The fourth episode of season 5 of “Rick and Morty,” “Rickdependence Spray,” came out this week and … well, they’re not all going to be home runs, you know?
In a particularly sex-obsessed season, this episode went the extra mile. Creator Dan Harmon and the other writers have never shied away from over-the-top subject matter, and often to good effect. The show is often gross, profane, and occasionally disturbing, but when it brings the laughs, fans are happy to go along for the ride. In “Rickdependence Spray,” the laughs were fewer, which the unfortunate consequence being that the viewer has more time to wonder, “what is going on here?”
The episode begins with Morty visiting the veterinary office where his mom, Beth, works. He discovers a breeding mount used for horses and … decides to give it a go himself. It gets weirder from there, and this being a family publication, I will spare the details. But suffice it to say, Rick eventually uses the product of these solitary activities, believing it to be from horses, to create a weapon against the CHUDS, a race of underground horse-people against whom he has been waging war (the name is a reference to the 1980s horror film of the same name). It all goes sideways and creates a race of sentient giant sperm.
Like I said, it gets weird.
The president gets involved (voiced by Keith David in a recurring role) when he is alerted to the problem and calls in Rick, whom he suspects to be responsible for the hideous creatures. There are some battle scenes, a chase, and an exciting conclusion thanks to an idea proposed by Summer but stolen by the president’s pet mad scientist (this is meant as a comment on women in the workplace and how they are treated by male bosses).
I could go on, but the plot is as masturbatory as an intellectual matter as well as in its subject matter. And it’s not like Harmon’s odd predilections are unknown: last year, his wife discovered that he owned a sex doll and reacted by making a television show about it in which she didn’t even bother to change the names.
As Rick and the CHUD king agree to end their war and unite against the new enemy, Morty says “this is out there, even for us.” It’s a rare moment of self-awareness in an episode that leans more into the writers’ own prurient thoughts than it does into solid jokes or a coherent plotline.
Rick and Morty has always been gross and juvenile in its depiction of sexual topics, so complaints about that are probably misplaced. But there were also always plenty of redeeming plot points and genuinely innovative, original writing that made it worthwhile. That was lacking in this episode. Without it, we see that the grossness was always there, but the funny was hiding it.
The weirdness of the plot is no accident: according to the writers, it was a mess from the beginning. “I don’t know how this is an episode,” writer Nick Rutherford said in a post-show video. Harmon suggests in the same video that he started with the giant sperm concept and built the episode from there — not the best way to generate a coherent storyline. “Random left turns like underground horse-people sometimes is the only evidence that you’re having fun,” he adds.”
Yes! That part of the episode kind of worked. It still involved some weird sex stuff — the horse princess Poneta was pregnant with Rick’s child, and this was the source of the recent tension between them and humanity. That’s very weird, but kind of funny and you could see where a better episode might have been built around that problem.
In the interview, Rutherford and director Erica Hayes sounded bemused and a little embarrassed about how it all turned out. “That happened,” Hayes says after describing a final incestuous plot twist. “That happened.”
Everyone who produces creative output for a living knows that all work products are not created equal. Time constraints, writer’s block, and real-life concerns intervene. But Adult Swim ordered seventy episodes of “Rick and Morty” in 2018. We’re not even halfway through that. Fan reaction is always fickle, it is true, but the universal condemnation of “Rickdependence Spray” is not easily dismissed.
“Everyone can change their nature, Morty,” Rick says at one point in this episode, “it’s what defines our species.” Let us hope that the rest of this season evinces a change for the better. If it is as good as the first three episodes, people will be happy. If it has the phoned-in feel of this one, though, it’s going to be a rough ride.