“Rick and Morty” is a strange show. Irreverent, obscene, and uproariously funny, it entertains and, rare in these times, does not preach. There are no larger messages. Except when there are. But it’s still for laughs, right? Unless you don’t want it to be. But, no, just kidding, we’re all just having a good time. It makes for a fun and hilarious show, peppered with a few moments of introspection.
Season 5, which began to air last month, is no exception. Rick Sanchez is clearly the star of the show, but Season 4 ended with the growing development and confidence of all of the other members of the family. As the rest of the Sanchez/Smith crew began to assert themselves and come to terms with their genius/mad scientist patriarch, Rick seemed diminished in some ways, the only character who remained static and unchanged by events. Rick is thoroughly cynical and modern — futuristic, really — but still retains the old-fashioned stoicism and unemotional behavior of a classic American sitcom dad.
Episode 1: ‘Mort Dinner Rick Andre’
Episode 1 this season, “Mort Dinner Rick Andre,” opens with a juxtaposition: in fleeing from some disaster they caused, Morty is the one steering the ship (literally) and saving his grandpa from death. Of course, he does it imperfectly, landing them in the ocean — something Rick never told him not to do, but now makes very clear is a mistake. Their presence summons Mr. Nimbus, a speedo-wearing, oversexed king of the ocean and Rick’s longtime nemesis. Rick’s presence in Nimbus’s aquatic realm breaches their old treaty, which must now be renegotiated.
Meanwhile, Morty used the courage of what he thought to be his impending death to somehow get a date with Jessica, whom he had longed for from afar these past four seasons. This evolves into a B-plot of him trying to undertake a normal teenage relationship amid the weirdness of the A-plot — Rick and Nimbus negotiating for world dominion and having a lengthy conversation about life and their past (the episode’s title is a reference to the 1981 film, “My Dinner With Andre.”)
What brings the storylines together, at first, is the wine. Nimbus “only drinks the good stuff,” so Rick opens a portal to a dimension where time moves faster and tosses in a few crates of wine to mature. Morty goes to retrieve them (first for Nimbus, then to steal some for him and his date) and interacts with the society of dog-people there, which comes to perceive him as a supernatural demon of some sort. As generations pass, we see the life of that culture change in unexpected ways based on the sporadic, often deadly appearance of Morty in their lives. It is exactly the sort of weird sociological diversion that makes “Rick and Morty” so good.
Rick and Nimbus resolve their issues, but when Rick hears Morty and Jessica being captured by the dog-people, he rushes to their aid. Once again, he is quickly rendered helpless but saved, this time by Nimbus, who floods the area and thrusts his pelvis in the general direction of the enemy. This somehow does the trick. But in the meantime, Rick gets asked some tough questions, not least of which is from Morty: “How many enemies do you have to have?”
On the one hand, it’s an episodic TV show, there needs to be conflict, and that means enemies. But even for an interdimensional space traveler, Rick has an awful lot of people mad at him at any given time. He adds one more to the list when Summer returns with a magic shell that is the source of Nimbus’s powers — Rick had been double-crossing him the whole time. Morty learned through his misadventure with the dog-people that “sometimes you’ve got to be an asshole.” But he has also surmised over the past few seasons that Rick is too much of one.
Episode 2: ‘Mortyplicity’
The second episode begins with some misdirection. First, Rick announces that he and Morty are going to kill God. Before that can even be explained, they come under attack by a spaceship of squid-people. All par for the course, and in line with the last episode’s question of why Rick has so many enemies.
As they flee, though, Rick tells the family that he has created decoys of all of them scattered around the country to confuse enemies and act as an early warning system for the real family. As they travel to each of these locations, it becomes clear that all of the decoys think they are the “real” Sanchez/Smith family (which was intended), and that some or all of the decoy Ricks have made additional decoys of themselves (which was not). Each copy of a copy of a copy is somewhat degraded, making for a host of not-quite-right families. (This was a plot point in the 1996 Michael Keaton film “Multiplicity,” after which the episode is named.)
Each decoy Rick believes he is the original, knowing that the others believe the same, seeks to kill all of the “fakes”. Even the squid aliens are soon revealed to be decoys in alien costumes. The episode devolves into a Battle Royal of Sanchezes and Smiths, all trying to murder each other and possibly their creator, accompanied by protests that perhaps it is not OK to kill a decoy in the first place. Before you realize it, we’ve come back around to the original premise: killing a god.
Given that the squid-people are not real squid-people, the viewer is left wondering how the whole murder spree started. One of the Ricks suggests the most likely explanation may be that one decoy set discovered they were decoys, took preemptive action, and it cascaded from there. Meanwhile, Beth suggests to Rick the real conflict in the whole decoy arms race: “You treat life and family as so burdensome,” she says, “but you created an ocean of us because you’re terrified of losing either!”
It’s another telling point in the developing theme of the season: Rick coming to terms with things. At any rate, the episode ends with all the decoy families dead and the real Rick and company returning from an uneventful space adventure, about to behold the destruction they narrowly avoided. Lesson learned? Maybe.
One seemingly minor point in both episodes also hints at character growth: Rick, an erstwhile drunkard, does not take a drink in either episode, even when Nimbus is downing bottle after bottle of unnaturally aged wine. Booze was a central part of Rick’s life before now, so its absence is no oversight. Does it suggest real change in the show’s curmudgeonly protagonist? Time will tell.