Following a season premiere bogged down by its overcomplicated premise, “Mortynight Run” is positively joyous by comparison, filling its every moment with new alien and monster designs and subsequently murdering them off with careless abandon. It’s one of those episodes that pretty well exemplifies the appeal of Rick and Morty: comedy sci-fi hijinks, over-the-top set pieces, and an undercurrent of darkness running through it all.
This episode also highlights the difference in approach for season two. The creators have stated they now feel less obligated to ground everything with an earthbound sitcom plot. Season one already showed great chutzpah by shaking up its formula only a few episodes in, but this may be the first time (and correct me if I’m wrong if it’s not) where we start out already in space with Rick, Morty, and Jerry off to do something or other.
It’s also very early in the season for an episode where neither Rick nor Morty initially have a strong motivation. In season one, Rick usually had some science project that he’d decided was super-important at the time (Anatomy Park, experiments with mega seeds), Morty had something he really wanted (usually Jessica), or an antagonist showed up for our protagonists to overcome (the Zigerions, Evil Morty). This time, Rick just wants to sell some weapons to an assassin to make some extra cash for him and Morty to spend a day at the intergalactic entertainment center, Blips and Chitz.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just something I noticed. For a show that’s made very clear early on that its maxim is essentially “Nothing Matters,” it only makes sense for episodes to start with Rick in pursuit of little more than a way to kill some time. Really, Rick’s motivation has been the same from the beginning. We just didn’t know it before.
Eventually, it’s Morty, who still has some drive to find purpose in a purposeless universe, who takes control of the plot (hence the episode title, which happens to be the first in which Morty’s name, rather than Rick’s, is used to make a bad pun). The episode is then divided into an A-plot for Rick and Morty and a B-plot for Jerry, but where “A Rickle in Time” was primarily confined to two locations, “Mortynight Run” jets off all over the galaxy, producing hilarious, memorable sequences throughout. This is all mostly in service to the core storylines, but the episode isn’t afraid to indulge in some small tangents (a signature Rick and Morty maneuver). The best of these is easily when Morty tries out the VR arcade game, “Roy: A Life Well Lived,” a video game in which you live through the full life of an average man who—in Morty’s playthrough—gives up his professional football dreams, survives cancer, and works at a carpet store. It makes for a brilliant reveal later when we find out Rick is a pro at the game and is able to take Roy off the grid. A crowd gathers to watch Rick play as an onlooker alien cries out, “This guy doesn’t have a social security number for Roy!”
Also good is the brief interlude of assassin Krombopulos Michael carrying out his current contract, which begins with his very quotable pronouncement: “Oh boy, here I go killin’ again.” One of my new all-time favorite sequences is when Jerry, left alone, attempts to find his own way off of a horrible alien world. The gag is that Jerry encounters loads of totally nonsensical, disturbing alien stuff and the writers and artists did an amazing job here, with aliens that explode into goop that other aliens then drink cupfuls of and the introduction of the series’ most unsettling-looking creature yet: a blobby monstrosity with baby legs(?) sticking out of its orifices, engaged in a vaguely sexual act.
The main plot about Morty trying to do the noble thing by returning a gaseous creature (saddled with the unfortunate nickname “Fart”) to its home dimension works well. Rick’s nihilistic perspective that the lives and deaths of all beings are arbitrary is driven home repeatedly throughout as carnage and bodies pile up in our heroes’ wake. A great capper is the tragically funny moment where Rick and Morty head home with what might be an alternate-universe Jerry but, ah, who cares? All Jerrys are pretty much the same.
If I have any misgivings with “Mortynight Run” it’s just my personal preference for Rick and Morty to go pitch-black with its darkness. This is an awfully dark episode with a terribly tragic conclusion, but the tone is goofy more than anything else, a lot of which is to do with Fart being voiced by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement blatantly doing his exaggerated David Bowie impersonation. His delivery definitely sells a lot of the lines, but his presence does dominate the episode a bit, and I often had trouble separating the character of Fart from the mystical Bowie from the Flight of the Conchords series, which took me out of the episode just a bit
Still, all in all, with so much to like, I can’t complain too much about “Mortynight Run.” It’s got the aforementioned awesome sequences (plus another on Gearhead’s home planet I didn’t even get into), smart jokes sprinkled throughout (in the tag we find out the sequel to “Roy” is called “Roy 2: Dave”), and—though I’m not sure we needed to hear it three times—the melancholy, Bowie-alike song “Goodbye Moonmen” is genuinely quite catchy.
Never go back to the carpet store.