Monday, June 1, 2020

Rick and Morty Season 4 Episode 10 Recap & Review

At long last we’ve reached the end of Rick and Morty Season 4, and in true Rick and Morty season finale fashion, “Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri” is the episode that matters. Typically, the first and last episodes of the seasons have been the only ones that advance the overall “mythology” of the Rick and Morty universe. Specifically, this episode reveals that Rick did indeed make a clone of Beth at the end of the Season 3 episode “The ABCs of Beth”, and sent one of them into space. Except, we’re not sure which one is the real Beth, and which one is the clone. It’s a real Parent Trap, but the one with Lindsay Lohan.

In the first scene, we meet the badass Space Warrior version of Beth who is leading a rebellion against the evil Galactic Federation that took Rick prisoner at the end of Season 2 and briefly enslaved Earth. We come to find out that the new Federation is being led by Tammy, whom we last saw in the post-credits scene of Season 3 Episode 1 “The Rickshank Redemption”. Space Beth successfully steals the plans for the New Federation’s Death Star (sponsored by Wrangler Jeans) called the NX-5 Planet Remover, which they intend to use to dominate the galaxy. But she discovers a device in her neck that is probably a bomb and also was most likely put there by Rick (we know from “The ABCs of Beth” that it’s the clone reconciliation device), so she decides to return to Earth to vaporize him. 

Her presence on Earth draws the attention of the New Federation, who apprehends both Space Beth and Regular Beth because they’re not sure which one is a clone and they want to cover all their bases. (Totally understandable.) Morty and Summer have a brief B plot in which they fight over an invisibility belt, Jerry fucks around with puppets, and the whole family ultimately unites to fly up to the Planet Remover to destroy the New Federation and save the Beth's and the galaxy.

After a string of episodes that dwelled too much on the angst of the show’s creators at the expense of its characters (in my opinion), “Star Mort Rick turn of the Jerri” is an instant classic. It’s a familiar sci-fi premise (which Rick derides as “being too Star Wars”), the jokes come at such a rapid clip that I didn’t even catch them all until after my third viewing, and it advances the overarching narrative of the series, as admittedly thin as it is. In addition to the return of characters like Tammy and Birdperson (now Birdphoenix), the episode features a nice cameo from Dr. Wong (Susan Sarandon). Dr. Wong originally appeared in “Pickle Rick”, which remains one of the best episodes of the series both in terms of irreverent silliness and impactful character development. And like “Pickle Rick”, this episode features a real emotional moment for Rick that actually punishes him for his terribleness, albeit clumsily. (More on that in a minute.)

First, I want to talk about Space Beth, arguably the most important development of the show’s four seasons. “The ABCs of Beth” introduced the idea that Beth might in fact be a clone (or one of many clones) of Rick’s actual daughter, and this episode confirms it. However, it never identifies which Beth is the “real” one – in another callback reference (this time to the Season 3 episode “Morty’s Mind Blowers”), Rick reveals that he had the memory of Beth’s cloning erased and stored in a vial, so not even he knows the truth. But when he sits down to play the stored memory for the whole family, not a single one of them wants to see it, not even the two Beth's. 

So Rick sits there and watches it alone, but while Rick reabsorbs the memory, we as the audience don’t get to see the solution. Because it ultimately doesn’t matter – the Smith family is stoked on Space Beth because she’s fucking awesome, and the two Beth's respect each other so much that they don’t care to know which one of them is the clone. I’m pretty excited to see how Space Beth will play into future seasons. (Hopefully she won’t just be immediately killed off in the Season 5 premiere, although historically that’s how Rick and Morty has handled major plot developments.)

While “Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri” is primarily plot-driven, it’s still rife with meta jokes, but in a more fun way than the previous few episodes, which have focused around the somewhat embarrassing premise of how difficult it is to be a comedy writer. In this episode, the meta observations are limited to legitimately funny references to brand sponsorship – the Wrangler-sponsored Planet Remover shuts down after Summer throws Morty’s Wrangler jeans into the path of its laser, and Rick makes an offhand reference to the show’s current advertising deal with Wendy’s. Susan Sarandon also gets a fun line wherein she says, “I’m better than this job,” which is a reference to both the endlessly patient Dr. Wong and the fact that legendary actress Susan Sarandon is worth more than a three-sentence cameo on a late-night cartoon show. The only weak moments come when each member of the Smith family calls out their respective character arcs as they are completed. It’s not as inside baseball as the story train from “Never Ricking Morty”, but it’s still a joke specifically for writers.

Let’s dive into that emotional ending for Rick. It’s very reminiscent of the Season 2 in which Rick realizes he is a burden on his family and decides to turn himself in to the Galactic Federation (only to immediately buy back that emotional breakthrough in the Season 3 premiere when he easily escapes and comes back to Earth, kicking Jerry out of the house in the process). When the entire family declines to watch his memory, it becomes clear that they are no longer seeking his approval – the Beths are boosting each other’s confidence, Summer and Morty are working together as a great team, and Jerry is hyped about having two wives that actually sort of kinda like him. (He manages to save the day by using his puppetry skills on Tammy’s dead body – I won’t spoil it further.) They don’t need Rick anymore. 

So he watches the memory by himself, which begins with the ending of “The ABCs of Beth”, when Beth debates allowing Rick to clone her Multiplicity-style so she can take off and do whatever she wants to do while a copy of her stays home to do the less glamorous job of being a suburban mom. However, whereas “The ABCs of Beth” cuts away before Beth makes her decision, “The Rickturn of the Jerri” reveals that her decision was to have Rick decide. Specifically, she wants him to decide whether he wants her to be a part of his life or not.

Rick is visibly distressed by her choice, so he clones her and does a shell game with the clones, randomly sending one into space and keeping the other at home on Earth. Rick never knew which Beth was the clone – the memory he erased was the memory of him making the choice not to know. He can’t decide whether he wants his daughter to be free of her need for his approval or not, so he betrayed her trust in order to not have to make that decision. It’s a familiar symptom of self-loathing – you can’t decide whether you hate yourself or the people who care about you. But as I’ve stressed in my coverage this season, Rick consistently chooses to harm both equally, making him the unequivocal villain of the series. (Although everything he does to Jerry is entirely excusable, because Jerry sucks forever after.)

“Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri” is a strong finish for the season, and it’s easily my favorite episode of The Other Five. However, Season 4 was definitely front-loaded – the five episodes that aired last winter were all 5-star offerings, whereas this second half has felt somewhat less inspired and more bitter towards its audience. That said, Rick and Morty is still one of the best-written comedies on television, and I’m anxiously awaiting the next batch of episodes that hopefully won’t take three years to come out.