[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Rick and Morty” Season 4, Episode 3, “One Crew Over The Crewcoo’s Morty.”]
Let’s start with one unassailable fact: Rick Sanchez is wrong about “Ocean’s Twelve.”
Much like many other rants that fuel episodes of “Rick and Morty,” it’s rage that somehow morphs into an appreciation of the thing someone hates. The latest example comes in “One Crew Over The Crewcoo’s Morty,” an episode-length version of a space-set Soderberghian battle of wits between Rick and one of his creations.
It all starts when an act of attempted “cynical grave-robbing” leads Rick and Morty to discover that they’ve been outflanked by Miles Nightly, Rick’s archnemethief. Fueled by revenge, Rick constructs an opposing plan that ropes in all the attendees at HeistCon, a fan expo for heist gadgets, plans, and perpetrators that literally has its own Hall H. (It’s just the right level of needling at SDCC; a full episode of dissecting con culture would be a little too self-indulgent/self-immolating, but it gets in a few jabs about badge-gouging to balance things out.)
It’s always been part of the “Rick and Morty” toolkit, but in a move that continues the overall Season 4 trend, things get out of hand quickly. The Heistatron —a clunky machine that Rick creates to help get all the HeistCon folks in on his revenge plan against Miles — goes from general convention nuisance to genocidal apparatus in the span of a few on-screen minutes. Without an immediate off-switch protocol, Heistatron’s insatiable goal to keep amassing a bigger and bigger crew leads it to destroy entire planets. Sensing the need for a counterattack that’s safe against any secret counter-counterattack, Rick assembles a team of his own straight out of a “Total Rickall” mini-sequel. With the likes of Elon Tusk (more on him in a bit), Ventriloquiver, and our old pal Mr. Poopybutthole, Rick eventually yada-yadas his way into a logical defense so airtight, the bloodthirsty fax machine self-destructs.
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Riffing on a genre and exploding it from the inside out isn’t always a “Rick and Morty” blueprint for success, but on this show it usually works more often than not. In some ways, this episode is a second chance at “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender,” last season’s team-up gambit. Where that superhero parody of sorts felt more like a flashy plot exercise, this one ends up with more to say about self-satisfied plot twists. (Incidentally, both these episodes were directed by Bryan Newton and dispatch with their highest-profile guest star surprisingly early.)
Even though Rick’s opinions about the quality of certain franchise installments aside (no really, Rick, the Julia Roberts joke in “Ocean’s Twelve” works way better than you remember it), he does ultimately have a point. What Rick (and, by extension, anyone part of the collective grudge powering this episode) does get right is lamenting a certain strain of lazy “this person is really the string-puller” twist that’s adjacent to “it was a dream all along.” That, of course, is another trope that “Rick and Morty” has used to its own advantage multiple times in the past.
So, as is often the case on “Rick and Morty,” Rick is more railing against people doing things badly rather than the thing itself. Well-executed heist movie twists that reframe the audience’s perceptions can be a thrilling rug pull. (Each time this episode cuts back to previous scenes to see what’s happening right off-camera ends up being a pretty good testament to that.) It’s that invocation of the “algorithm” — the weaponization of people’s collective understanding of a genre’s rhythm — that becomes the real target.
And hey, speaking of algorithms! The international distributor of “Rick and Morty” gets a late-episode cameo, too. Like any good self-respecting writer who’s told to write what they know, Morty turns the group’s heist shenanigans into a Netflix pitch and delivers it at their Hollywood office. Chekov’s Really Great Screenplay Idea rears its head not just as a way to give Morty something to do in this episode besides get turned into a lotion-birthed bat creature, it also gives Rick one final way to show off his thinking-ahead skills. Sapped of enthusiasm for his pitch, Morty ends the episode in Rick’s passenger seat as his grandfather reveals another simultaneous revenge plot: when Morty started skipping out on adventures, Rick showed him who was in charge of the story.
If extreme escalation continues to be a strong Season 4 undercurrent, it’s worth noting that even though the show delights in the full-throttle ramping up of each successive central conflict, it still manages to do so in a meticulous way. Having Rick, Miles, and the Heistatron deliver their own triumphant Poirot-ish overviews of their own impressive deeds only works if there’s an effective setup. Getting each plan’s idea across in a few well-calculated quick cuts isn’t easy, but this Caitie Delaney-written episode manages to do it.
Mr. Poopybutthole (everyone’s best friend who’s definitely been here the whole time) joins the growing list of returning characters in Season 4, alongside Mr. Meeseeks and Rick’s people-dicing technology. Having the little guy toss in some martial arts moves with the occasional “ooooo-wee!” made sure that bringing him back for more than a line wasn’t just a fan-service retread. So far, the show’s found a way to make this character/device returns feel fresh and relevant to these new episodes. Let’s hope they can keep it up.
Guest Star Recon: I’m pretty sure that IndieWire TV section bylaws require that I first point out that this episode features the voice talents of one Justin Theroux. That’s him as the rapidly-dismembered Miles, meeting a similar fate to Christian Slater’s Vance Maximus. Not sure that Miles gets quite enough screen time in the context of the episode to qualify as a full “likable villain,” but that’s one character type that Theroux could easily return to again in the future if he gets another shot.
Yes, that’s Elon Musk playing his alternate reality incarnation Elon Tusk (head of Tuskla, naturally). In keeping with the overall theory that the less said about this reality’s version of the guy the better, Musk acquits himself aggressively adequately.
And it’s not exactly the spinoff we hoped for last week, but Pamela Adlon is back again, this time as the alien running the HeistCon badge counter. If “Rick and Morty” really commits to the bit and has her as one scene-stealer per episode, all is forgiven.
“Rick and Morty” airs Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.