Rick and Morty Season 4 Premiere: Full Scene-by-Scene Analysis
The show opens around the dinner table, a scene which often recurs, being a stereotype of the family, the nuclear family. A portrait of Snowball is on the wall. As is typical in this day and age, one of the members of the family is on their phone. Summer points out that Morty is on his phone, adopting the policing attitude of adults.
Jerry says sharing might help, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Beth scolds Summer not to shame Morty, yet labels him as a creepy perverted stalker. Beth is the arch-judger, who reserves for her right to criticize the children. Summer takes glee at Beth insulting Morty.
Morty shows what he’s looking at: a picture of Jessica taking a selfie at her grandmother’s funeral. The necklace is from “Margaritaville,” but is also right where her breasts are. The caption says “Bye Grandma!” This overly ludic perspective on death shows how we are getting to the point where nothing is serious.
Jerry says the Rick should be trying to destroy the reality principle of the conversation, to which Rick responds with an automated reply: he has somehow set himself up to be doing other things inside his mind, while an automated system makes his body eat and give token responses. He says he has it “so he can spend time with his family,” pointing out that often the family feels like an arbitrary grouping of people who don’t understand each other or know what to say to each other, so it’s easier to go on “autopilot” and just “get through it.” Beth makes a remark trying to buttress the idea of a nice time with family, to which Rick gives another automated response, showing that he is beyond this level of conversation.
Rick gets up, saying he’s done eating and making his Amazon wish list, one of the many stock corporate references in Rick and Morty. This serves to show that the show is just another corporate vehicle, but also has as many levels of irony as you’d like to impute on it. Rick, the super genius, shops on Amazon like us, or he simply uses this example of a trivial, conformist activity as a way of expressing how little he cares for interaction with the family. He uses it as an example of something that they perhaps value, but save for another time. He interrupts the time and place of the family dinner by being elsewhere, doing busywork.
Rick grabs Morty, but is stopped and is told to follow the new protocol: he has to ask Morty if he wants to go on the adventure. This is a fait accompli, since Morty wants to go on the adventure. Morty says thank you for asking, in a very ham-handed and inauthentic exchange which shows that simplistic efforts to resolve tension are just stage plays. He makes a dramatic gesture with his hank, which Rick unceremoniously yanks once again.
Summer says Jessica looks good in the photo, and that perhaps grief flushes your cheeks. This shows that everything is being funneled into how to present ourselves well, even the passing of someone in the family. Consistent theme of the breakdown of family ties in the face of media saturation and technological development (social media and Rick’s technical genius and the world is opens making his family boring to him, not to mention their misguided anger at him). Summer offers Jerry more syrup, to which Beth says not to try to make her father die to get a funeral selfie. This juxtaposition shows the creeping notion of death within all our technological gadgets.
One standard scene where Rick leaves Morty to die. Death is dealt with in a vague, metaphysical and cartoonish way on the show. Then Rick flies to a planet which is a bulbous head of Morty with more Morty heads and tentacles coming out of it. This juxtaposition shows how Morty is sometimes aggrandized, and sometimes sacrificed on the show. Then a weird humanoid/robot hybrid appears. A muscled debonair man punches Rick, then a giant Morty rises from the ocean to terrorize some pink aliens. Rick goes to shoot a two-headed Goose, and then the standard Cthulu-esque monster following the disc-UFO craft shot which typically ends the intro. Allusion to HP Lovecraft, which R&M emulates by continually dissolving the contour of reality, questioning and overturning the reality principle, and leaving much to the viewer’s imagination.
Rick is flying fast and hard because he is pissed. Rick says that he resents having to ask Morty to do dangerous things, and says it’s a slippery slope. This is ironic, since Morty’s life is in question, yet, Rick is afraid of slippery slopes which will limit his genius. He holds others responsible for helping his express his gift, and ultimately preys on the family since they have an emotional bond to him (expressed in his multiple assertions of domination over the show). At the end of Season 3, Rick was hamstrung, but his resentment at this state of affairs is bubbling over, explosively. Rick sarcastically asks Morty to mine crystals, showing how often commands are presented as questions.
Rick explains Death Crystals tell you how you will die. Morty sees multiple ways he could die: getting his head ripped off by an elevator, being poisoned at a party, getting splashed with chemicals by a passing car, a fall, a random explosion. Morty thinks he will die many times, but Rick explains that how one dies continually changes, since we change our future through our actions. This conceit does not jive with a determinist universe, unless the Death Crystal presents not how you really will die, which is apparently one thing (what if something never died? What would the Crystal show then?), but rather something else, which keeps changing with your actions. Possible deaths for Rick are also presented: being torn in half by a cat monster, being eaten by a giant alien spider, being killed by an agglomeration of Morty heads, the same chemical splash from the car, and then being shot while mining this moment, which takes up all the “screens.”
Rick says Crystal poachers are the lowest form of life, using universe as piggy bank. Morty asks what they are, then, since Rick does the same thing. “We’re Rick and Morty,” he explains, calling out the plot armor which main characters of shows receive, and the assumption that they are important or doing important things, or knowledgeable. Rick feels justified in plundering the universe because hell, he has his own show! Rick ties the self to the brand, but even someone outside a brand has the similar view: surely I can drive drunk, I’m a good driver. Everyone thinks this. Perhaps our brains give us a form of “plot armor.” I read for our brains, they think death is something that happens to other people only.
