Warning: This mid-season review will contain some major and minor spoilers for the first six episodes of “Rick and Morty” Season 2.
After just six episodes of the second season of Adult Swim’s latest animated venture, would I be completely out of line to call “Rick and Morty” a certified masterpiece? Actually, that question was completely rhetorical.
When I reviewed the first few episodes of Rick and Morty a little more than two years ago, I felt like a god among amateur journalists everywhere as I picked out the dramatic undertone lurking just beneath the surface of an animated show filled with belches, slurred speech and ridiculous sci-fi concepts. Seriously, I felt like I had figured out the intent of this show, labeling the titular characters as damaged goods who have found comfort in one another in face of the chaotic place that is the universe. As I sit here, burning the midnight oil after another installment of an enthralling second season, I chuckle at just how surface-level my initial interpretation really was.
Right off the bat, creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland display their unparalleled talents for science fiction and comedy. The series follows Rick Sanchez, a super-genius with a penchant for drugs and acohol, and his grandson Morty Smith, a high school freshman who aids Rick on his endless quests throughout the universe.
Each episode works tirelessly to balance humor and drama. As with the first season, this careful attention to what I can only describe as “tonal gymnastics” is largely rooted in the relationship between the titular characters. This inter-dimensional duo continue to build on the heartfelt — if not utterly sadistic — relationship from the first season.
Rick and Morty continue to represent the focal point of the show’s power and appeal. But the writers have also made great strides with the rest of the Smith family, especially Morty’s sister, Summer.
In the premier episode of the season, Summer steps forward as a much stronger character. She even goes as far to openly challenge Morty as their grandfather’s favorite sidekick. Even though Rick quickly settles this dispute by assuring his grandchildren that they are identical pains in his ass, Summer continues to find herself along for the ride as Rick and Morty travel the multiverse.
Whereas Summer continues to become a more rounded character, the same cannot be said for Morty’s parents, Beth and Jerry. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love how the dysfunctional marriage has been hilariously pushed to a new low, but the Beth and Jerry storyline has not seen too much growth. The structure of a given episode presents a main plot for Rick and Morty (and sometimes Summer) and a secondary plot for Beth and Jerry (also, sometimes Summer). While the Rick and Morty plot never fails to bring the laughs, the Beth and Jerry plot seems like more of the same: Beth and Jerry argue for a while, they discover a conflict, and they realize that they are closer than ever to a divorce. I get the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to this formula, but I hope Harmon and Roiland discover a way to reinvigorate the Beth and Jerry subplots.
As individual characters, Beth and Jerry have seen far different treatment in the writing room. Jerry has had some great moments going back to season one (“Life is effort and I’ll stop when I die!”), and that trend continues this season. I particularly enjoyed the “Jerry Day Care” in the second episode of the season, which reveals what the dozens of inter-dimensional Ricks and Morty’s do with their bothersome Jerry’s who stow away on adventures. I really, really hope that we get to enjoy more Jerry-centric plot points in the remaining episodes of the season and beyond, they are way too funny to ignore.
Beth, however, continues to be a flat afterthought. Since the pilot, we have gotten to know Beth as a career-driven woman whose medical aspirations were cut short by a teenage pregnancy. Since learning about this crucial aspect to Beth’s character, which explains why she resents her husband so much, the writers haven’t given us much more to make us care about Beth.
In a lot of ways, Beth seems to be a less endearing version of Rick: an alcoholic whose emotional pain comes off as far more selfish than understandable. This isn’t to say that Beth is completely devoid of likability; her struggle to pour herself a glass of wine after shooting a beloved member of the family stands as a remarkably powerful moment this season, one that sat with me long after the credits rolled. I think the only way to bring Beth to the level of the other characters is to delve into her past with her parents, which will also reveal the fate of Rick’s wife and the reason behind his decade-long disappearance from Beth’s life.
At the end of season one, Rick’s catch phrase “wubba-lubba-dub-dub” is revealed to mean “I am in great pain, please help me.” This revelation was nothing short of a gut punch, especially in the context of the colorful antics of Rick and Morty. With each sip from his trusty flask, it becomes more and more clear that Rick experienced a great deal of trauma before he barged his way into his family’s life.
In season two, Rick’s emotional pain comes to a head when he attempts to kill himself, narrowly missing a fatal blast from one of his inventions as he drunkenly passes out in the family garage. Scored by the somber “Show Me What You Got” by Chaos Chaos, this scene pushed the envelope farther than this show has ever gone before, boldly driving the series to the brink of tragedy before jerking the wheel and avoiding the wall. Then, as the camera draws back, we see Jerry happily weed-whacking his yard, cutting the tension with a brief moment of welcomed silliness. It’s layered moments like these that continue to establish “Rick and Morty” as the frontrunner in the current television landscape and, if the first half of the second season is any indication, this isn’t going to change any time soon.
“Rick and Morty” airs every Sunday at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.