After last week’s bizarre and disappointing episode, “Rick and Morty” fans wondered what the next installment of the show would bring. But in episode five of the current season, “Amortycan Grickfitti,” the show’s writers brought out a solid story, some good laughs, and a return to the combination of complex plots and simple laughs we’ve come to expect.
Both plots in the episode concern what it means to be cool. The first begins with Rick and Jerry going on a guy’s night out together. Given their previous lack of camaraderie, this draws Beth’s suspicion at once. She follows them to a karaoke bar, where they are consorting with a party of demons.
The demons come from Hell (it is left unclear if this is the Christian idea of Hell or just some hell-like dimension) where they take pleasure from pain and vice versa. As such, observing Jerry’s cringey antics makes for a wonderful evening for them. Rick is forced to play along with the charade because he cheated them on a business deal and this is how he is paying them back.
Beth joins them and is annoyed at how Rick is treating Jerry, but soon begins to enjoy the demons’ company as they flatter her, so she lets it go on. Meanwhile, Summer and Morty are left home alone. They invite the new kid at school, Bruce Chutback, to come over, hoping to make him their friend before he inevitably falls in with the cooler kids. As with the adults’ plotline, there is a lot of posturing and pretending to be what other people want them to be.
Both adventures predictably go awry. When the kids trick Rick’s somewhat sentient space car into taking them for a ride to impress Bruce, they initially succeed. The ride around smashing mailboxes and other classic bad-boy behavior, albeit with a space-age twist. But it soon becomes clear that the car knew what it was doing — it wanted to go on its own adventure, and now is blackmailing the kids into coming along. The car makes a fool of itself trying to impress some Transformer-knock-offs, leading to the series of events that is by now familiar to “Rick and Morty” fans; disrupting an alien society, being pursued and barely escaping with their lives.
Chutback and the Smiths get arrested, the car (having taken control of an alien public defender) cuts a deal for Chutback to take the fall. The Smiths say no, so the car breaks them out. After all this, Chutback is still undecided on whether Morty and Summer are cool. He agrees he had a good time, but says he has to reserve final judgment until he sees how they fit into the school’s social strata. In a reversal of fortune, he later is denounced by the cool kids and pummeled by mailboxes.
Back at the guy’s night out, Jerry discovers that the demons are laughing at him and he stops playing along. Deprived of their fun, they find other sources of amusement — killing and destroying. They take Jerry with them back to hell, Rick and Beth pursue. This was all a part of the demons’ plan, though: they think the Rick-Jerry dynamic is the lamest thing ever, they love it and capture all three. Unbeknownst to Rick, part of what the demons enjoyed about Jerry’s cringey behavior was Rick’s superiority in thinking he was too cool for it all. The whole dynamic was unpleasant — which in their bizarro world, is ideal.
Rick is forced to confront the hollowness of his ironic detachment from the family. He knows the only way to hurt the demons by deploying 100 percent sincerity, which he weaponizes and shoots out of a machine gun. As fuel for his contraption, he tells Jerry, “You’re way less cool than me, but it’s not cool of me to celebrate that. If I’m genuinely cool, I should be able to love you … which I therefore do.” They escape and arrive home just after the kids, with each half of the family ignoring the evidence of the other’s adventure and attempting to hide their own.
The episode had some solid laughs and even ended up with a somewhat decent message: trying to be cool is not cool, just be yourself. It’s not after-school-special wholesome: the problem is that trying to be cool doesn’t work, not that it’s inherently unethical. But the characters could, possibly, learn something from all of this, and that is not necessarily a given in this series, especially for the nihilist Rick.
Rick tries to back out of his earnest praise of Jerry during their sojourn in Hell, but it had the feeling of being heartfelt. Indeed, given their situation, it may have been that only heartfelt sincerity would have defeated the pain-seeking demons. If so, it is more evidence of the season’s theme: Rick realizing the importance of family and finding value in connecting even with his impossibly lame son-in-law.