Rick and Morty season 4 is still dark and morbid, but always fun

The first two episodes of Rick and Morty have centered around death and Rick’s morbid isolation, but the winning adventure formula is back on track.

It took two years, but Rick and Morty has returned with season 4 and with the first two episodes having aired, this ridiculously brutal, hilarious series is still the most creative thing on TV. What would you expect with the infinite universe to explore?

From the first episode, “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,” the family dynamic in the Smith household has evolved, at least in this timeline anyway. Jerry’s back. We don’t know if Beth is still a clone (with perhaps the “real Beth” still in search of purpose throughout the multiverse), but she’s definitely established herself as head of the household. Rick’s adventures have taken their toll on the Smith family, and new ground rules include Rick having to ask specific permission to whisk Morty off on life-threatening missions.

“Rick Die Rickpeat“ shocked fans with the abrupt demise of the beloved genius jerk, but the “death” of this Rick quickly triggered a reboot of a series of clones. Each iteration of Ricks woke up in fascist universes, even including the shrimp clone. The season 4 premiere answered some of the criticism that the show had strayed from what made it so entertaining in the first place.

“I want to have fun, classic Rick and Morty adventures, just like in the old days!” says fascist Morty.

The political satire was intact, as well as the premiere tradition of meta, but most effectively transforming what seemed like an all-important mission into an impotent race. Morty’s crystal-induced vision of his crush Jessica as his loving wife by his dying bedside turns out to be Jessica the nurse comforting the patient Morty. So much of the season premiere mirrored the very first episode, with the best fourth-wall hilarity saved for the very end, once Summer’s snide comments were revealed (“garage, isolate Summer’s voice”). “Way to ruin the season 4 premiere, Summer!” yell both Rick and Morty. So far so good.

But if the premiere brought back the zany fun adventures of the duo, the second episode took grandfather and grandson to a much darker place. By the end of the episode, “The Old Man and the Seat,” sociopathic genius Rick Sanchez finds himself on the crapper, rigged by his own booby trap that calls up holograms that label him “the saddest piece of garbage in the entire cosmos,” as he wears his King of Sh** crown. Not only is Rick an utterly isolated genius, he’s a self-loathed one as well.

Rick spends most of episode 2 alone, “an exploration of Rick’s isolation,” according to series creator Dan Harmon in the breakdown. His selfish, petty quest to hunt down the poop bandit Tony, leads him to torture the porcelain-throne using nemesis, even encasing him in a Matrix-like capsule that traps him in a false fantasy. Both widowers, “The Old Man and the Seat” is a callback to the pain Rick’s been suffering since his wife died, an alternate reality that was explored back in season 3. Tony is the opposite of Rick, someone who is calmly in touch with his feelings of loneliness and helplessness since her passing. Rick pushes away probably the only person who was empathetically curious enough to want to know him.

“You need the same thing I needed, Rick,” intones a wise-sounding Tony. “You need someone to give you permission to live.”

It’s curious that Rick keeps coming back to his family, despite all his condescending behavior towards them. He drinks because he doesn’t fully belong to a universe that doesn’t understand him. But he is at odds with himself: despite all his derision of his family, he cannot overcome his core love for them, even if he doesn’t want to admit it to himself.

Curiously, Morty was not involved with Rick’s vindictive mission, choosing to help his dad get out of his disastrous speed-dating “soulmate” app, demonstrating a more assertive demeanor towards him, taking charge, and hurling abuse at Jerry at one point. Will Morty continue to act more like his grandfather as the season progresses?

From the sneak peak of episode 3, it seems, with Rick and Morty off on another adventure, like old times, likely to leave chaos in the wake. In “One Flew Over the Crewcoo’s Morty,” expect parodies of Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, and Alita Battle Angel — a movie that truly deserves to be made fun of. There will be a nod to the vampire episode from season 2, Ricklantis, and the Citadel of Ricks. Typical of Rick and Morty, after leaving us with a truly depressing ending in the last episode, the series bounces right back with whacky, cutting-edge humor. With 70 episodes ordered by Adult Swim, Rick and Morty is reveling in its creative freedom.

Rick and Morty episodes air Sunday nights, at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.

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