After a mid-series hiatus, Rick and Morty has returned to TV with an appropriately imaginative, meta episode – but as series four continues, has Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s cult sci-fi animation taken a knife to its own arc?
Well, maybe. But maybe not. Either way, perhaps we should have seen this coming.
Over the years, Rick and Morty has built up a reputation for itself as a particularly anarchic series, following the interdimensional adventures of an alcoholic scientist and his milquetoast grandson as they steal from aliens, thwart (and cause) various apocalypses and generally jump from story to unpredictable story.
Regularly breaking the fourth wall and pouring scorn on traditional sci-fi (or other storytelling) narratives, Rick and Morty is as much anti-expectation as the characters are antiheroic – but over the years Harmon and Roiland have still done a little bit of world-building anyway, with certain episodes hinting at more traditional arcs for the characters to deal with.
The biggest of these is probably character of ‘Evil Morty’ – a dark version of the Morty Smith we know from another universe who’s appeared to plot world domination in two fan-favourite episodes, and is the regular subject of fan theories and online discussion from fans who hope to see the story resolved in future episodes.
Previously, Evil Morty and other in-universe plot points have seemed like the one thing Rick and Morty’s trademark cynicism couldn’t touch – but the new episode changes all that.
In Never Ricking Morty (which aired on Sunday 3rd May in the States, but Thursday 7th May in the UK) we rejoin our – heroes? Yeah let’s go with that – as they’re trapped on a narrative train with the evil Story Lord, with conventions of plotting, storytelling and the tropes of the series itself all going to hell as the episode continues.
Basically, this is Rick and Morty going more meta than ever, with the episode culminating in Story Lord unleashing their “limitless potential” to have them face off with Evil Morty, an army of alternate Ricks, an evil version of Mr PoopyButthole (another recurring character) and more.
Essentially, this scene – along with other flashes that saw the dangling plot thread of Rick’s dead-friend-turned-bad “Phoenix Person” in another of the episode’s vignettes – is what the fans have been hoping for, a great final showdown, the culmination of years of teases. And Rick and Morty just made fun of it.
Instead of facing off with the villains, Rick and Morty derail Story Lord’s plan by redirecting into a stereotypical Christian fable, complete with ripped Jesus Christ and VeggieTale-style sidekicks. Story Lord is incensed – and online, quite a few fans have been too. What was all the set up for? Will these stories now be abandoned forever? And even if they’re not, how can we take them seriously?
“Is any of this canon?” Morty asks at one point during the episode, poking fun at fans’ preoccupation with how episodes slot together.
“It could have been!” Rick replies.
The story concludes with the revelation that the entire episode actually took place on a high-tech “Story Train” toy, with Rick aggressively suggesting the lesson learned is to support the forces of capitalism, so it’s fair to say that fans are still reeling a little from what it all means for the future of the series, and whether any of it mattered at all.
So what’s the truth? Well, it’s probably a little complicated. For my money, the plot threads probably aren’t gone forever – they just won’t unfold quite as prosaically as they did in these fantasies – but even if they were, it would feel appropriate.
I’ve always felt Rick and Morty’s refusal to take anything seriously should also apply to itself, and sometimes the brief hints of “arcs” felt like the series unconsciously slipping into something it wasn’t – something normal, to be taken at face value. Something less interesting.
Whatever else you think of Never Ricking Morty, it was definitely interesting. And even if that means we don’t get an Evil Morty with an eyepatch again, I’m willing to make that sacrifice for something different.
Rick and Morty continues at 10.00pm on Thursday on E4. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV Guide.