Rick And Morty Explores (And Parodies) One Of TV's Most Hated Tropes

One of the best parts of "Rick and Morty" is how comfortable they are with switching things up if the status quo isn't working. In the first two seasons, for instance,it felt as if the Interdimensional Cable episodes were being set up as this show's equivalent to the Treehouse of Horror episodes of "The Simpsons." They were once-a-season anthology episodes, except these were made up of a string of fun, self-contained clips from the interdimensional cable channels Rick and Morty were flipping through. 

The problem was that by the time we reached season 2's interdimensional cable episode, the premise was already feeling a little played out. There are only so many whacky commercials you can do before the jokes stop landing. So, season 3 switched up the format and gave us "Morty's Mindblowers," in which Rick shows Morty a bunch of his deleted memories. Like the first two seasons, this episode had a flimsy plot designed solely to show us as many memories as possible, and they gave us some of the funniest jokes the show's ever done. 

The next season gave us "Never Ricking Morty," a meta anthology episode where Rick and Morty find themselves on a train that's fueled by canon. The fifth season switched things up yet again with a clone anthology episode, in which we're repeatedly introduced to a new family of Smith clones only for them to go through their own existential crisis and die. Season 6 gave us another aggressively meta episode called "Full Meta Jacket," and now season 7 has given us a spiritual sequel to "Morty's Mindblowers." This episode might not be about forgotten memories, but it's still about memories our characters aren't proud of. 

A clip show, but not a clip show

Like season 3's anthology, the actual plot of "Rickfending Your Mort" is remarkably flimsy. When Rick doubts the veracity of Morty's adventure punch card, we're treated to the casual introduction of a nonsensical group of aliens called the Observers, who see and record everything anyone does at all times. Where have these helpful guys been throughout the past seven seasons? Don't worry about it.

Rick and Morty quickly grow annoyed with having their unpleasant moments thrown back at them, so they insult the Observer, get into an argument, and then accidentally kill it. The second half of the episode revolves around Rick and Morty being on trial for murder by the courtroom filled with Observers, but much like the memory wipe in "Morty's Mindblowers," I don't think anyone in the audience believed that either titular character was in any real danger. 

If you've ever seen a clip show episode of a sitcom before, this is all likely familiar to you. The widely-despised format where the characters would have generic conversation leading into clips from old episodes is well known by this point, and even the most beloved shows can't shield themselves from the audience's wrath. Even the classic era of "The Simpsons" couldn't quite pull the format episode off: season 6's clip show episode has a 5.8 rating on IMDb, the only one in the season rated below a 7.5. Most clip show episodes only exist so the studio can save money, and audiences know it. 

But when the "clips" in question are never-before-seen footage? Well, that changes things. It's what helped make "Morty's Mind Blowers" one of the best episodes of the series, not the worst, and it's what made "Rickfending Your Mort" a worthy successor. 

A time-honored Harmon tradition

For "Community" fans, the approach of "Rick and Morty" to clip shows is nothing new. Season 2 of the live-action sitcom also featured a fake clip show episode, once again using scenes from study group adventures we've never gotten to see. It's a choice that not only subverts the usual formula, but also helps give the impression that these characters' lives continue even when the camera isn't on them. There's a whole new storyline at Greendale every day, this episode implies; us viewers are only privileged to see a few brief glimpses of it. Community season 3's "Curriculum Unavailable," where the gang goes to a fake therapist, follows in the same footsteps.

It's a stark contrast to the usual clip-show structure. When the characters are only reminiscing on scenes we've already watched, it reminds us that these are just actors in a TV show. It kills the illusion of a lived-in world that continues on in the week between episodes.

"Curriculum Unavailable" wasn't just impressive because it subverted that impression though; it's great because the clip show format also directly tied into the season's ongoing storyline of Chang kidnapping the Dean, replacing him with a doppeldeaner, and expelling the study group. (Season 3 went to some wacky places, guys.) Whereas the season 2 clip show could've aired pretty much anywhere, "Curriculum Unavailable" couldn't have happened at any other point in the season except episode 19, after the gang was expelled and before they organized their plan to end Chang's reign of terror. In that sense, "Curriculum Unavailable" feels like a blueprint for this week's "Rick and Morty." As episodic as "Rickfending Your Mort" might seem on the surface, it also couldn't have happened at any other point in the season. 

Helping Rick process

As flimsy as the Observer storyline itself is, the emotional throughline of this new episode is surprisingly strong. The Rick we meet at the beginning of the episode is depressed, drinking early in the day and too burnt out to go on any adventures with Morty. He's still recovering from the events of last week's climactic showdown with Rick Prime, and he needs something to snap him back to his old self. 

In a lot of ways, it's good that this week doesn't really have its own full adventure storyline, because Rick wouldn't have been able to handle it right now. He needed a silly, low-stakes conflict to engage himself with, nothing too crazy. When it comes to returning to those classic Rick and Morty adventures we love so much, Rick needed to dip his toes in the water first, not dive straight back in. 

As far as an episode about rousing someone out of a depressive state can go, "Rickfending Your Mort" is remarkably unsentimental. The memories Observer picks from Rick's life are not flattering, nor do they paint his adventures with Morty in a positive light. But much like season 2's "Total Rickall," another quasi-clip show episode where the Smith family is attacked by memory parasites, we know that Rick would never be swayed by memories that were too much on the happy side. It's messy, chaotic, cynical reality that Rick truly loves, and this episode is all about reminding him of it and encouraging him to return. By the end of this episode, Rick is mostly back to his old self again, and it only took a few annoying omniscient aliens to pull it off. 

New episodes of "Rick and Morty" release every Sunday on Adult Swim.