Rick and Morty has always had certain expectations attached to it. The unimaginable cosmic, space adventures; larger philosophical messages; and at times, dismantling pop culture phenomena that now define our entertainment reality — this is a watered-down recipe to what goes into the episodes. The very crux of the show, essentially, is a cynical and nihilistic take on humans — we don't matter and are a simple speck in a universe of inconceivable, marvellous happenings. And all of this is staged with dark, sardonic, and clever humour, engendering mass appeal. Who wouldn't want an entertaining and a thought-provokingly bloggable show? So, it came with a little disappointment that the first half of season 4 (on Netflix) missed out on the entertainment side of it.
Much like its last three seasons, there is no overarching plot here, especially in the first five episodes. It is purely episodic, unrelated to each other with occasional callbacks to its previous seasons — either by bringing up older characters or subplots. So, it is the standard grandfather-grandson adventure romp — skirmishing across planets, introducing us to bizarre new species', and their intriguing use of tech to evade or cause problems. They encounter wizards that enslave and flog dragons, try to stop an app that's a hyperbolised Tinder, and hide in vats of acid to save themselves. However unusual this sounds, this is the staple Rick and Morty.
That was the irresistible allure of the show — it is not intellectually high-brow and smart alone, it can be real and hit home, rather hard.
What the first half forgets though, are the emotions that tie together a show entirely wrapped in kooky sci-fi. These instances were too few and far between, robbing the series of its only human element. And because of that, those episodic moments don't really stay with you, they are forgettable and just make you reminiscent of the previous seasons. Creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, earlier, had put in the effort to humanise Rick — from the painfully real 'Wubba Lubba Dub-Dub' catchphrase to his reticence about loneliness and depression. That was the irresistible allure of the show — it is not intellectually high-brow and smart alone, it can be real and hit home, rather hard. So, it only seems fitting to compare their previous impressive feats with the current unimpressive ones.
The season also carries on the recurring meta, genre-mocking tone the series always maintained — here, heist films and the Ocean's franchise particularly face the brunt of it, along with some subtle and snarky comments on Futurama, Akira and ironically, Netflix. Even as this creative intertextual bashing can get unintentionally snide, there is much fun to be had in just seeing how they manage to bring out the mockery.
Harmon and Roiland, in a way, atone for the initial missteps in the latter half of the season — it is packed with all the ingredients that gave the show its original mojo. It is high on action, high on emotion, and isn't suffocatingly monotonous like the first few episodes. The second half is densely packed with information, but moreover, the sentiments take over. Instead of the singular adventures the duo have, they finally rope their family in. The family ensemble escapades have always been riotously entertaining due to the amusing family dynamics. And even in this season, it is just as farcical, although now, there is a clear shake-up in those dynamics. Rick's neglected daughter starts claiming agency over their missions, his good-for-nothing son-in-law, while classically screwing the pooch, is now a bit more competent, and his granddaughter becomes increasingly vituperative, in an absurdly funny manner.
There is a lot to process with each episode. In a Snowpiercer-themed episode, Rick and Morty are stuck in a train loop under an Inception inspired simulated reality. And within this, we see a lightsaber duel, medieval army, and a hunky Jesus Christ. That is the charm of Rick and Morty — you can marinate in it for a while, with the chance to revisit these episodes inexhaustibly for it is never short of rich content. The creators have, time and again, demonstrated their ability to bring something fresh to the table and here, they rarely fall short.
Rick can no longer keep up the facade of indifference and detachment behind his scientific performances — reality is catching up and all he can do is face it head-on.
As the show goes deeper into the season, their adventures take a more psychological turn — we are given a peek into Rick's brain, one full of repentance and dejection. The consequences of his dysfunctionalities, especially for being a "shitty" parent and a selfish grandfather, start seeping in — his family is exasperated with him, now gradually upending. And as he attempts to make amends, this show turns into a devastating tale of hopelessness — you gain sympathy for an unsympathetic, loathsome man. Rick can no longer keep up the facade of indifference and detachment behind his scientific performances — reality is catching up and all he can do is face it head-on. His failures are almost pitiful. While his life goes further downhill in the quite anticlimactic season finale, it offered a more promising look at what may come next, in season five. And this is why the season soars — at the end, it flavourfully merges the themes explored in previous seasons together, staying true to the show's overall tempo.
With a middling first half of a season struggling to find its place, it is evident that Harmon and Roiland are trying to keep things from getting repetitive. After all, they put in a five-minute montage of snakes hissing in one episode. But ultimately, with an intimate and focused second half, the two manage to bring Rick and Morty back to life, in its glorious, outspoken form.
Rick and Morty can be streamed on Netflix India.