Things start out normal enough. Morty is, as usual, in love with his beautiful classmate, Jessica and the annual Flu Season Dance (which is about flu awareness, not about having the actual flu) is coming up. Unsurprisingly (if you know the title of the episode), Morty has the brilliant idea to ask Rick for a love potion to make Jessica fall in love with him. After some nagging, Rick rewards Morty with a chemical extracted from a vole, a rodent that mates with one partner for life. Jessica will be in love with him forever and nothing can go wrong… unless she happens to have the flu.
Well, it’s flu season. And she does.
It escalates from there. Jessica’s sneezes spread the potion-tainted virus around, causing everyone to fall madly in love with Morty; making a miscalculation, Rick develops an antidote based on praying mantis DNA, which, well, transforms everyone into horrible half-human, half-mantis creatures; and his final idea turns the entire human race into fleshy nightmares that the show brilliantly refers to as “Cronenbergs.”
Rick’s consecutive failures are the backdrop for the development of his and Morty’s relationship, as well as for Morty’s parents, Jerry and Beth. As the situation gets progressively more horrifying, Rick and Morty are forced to accept their roles in it: Morty for being a selfish creep talking Rick into making the love potion in the first place and Rick for being the callous asshole he typically is, so certain of his own success that he inadvertently decimates humanity.
One of the conditions of the love potion is that it doesn’t affect people with the same DNA, leaving Morty’s family safe from turning freakish. This gives Jerry an amazing plot in which he’s simply trying to get to the horse heart surgery hospital where his wife works, fearing she’s going to cheat on him with her hunky co-surgeon. His bad timing means he’s thrown right into the apocalyptic mess Rick and Morty have brewed up and he gets the rare opportunity to be an action movie badass, grabbing a dead cop’s shotgun and unloading rounds into praying mantis people with hasty abandon. It’s wonderfully cathartic to see Jerry finally impressing his wife and being the man they both wish he could be.
But “Rick Potion #9” is ultimately a cautionary tale about what it means to have someone in your life who can literally do anything, but he probably shouldn’t and you probably shouldn’t bug him about it. I was intending to grade this episode as average. I didn’t laugh as hard and as often with it as much as I did last week’s “Meeseeks and Destroy.” Not that there weren’t good bits, such as the aforementioned usage of the phrase “Cronenbergs” and the rapper at the school dance (who I’m pretty sure has Dan Harmon’s voice) falling in love with Morty along with everyone else and spitting such lyrics as “I’d like to wrap my arms around him and feel him inside me.”
But then the last five minutes happened and that darkness that only the fucked-up cocktail of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s minds can conjure up forced Morty to realize that there’s a point at which Rick can’t do everything, that the only solution is a heavily flawed system restore to existence—one where you’re involved in unspeakably awful, mind-destroying doings that only you (and your grandfather) know about and have to carry around with you forever. And, as an added stab in the gut, Jerry and Beth’s marriage sucks again. In the version of reality we’re left with, Jerry never became an action hero and Beth never found a reason to truly love him.
It’s not too surprising considering this is a show involving Dan Harmon, but, Jesus Christ, does Rick and Morty swing for the rafters from week to week. My only worry right now is that it could be difficult to maintain this level of intensity for later seasons. As Rick says, “It’s not like we can do this every week anyways. We get three or four more of these, tops.”