Among Rick and Morty’s unique talents is the series’s ability to break the fourth wall without seeming overly cheesy. That’s the luxury of having a protagonist who’s aware of every possible reality, including one in which his exploits with his grandson are being broadcast worldwide and reviewed by a Paste TV critic. When Rick makes obvious references to the outside world—which I recall him doing as early as the Inception spoof from Season 1—he’s moving the audience past the easy, first-level laughter and onto the second-level laughter that arises from his commentary. It’s one of the show’s most useful highbrow-lowbrow techniques, a key instrument in Rick and Morty‘s ability to be both profoundly stupid and simultaneously brilliant.
In “Morty’s Mind Blowers,” the fourth wall breakage is taken to its most extreme level. Rather than growing trite, it takes the series to new heights of humor. With the brooding cynicism of last week’s outstanding “The Ricklantis Mixup” providing a tough act to follow, Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon and company have responded with the goddamn funniest episode of Rick and Morty they’ve ever made. At the very least, it’s far more mileage than they could’ve gotten out of an “Interdimensional Cable 3,” and the episode ends up there, anyway.
I can only imagine how much fun the writers’ room had spitballing ideas for Mind Blowers (and how much leftover comedic gold didn’t make it into the script). With no real need for any of the clips to sustain some sort of episode-long lesson about the Rick-Morty dynamic, things could get as weird as possible, and Roiland in particular is the king of making weird things funny. (Go watch his pre-R&M webseries House of Cosbys for a glimpse of his pure, unfiltered flair for the grotesque.) Each Mind Blower is built around a single gag that isn’t given enough time to grow old, and they’re an excellent balance of the various types of humor used in Rick and Morty: bodily humor, existential void humor, Rick-pettiness humor, sight gags. Overall, they present a very nice summing-up of the series to date, which might have been a tedious exercise but is kept fresh by the rapid-fire pace, the self-referential core of the episode, and the outstanding quality of each clip. I’ll rank a top five for you right now, because a clip show-themed episode deserves a clip show-themed review:
5. Morty programming what is clearly supposed to be a Jessica magnet. Morty’s crush on Jessica has proven to be one of the series’s best running jokes—this is the third straight episode to have referenced it—and here, it’s exploited for a hilarious sight gag.
4. The light switch mixup. Roiland’s voice acting has received much-deserved praise this season, and the irritation in his voice as he describes Morty’s error in excruciating detail is key to the joke’s dead space travelers punchline. We don’t ever need to know why or how Rick was responsible for keeping these folks alive, and in fact, learning these things would kill the vibe.
3. Pleasuring the alien prisoner. Morty’s moral development has taken center stage in Season 3, so it would’ve been rather obvious to watch Morty deal with having to torture a helpless captive—particularly with the inference that the incident happened well in the past. It’s rather reminiscent of Morty’s attempted but factually impossible murder of Rick in “The Rickshank Rickdemption,” with the crucial difference that the latter is its episode’s climax, which takes some attention off the joke. Here, the fact that Morty’s been jacking off an alien is revealed outside of such a dramatic context, which means we can just laugh at Rick’s absurd logic instead of thinking about broader implications.
2. The true meaning of “level.” This strikes at the pettiness we see out of Rick in other Mind Blowers (I loved the “take things for granite” bit as well). Who fucking cares about the difference between almost exactly level and exactly level? A bored, drunk genius, that’s who. And apparently Morty and everyone else who’s missing out on constant orgasm.
1. The squirrel conspiracy. Aside from the main takeaway—how many times have Rick and Morty replaced their reality?—it’s always hilarious to watch the nigh unflappable Rick thrown out of his comfort zone by the darnedest things, such as a planet-on-a-cob. And the idea of squirrels secretly running world affairs is precisely the dumb-smart balance for which the series strives. I doubt it originated as the idea for a show of its own, but now that the concept is out there…I’d watch at least the first season of “It’s A Nutty, Nutty, Nutty, Nutty World.”
Once the clips end, though, “Morty’s Mind Blowers” shows off its dark heart with the suicide pact between Rick and Morty. With their identities temporarily erased, the two titular characters get a chance to realize just how toxic their relationship is. Rick’s superiority complex, showcased so blatantly in “Rest and Ricklaxation,” gets a much more subtle and potent treatment in snippets like “take things for granite” and Morty’s checkers victory, and with Morty temporarily forgetting that that’s just how Ricks and Mortys do things, wanting an ultimate escape is an understandable reaction to the trauma of adventuring with Rick. Granted, it’s also the only part of the episode that feels a bit unbelievable—perhaps because the frenetic pace here takes the episode lurching off the rails of humor and into the abyss so suddenly. But the discussion between grandfather and grandson about the point of it all, and Summer’s brutal resolution of the situation, harkens back to one of Rick and Morty’s earliest, most famous lessons: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
Thinking critically about our relationships with each other and with the world is crucial to living an engaging life; that’s why “The Ricklantis Mixup” was such a scathing masterpiece. But venture too far down that rabbit hole, and we end up like Vladi-Morty and Est-Rick-gon, wondering whether there’s any point to the despair and stuck between two conflicting modes of self-erasure. And in those moments, the healthiest possible response is to laugh at something utterly silly—like hunters gunning down a sentient house—and then get right back to adventuring. The bond between Rick and Morty may be ever more strained as the series proceeds, but so long as they’re able to bond over interdimensionable cable, bashing Summer and breaking the fourth wall, everyone will be fine.
Zach Blumenfeld is wondering how Morty responded to Mr. Poopybutthole’s marriage proposal. Follow him on Twitter.