[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Rick and Morty” Season 5, Episode 4, “Rickdependence Spray.”]
Some “Rick and Morty” episodes feel especially like a writers’ room dare. Maybe a wild, tossed-off idea that, the more people joke about it and add on bizarre details, starts to take shape into something workable.
That “writing challenge as story idea” format can flourish in prosperous ways. (“What if Rick got turned into a vegetable and became an action hero?”) Other times, it’s a recipe for a “spot the reference” casserole that the show has fallen back on of late. “Rickdependence Spray,” the fourth installment in a to-this-point-impressive Season 5, arrives as a 23-minute sex joke with some grafted-on, sci-fi thriller trappings and some other familiar coating for good measure. Aside from the 1996 blockbuster that gives the episode its title, there’s War Room antics, an “Empire Strikes Back” visual gag, and a light dusting of “Lord of the Rings” machinations. Credit it for at least following through on the weirdness of its premise, but compared with the particularly strong three-week run it’s following, it doesn’t leave nearly as much of a mark.
At its roots, “Rickdependence Spray” is another case of Morty’s abundant angst leading to him fathering some hybrid being. Here, the resultant creature isn’t an adorable infant instrument of destruction. Instead, it’s the product of Morty’s overeager use of the specimen collector at Beth’s workplace. (Cue every fan of the show who was curious to find out more about the horse hospital whispering a Switch-like, “Not like this…”) When Rick swipes what he thinks are horse samples to use for his own convoluted purposes, an explosion unwittingly births a giant swarm of tank-sized space sperm that begin to terrorize North America.
From there, the episode travels down the “Independence Day” checklist. Audience with a bizarrely involved President? You got it. Dissheveled scientist in way over his head? Of course. Enthusiastic military representatives who have some but not all of the characteristics of Will Smith and Randy Quaid’s performances? Yep and yep. (In maybe the season’s low point so far, Rick and Morty sit in awe of a mysterious fighter on board the tactical helicopter sent into the space sperm fray. But wouldn’t you know it, when it comes time to fight, he’s awkward! And they lose respect for him because he’s wearing a thong? It’s cheap, especially for a show that thrives in calling out easy dumb jokes like that. The Kathy Ireland “payoff” at the end only makes it worse.)
There are tiny points where “Rickdependence Spray” breaks from autopilot mode and tosses in some mild surprises. Morty bonding with a trapped space sperm who recognizes their connection brings a tiny dose of sincerity to an episode bent on rejecting it everywhere else. And the escalation in the second half of the episode, centered around the hinted-at battle between humans and Chuds (a civilization of underground predatory intelligent horses dressed in medieval garb, but I, of course, don’t have to explain that to you) makes for a weird pair of threads to have to join together somehow.
Most of the other more-entertaining parts of the episode are almost completely incidental to what’s happening elsewhere. As established a few weeks ago, The President is always a welcome presence, and Keith David makes the most of it, as usual. (“The boy literally never lies!”) This time, it’s also fun to see the whole Smith family casually interacting with and making suggestions to the Commander in Chief. Jerry’s contributions, in his natural habitat on Brita Duty, make up a trademark entry in his personal Hall of Banality. It’s also nice to see that, in an episode where more than just their ideas are swiped for military glory, Beth and Summer actually get to take control and head off the final attack on Las Vegas. (“Threaten a culturally significant landmark, cause irreparable damage, and be defeated at the last minute” was last on the “Independence Day” checklist.)
Otherwise, unless you want to dwell on Rick’s continued sexual history with thousands of different species across Earth and other planets, the one-liners are what really elevate this from being a run-of-the-mill genre reference mishmash. Some are finely woven conclusions to carefully planted setups (see: when Morty’s name for the one kindly space sperm comes back around in their showdown with the Queen), others are classic “call out the crazy thing happening in plain terms” punchlines (“I always knew your hormones would cause a world war between humans and cannibalistic horse people, I just didn’t know it would be like this.”) and still more that are just a lot funnier in practice they they probably are/were on the page (“Let’s turn this canyon into a can’t-yon.”)
All the horsemanteaus in the Chud royal court deserve a special mention, too. The unexpected Chud chant and Rick’s rallying cry when they all show up, Rohan-like, to vanquish the sperm battalions, are a sprinkling of weird on weird. By the time a roving band of Cirque du Soleil acrobats are offing dozens of the invading sperm, it’s clear that even the show senses that all of this is irretrievably goofy.
“Rick and Morty” Season 5 airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.