My favorite Rick and Morty episodes make me feel like crap. In my opinion, that one-two punch of absurdist cartoon comedy and gut-rending hopelessness defines the joined creative output of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, and I absolutely love it. But what I learned tonight is that I definitely also appreciate Rick and Morty episodes that are straight-up ridiculous, but in ways more creative and entirely unique to this series. It’s the same reason I enjoyed “M. Night Shaym-Aliens!” with its riffing on the hacky narrative trope of everything being a simulation (inside a simulation! (inside a simulation!!)).
The crux of “Something Ricked This Way Comes” is an inventively absurdist plot about Rick using science to undo the plot of Stephen King’s Needful Things. The Devil (played by Alfred Molina) has come to town and opened up a shop, very subtly called “Needful Things.” Now he’s selling knickknacks that fulfill dreams but have a horrible curse on them, like an aftershave that makes Morty’s math teacher irresistible to women, but, twist, it also makes him impotent. Unfortunately for the Devil, Rick creates a serum that counteracts the impotency part without getting rid of the good bits. And from there he continues to de-curse all of the cursed items from the “Needful Things” shop.
It’s just a lot of fun to witness this concept play out. It’s great how Rick starts up a whole de-cursing business just because he finds the Devil’s perceived all-powerful evilness to be irksome and wants to demonstrate how easily he can best Satan magic with science. As a result, Rick actually ends up making a lot of people’s lives wonderful just because he wants to piss the Devil off (and he makes a good chunk of change off of the situation while he’s at it).
The other side of the story is that Summer has a job working at the Devil’s shop and loves working there because he respects her and treats her kindly. This pits Summer and Rick against each other for the majority of the episode, which is a fun use of Summer’s character, who makes clear she won’t stand for Rick’s bullshit and will even side with Satan against him because, well, he seems like kind of a nice guy.
The B-plot here is that Morty gets stuck making a science project with his dad Jerry in an effort to make Jerry feel less insecure about his intelligence. However, things go quickly awry when they sit down to make a model of the universe and Jerry refuses to acknowledge that Pluto is no longer a planet. The jokes and ideas aren’t as strong in this half of the episode, but it’s hilarious the way the plot quickly escalates as Morty and his dad are abducted by the Plutonians, because they love having someone like Jerry around who still thinks Pluto’s a planet as it allows them to remain willfully ignorant of the fact that their constant mining of Pluto is shrinking it to death. Oh, and it’s also really great to learn that they have a prison called Plutanamo Bay.
The wrap-up of this plot isn’t that satisfactory. The reveal that makes Jerry finally admit to himself and the people of Pluto that Pluto is not, in fact, a planet after all is more abrupt than gradual. Furthermore, he has a heart-to-heart with Morty in which Morty tells him that at least he’s good at being his dad. But, er, I haven’t actually seen any proof of that. As far as I can tell, Jerry is kind of crap at parenting.
Summer and Rick’s plot wraps up ridiculously, but it has some quietly sweet and sad moments before that. The scene where Rick returns home to find that everyone’s out and he has no one to go adventuring with is brief, but the sad image of Rick eating alone at the table is really quite effectively tragic. So is the detail that when Morty arrives back home to ask Rick for help with his science project, Rick still feels he has to put up his front of not giving a crap about anything.
It is also nice to see that Rick does care about Summer at the end of it all since he’s willing to bulk up and take steroids with her to go beat the crap out of the Devil after he’s Zuckerberged her out of their joint business venture. The ending somehow manages to be about as absurd and unreal as this show has ever been, to the point it almost doesn’t feel like it really happens, but it’s awfully hard to heavily fault scenes of Rick and Summer pumping iron and beating the hell out of various jerks, set to DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It To Ya.” (To contrast just how tonally different this show can get from week to week, compare this climactic scene to the previous episode’s, which featured Jerry and Beth weeping and kissing as Belly’s “Seal My Fate” played.)
“Something Ricked This Way Comes” now takes top honors as the most ridiculous Rick and Morty episode yet. I kind of prefer when the show stays a little more “grounded” than this (if you get me) and I do wonder what the introduction of the existence of the Devil actually means for this universe (after all, didn’t Rick previously tell Summer that God doesn’t exist?). But, like all episodes of this series, it snuck some heart into the proceedings and, also, it was really goddamned funny. Rick and Morty’s discussion of the usage of the word “retard,” Morty’s frank talk with his dad on the subject of teenage masturbation, Rick calling Summer “Rosemary’s Baby,” and Rick’s butter-passing robot were all hilarious, brilliant bits of comedy that made this episode perhaps not as memorable as “Meeseeks and Destroy” or “Rick Potion #9,” but still a lot of fun to watch.