In “Total Rickall,” the Smiths face off with memory-implanting shapeshifters masquerading as their best friends. If anyone, you’ve got to be real, right Amish Cyborg and Mr. Poopy-Butthole?
Ahh, I love the writing team of Rick and Morty most when they’re making virtuostically long lists based on batsh*t topics, whether they’re parallel-universe TV shows from that time the Smiths got infinite cable TV (“BALL FONDLERS” forever), or ironically cursed artifacts from “Something Ricked This Way Comes” (impotence-causing aphrodisiac, anyone?). In “Total Rickall,” the list of the day is ‘TV trope-y characters, some more probable than others,’ and include nuggets of brilliance like Velociraptor Photographer, Magical Ballerina Lamb, and Pencil-vester. Or PenSylvester, whatever, the name is amazing and I can’t stop thinking about it.
It’s scenarios like these that remind us that no matter how much you think you know about pop culture, Rick and Morty knows more—and far from patting themselves on the backs for it, the writing team might hate themselves for it.
“Total Rickall” is another of those fiendishly clever ‘escape the box’ situations that the series is so good at: this time, the Smith crew is plagued by space-parasites able to psychically implant fond memories of themselves, such that you can’t tell who’s real and who’s basically a lovable cereal mascot come to life. Consequently, Rick puts the family on lockdown as they try to sort out which of their most beloved friends and memories are actually insidious alien constructs.
Like the best Rick and Morty episodes, “Total Rickall” is funniest when it’s most soul-crushing (twist ending very case in point). Every time Rick shoots an alien parasite, a beautiful memory is destroyed, whether it’s the Mr. Belvedere-esque Mr. Beauregard that saved the family from Nazis that one time, or everybody’s favorite barbecue buddy, Hamurai (which is, yes, ham + samurai for you simple folk). The situation has everyone, even Rick, questioning their deepest relationships.
The creepiest thing about the episode is that instead of making these alien parasites actual people, the writers decided to make them character tropes, which gives this all a subtly depressing commentary on the function of pop culture.
If you reflect on your most cherished life events and find that they all involve the cast of Friends, that is, just… wow. And yet, that’s what makes culture catching, isn’t it? That’s what makes the Fonz, Sideshow Bob, or Bob Barker, what they are, and what they all are, are two-dimensional character constructs that give the semblance of a meaningful interaction. That’s what pop culture is, what we love it for, and the terrible lie that “Total Rickall” exposes is that the happiness we derive from it is mere life-substitute: sort of like life, but more sugary-sweet and convenient.
You could say that Rick and Morty is about being tired of pop culture, and “Total Rickall” is about realizing that the shows you watch are not real, not memories, not meaningful.
Now that you’re sufficiently mortified of your most recent Netflix marathon, “Total Rickall” brings it all back to a conclusion that’s heartwarming in a way that only Rick and Morty could be: the most meaningful life moments are, of course, the shittiest ones.
Just before Morty executes Rick at the behest of a roomful of Hannah Barbera rejects, Rick unloads on his hyperventilating grandson, telling him that 99.9% of their memories together are absolute garbage—which prompts Morty to realize that the alien parasites can only implant fond memories of themselves. In other words, you can tell that your relationship is meaningful and pithy and real if it’s absolutely depressing, or at the very least, riddled with conflicting feelings, whether it’s catching your little brother masturbating in the kitchen, or that time you and your husband were attacked by a homeless man and he locks you outside of the car and tells you to run, just, run. With a mixture of tears and glee, the Smiths open fire on the only purely happy relationships they ever had, leaving behind only their terrible, terrible selves. Oh, and Mr. Poopy-Butthole of course…
Yep, Rick and Morty Season 2 is still going strong with equal parts hilarity and grief, and the shift from ‘Rick and Morty’ to ‘Rick and the Smiths’ is still proving to be a brilliant evolution for the show. Summer and Beth are getting some fantastic character moments, and easily,the season’s best gags are centered on Jerry, who’s on the shortlist to become something like the next Zoidberg. I mean c’mon, the Jerry day-care? Jerry’s homosexual encounter with Sleepy Gary, Beth’s ‘actual’ husband? Genius.