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The Cruelest RICK AND MORTY Episode Takes a Cold, Hard Look at Jerry Smith

If it weren’t obvious that last night’s Rick and Morty was the meanest version of the show, they used the shooting of a little girl in the head as a throwaway joke.

Or, not a joke exactly. It had the same structure as all the other gags in the show, but there was zero absurdity to pad the tragedy–no colorful distraction, no ridiculously large mailbox to take attention away from the death of a familiar postal worker (R.I.P. “My Man!”). The little boy shooting his sister Lisa for the hundredth time only for her to stay down was a window into pure consequence. Rick and Jerry busted the safety net on a world designed to keep people safe, and people died because of it.

And the question of what kind of parents would bring their children to a safe murder playground version of Westworld looms large over everything that happens in “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy.” Just bad parenting, right?

From when Rick dragged Jerry out of bed in his signature style to go on a fake adventure, the episode was an inversion of just about everything the show normally does. It was Rick without Morty, but instead of slotting in another companion for a standard adventure, the show took the challenge of making Jerry the sidekick seriously, which meant severe limitations. It also meant a main plot that remained consequence-free even as Jerry and Rick clawed their way toward growth.

They even merged minds, bodies, and souls in an outstanding LSD trip of space fantasy imagery, and walked away at the end essentially the same people. Rick had no reason to see Jerry all that differently, and Jerry claiming that pity isn’t his go-to move anymore rang pathetically hollow. He was given several chances to learn and grow, but didn’t. He was even undermined when he jumped on an unimpressed Groupon, who took Jerry’s “bravery” for what it really was.

Even in imitating what a confident person would do, Jerry can’t win. Waffling is the only thing he’s capable of, although turning down even a tiny chance to see the family he craves so desperately that he envisions them in the water stain above his shower might go a millimeter toward getting his groove back. Maybe that’s a start.

Even without the Dome of Immortality, there was never any real danger to Rick or to the world. Not from Risotto Groupon–the assistant manager avenging the genocide and subjugation of his people made possible by Rick’s technology–and not even by a 90-minute cut of Avatar. Rick was in so little bodily danger in this episode that his grandest move was a complicated alien tech weapon that fired a tiny plunger.

His grasping awkwardly to retrieve Groupon’s gun is the second funniest thing in the episode. Shout out to the tiny customer service reps who are finally free.

This is also the third time this season we’ve seen Rick incapacitated in some meaningful way. He was in total I-meant-to-get-captured mode in the first episode, but since then he’s been self-immobilized as a pickle, walked through a world-threatening Saw trap created by the drunk version of himself, and now made “less threatening” on a space plane while someone hunts him down.

Meanwhile, the secondary plot, which was insanely simple compared to, say, a dog becoming more and more sentient, was also the story where real growth took place. Rick and Jerry in Westworld gave us some creative death imagery, but Summer’s body issues turning her into an Attack on Titan extra showed us Beth still has the ability to change. Also, they literally inverted, then had a heartfelt moment delivered via manatee-esque grunts.

Obviously the real story here is Morty, who continued to prove himself confident and capable. It was invisibly subtle, but the entire reason Rick took Jerry on an adventure was because Morty asked him, presumably to give Jerry some time in the sun, but actually to give Morty some space. He was profoundly pissed at Rick after “Vindicators 3,” and he managed to manipulate Rick into doing what he wanted.

Morty Ricked Rick. And then melted Ethan’s S’more.

“The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” wasn’t as funny as other episodes this season. Its gags were subdued when they cropped up at all. Offhand remarks (“My hands are dry! My hands are dry!”) did a lot of the heavy comedy lifting, but it’s clear that this episode wasn’t built to be a laugh factory. It featured too much Jerry for that, and Rick treated him as the inconvenience he is, which wasn’t fertile ground for laughter.

Instead, we got an insanely confident episode that hammered home a revulsion and pathos for the show’s most tragic figure without cramming in comic moments to distract us from the emotional difficulty. It’s hard not to agree with Rick when he calls Jerry a predator who uses sympathy, or to want Jerry to stop being Jerry. Any other show would have given Jerry a hero moment that cemented an iota of capability to make us think differently about him, but the most dangerous element of his adventure with Rick ends in anti-climax. What we’re left with is the painful reality of a family’s relationship that can’t get fixed with one theme park vacation assassination plot, or maybe even a single season of them.

In this world where no one wins easily, even the customer service rep gets carried off by a pigeon fifteen minutes into freedom.

Ooh-Wee: Here’s more Rick and Morty!


Images: Cartoon Network/Adult Swim



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