Rick and Morty deal with an infestation of memory-altering parasites that take the form of wacky sitcom characters.
Rick (Justin Roiland) returns home to the family to find Jerry’s (Chris Parnell) goofy older brother “Uncle Steve” (Tony Barbieri) at the table. Rick then shoots Steve, who is revealed to be an alien parasite that manipulates people’s memories. Rick warns that there are probably more of them and that they take on the role of wacky, zany characters. He’s supported by Mr. Poopybutthole (Roiland), a wacky, zany character who is now in the opening credits.
Rick locks the house down, writes down that there are only 6 people in the apartment, and puts the note on the wall, but soon a number of characters start appearing, including a Mr. Belvedere-style butler named Mr. Beauregard (Barbieri), Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin Michael Richardson), and Summer’s (Spencer Grammer) magical ballerina lamb friend Tinkles (Tara Strong). All of the characters are introduced through “flashbacks” that resemble Family Guy cutaway gags. Rick and the Smith family soon are uncertain who is real, because, although the new characters are wacky and zany, so are the actual members of the Sanchez-Smith family.
Eventually, Rick is threatening to shoot everyone and the parasites convince Morty (Roiland), Beth (Sarah Chalke), and Summer that Rick is a parasite… while also convincing Jerry that he’s a parasite and in a secret gay relationship with another parasite named Sleepy Gary (Matt Walsh). Morty is selected to execute Rick, but Morty realizes that the parasites cannot implant bad memories into people’s heads and shoots several of the parasites. Together, Rick, Morty, and the family go through the house, killing all of the parasites until only the family and Mr. Poopybutthole are left. Back at dinner, Beth shoots Mr. Poopybutthole who is revealed to not be a parasite. She tries to apologize at the hospital, but he declines to talk to her, saying only that he’s sorry that she doesn’t have any bad memories of him.
This episode is basically a hilarious parody of so many sitcom tropes at the same time that it almost matches the number of wacky characters. The idea that failing shows add off-kilter new characters to try and bring back some energy to the series is so old that The Simpsons did an episode about it featuring Homer (Dan Castellaneta) playing a new Itchy-and-Scratchy character called Poochie while also having a new “rad teen” character living in their house. That was in 1997. For the most part, this trope has been declining quite a bit in the past twenty years specifically because people started mocking it so ruthlessly. Still, this episode takes it and combines it with the “family member that has not previously been referenced” trope, but makes it into a sadistic infiltration plot by these shapeshifting, memory-altering parasites.
It presents each of the parasites in a cutaway style much like Family Guy tends to use, which may be a shot at how modern shows always tend to play loose with continuity for the sake of making gags. Or maybe it was just funnier that way. Also, the characters get progressively more unconventional as the show goes on, following the typical trend on television writing that each character introduced tends to be incrementally crazier or more abnormal than the previous one, similar to “Flanderization.” We start off with the “goofy brother,” move to the stereotype cousin, and slowly continue until we have a Baby Wizard, a photography Raptor, and a Ghost in a Jar. The idea that the only way to find the “real” people is by finding terrible memories might be a shot at other shows for trying to keep sanitized backstories as opposed to Rick and Morty‘s gritty humor.
Mr. Poopybutthole being real is one of the best set-ups in television. It’s not the reveal itself. It’s HOW they decided to reveal it. It’s such a perfectly Rick and Morty tone shift that works so well because it’s a subversion of a subversion. The basic joke throughout the whole thing was that Mr. Poopybutthole was clearly an alien shapeshifter that had entered the show, while the twist is that he actually isn’t. This is even foreshadowed by the fact that he’s in the opening sequence, many of which are “bad memories” which the parasites can’t generate or alter. But the show then decides to take the shooting seriously, rather than as a comical error. They blow past any attempt to make a joke out of it and treat it like a REAL SHOOTING, despite the fact that, not 2 minutes beforehand, we’d been laughing at the ways that the Smith-Sanchez family was eliminating all of the wacky shapeshifters. So, even if you saw the twist coming, you almost certainly didn’t see how it would play out. It’s something many shows would never even consider, let alone pull off this well.
Also, can we just acknowledge that so many of the parasites are just inherently funny? Pencilvestyr? Reverse giraffe (voiced by Keith Freakin’ David)? Hamurai? Amish Cyborg? These are such great puns and sight gags. Their quips are also hilarious, including Frankenstein’s Monster’s line “I was on the wrong side of the pitchfork on this one.” The subplot where the Sleepy Gary parasite not only makes himself Beth’s husband and the parents of Morty and Summer but also makes himself Jerry’s secret lover is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Well, I was going to do a theory about what Mr. Poopybutthole is, but unfortunately Dan Harmon has already addressed that issue, saying that Mr. Poopybutthole is just a higher form of the memory parasites, so evolved that he can break the fourth wall and put himself directly into the show’s history when he wants.
I already declined to address the popular theory that this episode, as well as the majority of “Mortynight Run,” follow a different Rick and Morty, since Dan Harmon also confirmed that the rocks in this episode are the same as the ones seen in that one and that they’re what carried the parasites.
Instead, I’m going to ask: Were the parasites the point?
So, we know that Rick has dealt with these parasites before, because he immediately recognizes what they are. He shoots “Uncle Steve” after only a few seconds, based on Jerry’s claim that he had been living there, but why was “shapeshifting memory-altering parasite” the first thing that Rick thought of? Because Rick had wanted the parasites. Think about it, Rick had brought that specific rock in from the garage, looking disappointed at it as he throws it away. When we first see him in Mortynight Run loading the car with rocks, he has a huge number, but he only throws away the one that had the parasites.
I think that Rick had brought the rock back not to harness the rocks (though that might have been a bonus), but because the rocks potentially were going to breed the parasites which he could then use to his advantage. After all, we know from the previous episode that Rick regularly captures and imprisons aliens for the purpose of exploiting them, and the ability to freely manipulate memories would be useful to anyone, particularly Rick. While in the garage, clearly, one or two of them hatched and escaped, with the first becoming “Uncle Steve.” Meanwhile, Rick determines that the rock is defective and throws it away, only to discover that the parasite inside it has escaped.
Am I saying that the only evidence I have for this is that Rick knows what the shapeshifting parasites are and that he looks disappointed when he chucks out the rock? No, it’s that he doesn’t wing Uncle Steve. When Rick shoots Cousin Nicky, the second parasite, he shoots him in the shoulder because he’s unsure he’s a parasite, but when Rick shoots Steve, it’s straight through the temple. Rick is absolutely sure that Steve is a parasite. Could it be that Rick just knows that Jerry doesn’t have a brother? Unlikely, as A) this isn’t Rick’s original Jerry so it could be a possibility even if the original didn’t and B) Rick routinely proves he knows almost nothing about Jerry’s life, including not knowing what decade Jerry was born in (despite him being roughly Beth’s age). Is it that Jerry says Steve has been staying there for a year? Well, that’s likely to be what clinched it, but do you really think that’s enough to make Rick risk executing a potential family member? It’s Rick, so it’s not impossible, but I still think it’s likely that something made him think that parasites were the likely source of the new brother.
LEAVING THE CORNER
Since most of Rick and Morty is based on humor within the framework of nihilism and existential dread, I shouldn’t be surprised that this episode about how memory is the only way to really define our existence that involves wacky characters is one of my favorites.
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
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