For me, Rick and Morty season 4 had been a bit of a muddled mess. It contained some of my favorite episodes of the series with “The Vat of Acid Episode” and “The Old Man and the Seat,” but simultaneously had some of my least favorite episodes like “Childrick of Mort” and “Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri.” Well, Rick and Morty is back and it seems like the tradition that began in season 4 has continued, because Rick and Morty season 5 might be the most varying-in-quality season of the show yet.
Watch out for spoilers for Rick and Morty season 5 below!
With my disappointment in the finale of season 4 titled “Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri,” I was left with a pretty bad taste in my mouth. But season 5 picked up the pace and lifted the bar on quality almost immediately. “Mort Dinner Rick Andre” is essentially a Madlib for a Rick and Morty episode. It introduces a new quirky episode, has Morty desperately trying to play confident and impress a girl, and has a minor mistake lead to huge cosmic repercussions. Mr. Nimbus (Dan Harmon) is an incredibly fun addition to the universe of characters for the show to pull from, and adding a character with a past with Rick can lead to some more depth in the future.
The show began to build a bit of momentum with the second episode of season 5: “Mortyplicity.” This episode is classic Rick and Morty absurdism and constantly spits in the face of logic. The episode sees the entire Smith family on a mission for survival..from other versions of themselves. It sounds like pretty standard Rick and Morty, but it excels when it finally decides to ditch the loyalty to one version of these characters, and then the carnage begins. The episode consists almost entirely of creative versions of our classic characters battling each other to the death, and it makes for a ton of fun.
The third episode of season 5 might be the most interesting episode of the entire series yet. Very rarely does the show decide to commit to earnestness and emotion, rather than just laughing at itself. But “A Rickconvenient Mort” does just that – and strikes a perfect balance in the meantime. It succeeds at parodying the “Captain Planet” concept with Planetina (Alison Brie) and makes the aged and jaded children of Planetina the antagonists of the episode. At its core, though, the episode really is just an analysis of Morty’s relationship with Planetina and ends on an odd note. Morty and Planetina have to cut ties with each other, and the episode ends with Beth (Sarah Chalke) comforting Morty in the wake of his break-up. The episode really blows me out of the water with its ability to leave me question whether or not I should be crying at the heartbreak, laughing at the absurdity, or both. Each time I’ve seen it yet, I’m left crying and laughing at the fact that I’m doing so, and I just marvel at the fact that they’ve achieved that.
FALL FROM GRACE….RIGHT ON ITS FACE
Sadly, the show also doesn’t waste its time completely crashing and burning. Episode 4, “Rickdependence Spray,” is one of the worst episodes of anything I’ve seen in recent memory. For a show based in comedy, this entire episode manages to be offensive to anyone else who considers themselves a comedian. The entire episode is one prolonged joke about sperm and having sex with horses that climax with a giant space incest baby (that climax pun is better than anything in the entire episode). There is only one memorable joke (if you’ve seen it, “trebuchet”), and the rest of the episode just spends its time winking at the camera and making sex jokes, desperately hoping that no one with more mental maturity than a 12-year-old tuned in.
Episode 5 “Amortycan Grickfitti” is not quite as outwardly offensive as the episode before it, but it’s just as if not lazier than any fan fiction you might have ever read. The entire episode is nothing more than an extended reference to the Hellraiser and Transformer franchises and it is incredibly clear throughout the runtime. It’s very uncreative and bland, and only ever shows a bit of promise during one extended sequence with Beth and Rick invading Hell to save Jerry (Chris Parnell). They have a couple of good jokes regarding the paradoxical way in which the demons enjoy pain, but overall the entire episode just feels like a wash and is one that I would probably skip over during any future watch-through of the show.
RETURN TO FORM
“Rick and Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular” is one the MOST FUN Rick and Morty episodes thus far. It’s completely unhinged in its concept and doesn’t hold back in its execution. After Rick does something that puts him in the crosshairs of the US government, he takes advantage of the time and hatches a plan to receive a presidential pardon via becoming a turkey. I mean…c’mon. It’s simple, it’s fun, and the president getting to appear is never not fun. Having him align with Rick and Morty this time leads to a lot of good stuff. At the end of the day, it feels like someone asked the question “what if a presidentially pardoned turkey actually needed a pardon” and it completely works. Non-stop fun.
