The Rick and Morty faithful know what it means to wait for new episodes—and are on familiar turf again, now that the first half of season four is over. This might be why the first five episodes leaned so hard into fan service. But they also elevated the show’s signature blend of juvenile humor and flat-out brilliance.
The episodes all put the focus squarely on Rick. Which, duh—obviously, he’s always been the show’s main character—but season four picks up in the wake of Rick’s season three realization that he really does want to be a part of his daughter’s family, even if it means respecting her pesky boundaries and rules. Since he’s accustomed to bulldozing everyone with his superior intelligence and getting his way in any situation, having to tone down his Rick-ness has been a challenge.
His frustration over losing control gets an outstanding showcase in “The Old Man and the Seat,” in which he’s outraged to discover an intruder—Tony, a frog-man office drone voiced by Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright—has been taking clandestine poops in Rick’s secret toilet in paradise. Though Rick swears violent revenge and even gets to torture the guy a little, he’s surprisingly shaken when he learns that Tony has died, in a totally unrelated-to-Rick accident. Rick’s toilet is back to being his own private sanctuary, but that rivalry with Tony—which he was obviously thrilled to engage in—is also gone, and the loneliness he’d been deflecting becomes impossible to escape.
Rick finds another odd connection outside the Smith family in “Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktim’s Morty” (the episode titles this season have been delightfully extra), when he and Morty’s pet dragon, Balthromaw (voiced by Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham), get high and bond over their shared awesomeness. Except for the dragon, “bonding” means a literal sharing of souls, something that’s only fun for Rick until the drugs wear off.
The saddest Rick predicament came in the season opener—“Edge of Tomorty: Rick, Die, Repeat”—in which he spends most of the episode dead, either communicating through a self-aware hologram or through the cloned bodies of Ricks from other universes after Morty refuses to revive him in his main timeline. Rick out of his comfort zone can be entertaining (see: “Pickle Rick”), but choosing this storyline for the first episode after such a long absence really set the tone for what was to come. Not only does he die in this one, we’re also shown that he must ask permission before bringing Morty on his adventures. For the first time, even Beth’s idiot husband Jerry had more clout than Rick in the Smith household, which is possibly the greatest insult Rick has ever had to put up with.
Fortunately, Rick doesn’t spend all his time at home, and when he’s not around Beth, he can be just as much of a genius asshole as he wants to be. There was a huge helping of classic Rick in “One Crew Over the Crewcoo’s Morty”—a farcical send-up of heist movies that also somehow crafted fresh hilarity from the go-to Rick and Morty plotline of AI gone ludicrously, exponentially wild, with a razor-sharp dig at Netflix along for the ride.
But last night’s midseason finale, “Rattlesnake Ricklantica,” was probably the season high point so far because—in addition to being flat-out, rapid-fire hilarity, riffing on Terminator and other sci-fi tropes galore as Morty accidentally/stupidly/predictably disrupts the evolution of a planet filled with intelligent snakes...including multiple montages where the only dialogue is a series of hisses—it showed some cracks beginning to form in the new Smith family pecking order. As Rick and Morty delights in reminding us, Jerry is a huge loser in most any situation (for instance, deciding to develop a destructive dating app with Rick’s alien intern after being expressly told not to), but it’s only exacerbated by his determined quest not to accept any help from Rick. This goes for tasks small, like hanging Christmas decorations, to huge, like being saved from a horrific injury or even certain death. He’d literally rather die than give Rick the satisfaction of pulling him out of yet another jam.
We know that Jerry sucks, and Rick obviously knows it all too well—but in “Rattlesnake Ricklantica,” we see Beth’s starting to realize that letting her dad run shit is sometimes the only good option. She’s tasking the kids with keeping tabs on Jerry (“Mom told me she wanted me to stay here to make sure you didn’t die,” Morty tells his father as he’s wobbling around on a ladder with a string of lights), and laughing uproariously (along with Rick and the kids) at the idea that Jerry might be capable of having an affair. (Beth doesn’t even have her own husband’s phone number stored in her phone. Ouch!) And while Jerry ends up doing an impressive job with the Christmas lights, his absence during the episode’s massive snake battle lets Beth know he was in struggle mode elsewhere, even if he’ll never admit it.
Otherwise, season four so far has been awfully heavy on guest stars (Taika Waititi! Sam Neill! Kathleen Turner! Matthew Broderick! Elon Musk?) and callbacks to previous seasons—aside from character returns, like Mr. Meeseeks and Mr. Poopybutthole (excuse me, Professor Poopybutthole), we’ve also gotten little snippets, like Rick drunkenly passed out in front of a TV playing the “how to make a plumbus” segment first glimpsed back in season two. We’ve yet to see anything addressing the series’ larger mythology, like how the Citadel of Ricks is faring under its newly-elected President Morty, whose sinister secret was revealed last season.
Of course, there’ll be plenty of room to explore all of that—and maybe see Beth figure out what the hell she’s still doing with Jerry, for real this time?—in the second half of season four...whenever that arrives in 2020 on Adult Swim. What was your favorite moment of season four so far, and what are you looking forward to in the second half?
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