[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Rick and Morty” Season 4, Episode 7, “Promortyus.”]
It’s close to low-hanging fruit to do an ongoing comparison of “Rick and Morty” with “Solar Opposites.” Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan, co-creators of the latter, brought a few “Rick and Morty” elements to their new Hulu series (some of which are detailed here), but there’s no explicit connection between the two (yet). Still, watching this week’s “Rick and Morty” does bring to mind one scene from “Solar Opposites” that has the usual subversive verve that its spiritual predecessor usually thrives on.
Context redacted for those who haven’t ventured too far into the fates of Korvo and the other Shlorpions who crashland on Earth, but a string of circumstances bring them to the point where they have to slice through a decent portion of the local high school populace in order to spare them from a horrific fate. As they chop off unsuspecting kids’ limbs and then see them regenerate back to full, normal health, it’s fun tracking the weird sense of glee those responsible get from saving their human neighbors.
Compare that to the point in “Promortyus” when, after returning to the planet populated by face-hugging creatures using different other aliens as hosts, Rick and Morty proceed to slash through a similar number of opponents. Here, the added layer that separates this from simple, wanton death and destruction is the fact that Rick has armed both of them with Gundam-adjacent armor while they do it.
That’s a decent indication of how most of “Promortyus” unfolds, making for an episode that establishes a firm base of sci-fi callbacks and then spends most of the remaining runtime pointing at its own familiarity. (And with that, a tentative freeze on “Solar Opposites” references until further notice.)
Structurally, picking up mid-adventure does give “Promortyus” one of its biggest boosts. Beginning with Morty and Rick freeing themselves from facehugger control, not knowing how long they’d been puppets of these dark, tentacled creatures, there’s an opportunity to keep everyone on a level field of discovery. As they start to piece together how they got to a point where they’d become functioning, entrenched, and magazine cover-worthy members of this society, they’re about as in the dark as the audience is.
Beyond that, though, most of what plays out afterward is a step from joke to joke that doesn’t have as much story weight behind it. Even in the episode’s biggest twist, the idea that Rick and Morty left Summer after escaping and need to return to rescue her, this is about as linear and tidy and by-the-book as this show gets.
The first half of “Rick and Morty” Season 4 became a bizarre quality seesaw, with the odd-numbered episodes becoming the clear standouts offsetting the even-numbered gap-fillers. So far, the back half is looking like a repeat of those week-by-week swings. Coming out of the show’s hiatus, what felt like a thoughtful, involved deconstruction of what powers the average “Rick and Morty” episode has given way to a show more or less on relative cruise control. (Incidentally, Jeff Loveness is the credited writer on both episodes.)
“Rick and Morty” still hasn’t quite cracked how to bring other members of the Smith family on these far-flung travels. Morty and Rick, ever in a stasis of teenage boy sibling uneasiness and grandfatherly willful ignorance, have always seen Summer in the same way the show often does: as only a punchline. Having her become an accidental empress to this facehugger society seems like the best way to build on last week’s Bechdel Test cutaway and actually give her some meaningful way to contribute.
Aside from telling these creatures to live longer (and provide a half-hearted attempt at a musical interlude), the most the episode does with Summer advancing the planet’s civilization is getting it to a point where Rick can be an edgy YouTube ranter. As the trio make their escape from the planet, Morty’s harmonica playing gives way to a — spoiler alert for a quarter-century-old Tim Burton flick — redux of the ending of “Mars Attacks!” The music leads to spontaneous planet-wide fatal egg-laying, and the episode only makes a glancing acknowledgement of the idea that they’re wreaking all this havoc on a race of aliens ostensibly in search of peace.
Even without much story inventiveness, there’s still plenty to appreciate on a visual level. Burdened with having to tinker with the well-established ideas of the “Alien” universe — bursting bodies, egg pods awaiting a target host body, a thriving metropolis destroyed by outside inference — there are elements of “Promortyus” that make for a more-detailed-than-expected, rust-colored backdrop. (That establishing shot of the floating facehugger missile base only points to time better spent than setting up tired 9/11 and Pearl Harbor gags.) The biggest laugh in the episode might just come from the fact that Rick and Morty are in such a rush to go back and retrieve Summer that they bring their pancakes with them.
If we’re tracking anxiety over the future of the show, again here’s the second straight episode to peel back a tiny curtain into the writers room. The “Never Ricking Morty” self-aware musings on what qualifies as original for a show exhausting plenty of different narrative avenues also makes a slight return in Rick’s comment about not going back to pre-established planets. And for good measure, there’s another Interdimensional Cable nod — at this point, making fake in-world TV shows and commercials might be better as this show’s modified week-by-week couch gag than a dedicated episode.
Of course it’s relative for this show, but “Promortyus” mostly makes the safe choices, all the way up until the final non-fakeout fakeout (the only question wasn’t whether or not they would survive, but whether what happened instead stained the couch or the rug). Finding new ways to draft off the “Alien” world has been tough enough for the writers and filmmakers that have had decades of time inside the franchise to play around with it. Maybe the idea of a facehugger is so elemental that it’s hard to change it in any meaningful way that hasn’t already been done since 1979. At least this time, those little monsters had mouths and eyes of their own.
“Rick and Morty” Season 4 airs Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.