What I appreciate most about this episode is that it has a narrow focus. In season 2, we’ve gotten quite a few episodes with totally unrelated A and B-plots (“A Rickle in Time,” “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez,”) and we’ve also had batshit, throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks episodes (“Get Schwifty” and, well, last week’s interdimensional cable episode, obviously). There’s really only one plot here about Rick and Morty getting trapped on a planet during its annual festival of murder and general lawlessness. There’s a subplot about Jerry and Summer, but it’s there primarily to provide a plot device to conclude the A-plot, very little time is devoted to it, and it ultimately doesn’t amount to much beyond driving home just how pathetic Jerry’s become. This means the core The Purge plot really gets to breathe.
One of the funniest aspects here is how, much like with the Cronenbergs in season 1, the episode doesn’t just acknowledge that it bears a resemblance to an already-existing piece of pop culture, it abuses the connection. I’d venture to say the vast majority of the lines in “Look Who’s Purging Now” involve discussions of “purging” or “getting purged” (“If you tell your mom about this, I’ll purge you”) and I appreciate Rick and Morty showing such an absurdist reverence to a not-so-well-regarded, recent horror movie everybody was already starting to forget about (The Purge: Anarchy, though, now there’s a modern classic).
The focused nature of the plot means it gets to ramp up the tension gradually. Morty does a good job of lampshading the obvious way that he and Rick could get stuck on the planet and pulled into the purge so that, when it happens after all, in a more roundabout manner, it’s more of a surprise. It also feels like a genuinely high-stakes situation when Rick’s ship is stolen and he’s shot in the liver. Rick is typically presented as being more or less invincible, so here they do manage to accomplish a vibe of “holy shit, they might actually be kind of screwed.”
It’s a shame how briefly that feeling lasts. Rick patches himself up with some science potion or other and still manages to kill loads of people with little effort (apparently he can even take folk out with a spoon). This is what’s disappointing about “Look Who’s Purging Now.” “Auto Erotic Assimilation” aside, season 2 has shown little interest in occasionally keeping things smaller, sadder, and more character-focused a la season 1. Sure, there’s been a lot of dark subject matter, but it’s been so furious and over-the-top that there hasn’t been much gravity to it. I’m not asking for every episode to feature a suicide attempt or sexual assault; something like the ending of “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” works for me. That episode gleefully threw loads of the show’s darkest-ever stuff out (mostly in the “keep Summer safe” plot) and then capped it all with some hugely depressing, sobering implications about the fate of Zeep Xanflorp’s microverse. It didn’t dwell on this, but it was enough to lend a quick, sorrowful pang to all the events that had come before it.
“Look Who’s Purging Now” eventually falls more in line with season 2’s “I don’t give a fuuuuuuck!” mentality. To my mind, it could have gone darker. Like I said, I was very much on board when Rick and Morty seemed in dire straits, but it stopped feeling like they were in any real danger almost immediately. Additionally, I know the Jerry and Summer plot existed to give credence to the appearance of the flying, murder cybersuits, but those things gave Rick and Morty such a massive advantage that it just felt like a deus ex machina with extra steps. And speaking of Jerry and Summer’s throwaway plot, it started funny and then got annoying because, well, Jerry wouldn’t shut the fuck up. Though I did like that it gave Morty the line “Holy shit, dad, shut the fuck up!”
It’s too bad the episode went the route of over-the-top, robot-suit massacre set to Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Feels Good” because it’s hard to take Morty indulging in the purge very seriously. This season has struggled to provide meaningful character development and Morty giving into murderousness so completely could be a big deal, but instead it’s mostly just ridiculous. That isn’t to say a bunch of the events leading up to it aren’t funny. Rick finding out how fun it is to purge at the start is great. And the screenwriting lighthouse keeper’s script is pretty good, as is Morty shouting “You want me to cut to three weeks earlier? When you were alive?”
Really, “Look Who’s Purging Now” is a pretty solid season 2 episode. It’s just that it felt like it was going to be darker, creepier, and more somber. For a little bit there I was gearing up to call this my favorite of the season. And then the flying metal deathsuits showed up.