Entertainment

'Rick & Morty' Trolls Its Own Worst Fans in the Season 4 Premiere

rick and morty season 4 premiere
Adult Swim

This story contains spoilers for the Season 4 premiere of Rick & Morty.

Practically overnight, Rick & Morty's reputation completed an arc from "beloved underground cult cartoon" to "the most off-putting series on TV." It suddenly became a barometer for whether a person is annoying as shit, thanks to the distressing 2017 McDonald's Szechuan sauce incident, and to openly admit that you liked the series in the wake of the debacle meant you wanted to be counted among the fans who deified Rick as the avatar of aspirational assholery. These fans are comfortable shouting "PICKLE RICK!!!!" in public; there's a good chance they think their brains, and therefore IQs, are double the size of those belonging to the nearest woman, because yes, these gremlins are vastly men and, yes, a lot of them harbor problematic viewpoints about the world. Maintaining its self-awareness, Rick & Morty's long-awaited Season 4 premiere, "Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat" -- the first of five new episodes -- offered a mea culpa of sorts, whether or not the show's most toxic fans get it. 

The episode starts at the Smith family's dining room table, where the marital problems between Beth (Sarah Chalke) and Jerry (Chris Parnell) remain squashed following the Season 3 finale. It takes all of three seconds for Rick (series co-creator Justin Roiland), returning from autoresponse mode, to disrupt their nice dinner together, demanding that he and Morty (also Roiland) adventure out for some death crystals before Beth reminds her father of the new way to do things around here. This means Rick has to ask if Morty wants to go out on their dangerous trips around the multiverse, which he obviously bemoans. Already, here are crumbs for Bad Fans to flock around: Consent? Who needs it! But the episode comes full-circle to skewer its own discourse-aligned joke, and all the ones that come after it. 

rick and morty season 4
Adult Swim

In classic Rick and Morty adventure-style, the pair fly to the planet Forbojolon Prime for the death crystals, one of which Morty pockets when he learns they can show him how he'll die if he's touching one. Depending on where he goes, what he does, and what he says, the crystal divines a death in old age, in the arms of his series-long crush, Jessica, who repeats, "I love you, Morty." Because of the crystal's visions, Morty pilots the space ship, does badly, and gets in a crash resulting in Rick's gruesome death. That doesn't matter, of course; there are thousands of Ricks out there who have prepared for this kind of scenario with clones waiting in their respective garages. (There's the twisted nod to the episode title, a play on the 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow, in which Tom Cruise dies and comes back to life again and again in a battle against an alien invasion.) Now, the consciousness of the dead Earth Dimension C-137 Rick just has to reincarnate in a timeline where another Rick (and Morty, I guess) can help him out. 

All of this sets the stage for the kind of polemic that the show's worst fans will hate. Rick comes back in dimension after dimension taken over by Nazis. "When did this shit become the default?" Rick complains after a handful of tries, followed by a "fuck this" and throwing himself over the shards of the clone tank when he ends up as a Care Bear-type stuffed animal in yet another Nazi-controlled timeline. By overtly saying that Nazis are bad, actually, Rick & Morty takes a swipe at its trolly alt-right message board goons. It's far from a revolutionary take, but it censures the anti-PC, "stick to the jokes" fans watching for Rick's crude libertarianism and narcissism by promoting something they loathe: the Liberal Agenda. 

Meanwhile, Morty is out of control with his death crystal after he buries it into his forehead to ensure a future with Jessica, which turns him into a glowy-eyed "unstoppable science fiction boy," per the news (in a brief exchange between the male and female anchor, this bit also displays a textbook example of gaslighting). "We've got an Akira situation," one of the cops who shows up to the Smith house says, referencing the 1988 anime movie where a teen boy gains psychokinetic powers that give him the ability to destroy the world. The only thing that can stop him is a pun-inclined holographic Rick, created by an implant in Morty's spine reserved for the cases when his grandpa dies, which Morty wholly ignores in favor of his singular death vision. 

rick and morty season 4
Adult Swim

Rick eventually finds a Nazi-free wasp world and makes it back to his dimension, meeting up with his hologram and asking if he became sentient. "That is some AI, racist, accusatory, Isaac Asimov bullshit right there," the hologram retorts. Together they find Morty at full power, sucking the lifeblood of a Venom-esque symbiotic tree and waiting out his days till death. Rick cuts Morty out, dislodging the crystal from his head, but the symbiote latches onto the hologram, giving it a giant physical form hellbent on destruction. Morty calls him out for his hypocrisy: "I thought you were proud of being a hologram." "That's because I had to fucking be one!" the hologram says, again toeing the line between subversively progressive commentary and shadow-placating Bad Fans. 

Of course, Rick and Morty prevail in battle against the hologram and return to the house. Morty takes responsibility for the events of the episode, but Jerry, with a newfound confidence, spits out, "I don't want to see any more a-ni-me stuff happening to my son, buster." Rick acquiesces before brushing Jerry off so the duo can celebrate their new lease on life, their ability to go on some classic Rick and Morty adventures, or mix it up, or do nothing, or just, you know, experiment. (For the record, Jessica reveals that she wants to go into hospice for a career, holding lonely people as they die, repeating "I love you" and whatever name is on the dying's name tag.)

That banter -- mirroring the premiere endings of every other season of Rick & Morty -- serves as a hard reset for the rest of the season, if not the remainder of the 70-episode order the series has gotten. Rick, though notoriously self-loathing, is acknowledged as the "epitome of bloated flesh privilege" by his own hologram, a blatant plea from Roiland and his co-creator Dan Harmon (Community) to fans to avoid championing the character as a cartoon icon. He's a bad person, and so is Morty, and, hell, so is the entire Smith family, from whom no one should take life advice. The staff working on Rick & Morty know it, and they're imploring the show's fans to figure it out, too.

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Leanne Butkovic (@leanbutk) is an entertainment editor at Thrillist.