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4 Reasons Why RICK AND MORTY’s “Ricklantis Mixup” Was The Best Episode This Season

Squanchy Warning: spoilers for Rick and Morty up through “The Ricklantis Mixup” abound!

This season of Rick and Morty has been dotted with outstanding episodes; in fact, it’s insane how well Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon and the rest of the  crew have been able to maintain the pace they set up in “The Rickshank Rickdemption.” But here we are, staring down the barrel of the best episode yet: the five-burrito-caliber “The Ricklantis Mixup” (a.k.a. “Tales From the Citadel”). While our usual Rick and Morty went on a fun, fresh, self-contained adventure to Atlantis, we got a glimpse of the everyday lives of the rich Ricks and poor Ricks of the Citadel, still grinding it out there for some reason that strains comprehension.

So what made this such a fantastic episode? Four main components:

  1. A perfect spoof on the hardboiled urban genre that made overwrought movies like Crash its play thing.
  2. Social commentary that made the episode about something more.
  3. The return of Evil Morty!
  4. A dash of science fiction philosophy courtesy of a city composed of dozens and dozens of copies of the same two people.

First up, this was unmistakably one of the tightest episodes in the series’ history. This season has been slowly building up our tolerance for the kind of comedy that’s less laugh-out-loud and more dark or jaw-dropping, and we were rewarded for earning those callouses. From Cop Morty flying off the handle and flaunting his fragile self-esteem, to the suicidal “Slick” Morty and his coming-of-age gang adventure, to Simple Rick’s brain juice harnessed by Rick D. Sanchez III as an opiate for the masses, we got window after window into a crumbling society. Contrast our God’s eye view of the Citadel with the sheer goofiness of Noob-Noob or the moronic aliens holding Rick hostage at the start of the season, and you get a good idea of how depraved and desperate that sin city of Ricks and Mortys is. There was no looking away from the violence and malice.

But there were also a ton of gags, tucked into every corner. Not slapstick distractions, but incredibly clever ideas meant to make us rethink the characters we already know so well (who were busy high-fiving their way through “mermaid puss” apparently). Mortys are capable of more than we thought, which includes running for president on a populist platform while Ricks fart on stage. Ricks are also capable of deep and abiding love…that is turned into a candy drug. For some reason, there’s a Morty strip club. After playing tourist with brief glimpses of background characters in the Citadel, this is our first honest look at what life is like there, which means we get to know a lot of its citizens on an intimate level and start to understand the true meaning of the infinite possibilities for these two.

Which brings us to the social commentary. When Rick K22 jabbed, “You’re pitching the Policeman’s Ball to a black teenager, here,” to a Morty still trying to get a donation for the Citadel Redevelopment Fund, I gasped a little at the cold slap of that joke. Turns out it was a starting pistol for an entire episode about police brutality in a corrupt system that treats one group of people with inherent respect regardless of whether they own the entire garment district or work at the plant, and treats another group of people with built-in hatred. It’s a system where saying the wrong thing to the wrong cop will get a gun shoved in your mouth, not because of what you said, but because of who you are. Your life was at risk the moment you were born. That gun was looking for you all along.

“Tales From the Citadel” doesn’t dive too deep into the Black Lives Matter movement, but the social commentary provides a backbone for the main story and a three-dimensionality to ground the episode.

Then there was Morty Trump, a freakishly adept politician who lies about his populism to rise to the top and win the election in a race that was almost close enough to trigger a recount. The reveal of the return of Evil Morty was both unsurprising but wholly satisfying. It’s a character that Keyser Sozed his way out of our lives at the end of the first season, and his advancement to the highest office in the land offers us the big bad for the show’s future. (Note that the last episode of the season is titled “The Rickchurian Mortydate.”)

The parallels to our real-life political sphere were obvious, but what was striking about the Citadel’s election was that the entire episode showed us that world through the biased eyes of Morty Trump. Instead of seeing the functional sides of the city, we only got snippets of the downtrodden. Somewhere in that city are Ricks and Mortys enjoying life, but we descended into the patrol car of a corrupt cop and his rookie partner, the worst neighborhoods where Mortys have been abandoned to their own hustling devices, and a factory where the workers desperately need to pull a Norma Rae and seize the means of production. In order to sell the silver lining, Morty Trump had to sell us hell first. And he did it with ease.

Now the question is whether our Morty will be the one to take President Morty out to the woodshed. He’s been growing more and more Rick-like by the week (“You wanna rein in your Morty?” “Every day.”), which means he’ll either make a great opponent for President Morty or join forces with him against his grandpa. This episode gave us the momentum for the larger storyline tying back into the biggest theme of the season: Morty’s ascendance into not-give-a-damn-ery.

The last little mermaid cherry on top of “The Ricklantis Mixup” was the big science fiction questions posed by the mere existence of a space city filled with millions of versions of the same two people.

What would a world made up of only other versions of yourself look like? How would you–like Cool Rick and Lizard Morty–stand out and find what made you unique? If the versions of yourself in the city were delineated solely by the worlds you all came from, wouldn’t that make it the biggest experiment in nature vs. nurture ever devised? Wouldn’t everyone’s differences be environmental? Same DNA, different world, different person.

How do you build a society where a genius is happy to be a janitor? What is the ultimate purpose of the Citadel?

It was a fun philosophical diversion among the rubble of this absurdly great episode marked by a trillion jokes and dramatic moments tucked into every bit of available space while a supremely good genre spoof played out.

Turns out we’re still in very good hands at the whims of the stupid ideas of Roiland and Harmon.

Images: Cartoon Network/Adult Swim

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