Sometimes it’s hard to tell smugness from broadmindedness. Even legitimate expertise can bleed over into know-it-all superiority. Something about humanity’s need for conflict means that when someone shows up with all the answers — even if we think they are the correct answers — some of us will recoil at being told what to do.
That’s the theme of the sixth episode of Rick and Morty’s sixth season, “Juricksic Mort,” in which space-faring dinosaurs return to Earth with superior technology, superior ideas on how to live, and superior senses of their own rightness about these things. After some awkward questions about what happened to the dinosaurs they left behind, the new arrivals announce that humanity can take a vacation, that they’ve got it from here. Running a planet really seems to be beyond our skill level, doesn’t it? The dinos have a billion years of experience; why not just let them help?
Rick hates this immediately.
The episode could have delved into the question of “what happens to humanity when all our problems are solved?” And indeed, they touched on this a bit. The dinosaurs eliminate material scarcity almost immediately — no need for work, sacrifice, or even choice. Whatever you want, you’ve got it.
This presents a similar vision to the post-scarcity world Gene Roddenberry created in Star Trek. In that fictional universe, humanity uses its newfound material wealth to eliminate all conflict caused by material scarcity and presents a new-age vision of human beings that was welcomed content in the 1960s when it originally aired.
Eliminate desire, and you’ll eliminate conflict, a watered-down Buddhism that sits at the center of many utopian thoughts, then and now.
All the characters in Rick and Morty don’t share this enlightened view, though, to be fair, it’s only been a couple of weeks. Maybe they’ll get used to it. And for all Rick’s grumbling, the innovations proposed by the space dinosaurs are seductive. Eliminating poverty and want has been the dream of countless world leaders over the years. Here, it is achieved, seemingly at the snap of reptilian fingers.
While humanity adjusts to being comfortable and useless, Rick suspects an ulterior motive. He jumps into the spaceship and visits all the other planets the dinosaurs have helped since they left Earth eons ago.
The results of his investigation are not what he expected: the space dinosaurs are not evil, nor do they have any secret aims in helping various planets and species better themselves. But Rick does find something disturbing: every place they go is soon afterward smashed by an asteroid. Upon returning to Earth, Rick finds that one such asteroid is also headed their way.
He quickly discerns that this is because the dinosaurs are so good and wholesome that their decency and intelligence causes a species of sentient rocks to degrade into idiotic malevolence as they fly around the universe, destroying whatever the dinosaurs create. The benevolent reptiles are unaware of this conclusion, but they accept the evidence Rick presents and are quite dismayed.
As an explanation, it is kind of unsatisfying. Good and evil aren’t two equal and opposite forces that must forever be in balance. That kind of thinking is popular in fantasy novels, but actual good deeds and good behavior don’t necessarily create equally bad results just by existing.
On the other hand, good intentions do quite frequently have negative trade-offs. Like universal basic income, a seductive concept that could have disproportionately adverse side effects. The dinosaurs’ utopian vision for humanity makes a lot of people better off, but at least some are worse off, as is the case with even the best one-size-fits-all programs for human betterment. Many more are drifting aimlessly as they contemplate the idea of lifelong mediocrity.
Rick is one. Another is the President (voiced by Keith David, still the best recurring guest star on the show.) A more contemplative ending might have weighed their fates against the millions who are healed of illness or lifted out of poverty rather than making the enemy some sentient rock. But we only have twenty-something minutes here, and the writers can only work with the time they’re given.
The episode resolves in a fairly satisfying fashion. It’s episodic, like many stories from this season, with everything returning to normal at the end. It’s a solid episode that is both funny and thoughtful and, in ways, is a throwback to the work of earlier seasons. The one big change — Rick finally fixing portal travel at the end of the episode — suggests Rick and Morty’s hiatus from the larger plot is at an end. Will Rick’s cross-dimensional nemesis return in the episodes to follow?