What’s great about Rick and Morty is that it’s still such a new show that I have no particular expectations other than to be entertained. And “M. Night Shaym-Aliens!” had me grinning the entire time.
Wasting next to no time on exposition, we’re informed by Rick the he and Morty are trapped in a simulation of their world. In reality, they’re on a ship of Zigerian scammers, “the galaxy’s most ambitious, least successful con artists.” Before telling him this, Rick pulls Marty out of his fake classroom and into the locker room showers, where he instructs Morty to strip naked and shower with him. This is the only way they can speak freely as the Zigerians won’t monitor them because they happen to be very uncomfortable with nudity, which is possibly the best villain weakness in the history of fiction.
Rick and Morty have been captured so that the Zigerians can try to wheedle Rick’s formula for concentrated dark matter out of them. They’ve been after it forever, but Rick has always outsmarted them. But this time, they’ve rigged the simulation… by putting it in another simulation… inside another simulation! As the head Zigerian (played by David Cross) proclaims: “Oh, this is going to be such a mindf*ck!”
Yes, we’re in the M. Night Shyamalan realm of twists upon twists and simulations inside of fake whatsits and bupkis, but the entire tone is mocking. We’re shown what the Zigerians are planning so that the twists aren’t surprises, but inevitabilities. The whole episode seems dedicated to debunking the idea that there’s anything clever about the overused cliché of everything turning out to be a lie. The simulation twist is the same brand of claptrap as “it was all a dream!” And though we all now feel pretty confident about saying that latter tactic is lazy and passé, so many media still think this simulation garbage is the cat’s pajamas. I’m looking in your direction, video games and anime.
There’s another half to the episode, which is that Morty’s dad, Jerry (Chris Parnell) was also abducted, due to bureaucratic confusion on the part of the Zigerians. He’s completely incidental to the aliens’ plans, so they turn the processing power of the simulation down to the lowest setting for him and let him wander around unsupervised in a world of frozen, glitching people who answer “yes” to everything (except for a token black guy who shouts “My man!”). This turns out to be the ideal situation for Jerry. He gives an ad pitch for apples with the slogan “Hungry for apples?” that everyone in the meeting says “yes” to and he has fulfilling sex with his completely static wife.
This episode manages to give a good bit of insight into what an utter sad sack Jerry is that his best day ever took place in a low-functioning simulation. It’s nice to see an episode give over a significant portion of its focus to another member of Rick and Morty’s family and for it to hold up as well as the main, crazy, action-y, sci-fi portion. And both parts make for great sight gags, with people glitching through objects in Jerry’s simulation and Rick and Morty getting to have insane chase scenes full of weird crap (something this show seems to love and is really awesome at), like two Zigerian guards tripping into a machine that fuses them with a giant hot dog.
This is a really clever and fun episode. It takes the idea of twists in storytelling, but lets the viewer in on them, casting a spotlight on how silly they are. The audience knows Rick is one step ahead of the Zigerians all the time, so we feel one step ahead too.
In other words, Rick and Morty made me feel smart today!