“GoTron Jerrysis Rickvangelion” walks the line perfectly between something like “The Vat of Acid Episode” and “Amortycan Grickfitti.” It reduces itself to being very referential for a majority of the time while also using that veil and premise to explore something interesting. It parodies the idea of Japanese Mecha anime while also exploring the mental state of Rick and Morty throughout the episode, which is something that Japanese Mecha anime is known to do. It does make the mistake of going back over the same bit from “A Rickconventient Mort” with the owners of the GoTron being the eventual antagonists of the episodes, but in the end, the episode is a fun adventure featuring the entire family, alternate versions of Rick, and has a fun bit at the end that explains away the constant Mecha anime voice-overs from Summer and Morty throughout the episode.
“Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort” is another referential episode, but less so than the one before it. While yes, the episode does use the plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the framework, it also doesn’t spend its runtime endlessly winking and nodding at the audience. Instead, it truly does lean into that established framework and spends the episode deepening the relationship between Rick and Birdperson through the memories that the two share with each other. However, the show does lay some shaky groundwork for the future by establishing that Tammy and Birdperson had a child, and I think that anything involving Tammy and “Phoenixperson” is pretty boring. But, the episode does a really great job of showing what a real relationship and real love from Rick would look like, and the relationship between him and Birdperson is solidified as one to root for by the end of the episode.
Now here we are. The final two episodes that the entire season has been leading up to. More than before, this season had felt very referential and less serialized than before. The “incest baby” that was created this season shows up in multiple episodes in different contexts and Birdperson returned and was then used to set up more stories for the future. However, more importantly, the season seemed to be aligned thematically. The entire season is a constant dissection and analysis of the relationship between the characters, but at the front and center of it all was of course Rick and Morty. The finale episodes “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” and “Rickmurai Jack” do the best job at balancing character and story, even if they aren’t quite the best episodes of the season.
Part one of the finale, “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall,” does exactly what you might deduce based on the title — focuses on a break-up. With the season mostly focusing on relationships, it makes sense that the season’s 2 part magnum opus would focus on our two leads. The episode starts with them going through their “break-up” after Morty tries to refill Rick’s portal gun with Mountain Dew and Morty lies to Rick. The two then argue, jab back and forth, and part ways as partners-in-crime. The rest of the episode is devoted to the two resulting separated journeys, with varying degrees of success. Morty gets into the regular shenanigans after discovering that a portal he accidentally got on his hand when faking the mountain dew portal fuel, has a man on the other side. The two connect over their mutual disdain with Rick, but Morty quickly realizes that his “Portal Bro” was crazier and more unhinged than Rick ever was. Morty returns home and crosses paths with Rick, and having a new appreciation for his grandpa hopes that they can rekindle their partnership.
However, while Morty was on his own journey, Rick was following through on an earlier comedic bit that displayed Morty’s worth as second to a pair of crows. The partnership goes well until they try to morally strong-arm Rick into saving a group of helpless creatures, and Rick lets the crows go on a crow-led world. What Rick didn’t know was that the crows on that world were on an elevated plane of thinking, and they helped Rick reach a level of clarity that he’d never known before. When Rick comes back across a newly appreciative Morty, he refuses to become partners with him again. So after gifting Morty with the portal gun, Rick leaves with his new crow partners and goes on for his own adventure, sans toxic relationships.
But that’s only the first part. The second half of the episode sees the two brought back together by fate, and push up against Evil Morty from seasons in the past. “Rickmurai Jack” is easily the more eventful episode of the two parted finale, and while splitting the two characters up is crucially important, finally bringing the two back together and putting them in front of Evil Morty is a huge step forward for the story. This is really where the show begins to feel like it’s headed towards a reboot of the whole thing. By the end of the episode, Evil Morty has destroyed the Citadel, and Rick and Morty head back to Earth with a ship full of escaped Mortys. Rick and Morty are back together as partners, and the next season could seemingly pick up as if there were no episodes preceding it.
The finale was excellent. Given the season 4 and season 3 finales, this feels like a huge step up in terms of promises made for next season: there are none, and that feeling of a clean slate or fresh air is exactly what this show needs. This season of Rick and Morty has been, sadly, once again mixed, but I look forward to and feel lots of promise for the future of the show. It feels like it’s picking up the pace once again, and I’m excited to see where it goes.