If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect from Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s Rick and Morty is that nothing is ever as it seems. Every heartfelt moment could be an elaborate setup for a tremendous dick joke. A fairly ridiculous episode about Rick looking for someone who shat in his toilet could be a soul-wrenching exploration of ego and loss. The only thing I can truly rely on in this show is the consequences that follow after each episode. Whether as direct references or blink-if-you-miss props in the background, Rick and Morty has somehow managed to keep a fairly consistent canon. Even if it does poke fun at it at times. What I didn’t expect, though, was how soon show’s the dominoes would fall. The chickens have come home to roost, making this season of Rick and Morty the most emotionally resonant one yet.
For those unacquainted with the show, Rick and Morty is an animated sci comedy series that follows the lives and times of super-scientist Rick Sanchez and his teenager grandson, Morty Smith. Together, the two of them go on crazy adventures throughout the galaxy, multiverse and everywhere in between. To be fair though, the main character of the series has always been more Rick than Morty. Morty’s your mostly normal teenage boy trying to figure life out, powered by the preadolescent urges and whims we’ve come to know and loathe. The real star of the show is Rick, a nihilistic, alcoholic, self-centred/loathing scientist with a god-like intelligence. Arguably smarter than any deity, seeing that he killed one (with the help of us grandchildren).
Since it’s inception, Rick and Morty has always pushed the boundaries of comedy. Roiland and Harmon have explored just about every taboo subject the sun. Disarming them of their power with witty commentary and thought-provoking jabs. The series has also brilliantly deconstructed and satirized pop culture trends from superhero crossover films to anime films like Akira to even their own fandom. The sixth episode “Never Ricking Morty”, which is a poorly constructed pun on The Neverending Story, was metatextual comedic perfection. Lampooning the series’ popular fan theories and potential conclusions to story arcs before delivering a hilariously incoherent speech about the wonders of capitalism.
Unfortunately, not all the episodes in this season bear the same quality of writing as “Never Ricking Morty”. There are a couple of episodes that recycle previous sci-fi gimmicks that the show has already touched on in the past. One, in particular, feels far too reminiscent of an episode in the second season of Rick and Morty, “Auto Erotic Assimilation”. Don’t get me wrong, I still laughed but small retreads like this give me the impression that the writers are struggling at times to provide fresh angles to the show’s comedic style. Episodes like “The Vat of Acid Episode” and “Rattlestar Ricklactica”, while insanely funny at times, are more akin to prolonged bits than full episodic entries into the canon. They never wear out their welcome but in a ten-episode season, I can’t help but expect more from Harmon and Roiland at this point.
That being said, the character arc for Rick this season is nothing short of superb. At the end of season 3, we saw a crack in Rick’s facade of unfeeling, omnipotency. No matter how smart he is, he can’t outrun his attachment to his family. His need for control and his repressed desire for human connection has always been a big part of the character’s ethos, and pathos. A good majority of the time, it’s played for laughs but there have been rare breaks in which we’ve seen Rick cave into his “weakness”. Season 4, however, sees the mad scientist at his most sentimental and emotionally charged.
Throughout the series, Rick has been utterly evangelical about the futility of human existence and the hollowness of relationships. Dressing his unhealthy depression in scientism and egotistic condescension. And after four long seasons, Rick along with his loved ones are finally realizing something. It’s getting old. With each subsequent episode, we see Rick act out more maliciously and pettily than before. In the past, Rick would destroy things or create horrific situations out of sheer boredom or because someone pissed him off. This season sees him create, destroy, fight, kill and protect like a man at the end of his rope. It all ends with a titanic battle with past enemies which sees him confronting his greatest failure. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say one moment of weak indecision in Season 3 will cause him everything!
Creator and voice actor Justin Roiland is both the creative and literal voice behind the show’s duo. Once again the man has absolutely nailed each characters’ distinct personalities. It’s a thing of wonder to see Roiland animate (pun intended) so much life into Rick and Morty…while apparently being half-drunk in real life. I’m not kidding, Roiland actually gets shit-faced every time he plays Rick, for authenticity sake. Props to the man! Spencer Grammer as Morty’s older sister, Summer has more room this season to flex her comedic chops moving beyond the boundaries of occasional B-plot character. Chris Parnell as the father, Jerry is as adorably pathetic as he’s ever been before. Sarah Chalke delivers a standout performance this season as Rick’s daughter Beth, who embarks on a riveting arc that sees her learning to step out of her father’s shadow.
As for the show’s visuals, I can honestly say that Rick and Morty has outdone itself in that department. You thought Rick’s war on the Galactic Federation and the Interdimensional Councils of Ricks in Season 3’s “The Rickshank Redemption” was mad? You ain’t seen shit yet! It never ceases to amaze me how Rick and Morty‘s pencil-thin art style alternates between ridiculously rudimentary character models, often with its poorly drawn quality serving as the punchline, and jaw-dropping, intricate action setpieces. Rick and Morty irreverently satirize much of pop-culture while still honouring them through their sharp attention aesthetic detail.
Besides its occasional recycling of used gags and jokes, one minor flaw to Rick and Morty‘s latest season is that it is far more unforgiving to newcomers. If you haven’t been following the show’s previous season, you’ll be sure to miss out on the show’s multiple character payoffs. Longtime fans will, of course, be delighted to see the Rick and Morty build upon the show’s rich history with a conclusion that feels sharply final and poignant. If the series ended here, I wouldn’t complain at all. It would be a great send-off. All in all, Rick and Morty‘s comedic strength might not have met the high standards of previous seasons but it more than makes up for it with meaningful character exploration and compelling inner drama. You can catch all of Rick and Morty‘s sci-fi madness on Netflix today!
Rick and Morty Season 4 (2020)
Rick and Morty's comedic strength might not have met the high standards of previous seasons but it more than makes up for it with meaningful character exploration and poignant inner drama.