’m out of practice on this. Last season ended with a soft reset, as Jerry and Beth got back together and Rick, at least on some level, acknowledged the universe was better off with the family unit still intact. There was a lot going on two years ago, and at times, the show seemed to struggle to find the line between what it could do and what it should do, pushing hard against the nihilistic optimism that drives most of the best episodes until the philosophy warped into something dangerously out of shape. It was a largely great season, but it was also the sort of season that could be hard to come back from. At least, that was my concern at the time.

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Thankfully we don’t really need to get into that right now, because “Edge Of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” is about as close to a straight putt as the series is capable of. Rick and Morty go on an adventure, a concept is introduced, and there are then horrible consequences which keep escalating until the status quo is restored. Jerry, Beth, and Summer all get to make some jokes without contributing much to the plot, and a couple of secondary characters (Jessica and Mr. Goldenfold) make an appearance, but this is entirely the R & M show. Do you like crazy terrifying high concept technology? Clones? Alternate realities? At times it feels like a checklist of all the things people have come to expect, something that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the very first season.

And it works very well. This is great. I laughed a lot; the bit where Hologram Rick (an emergency measure generated by a chip installed into Morty’s spine in case the real Rick—well, the solid Rick, let’s be careful about terms here—dies) shows up as a group of protesters when Morty refuses to listen to his instructions had me on the floor. The two year gap between episodes hasn’t diminished the writers’ knack for taking a premise in unexpected but entirely logical directions, and the show still looks great: this isn’t the most ambitious episode we’ve seen, but the quick glimpses of parallel universes (so many fascist nightmares) are all well-realized, and Morty’s escalating attempts to ensure his future death at Jessica’s side allows for a lot of creative weapon designs. As was the case before, so much of the joy of watching the show is the sheer density of inventiveness, the way it tosses out idea after idea without ever really pausing to catch its breath. The dark cynicism of Rick’s multiverse is always balanced by the constant influx of new things to see. Everything may be miserable and doomed, but it’s also surprising, and that counts for a lot.

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The title is a pun on Edge of Tomorrow, retitled Live Die Repeat for home release, a nifty Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt sci-fi action movie where Cruise played someone who kept dying and coming back thanks to alien technology. The episode splits the idea into two, giving Rick the endless lives (he has a device that keeps waking up a clone in another reality; every time that clone dies, a new one wakes up someplace else) and Morty the ability to predict the future and avoid death without exactly knowing what any of it means. On a macro level, it’s an expression of one of the core concepts of the series: Morty gets his hands on some batshit powerful alien thingie (in this case, a “death crystal” that lets you see how you’ll die; except since the future is always in flux, the death keeps changing, making it only really useful for escaping immediate consequences), Rick gets sidelined, and things get out of hand.

And like I said, it’s great. “Tomorty” isn’t without its nods to the larger course of the series. Rick is as self-aware as ever (yelling at Summer that she missed up the “season 4 premiere” at one point), and he’s not hugely happy at having to put up with Jerry’s bullshit again. There’s also a running bit about Nazi Morty insisting that Clone Rick take him on fun adventures that have no deeper meaning at all which feels like a pretty solid swipe at a lot of Gamer Gate bullshit. Morty’s fixation on trying to engineer the perfect death (the crystal shows him dying an old man as an older Jessica tells him she loves him) suggests a lesson about getting too worked up about where things are headed to just enjoy where they are right now, although even Rick acknowledges that there’s no clean and simple moral to any of this.

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Which is another strength the show: its ability to endlessly question its own goals and intentions while simultaneously mocking that level of introspection while also wondering if any of this means anything while pointing out that it probably doesn’t, makes it feel vital and alive even as constantly threatens to tip over into solipsistic nonsense. It’s hilarious and weird and as always, it makes me feel like I’m being punked for trying to unpack it at all, while at the same time knowing that everyone involved in the show is probably doing the same damn thing. I’m very glad its back, and I’m glad to see it coming out of the gate with something at once complex and extremely straightforward. And while I’ll refrain from working too hard to extrapolate what happens next, the fact that it ends with Rick and Morty doing a riff on the “let’s talk about the future of the show!” conversation where they’re both happy for once has me hopeful. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Stray observations

  • Shout out to Kari Whalgren who voices Jessica; it’s one of the more thankless recurring roles in the show, but she manages to make bits like Jessica inviting Morty to go skinny dipping almost sound like something a human being would say. (Jessica is less a character than an on-going joke about “the unattainable crush,” but Whalgren does a good job of finding some kind of throughline.)
  • The post credits reveal that Morty’s vision of the perfect death was actually just Jessica working at a hospice and helping lonely old people move to the other side was inevitable but very funny.
  • Every alternate reality Clone Rick pops up in turns out to be fascist (“Goddammit when did this shit become the default.”), except for the Wasp reality, because wasps are born assholes already.
  • Decent Meseeks content, if you’re into that.
  • “Stop asking questions, stop doing metacommentary.” -Fascist Morty
  • “There’s a lesson here, and I’m not going to be the one who figures it out.” -Rick
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