I’ll admit, I was worried. Two years is a long time to wait between seasons, and Rick And Morty’s fourth season has been on the shaky side. The premiere was great, and I liked the thirty minute rant against heist movies, but when you’re only showing the first five episodes of a ten episode season, two eh entries aren’t really a great sign. Hell, the more I thought about the anti-heist episode, the more I wondered if I actually did like it. So I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight. It wasn’t going to be a season finale in any way, and while “mid-season finale” is a phrase that definitely exists, it’s not something I could imagine applying to this show. A few rare instances aside, Rick And Morty doesn’t do a lot of continuity-based suspense. And it’s not like there was any sort of through line leading up to this that needed paying off.
Really, I was worried that the show had lost its stride. The balance the best episodes strike is pretty tricky to pull off: making Rick an asshole but entertaining (and, for anyone who’s spent a lifetime watching sci-fi and fantasy, relatable) enough that you can enjoy his assholery; making Morty well-meaning and naive but not so intensely stupid that you stop giving a shit about what happens to him; doing the same for Jerry, only more so. I worried that something had gotten broken somewhere in season 3, and that the old tricks wouldn’t work anymore. Because to be honest, a lot of what made the show so affecting is the shock that it could actually be affecting. Now that we know there are going to be occasional bursts of sincerity, maybe it won’t work anymore.
Thankfully, that’s more or less irrelevant when it comes to “Rattlestar Ricklactica,” the best episode of the season (so far), and a pure joy from start to finish. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it doesn’t change our understanding of the characters, there’s no sudden shock of emotion. But it’s funny as hell, taking a basic premise at once incredibly dumb and clever as fuck, and running it straight into the ground. Good main story, and a good Jerry story, and some minor Christmas theming. I don’t know as I’d say it was worth the wait, exactly, but my faith in the show is largely restored.
So: Rick gets a flat tire in space (complete with a flat tire simulation program he used over the celebrity voice version), and Morty, being Morty, ignores Rick’s orders and leaves the ship. While out in space, Morty gets bitten by a snake astronaut. The astronaut dies, and in the process of synthesizing the anti-venom to save Morty, Rick finds a planet full of snakes with thousands of different cultures. Morty is despondent that he basically destroyed the hope of an entire species by accident, so he buys a snake from the pet store, shoves it in the dead snake’s space suit, and sends it floating back down to Snake World. Then things get complicated.
This review is going to have a bunch of paragraphs, but honestly, all you really need is: a snake world where the snakes are intelligent and dress up like people, but they’re still snakes, and they only communicate in hisses. Oh, and they invent time travel. Seriously, I can’t think of a way to explain why that’s so goddamn funny (and just delightful to watch), but it is. There are Ricky And Morty episodes where I feel like I can be useful in pinpointing where an idea went wrong, or in really digging into the thematic weight of the thing, but here, it’s just snakes who act like people. One of them wears a suit like a college professor. It’s great.
I guess I could say something about time travel? It’s another one of Harmon’s bugbears, but the take we get here—that as soon as you introduce time travel into a story, what starts as an unexpected Terminator parody goes batshit insane almost immediately—manage to be effective satire without ever feeling quite as bitter as “Once Crew Over The Crewcoo’s Morty.” The time jumping here makes just enough sense to follow what’s going on (in that we all recognize certain basic signifiers with the genre, and we also understand that things can get out of hand very quickly), but it never really gets bogged down or hectoring. It’s joyfully clever rather than kind of pissed off and dismissive, and while the show can do pissed-off well, I prefer something like this. The non-scorched earth approach you could say. And if it seems weird to be praising the upbeat tone of an episode that ends with a grandfather giving his grandson a black eye, well, I don’t know what to tell you. It is what it is. And Morty should’ve stayed in the goddamn space ship.
As for Jerry’s plot, well, it’s good enough for me to talk about it in the body of the review and not save it for Stray Observations, which is about as high a praise as I can give a subplot. Rick makes Jerry’s body lighter than air but makes his shoes heavy, and so of course Jerry loses one of his shoes; but when Rick (goaded by Beth) tries to help, Jerry refuses, determined to prove he can take care of himself. Which he does, in typical Jerry fashion. The fact that he manages to survive on his own terms while still being a pathetic nitwit who manages to crash a plane in the process is just the mix of competence and ineptitude we’ve come to expect. In a show that can sometimes get a little too invested in its protagonist’s competence, Jerry is a good reminder of everything Rick wants to put behind him but can’t entirely give up.
So, that’s five episodes done, and who knows when we’ll see the back half of the bunch. Hopefully it won’t be another two years. This still doesn’t feel like a show that can keep churning out new episodes for another decade (at some point, they’re going to run out of tropes to mock), but “Rattlestar Ricklactica” is proof that it’s still worth waiting for. I don’t know of another series on television that would’ve offered up the controlled chaos of this episode’s second half, or the casually inventive way that chaos was expressed. Happy holidays, and I, too, can almost taste that eggnog.
- “People who are really dying don’t keep bringing it up.” “Is that true?” “I don’t know, I’m usually around people who die faster.”
- “Unless it’s possible for Jerry to fuck up wearing shoes. ...oh crap, he’s gonna die.” -Rick
- “I am the Jesus Christ of Christmas!” -Jerry
- That snake in the mecha was pretty cool.
- “Nobody chokes me without my consent!” -Summer, laying down the law.
- Death to Snake Hitler!