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Relatively early in “Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerry”, Rick has a coffee with his daughter. Or his daughter’s clone. It’s a little fuzzy, really; if you remember season three, Beth discovered harsh truths about herself and couldn’t decide if she wanted to stay on Earth with her family or go out into the galaxy and have adventures. Rick offered to make a clone of her with all of her memories, so she could leave the guilt free, but the episode (“The ABCs of Beth”) ended on an ambiguous note. Which, at the time, looked like both a decent meta-joke for fans and a way to “resolve” an intractable situation without fundamentally changing the status quo. If you remember, season three was devoted to Rick Winning Everything, even if it turned out to be a deeply broken person in terms of basic things like love and support and relationships with anyone. (I mean, it’s always been in the show’s DNA, but season three has been as difficult as possible.) Not knowing if we were watching Beth or her clone seemed to be both a way to cement status from Rick as a technology – that is – Basically, Magic God and the latest iteration of the endless supply of fakes, double-bluffs, and alternate realities in the series.
“Death Star Jerry’s Rickturn”
“Death Star Jerry’s Rickturn”
Honestly, I didn’t think it would ever come back. But here we are with the season four finale, and there is a Beth in space (Beth “Smith”) who leads the “Defiance” against the empire of evil, and who has a hell of a time. But she discovers that she has a device in her neck that she did not know; she decides it’s a bomb; and she’s coming back to Earth to kick Rick’s ass for trapping her. Rick talks about her exit, tells her that the “device” (Earth Beth has one on her neck too) is just a way for Space Beth to download all the memories of Earth Beth if she decides to come back, and the two go for coffee. Beth brags about her achievements as a rebel – she is the most wanted person in the galaxy now – and Rick tells her (partly as a way to cover the fact that he is a bit threatened, but also as the truth ) someone is still trying to take control of the galaxy; the trick is to get anyone to ignore you.
It’s a line that marked me. “Star Death” has a lot of unexpected rocky continuity (leave it to this show to make jokes about how stupid it is to nod your head at past events, then bring the Beth Clone Saga, Dr. Wong, Tonya and Bird Person – I am sorry, Phoenix Person – all at once and assume that you will follow), a rare “hero” for Jerry, and an intelligent response to ambiguity that allows the resolution of the characters without giving details. We are reminded, for the umpteenth time, that Rick Sanchez is a shitty father, a shitty grandfather and stepfather and all around the human being. (He thinks he’s still a good friend because he collected the remains of the Phoenix Person, but the jury stays on that one.) There’s even a sad pop song near the end, when we find out the twist of that way in “The ABCs of Beth”, Beth told her father to make the choice for her; and he couldn’t; so even he doesn’t know who the clone or the original is.
It’s supposed to be an emotional moment. It lands well – he has all the rhythm of a scene “god, this guy sucks, and he knows he sucks, and you feel a little sorry for him because he doesn’t seem to change”. And it’s okay, although it gets harder and harder to feel a lot about Rick as the show progresses. Rick and Morty started as a deconstruction of science fiction and genre tropes with a lot of acute cynicism about human nature and an ability to engage in nihilism just enough to be shocking, but not enough to give up completely. And it’s always this show, more or less. But over the years, it has become more and more a sort of anti-hero apology, an excuse to celebrate a certain kind of misanthropic self-esteem while pretending to confuse it. There is a kind of self-loathing that is really just disguised narcissism, and although it is no less painful or destructive because of it, it also rules out the possibility of real change. It’s easier, really, to be shit and then tell yourself that you are shit (and that oh hey, the world is also shit), because if you are really incredibly horrible, and there n There’s no way you can ever act differently because of how horribly you are basically – well, the problem is solved, right?
Rick and Morty, of course, is also aware of this nonsense. On a few occasions, sane characters have shown Rick how stupid his crap; Dr. Wong ended “Pickle Rick” by explaining more or less the whole problem. And it’s not that Rick really has to “get better” or anything, because it’s a comedy series and he’s not a real person. The problem is not Rick’s line on how the secret of life is to make sure the bad empires ignore you; the problem is, it’s hard to know where the character’s perspective ends and where the show’s perspective begins. Because for Rick, being selfish is one thing; this is not a new thought, and it is one that most people have had at some point in their lives, especially those of us who have the privilege of claiming that it applies to us. But for the series to pretend that it undermines this prospect even if it does not approve it so secretly (by asking Rick always being right and always being super-powerful and able to get away from it all, and also having most of the other people outside of his immediate family are disposable and boring)… well, that makes it difficult to keep busy even if the song qu ‘they play when he’s sad is really very sad.
That’s why the big revelation about Beth really didn’t do much for me one way or the other. It’s not a story that I needed to solve, and the character change from Beth in season three has always seemed a bit offbeat; bringing him back now was more of a reminder of this awkwardness, even if the episode ends with pretty much the same thing. What Is the job is to figure out how many “Star Deaths” are spent with Summer and Morty teaming up and bickering like asshole brothers and sisters and saving the planet; and how Jerry is really useful and heroic, even if he is still essentially Jerry; and how everyone in the family, from the Beths downstairs, is so absolutely done with Rick’s shit. I can’t really feel bad for Rick Sanchez being, I don’t know, trapped by his own genius or something at this point. But to have treated him as the loser that he is in some way? It has legs on it.
As for the story itself … well, Tonya got out pretty easily; it was a fun reminder, and Jerry puppetizing his corpse to distract Phoenix Person did a good job distinguishing between “disturbing” and “entertaining”, but his death was a bit like writers just trying to get rid of a coward end. The fight between Rick and Phoenix Person was exciting, and although it was the second consecutive episode where Rick was beaten by the bejeezus, it was a smart touch that in both fights, someone else had to save her ass. Rick and MortyThe third season of the series felt like the series was growing about as far as it could go in a particular state of mind, and although this purity of focus produced great episodes, it also left a little scorched earth behind Rick as a character. Much of season four has been slow, clumsily trying to find a way to return to the balance of the first two seasons, and it has been more successful than I ever imagined.
It was funny? Yes, I laughed and there were good jokes. (The post-credit scene from Jerry inadvertently making a garbage truck invisible was rewarding.) The story was thrilling, the stakes were convincing (not easy to exploit for a show where “let’s just move on to another reality and try” is a legitimate point of the plot), and although some parts of the end did not affect me in the way it seemed to be designed, I think the wider arc of the season, the efforts to make Rick something less than the most awesome asshole in the universe, worked pretty well. I know I take this show too seriously, and I do my best to try to balance this with an appreciation for everything going well. It was good, this last batch of episodes, not to have to work so hard not to forget to say beautiful things.
- It is interesting to see how little Dr. Wong does in this episode; she is mainly there to let us know that the family continues to receive therapy (and Rick does everything to avoid it). I will consider that the authors have not completely forgotten the points which she raised throughout “Pickle Rick”. I’m also glad they didn’t kill her.
- “She died as she lived, too serialized. -Rick, re: Tonya.
- ” It’s funny. I always wondered who would win if we fought. “So you’ve always been a bad friend.” “
- “It fascinates me that an entire family can be so critical and aspire so much.” Phoenix Person establishes some hard truths.