[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the “Rick and Morty” Season 4 finale, “Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri.”]
“Rick and Morty” has an interesting relationship with loose ends. Ambiguity has driven some of the show’s most memorable endings (see last season’s “ABCs of Beth”), while others come out of tying up all disparate threads and an improbable return to the status quo (the Season 4 premiere “Edge of Tomorty”). There are even some episodes that manage to be a combination of both, where a self-contained chapter wraps up with a striking nod toward an uncertain future (“The Ricklantis Mixup”).
While not as consequential as any of those, the ways that “Star Mort Rickturn of Jerri” leans closest to that third lane puts it in the more memorable half of Season 4. Last week’s planetary children adventure showed the strength of “Rick and Morty” stories that use the whole Smith family. That lesson carries over here in an episode that once again looks beyond the Rick/Beth relationship as more than just joke fodder and tries to get at what’s more meaningful underneath.
Most of the episode revolves around the reveal that Beth (or maybe Beth’s clone) has sailed far away from Earth to fight an alien hoard bent on overtaking and removing planets via a corporate-sponsored Death Star of sorts. (Always nice to see a Gromflomite, even if none of them is Krombopulos Michael and they all seem to be bent on eradicating life on Earth.) Upon finding out that she’s one of two Beths floating around the cosmos, Shaved-Head Interplanetary Warrior Beth makes a mad dash home to intercept the scheming Gromflomites and take revenge on Rick in the process.
Of course, it helps that “Star Mort Rickturn of Jerri” — written by Anne Lane and directed by Erica Hayes — isn’t just introducing a Beth clone. It’s doing so in a gambit that also brings back a couple that’s no stranger to season finales. Tammy and Birdperson, whose nuptials led to intergalactic chaos in “The Wedding Squanchers” (in an episode that somehow aired four and a half years ago already?) both make dramatic re-entries, with some surprising changes of their own. Tammy’s attack on another family therapy session with Dr. Wong sets the stage for a showdown on board the enemy ship, where the Phoenixperson first hinted at as part of an elaborate April Fools’ joke in 2017 finally enters the “Rick and Morty” fray.
In contrast to the Gundam suit flashback in this season’s facehugger episode, the Rick/Phoenixperson fight feels like a more logical and earned moment to dip into a completely different animation style. A nice change of visual pace, it’s also a chance to put a new spin on Rick’s ability to summon any number of weapons and devices at a moment’s notice. There’s a bonus twofer in that inset view of Rick’s heart, locking itself off from a Phoenixperson blade: It all happens so fast there’s barely any time to ask how blood still pumps to his extremities, but when he’s riddled with cyberlasers shortly thereafter, that becomes something of a moot point.
The runner about each of the Smith’s arcs caps off a season’s worth of self-awareness that opened the window into the writers room more than ever. Like the other transparent acknowledgments of writing conventions that have been peppered through the run of “Rick and Morty,” there’s usually a tiny bit of value added with a wink and a nod. Now, though, these gags have been nudged so far toward diminishing returns that it’s maybe worth thinking about how much they’re adding at this point. If Morty and Summer joking about it amongst themselves works at all, transferring that same bit over to Jerry’s big puppeteering moment at the end of the big fight takes some of the air out of how well Lane is able to help save the family by threading them together.
Rick survives (naturally), but far from intact, however fast-acting his laser sutures might be. After spending the whole episode trying to argue for supremacy over their carbon copy, the two Beths decide to coexist in a new Smith household dynamic. Faced with the option of finding out the truth of their identity from a Rick memory projected with a Mind Blower machine, the two walk away back toward the living room. The answer to “Which one is the clone?” doesn’t really matter. Or if it did, Rick’s unilateral choice to abandon the burden of that knowledge makes that distinction far less important.
(For all the deserved praise that Justin Roiland’s received for juggling both title characters for this long and keeping each of their emotional and psychological are distinct, it’s a joy to hear Sarah Chalke get the chance to do the same. Across the episode, she finds just enough shading between both versions of Beth to make this a contrast worth following. There’s a benefit from having four seasons of fraught life experiences with the Beth we already know. But to get things to a point where these two copies see enough of themselves in each other and are still willing to coexist because of their differences, Chalke certainly does some impressive heavy lifting all her own.)
That ending is another opportunity to build on an idea broached earlier in Season 4. Before this, the most melancholy ending of the season found Rick sitting on a toilet planet, lamenting the loss of a friend he never allowed himself the chance to make. Buried inside that idea was some kind of implicit hope that he’d at least have a relationship with his family to fall back on, even if it’s a contentious one. Now, sitting on a chair inside a lab that seems less impressive somehow, he’s left to evaluate how he’s driven away someone else yet again.
Season 4 proved that “Rick and Morty” is a show that can still reach back and summon something unexpected. It can weather the wake behind some of its best achievements, tweaking them to discover new ways for Rick to use a portal gun or to sidestep the problems that Morty’s hormonal instincts lead him into. Jerry’s post-credits adventure aside, leaving the show for hiatus on a dejected Rick seems only fitting for how much “Rick and Morty” wrestled with its own fate over these last 10 episodes.
It’s probably no coincidence that the song that plays in that final scene and over the credits is called “Don’t Look Back.” Nothing necessarily lasts for long in the world of “Rick and Morty.” If this is truly a reckoning moment for Rick, maybe this will pave a new lane for Season 5 to explore. If not, there’s still the remnants of Birdperson, sitting “Shaun of the Dead”-style in the garage, ready to go back for the greatest hits again if the show so chooses.
Either way, at least “Rick and Morty” has options. Now the long wait begins for we see where it heads next.
Guest Star Recon: For a show that rarely brings back its guest stars for encores, it makes more sense that Susan Sarandon would come back for another round as Dr. Wong. Not only is this more of a cameo than her key part in “Pickle Rick,” there’s a certain kind of destruction in this farewell that gives a kind of sendoff that a sentient brined cucumber just can’t quite muster. And with a few Season 4 episodes coming and going without a household name headlining that first big end credits block, Dan Harmon has had to pull even more voice work weight than usual. With the next season presumably not arriving for a while, there’s plenty of time for some vocal rest.
“Rick and Morty” Season 4 is available to stream via Adult Swim.