This RICK AND MORTY review contains spoilers.
Rick and Morty Season 6 Episode 4
It’s becoming clear now that taking portal guns out of the equation for season six is a device the Rick and Morty writers are using to keep episodes grounded, both literally and narratively. Rick can still fly to anywhere in the galaxy or even jump to other dimensions if he puts the work in, but the blasé days of casually portaling out of danger or to use a toilet in an idyllic environment are over (at least for the time being). So far, season premiere notwithstanding, this has resulted in episodes concentrated around one basic-ish (i.e., basic for this show, so still pretty complex) plot confined mostly to one location.
Happily, in last week’s episode, “Bethic Instinct,” and now this one, that location has been the Smith family home, which is great because Rick and Morty does some of its best work when it remembers that it’s a sitcom and works the entire family into its stories. The last two seasons often forgot to get the family involved and when they did, their characterization would either get pushed to the background in favor of more crazy sci-fi crap and/or they’d all just turn into extensions of Rick, cynical and hateful of the people around them (one example is season five’s “Gotron Jerrysis Rickvangelion,” which might be the quintessential low point of “hateful family does crazy sci-fi shit” plots).
As with the Beth has sex with herself episode, “Night Family” is another that gets the balance of family vitriol and affection right. They still yell and curse bitterly at each other, sure, but small moments (like Beth being happy when Rick slaps Night Jerry back to Day Jerry), remind us these people still like spending time with each other, a feeling that was nowhere to be found just one season ago. That bit of kindness extends, surprisingly, to Rick himself, who seems to actually be making an effort to just hang out and be with the family.
For a while there, the action-packed sci-fi rigamarole of Rick and Morty had begun to feel pointless and mundane. Rick would get he and Morty into all kinds of intergalactic conflict, but they were so all-powerful they’d massacre whole alien societies while looking bored, and it was boring to watch too. It’s always seemed like the only real challenge for Rick is to get along with and appreciate the version of his family he’s decided to cohabitate with, so it’s great how in this season, the conflict is coming from inside the house. This time, the family uses a device to give themselves chores to do while they’re asleep, but the night versions of themselves gradually turn against their day counterparts, due to a disagreement over rinsing dirty dishes.
Something also great about “Night Family” is that it takes on the tone of a horror movie, complete with spooky synth soundtrack. It’s actually odd, come to think of it, that, with how open the multiverse of Rick and Morty is, they haven’t done horror like this before. They’ve dipped their toe into it, like when they responded to an alien starship’s distress signal in the opening of “Auto Erotic Assimilation” and then there’s also Scary Terry, I guess, but “Night Family” is a horror movie for its entire runtime. Granted, it’s not actually scary; it’s more just wearing the horror aesthetic, but it’s still fun to watch the series try it on. Plus, it does have one scene that manages to be uncomfortable by riding the line between horrific and silly, when Night Summer force-feeds Rick stale dinner plate scrapings, after which she utters one of the episode’s best lines, “Your machine allowed me to steal the night and soon I will seize the day.”
The character stuff in “Bethic Instinct” was stronger than in “Night Family,” but that episode was actually trying for character development, while this one is just goofing around. However, as mentioned, the character interactions are still good and the roles everyone falls into here fit them perfectly. Summer has gradually emerged as the other alpha of the family besides Rick, so it’s only fitting that her night persona takes charge as night family leader. It’s also sweet, funny, and fitting that Jerry ends up turning the tables on the night family by appealing to the better nature of his night self, as the two have become pen pals.
There have been funnier Rick and Morty episodes (though this one is still pretty funny) and there have been better character-focused episodes, but “Night Family” takes a clever central premise and creates a solid, fun, and engaging plot around it, so it’s hard to have many complaints. It’s also a treat to see the show do a whole horror episode and I wouldn’t mind seeing them go all out like this again. This series already juggles extremely different tones. Why not some more horror? I vote more horror!