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‘Rick and Morty’ Return Finds Exciting New Life in Show’s Old Strengths

It may not be the wildest season premiere the show’s ever done, but this collection of family adventures feels more like a rejuvenation than a reset.

Rick and Morty Season 6 Episode 1 Solaricks

“Rick & Morty”

Adult Swim

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Rick and Morty” Season 6, Episode 1, “Solaricks.”]

Nothing lasts for very long in the world of “Rick and Morty.” This family moves through realities like switching out kitchen trash bags. Entire planets can wither away and transform in mere seconds. Characters seesaw between vengeance and reconciliation in emotional forever wars.

So in the Season 6 premiere — “Solaricks” — when our two title characters submit themselves to going no more a-portal-ing and fully embrace death, that’s also momentary at most. What follows in this episode is a breakneck parade of every reason why these two (and the show that contains them) have so much more still to live for.

Rather than dwell on the chaos and carnage of the Season 5 finale or hit a convenient reset button, “Solaricks” chooses a satisfying middle zone in resituating where each member of the family is on this show’s dense, cosmic board. In a weird way, even with the sheer tonnage of plot this episode manages to fit into 22 minutes (all without feeling overstuffed), this is a decent starting point for any curious newcomers still wondering what all this “Rick and Morty” fuss is about.

In broad strokes, “Solaricks” is a prelude to a family reunion. A portal fluid error sends Rick and Morty and Jerry back to their original multiverse branches while Summer and both Beths have to deal with the beings who come to try to take advantage of their absence. In execution, it’s a distillation of everything great about a “Rick and Morty” lore episode, in the same way that “Mortiplicity” was its own single-track, high-concept revelation.

None of these concepts in “Solaricks” are really new for the show: alternate versions of characters from multiple dimensions, cloned parents, apocalypse survivors, trickster mad geniuses, living rooms riddled with corpses, shapeshifting aliens. OK, well, when you put those all together that can seem a little daunting for the uninitiated. But “Rick and Morty” — with extra assistance here from episode writer Albro Lundy — has long since reached a point where it can delight in all those collapsing timelines without being overwhelmed by them. Listening to Rick and Summer’s back-and-forth about how to get Rick and Morty and Jerry back from their homeworlds is so much more about the rhythms and timing than tapping into any long-standing mythology.

Flung into his original version of the Garage (still with the explosion mark left from the events of “Rickmurai Jack”), Rick has to contend with the disembodied memory of his late wife Diane, mocking him for his failures and oversights. “Yeah, forgot I wanted to be haunted” is a classic example of Rick managing to outthink himself. To his nihilistic, vengeance-addled past self, having a Wife Ghost lurking around his work space probably seemed like a neat party trick he could amuse himself with. To the Rick who’s had years’ worth of time to reflect on a family he stumbled into, “haunting” means something else entirely. That evolution isn’t nothing.

Meanwhile, Morty is trawling through the irradiated, Cronenberg’d home he left behind. His big discovery (aside from the supermarket shelves of adult magazines untouched by time) is Jerry, in full “Station Eleven”/“The Road” regalia and beard, living off the creatures that now populate his world. Having a halfway-capable Jerry in any universe is a dicey proposition for a show that consistently shows him surviving almost exclusively by accident. Yet, there’s something oddly sweet about seeing him get the dignity of not only knowing how to cauterize a wound with a heated blade but set a trap with some Rick-like taunting thrown in for good measure.

Summer growing into the effortlessly competent one in the family is a fun evolution the show’s been steadily tracking for multiple seasons. At the outset of Season 6, Summer’s now at the point where the version of personal growth she’s most excited about is getting her own set of Wolverine hand claws. The fact this episode puts her and the Beths in a three-person weave helps the three of them work out some of their anxieties (“Domestic Mom??”) and gives the show a chance to highlight them as their own separate unit.

Aside from the usual tightrope that Justin Roiland has to walk with an infinite number of Ricks and Mortys, “Solaricks” is the perfect reminder for what Sarah Chalke and Chris Parnell bring to this show on a weekly basis. The Beth/Space Beth dynamic could easily be a lot more exaggerated, with Chalke using two very distinctive voice performances to differentiate between each. That moment of the two of them in the belly of the multi-mouthed space jellyfish hits home just how much these two are, well, copies of each other. From a character design standpoint, one has an undercut and an extra piercing or two. Chalke keeping them that close together in voice, while also showing that the two have very different capabilities when it comes to offing aliens with one laser blast, makes for a much more interesting dynamic if the two are going to have to continue to coexist. And on the Jerry side, that goodbye note gag gets plussed up about 20% through Parnell’s delivery.

It’s become a bit of a weekly thing to point out in these episode reviews, but boy does this show know how to do controlled visual chaos better than just about any other. When Rick is fending off the attackers on the Evil Rick invisible fortress, there’s barely enough time to process that Rick has switched to an entirely different set of arms before he electri-whips an entire squadron of attackers. Turning down the slashing and shooting sounds on Summer and the Beths’ space fight therapy session at the Citadel shows that “Rick and Morty” has already had its share of expertly choreographed fights for expertly choreographed fights’ sake. Now the show has extra room to focus on the people involved.

And the other little things still come through in this Jacob Hair-directed episode, too. Maybe the biggest laugh is Morty’s face as he sees Rick and Digest-o-bot enjoy a lovely homemade sandwich while he has to nibble away at his own nutrient goo. (The second biggest might be Digest-o-bot’s reaction to “eating” a tomato.) After all the effort it takes to get this family back together again in a manageable timeline, having Rick hop out of his ship and neutralize an enemy alien with a few spritzes from a spray nozzle is “Rick and Morty” not being afraid to pull out a gun in a sword fight every once in a while.

Like “Mort Dinner Rick Andre,” this latest season premiere dangles the possibility of a more serialized path, something that the show has followed either in spurts or in the background. That possible reality is for future weeks to explore. In the meantime, let’s appreciate the effortless, simplistic beauty and terror of Mr. Frundles. Fast-moving viruses is a well the show has gone to a few times before, but none more simply and efficiently executed than here. That smile, the face suddenly appearing in the stairs, the continental shift, the complete removal of nothing else on the surface earth but that smile: haunting. A perfect button to help soak in an episode that takes all this show’s angst about the momentary and builds it out into something that can really last.

Grade: A

New episodes of “Rick & Morty” premiere Sunday nights at 11 p.m. on Adult Swim

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