It’s a new day for Rick and Morty, and not just because the series has returned after another lengthy hiatus. No, instead, it’s a new day for the animated mad scientist and his not-so-hapless grandson now that Rick’s daughter Beth has implemented a few new rules that put family first and crazy, classic Rick and Morty adventures second, on her sometimes-absentee father’s to-do list. That change comes as the ever-popular Adult Swim series from co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland not only begins its fourth season since launching on the late-night Cartoon Network brand in 2013, but also after the network shored up said creators for an episode order big enough to please even the most ardent Rick and Morty fan.
In typical fashion, season 4 begins with an episode that not only treats death as a mild interruption to one’s day, but also manages to weave plenty of meta-humor about the show’s storytelling tendencies and the inordinately high expectations of its fans, both good and bad (please refer to the McDonald’s szechuan sauce debacle for evidence on the latter). Those expectations are destined to go at least partially unmet as Harmon and Roiland and the rest of the Rick and Morty writers’ room are intent on subverting them at every turn, even when they’re leaning into precisely what it is that the most ardent fans crave.
To that end, ‘Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat’ is not just a “classic Rick and Morty adventure” with a twist, but also a funny commentary on the pressure felt by the show’s creators to appeal to their rabid fan base while also having the freedom to venture into new and exciting creative territory. The result, then, is a familiarly dark, cynical, and very funny half-hour of television that actually seems refreshed by its frequent meta-commentary and self-referential nature.
That Rick and Morty are seemingly aware (at least part of the time) that they’re in a television series is part and parcel to what makes the show work. It frees up the storytelling by making it absurdly self-aware, a quality that becomes incredibly important as the episode depicts Morty embarking on an Akira-like rampage (yes, Jerry even directly references Akira), killing scores of soldiers and otherwise maiming dozens more before being put on trial and eventually being set free. That Morty (and by extension, the show itself) experiences zero consequences for his actions, without resorting to a continuity-wiping deus ex machina, is perhaps one of the more refreshing aspects of the season premiere, one that speaks to where the series is headed and how its creators plan to engage with the reality-bending freedom at their disposal.
The classic adventure begins with Rick taking his grandson to collect death crystals, which allow those touching them to see all possible deaths that await them. Morty zeroes in on one where he’s comforted in his final moments by the unrequited love of his life, Jessica. This sends Morty on a path of destruction, beginning with his grandfather’s death and ending in his turning into a monstrous entity that has to be taken down by Rick, Wasp Rick, and a hologram of Rick, which eventually turns evil upon becoming tangible, because of course he does.
At the same time, Rick wakes up in the cloning lab of his alternate dimensional selves, providing viewers a glimpse at the aforementioned Wasp Rick, Shrimp Rick, and Teddy Rick (where Rick is a Teddy Bear). Unfortunately, most of these realities are also run by fascist regimes, which means Rick’s time alive in them is ultimately cut short —either by the fascists in them or by Rick himself. It’s also another example of how easily Morty seems to give himself over to authoritarianism, regardless the dimension he’s in.
In all, the new season of Rick and Morty gets off on the right foot with an adventure that blends the sort of outlandish space-and-dimensional-faring adventure audiences can’t seem to get enough of and the sort of self-referential meta-comedy the show makes such clever use of. As is usually the case, the series also plants seeds for what’s to come, though, as it has in the past, it’s anyone’s guess as to when — or if — those seeds will flower into anything or if the creators will use it to keep their viewers enthralled.
Rick and Morty continues next Sunday with ‘The Old Man and the Seat’ @11:30pm on Adult Swim.