After what seems an eternity (one broken up only by the shock arrival of the series premiere ‘The Rickshank Rickdemption’ on April Fool’s Day this year), Rick and Morty is finally back. After having carved a niche for itself as a show that is smart and visually inventive, engaging and very funny, the pressure was on (to a degree) to see whether this run could continue in season 3. And the answer – this episode sees a bit of a dip. It’s still a good piece of TV but, given Rick and Morty’s usual standard and the episode it follows, it’s a bit of a let-down.
The bulk of the episode takes place in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world, where Rick (Justin Roiland) is hunting for a powerful isotope. This brings him into conflict with a group of scavengers called the Deathstalkers (with Joel McHale providing the voice of their leader). He manages to find the rock, but his grandkids find themselves attracted to the world, and reticent to leave.
Things take an especially dark turn for Morty
Really, the crux of this episode is a continuation of the parental divorce plot started in ‘The Rickshank Rickdemption’ – this new world is used to show how the family are dealing emotionally with the separation. Summer (Spencer Grammer) has begun to act out, and finds a strange kind of peace in a world of bloodsport and barbarism. Things take an especially dark turn for Morty (Justin Roiland) – Rick imbues him with muscle memory as a distraction, which takes the form of the giant bloodthirsty arm of a slain peasant warrior, searching for vengeance.
Rick, it seems, has undergone the biggest, and yet most subtle transformation. He still feels like the character we first met in season 1, motivated by his curiosity and seemingly caring only for himself (he even makes good on his promise to abandon his grandkids in post-apocalyptic world because they were making his life a hassle). But then, there are obvious hints that he cares for his family, even though he knows that these emotional reactions are counter-productive. The show hits a fine balance between Rick’s not caring about anything and obviously caring, and it needs this balance to really work.
For most shows, this would be a superb episode. But Rick and Morty is far from most shows
Although the Mad Max-world is a fine framework in which the emotional responses are explored, the show never really does much else with it. Rick and Morty has always been at its best when it steers clear of direct parody, and this episode is proof of that. Nothing really happens with the setting – it lacks that spark of inspiration that made other parody episodes something new. Even the episode’s climax, in which Rick speeds up the technological advances so Summer becomes a suburban wife and falls out of love with her husband, echoes a theme touched upon in a previous episode (to be more precise, the line between technology and barbarism was a key element of season 2’s ‘Look Who’s Purging Now).
I didn’t hate the episode, but Rick and Morty has always been excellent at pushing the boat out and really going beyond itself – in ‘Rickmancing the Stone,’ it fell short. I mean, we have laughs, a strong story and well-developed characters – for most shows, this would be a superb episode. But Rick and Morty is far from most shows.
‘You mean the Blood Dome?’ ‘Save it for the Semantics Dome, E.B. White.’ – I love me a bit of grammar humour. Only in a show like this would you see a character slate a post-apocalyptic barbarian with a reference to the author of The Elements of Style.
‘If you’re really that alienated, I’m as willing to exploit it as the next guy, church, army or Olympic gymnastics trainer.’ – So many takedowns, with a horribly dark end scenario.
Morty’s sentient arm (which, in a very Morty turn of events, he calls ‘Armethy’). It has flashbacks, and is driven in a quest to avenge its murdered family. And, after it achieves absolution, it helps Rick commit a wonderfully dark murder.
Jerry (Chris Parnell) is terrorised by a wolf, one eager to eat his unemployment cheques solely to cause him misery. It’s one of the highlights of the episode, and it only reinforces how much of a butt monkey Jerry is in this universe.