[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Rick and Morty” Season 3, Episode 8, “Morty’s Mind Blowers.”]
One of the joys of “Rick and Morty” is that there’s no standard Rick and Morty adventure. As last week proved, there’s no concrete shortcut to a classic episode, no formula to ensure success with this group of characters. So after the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing madness of last week’s “The Ricklantis Mixup,” it would be easy to write off a subsequent clip-show curveball as a necessary breather before heading back into a more serialized story. Instead, this week’s “Morty’s Mind Blowers” laid the the groundwork for a new kind of one-off. While not the Season 3 game-changer that recent weeks have ushered in, it took an established format and twisted it to the usual fiendish “Rick and Morty” ends.
For a series that delights in its visual inventiveness, it’s hard to believe that this was the first time “Rick and Morty” ventured into the M.C. Escher zone, barely escaping a logic puzzle architectural trap with their bodies and minds intact. Morty, now bestowed with the totality of human truth by a gem-encrusted tortoise, begs for a way to be rid of his newfound knowledge. (Luckily, he didn’t go the way of a Cate Blanchett Indiana Jones villain.)
The quest to get Morty’s mental capacity back to normal leads him and Rick down into a memory cave (Just how much subterranean real estate does Rick have carved out under Smith Manor?) where Rick has stored a plethora of regrettable experiences, extracted straight from Morty’s hippocampus. Color-coded by who screwed up in each memory, Rick attaches each vial of memory goo to a brain apparatus that lets Morty relive these moments.
With each successive short jaunt into the unseen “Rick and Morty” past, the show once again gets the chance to show off its ability to orient the audience in an unfamiliar world nearly instantaneously. The absurd premise of a moon dweller coming to teach at Morty’s school ends on a characteristically dour note (this is a show that’s had children murdering each other on multiple occasions, after all), left horribly unresolved. It’s the kind of storytelling whiplash that the show feels at home inducing with great giddiness, here as it glides through Rick needlessly murdering an alien guide and watching an intergalactic traveler get dragged down to Hell.
But as much as these quick trips to the more unsuccessful adventures are better as sketches than a full-fledged episode on their own, they carry more dramatic heft than their “Interdimensional Cable” counterparts. Where something like Fake Doors felt like a series of escalating animation dares that eventually made it to air, “Morty’s Mind Blowers” reinforces an idea that’s been threaded through the series since its outset.
Rick’s best weapon has always been his lack of guilt at manipulating those around him as a means to self-preservation or taking a shortcut to his desired ends. Morty has been a living litmus test of free will, flipping between willing accomplice and unwitting sidekick as the two go through their various intergalactic hijinks. Every new revelation that his participation in these death-defying trips has been somewhat preordained or that vital information has been left out of their objective only makes a very funny show very tragic in its own way. Colliding these twin character impulses isn’t a new tactic for the show, but finding another way to get these two talking about the unspoken tension between them always leads to a deeper show overall.
But the strength of “Morty’s Mind Blowers” is that not every stop on this pothole-filled trip down memory lane is a monumental one. Seeing an unremarkable checkers game nestled in amongst the superspeed memory download at the end of the episode shows that this show can find something meaningful in something inconsequential. (It’s here that I’m legally required to reference both the fourth-wall “Interdimensional Cable” gag teased at the end of last week’s episode and the similar clip show subversion tactics once employed on “Community” in “Paradigms of Human Memory.”)
Read More: Every Episode of ‘Rick and Morty,’ Ranked
Finding meaning in stories this disconnected is no small feat. Cramming so many of these sight gags and tiny vignettes into a twenty-minute framework shows that an episode with this many inputs (no less than six writers are credited here) can still feel cohesive.
And this works as a twist on a wacky, bumbling amnesia episode, too. Seeing Rick and Morty try to construct their perceptions of each other (and quickly go overboard in the process) also gives Summer a chance to slide to the fore once again. Presumably back to some form of psychological stability after being engorged and flipped inside out, seeing her be able to hold a vital piece of knowledge over Rick and Morty’s heads without them knowing added a unique layer of satisfaction to the episode wrap-up.
“Morty’s Mind Blowers” is “Rick and Morty” comfort food: a little bit of existential questioning, some back-and-forth jabs about each other’s priorities and intellect, followed by a resolution that doesn’t necessarily reset each character’s mental state, but lets them delude themselves into carrying on as usual. It might not be a perfect encapsulation of what the show does best, but as a delivery device for the kind of humor and big-picture thinking that keeps the show running on a week-to-week basis, you’d be hard-pressed to find a simpler, more distilled baseline for what this show succeeds at.
“Rick and Morty” Season 3 airs Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.