Morty is the one with his name in the title, but as far as Smith kids go, “Rick and Morty” has slowly been unspooling the idea that Summer is the one most like their grandfather. Both of them know how to cock a plasma cannon and each are well-aware of the perils that interdimensional travel can bring. (Seeing a guy laser-diced into little tiny cubes right before your eyes tends to leave a psychological mark.) So in addition to providing a shakeup that the show needs every once in a while, it’s refreshing to see Summer and Rick take the system-hopping adventure thread of this week’s “A Rickconvenient Mort.”
Is this a journey to explore new worlds and gain knowledge of other civilizations? Technically, yes. Rick’s discovery of a series of extinction events on a trio of distant planets give them enough cover to engage with the locals in whatever level of debauchery they choose, as long as they give themselves enough time to blast off before the explosions happen. The promise of consequence-free cavorting is naturally a draw for both Summer and Rick — after swapping some vivid plans and demonstrations for what will happen once they land, they quickly go to work making good on those promises. Across three different doomed worlds, they fulfill the old adage about families that make out with rainbow-colored anatomical curiosities on other planets together.
Of course, they’re not the only ones enjoying new flings with human-adjacent beings. Morty finds himself smitten with Planetina (Alison Brie), a Captain Planet-ish superhero formed from elements in order to protect the world’s various ecosystems. After a chance encounter to kick off the episode, one date leads to something more and the two begin a flirty teen romance. Naturally, her being an all-powerful force — generated by ring-possessing guardians now 30 years older than they were when Planetina was first… conjured, I guess? — does complicate things a bit. (Beth is understandably concerned, but it seems like Morty passed the “concerning relationship” phase four seasons ago when he fathered a child with a sex robot.)
These pair of plans, happening galaxies apart, each hit a snag. Rick becomes so enamored of Daphne (Jennifer Coolidge), a resident of the first planet on their apocalypse crawl, that he finds a way to bring her along and delay her demise. Back on Earth, one of Planetina’s “Kids” (voiced by Steve Buscemi, to show that time had passed) is bent on eliminating Morty to keep him from messing up their Planetina-fame gravy train. Just before he’s able to kill Morty in some back-room torture effort (who knew Buscemi could make the word “fire” seem so sinister?), Morty’s lovesick fury leads him on a fatal rampage. Once the dirt and magma settles, he’s got all four rings. The Kids and the wealthy magnate ready to acquire Planetina are all dead. (The fact that Dan Harmon voices the man about to purchase Planetina feels less like subversion and more like a half-hearted unforced error. The “I am an individual character!” counterargument joke only goes so far to make it anything more than a gag that probably should have stayed in a writers room’s brainstorming session.)
It’s a hitch in an otherwise solid episode, bolstered by Brie’s well-established capability of switching from sugary-sweet to the embodiment of uncontrollable rage. Now freed from having to be summoned, Planetina sets out on some extrajudicial killings of her own, murdering a group of miners she holds responsible for destroying the environment. The second “Community” alum to voice a character capable of wreaking mass havoc in the name of vengeance, Brie also makes Planetina work as someone Morty genuinely feels better about being with and not just a blueish corporeal form that makes him go googly-eyed.
That last part leads to something that takes the episode above a standard “what if Morty falls in love with someone/something he doesn’t understand” riff. This is a kid who, for the most part, just wants to have a normal childhood, free from acquiring all knowledge in the galaxy or unwittingly setting in motion a series of events that leads to the ascendance of a malicious and self-destructive snake civilization. His fight with Beth (that very pointedly doesn’t end with another triple door slam for added emphasis) is a nice way for the show to acknowledge that both sides have a point: The 14-year-old is convinced he’s found true happiness, while the mom has already recognized the very weird brand of heartbreak he’ll have to endure next. It’s the closest thing this show has to an overarching plot, that there’s something a little tragic about these characters’ inability to cope with the chaos of their lives without adding on more chaos as a solution.
And now Summer’s been fully roped into this, too. After entire seasons’ worth of seeing Rick’s raucous exploits with her brother, it makes perfect sense that their foolproof plan to plow through some end-of-the-world orgies gets foiled by someone else taking Rick’s attentions. (A brief moment to acknowledge longtime show director Juan Meza-León’s handling of the city-wide mass of jiggling alien bodies on that last planet. “Rick and Morty” has a proud tradition of packing the frame with more detail than is possible to take in all at once; to have a situation where the entire planet is working toward the same bacchanal is an achievement both impressive and unsettling. This whole episode definitely earned him a fictional National Forest named after him.)
At the risk of bringing in the same entry point for comparison three weeks in a row, this episode is yet another (unintentional?) point in the middle of the “Rick and Morty”/”Loki” Venn Diagram. The Disney+ show has its title character hanging out undetected under the cover of imminent widespread destruction. Here, Rick and Summer are less after refuge than unfettered hedonism, something the MCU could arguably use a little bit more of.
The throwaway gags in “A Rickconvenient Mort” are plentiful, from Summer’s 2010 glasses to the Kids referencing limited-edition Funko Pops at the Planetina convention to Summer’s interplanetary pseudonym. But what leaves a lasting impact is that final moment, when Morty and Planetina each realize that maybe a relationship built on slaughter is probably not the way to go. With Kishi Bashi playing over the cut to black from the wilting Morty head made of flowers (whenever the show goes for something else other than the theme music for the end credits, it’s usually arriving on the heels of some fraught emotions), it’s not quite an all-consuming sense of dread. But it’s more of a nod toward the inner lives of Morty (and, to a smaller extent, Summer) that the show doesn’t always make time for. In juggling all the ingredients that go into the greater “Rick and Morty” soup, Season 5 is off to one of the strongest starts in the show’s run.
New episodes of “Rick and Morty” air Sundays at 11:30 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.