Saturday, January 28, 2023

‘Rick and Morty’ Reveals Rick’s Backstory and Creates a New Normal in Game-Changing Season Finale

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you have watched “Rick and Morty” Season 5, Episodes 9 and 10, “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” and “Rickmurai Jack.”

There was perhaps no way to know in advance that a couple of crows — appropriately known as “two crows” — would play such a pivotal role in Rick and Morty dynamic and relationship in the fifth season of “Rick and Morty.” And by “perhaps no way,” that of course means “absolutely no way,” as prior to “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” and “Rickmurai Jack” — “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Samarai Jack” riffs, respectfully — the runners that this season of “Rick and Morty” primarily kept coming back to were those of the presidential and giant incest baby variety.

And yet, those two major focal points of the season have no place here in the season’s two-episode finale, which instead takes the long way home to get to something pretty world-shattering.

“Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” has a lot in common with plenty of “Rick and Morty” episodes: Morty is frustrated with Rick’s disrespect as an adventuring partner, and Rick is disappointed in Morty’s ability as an adventuring sidekick. As a result, Morty sets off on his own — to disastrous results — and Rick also tries to prove he can do better than Morty — also to disastrous results, though usually slightly less bloodbathy than Morty’s.

Rick and Morty even have an exchange up top about this dynamic, with Rick telling Morty of “sidekick rules”: “If you can’t follow them—” Morty finishes Rick’s sentence, “I can be replaced. Yeah yeah, so you keep telling me.” Yes, so he keeps telling him and has done so in more than just this episode.

As the first half of the season finale, “Forgetting Sarick Marshall” is an episode that is definitely improved by being paired with and followed up by “Rickmurai Jack.” Because on its own, not only is it a retread, its bone dry approach to Rick’s investment in the two crows (and eventually the bird planet world) is simply bizarre.

But even on its own, it does work better than the team-up of Nick and Morty, “The Portal Boys,” because there’s at least some wonder about where it will go. Because the Nick and Morty story — specifically Nick’s bad vibes and untrustworthiness — is completely predictable from the moment Nick shows up in Morty’s portal afflicted hand. Even Morty having to have his hand removed to ultimately solve the problem. Because as “Rick and Morty” has proven time and time again, even in this very season, nothing good comes of Morty making a new friend.

(The brief “Rush Hour” reference during Nick’s prison break is funny though. Especially with Morty acting like Nick is the weird one for comparing himself to Chris Tucker when Morty’s the one who compared himself to Jackie Chan first.)

There’s nothing new gained from Nick calling Rick and Morty’s relationship “unhealthy,” especially when you realize he’s able to track that as someone who really doesn’t know Rick at all, despite what he originally says. Anyone who is in Rick and Morty’s orbit for 30 seconds can tell that about their relationship, and “Rick and Morty” is aware of that. That’s why Nick being the one to bring it up ultimately isn’t the cause of Rick to acknowledge it. Instead, it ends up being Rick seeing how a partnership can exist as such — as an actual partnership and as a healthy relationship — that makes him finally accept that that’s not what he has with Morty. To be fair, it’s kind of muddled in a way that it doesn’t need to be; “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” is strangely high-concept and philosophical — where the Nick/Morty scenes are perhaps too obvious, the Rick/crows scenes can be too vague — for an episode that boils down to Rick finally accepting that he’s abusive toward Morty.

“What we had was abusive, don’t you see,” Rick tells Morty. “I’m a bad partner because I never made you a true partner. The crows made me see that. I thought they were a joke like you, but it turns out they’re more enlightened than any of us.” He then goes on to leave with the two crows to see what they can teach him, because it’s “just kinda obsessed with crows now.”

That’s what leads to “Rickmurai Jack,” which does a solid bait and switch in going full anime — right down to Morty’s line about how Rick’s had a thousand adventures with the crows and still has yet to kill the their Big Bad — before settling into what the second half of the season finale actually is, a Citadel of Ricks episode. With the “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” title riff (and vague episode premise) and the “rebound” realization that Rick is brought to by the crows in “Rickmurai Jack,” “Rick and Morty” really tries to push the metaphor of Rick and Morty’s relationship as like that of a weirdly romantic one. But like the premise of Morty being frustrated with Rick as a partner, “Rick and Morty” has done this particular bit somewhat better in the past. Once “Rickmurai Jack” moves past that approach to the relationship dynamic — once Rick returns home — things make for a great, canon-heavy season finale.

Of course, “Rickmurai Jack” makes the fact that Rick turns a corner about the way he treats Morty over this whole crows thing come across as amazingly small, considering the eventual reveal about the truth of Rick, the Citadel, and everything that came either as a result of that or led to it in the first place. Because “Rickmurai Jack” is the episode of “Rick and Morty” that finally answers those pretty burning questions about Rick’s backstory, despite the fact that the writers clearly consider it possibly “jumping the shark” and wrap up the whole thing by having Rick say, “Now everyone can shut up about it.” Through a montage of Rick’s downloaded brain, “Rick and Morty” reveals how Diane (Rick’s wife and Beth’s mother) and Beth died, how Rick tried and failed to get revenge on the Rick who did it, and how that led to him eventually creating the Citadel of Ricks. (There are also some flashbacks of him and Birdperson, as seen in “Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort,” now putting more things into context.)

But the point the episode specifically focuses on is the fact that Rick created the Citadel of Ricks… and how it’s essentially a “Morty market.” With the reveal of Ricks across the universe using portals to Cupid Beth and Jerrys across the universe, in order to force them to eventually create the “hypothetical grandsons” known as Morty. “Rick and Morty” finally follows up on its decision to put Evil Morty in power as the President of the Citadel, and as he explains all of this to Morty (while Rick tries to say it’s not the whole truth), he also reveals what his plan is: to bring down the Central Finite Curve, a wall around infinity that separates “all the infinite universes from all the infinite universes where [Rick’s] the smartest man in the universe.”

It’s kind of a big deal. And ultimately, Evil Morty does succeed in doing so. But in the process, Rick also succeeds in actually being a partner to Morty. (If only he’d seen “BOOSTER CONTROL MUST OPERATE WITH PARTNER” sooner.) And a whole bunch of Ricks and Mortys also die in the process. It’s a game changer, as it opens up the future of “Rick and Morty” to exist in a new normal where Rick doesn’t always win. Which is probably for the best, even if someone called “Evil” Morty is responsible for it. He makes a very good point in this episode that he’s only considered evil for being sick of Rick. An understandable emotion to feel, mind you. And he ends up doing something about this, breaking the toxic cycle in the only actual way possible, based on an in-depth knowledge of infinite Ricks and Morty.

Now if only Rick could fix things with Mr. Poopybutthole, who is… not doing well these days.


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