Hey everyone, Charlie here, I want to take a minute to talk to you about Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty is a fairly popular animated television program that just ended its second season this past Sunday. I say fairly popular based entirely on my Facebook feed, which consisted of nary a R&M post during its first season, growing healthily over the year-and-a-half absence, and seemed to reached a healthy consistency over the course of this summer’s delivery of episodes. This is all well and good, but there’s a slight problem: this season hasn’t been that great.
There’s an anxiety at play here. I simultaneously want to share my excitement over a great TV show with some people I didn’t think would ever be interested in it, decry the fact that this season isn’t as great as it could have been and lob some criticisms into the fray, and mourn the fact that my excitement levels about the show don’t sync up with others. I think that may be a familiar feeling to anyone that discovers an album or movie a couple months or years after their friends have all watched and enjoyed it, and when that person brings it up, their friends respond with something like, “yeah, that thing is pretty great. . . ” and then they trail off. End of conversation. You may want to talk about it, but you get the feeling that for many other people it’s something in the past, and the discussions have already been had. It’s likely we’ve all been on both sides of this exchange. Luckily, with a TV show, the discussion self-perpetuates; as long as the show is still running you can catch up on the episodes between seasons and join the discussion. On the other side of things, the people that tend to be ahead of the curve pop-culture-wise can’t really be that far ahead of you. It’s not like TV shows leak as albums do.
So now that we are all together here (I suppose that I’m assuming that, if you like Rick and Morty, you have completed season two, but if you haven’t, come back to this article anytime in the next year and a half (or more), and I’ll be in the same place with you, waiting for the third season), let’s talk about R&M season two.
Why do I feel like this season of Rick and Morty hasn’t been that great? Simple answer: repetition. So many episodes this season dealt with a similar thematic structure without exploring this theme from different angles. It really wanted to push the idea that Morty is a character with morals (albeit uncomplicated ones), and wants to do right in the world, but his attempts to right wrongs in an amoral universe usually result in even more apocalyptic destruction. Meanwhile Rick, by nearly all accounts a relatively cold son of a bitch, usually can see beyond a couple innocent deaths to the greater picture, which either means the avoidance of planet-wide genocide or the safety of his grandkids. It’s almost as if the show proposes intelligence as its own morality, whereas uninformed morality and do-goodery can actually cause more harm than good. There’s a wonderful anthropological nugget somewhere in there about cultural relativism; for instance, in the episode “Look Who’s Purging Now” in which Rick and Morty visit one of those purge planets, where the key to a civil society is a night where there are no laws and people can go on murderous rampages and whatnot. To Morty, this idea is repellent, and he wants no part of it, vilifying the civilization for not being in line with his own sense of order. Rick, however, believes in doing as the natives do, so to speak, and is prepared to get his purge on. When Morty tries to intervene (for his own libidinous purposes), and alter the course of the purge planet is when things go awry, and Rick has to restore things to the way they were. Actually, by the end of the episode, Rick begrudgingly does help the planet overthrow its corrupt ruling class that forces the purge on the masses, but then we see that the masses don’t actually have a better way for dealing with their society. It’s a pretty pessimistic view on how the world works.
Anyhow, this theme structures a majority of the season two episodes, and it got pretty boring. After a while, it felt lazy, and I was stuck wishing the creators of the show spent more time exploring the mechanics of the worlds that Rick and Morty were visiting instead of using them as a backdrop for the moral dilemma. Do I think that Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland squeezed all the comedy gold they could have from the concept of purge planets? No, not really. Would Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords as a talking cloud named Fart have been funnier if he wasn’t just a lesson with a funny song? Definitely. Not that there hasn’t been some development over the course of the season. We gradually see Morty learning how to function in the universe. Sometimes when you are on a purge planet you just have to purge (but don’t take it too far, buddy). I just wish there was a bit more continuity between the episodes. Not that Rick and Morty has to be completely serialized, but there are a lot of things that any individual episode seems to develop and then barely acknowledge again (hello Beth’s alcoholic breakdown in “Total Rickall”).
That being said, I thought the season finale was pretty phenomenal, and actually recast the season for me. The season finale finally presented a different take on the moral structure of the system, mainly by adding legitimate weight to what was happening to the characters. My partner (who is not as big of a fan of the show as I am) thinks the decisions that Rick makes in this episode are completely uncharacteristic of his usually self-centered modus operandi; while I agree that he is usually not so self-sacrificing, I’m not sure that this season doesn’t set us up to believe in his empathetic turn towards his family. He would never let any legitimate harm come to Morty, Summer, or Beth (Jerry is another story). The reason that I really like this finale, though, is because it makes me legitimately excited for the next season, whereas I kinda expected this one to end and I would feel somewhat apathetic towards the long year and a half (or more) wait for new episodes. The reason it does this is because it makes me think that Harmon and Roiland have something big up their sleeves, bigger than the casual vibe of the show would let you think. After the finale, I found myself wondering what the function of each season has been, and it seems like season one functioned as exposition. We are introduced to the characters and the universe(s) that they inhabit. We get a good feeling for some (but definitely not all) of the laws that govern those environments. All of these things are introduced at a luxurious pace; there are no huge storylines or arcs for the characters. Harmon and Roiland just want us to get comfortable in the world they inhabit. Then, in season two, they really start exploring some of the problems and dilemmas someone like Morty, a not-too-bright pubescent boy, would have by being foisted into the larger world. They take their time doing this too, so much so that it begins to feel repetitive, but they really want to hammer home that Rick and Morty are part of one singular organism that needs each other to thrive. Morty needs Rick’s intelligence in order to navigate the outer and inner spaces around him, while Rick occasionally needs a dose of Morty’s integrity (it’s interesting that we also see both of these being corrupted by each other). It’s only in this season finale in which we see a possible overarching conflict really developing, that could take several seasons to sort out. I have no idea if the next season will take this conflict head-on and turn R&M into some space epic, or if they will resolve it in the first episode of season three. Either way, I’m finally excited again to see what they will do. I hope you are too.