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‘Rick And Morty’ Hits Its Season Six ‘Oedipus Rex’ Moment

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‘Rick and Morty’ writers handled their weird obsession with incest better this season than ever before.

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Over five-and-a-half seasons, even some of the biggest fans of “Rick and Morty” have suggested that the show’s writers may have an unhealthy fixation with one particular subject that nearly every human civilization considers extremely gross: incest. I thought we’d gotten that out of the way this season in episode three, when Beth entered a romantic relationship with her own clone. Yet here, again, in episode five (“Final DeSmithation”), the topic rears its head once more.

I suppose we should not be too surprised. Every societal taboo is on display everywhere, all the time in mass culture, including this one. Consider the widespread success of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which featured a pair of twins’ secret affair with each other as a major plot point. Other characters in that drama had the decency to be grossed out by it, at least, while in the prequel series now running, “House of the Dragon,” the Targaryen family’s mating habits go far beyond Habsburg-level inbreeding and are taken as normal by their subjects, even if other noble families are in no hurry to copy them.

So, it’s out there. And it can also serve as a simple shorthand for showing a character as weird or bad, just as many writers use the trope of a child in danger to ratchet up the tension and angst in a police drama.

But as gross as that all is, it must be said that the “Rick and Morty” writers handled it better this season than ever before. This episode, in a way, seems like a response to fan criticisms. “You think we joke about this thing too much? Well, now we’re going to joke about it even harder!”

In this episode, it kind of works.

The family begins the show in an extremely normal setting: a Panda Express. As they all open their fortune cookies after the meal, everyone gets one of those banal expressions typically found inside the flavorless baked goods, things that barely constitute fortunes. All except Jerry, whose fortune reads “you will have sex with your mother.”

He is appropriately horrified and actually grows concerned that the fortune will somehow come true. The rest of the family roasts him mercilessly for this, noting that it’s just a cookie and, however unusual the fortune, has no real power over his life. That, in itself, is not that crazy a plot — it’s just “Oedipus Rex” adapted for a setting 25 centuries later. Jerry, like Oedipus, immediately tried to defeat the prophecy by avoiding his mother at all costs.

Rick — still believing the fortune to be nothing of great importance — spends some time with Jerry and a probability-detecting device to prove it. The results are the opposite of what he expected: Every test Rick runs shows a great probability of the bizarre fortune coming true. Meanwhile, Jerry’s mom keeps calling his cell and Jerry freaks out even more.

They go back to Panda Express to find out what’s really going on and, after a bloody gunfight, discover that the employees there actually had nothing to do with it — the cookies are supplied by an outside contractor called “Fortune 500.”

Rick and Jerry sneak in and discover the source of the problem — a weird self-help lifestyle brand/cult run by Jennith Padrow-Chunt, a woman and company based heavily on Gwyneth Paltrow and her “GOOP” enterprise. Having somehow gained control of a huge alien monster whose excrement can transform chaos into certainty, she charges millions for rich people to get fortunes that will actually make their fondest wishes come true.

Weird fortunes like Jerry’s gradually leaked into the world because the alien beast’s caretaker wants to blow up the whole operation so he and it can flee and get married. He keeps sending out horrible fortunes so that someone — anyone — will come and investigate their source. (In this explanation, he implies that one of these fortunes caused the Covid-19 pandemic.)

There follows a pretty fantastic action sequence, Rick fighting off all of the cult’s guards with his crazy gadgets and guns while Jerry tries with increasing desperation to avoid his fate when his mother joins the adventure, brought there by Padrow-Chunt’s minions. In the end, he avoids that fate better than Oedipus did, thanks to Rick’s intervention.

The episode brought Rick and Jerry closer together. Jerry calls Rick his friend at the end, at which Rick recoils in horror. All the weirdness of the plot device somehow works here, maybe for the same reason it works in Sophocles: That horrible fortune is treated as something no one could sanely want and gives the characters a serious imperative to solve the problem. I cringed when the episode began, but the writers clearly did justice to a classic trope of literature, adding their usual humor and creativity along the way.


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