Rick says the real use of the Crystals is to show when the enemy is reloading. Rick has a practical purpose for the gems, while Morty takes very seriously the idea of dying a good death, and is worried about dying so that he wants to consult the Crystals for guidance. Rick says certain death certain death… uncertain death! And knows that he is unlikely to die from getting killing in that moment. It’s an odd and simplistic use of the Crystal- why don’t they fire in a barrage so not all of them are reloading at the same time? I’m not a soldier but I think that’s a thing.
Rick shows how quickly we can waver from thinking one thing is out “certain fate,” and how there is nothing we can do about it, then feeling completely differently and intervening confidently in the world. He wears the stone over his third eye, so it’s kind of like the stone lets you sense your connection with death the way a master of meditation might. Imagine a monk who has a “sixth sense” for knowing when someone is approaching. That’s basically what Rick has. After killing the attackers, Rick issues a simple command, safe in having established his power. Morty puts a Crystal in his pocket.
Morty points this whole thing out and asks if Rick just uses these to kill fights, to which Rick says no, that people who seek to avoid death are already dead, and that they’re also rich. This shows why he is not attached to the images of the Crystal the way Morty is: he is not attached to the idea of remaining alive, because he is aware of the non-fundamentality of this realm. Perhaps he is able to store his consciousness in some other place, or beyond space, and therefore death is not a real risk for him. Again, this is something a monk may achieve in an analog fashion.
Yet Rick is still using the Crystals for a different purpose: to make money. He says he wants to “spend his life” with their money. Money is the central object of desire. Rick is talking about money as a companion, and about spending life like currency; what do you choose to do with your time? Further, so why is Rick’s instrumental mentality and more justified than those rich people’s? Because he’s Rick, of “Rick and Morty.” Rick knows the show knows they can kill this Rick and replace him with another Rick and people will still watch “Rick and Morty.” This speaks to the subsumption of everything into branding and advertising, which Rick and Morty simultaneously revels in, mocks, and is indifferent toward.
All of a sudden Morty sees himself dying with Jessica by his side, saying “I love you, Morty.” He stumbles toward the ship, beginning what he will do this episode: awkwardly starting to do things such that the image he sees from the crystal keeps being him dying with Jessica. Note this is also an image of Jessica, not the sexy image from before, but one also associated with death. This represents Jessica as love object, who makes death okay. Relationships have taken on the role of the church in making it “okay” to die, since we are so worried about it. We fantasize about how it “will” happen, which allows us to function.
They crash, and Rick is killed. Morty is concerned, but is reassured when he sees his death is unchanged. The image of a “good death” is enough to help him get over Rick dying. Is Morty cut off from real life in general, or is he bewitched by the Crystal, or does he just really not care that much for Rick?
A ghostly version of Rick appears, which is revealed to be an automated hologram, which is trying to get Morty to clone Rick. He says “real Rick” in quotation marks, because this hologram has a chip on his shoulder from being “not real.” He considers “reality” to be a privilege, which he calls “density privilege.” It’s “holophobic” to assume the holographic Rick is not real. This is a parody of social justice type people, but this kind of discourse has been taken up by all sides as discourse, funneled into advertising, has funneling into adversity overcome, of course caused by others, leading to the formation of a victim-identity-industrial complex, which services the psychological “needs” of those who seek simple recognition or a sense of entitlement in existing.
Holographic Rick makes fun of this, saying Morty should do Rick a solid, “problematic wordplay aside,” since using “solid” in this implies solidity is good, which holographic Rick thinks is offense. He’s wink-wink about the whole thing, showing that he still has Rick’s meta-comedic edge, but he’s seriously annoyed be people acting like he’s not real. In this way, we makes a good victim example, since he is not a member of any group that “real humans” are in. In most stories, the focus is on what kind of person is on display. Here, it’s still Rick, but it’s also not a person the way we normally think about ourselves. This helps us consider the situation of grievances and language use outside of a given context (sex/race/etc.), in which we may have emotionally charged commitments which bias our cognitive-affective response.
Morty doesn’t insert the tissue sample into the clone compiler, and instead embraces the Death Crystal. Holographic Rick tries to guilt Morty into doing it by saying that he should remember that not everyone can pick things up, again emphasizing his holographic status. He says it is Morty’s right to be guided by the Crystal, but what he is saying is trying to coerce Morty morally into doing what he wants. This is a play on social justice progressives, but it is also a veiled indictment of the moralism around the state and corporations as well. The state and corporations take up the tone of “we’re not saying you have to be at home at 9, but we’d really appreciate it if you would,” which just serves to moralize what is fundamentally an inhuman enterprise. The real, asshole Rick programmed this hologram to be nice so that people would do what it wanted more effectively. It’s not “real,” so it can’t force anyone to do anything, but it can use moral coercion to get its way. This reflects moral discourse framed as the only thing available to the weak. Yet then we must question why the weak are construed as weak, and whether there are not other things which could be done, other powers which we can manifest. Holographic Rick says “I’m willing to accept that you’re doing this is you’re willing to accept that you need to stop,” emphasizing the above analysis. It is a rhetorical exchange framed as a trade but which simply results in holographic Rick getting his way. It’s clear that political rhetoric is a key theme of the show, which of course it has tackled prior.