Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia Trilogy wraps up the second act in a solid season of sci-fi and fantasy comedy.
It’s been a few weeks since the events of the Season 1 finale that coincided with the final episode of Trollhunters. Arcadia is now aware that trolls exist, but the troll battle managed to conceal the presence of any alien life, including the Akiridion protagonists Aja and Krel Tarron (Tatiana Maslany and Diego Luna), as well as their dog Luug (Frank Welker) and their ship’s AI Mother (Glenn “Yes, that Glenn Close” Close). They are joined by Akiridion-5 Lieutenant Zadra (Hayley Atwell), who arrived last season to save them from Varvatos Vex (Nick Offerman), who is revealed to have aided General Morando (Alon Aboutboul) in overthrowing the planet before changing back to serve the royals. Varvatos Vex ended up imprisoned on the moon by the Zeron Brotherhood (Darin De Paul and Ann Dowd).
The siblings are still being pursued by bounty hunters, including the powerful Trono (Danny Trejo), sought by the US Government, particularly Colonel Kubritz (Uzo Aduba) who is now willing to start dealing with some devils to get the Akiridion Royals, and soon will face threats to Earth, Akiridion, and the very universe itself.
This season was a massive step up in a lot of ways.
First, it moves the timeline past the end of Trollhunters and the changes to Arcadia that arose from the events of the series finale are played out through this season. A lot of the supporting cast are now quite a bit funnier and more absurd now that the world itself has become more absurd, particularly Stuart the alien (Nick Frost), Coach Steve (Thomas F. “I’m not just Biff” Wilson), and Principal Uhl (Fred Tatasciore). Each of them is just a little bit more exaggerated than their already unusual character traits had allowed and it really helps. Expanding Colonel Kubritz’s role, particularly in a world that has just dealt with an apocalyptic scenario, creates a more compelling villain who progressively represents the kind of hypocritical and almost insane xenophobia seen throughout the world.
Steve Palchuk (Steven Yeun) and Eli Pepperjack (Cole Sand) have evolved from just their roles as the stereotypical bully and nerd to being legitimate heroes, something that both feels natural and compelling. Making them have such major character arcs without having them be the main characters of either series is a great set-up for their presumably bigger role in the third Tales from Arcadia series, Wizards.
One expansion that I don’t actually think worked was playing up the role of Toby Domzalski (Charlie Saxton) as the comic relief. Without Jim Lake (Anton Yelchin (R.I.P.)/Emile Hirsch) and Claire Nuñez (Lexi Madrano) to balance them out and provide emotional moments, Toby and AAARRRGGHH (Fred Tatasciore) rely too hard on the “dumb, weird characters” archetype in this season. Granted, the mix of Sci-Fi and Fantasy does work at several points, including having AAARRRGGHH’s magical nature basically trump a sci-fi trope in a humorous way, but it still needed to give them a little more maturity.
There are a lot of decent gags in the season as well. I particularly love all the jokes about the Foo-foos, a race of robot rabbits on the moon. It’s simultaneously a reference to “Little Bunny Foo-Foo,” even having characters threaten to bop them on the head, and to the Asian myth of the rabbit on the moon. Also, their primary battle strategy is breeding an army quickly, because… rabbits breed. Get it? Get it??? GET IT??? Eh, still, it’s mostly funny. Also, they take some solid shots at Michael Bay and I love that.
One thing that really plays well is the season’s theme, because it’s much more coherent than in the last one. This season is mostly about intolerance and the fact that we as humans tend to immediately want to isolate people that are strange to us, but that it’s ultimately better to try to work together. It comes at it from a number of directions and I think it mostly gets the point across without being too preachy.
Overall, it’s a pretty solid show for kids. I’d recommend parents work it into the rotation. If you’re an adult, well, you can enjoy it, too.
An insane concept somehow becomes not just a great episode, but one of the most fun episodes of the series.
Rick (Justin Roiland) turns himself into a pickle in order to avoid going to therapy with Beth (Sarah Chalke), Morty (Roiland), and Summer (Spencer Grammer). It turns out that Summer has been huffing enamel and Morty has wet himself in class, so the school has mandated they attend some form of treatment. Rick claims just to have forgotten about therapy and changed himself into a pickle in order to prove he could, but Morty quickly spots a syringe rigged to turn Rick back to normal after the family leaves. Rick says that it’s nothing, so Beth takes the syringe and leaves. A cat knocks Pickle Rick off the table and onto the outside sidewalk where he almost dies until it starts to rain and washes him into the sewer. He manages to kill a cockroach with his mouth, the only part of his body he can move, then uses his tongue to manipulate its corpse.
At counseling, the Smiths meet Dr. Wong (Susan Sarandon), who, rather than listen to Beth’s attempts to make the session about Morty’s pants-wetting and Summer’s enamel-huffing, immediately makes the session about Rick’s impact on Beth and the family. Beth perpetually attempts to defend Rick as a genius and that he didn’t try to avoid counselling, but Dr. Wong and the kids both keep rebutting her. Dr. Wong eventually points out that Beth’s relationship with Rick leads her to punish vulnerability and emotional connections, something that wrecked her marriage and may be hurting her children. Beth just responds with “F*ck you.”
Rick, in the sewers, manages to kill enough cockroaches to build a primitive exoskeleton which he uses to build a number of complex mechanisms that give him a techno-organic body composed mostly of rat parts. He kills a number of rats and then escapes the sewers through a toilet which is revealed to be inside of a Russian facility, likely a spy agency posing as an embassy. The agents attack Rick, who starts to kill them off despite being a pickle using rat limbs. The Director (Peter Serafinowicz) discovers that his forces are not able to stop “Solen’ya,” a pickle-man figure from Russian mythology that Rick resembles, and recruits captive freedom-fighter Jaguar (Danny Trejo) to do the job.
At therapy, Dr. Wong and Beth continue being at odds, with Beth claiming that Dr. Wong is trying to just avoid addressing the divorce and the kids. Ultimately, Beth does talk a little bit about Rick after some manipulation by Dr. Wong, admitting she admires Rick for not needing anyone.
Rick is confronted by Jaguar, who is apparently fighting because the Director has his daughter hostage. The two fight, sustaining brutal damage, until Rick appears to win. The Director offers Rick a fortune and reveals that Jaguar’s daughter is dead. Rick refuses and the Director kills the other employees before trying to flee, only to find Rick and Jaguar waiting for him. Rick blows the building up, killing him, as Jaguar takes him to the therapy session. Along the way, Jaguar tells Rick to tell Beth he loves her, but Rick responds that they don’t really do that and admits he even abandoned his original Beth.
Rick arrives at therapy and admits that the syringe Beth took is an anti-pickle serum and he lied. Dr. Wong asks why he did it and Rick asserts that he doesn’t think therapy matters and that it’s counterproductive to his lifestyle, basically trying to own Dr. Wong with his intellect. Dr. Wong proceeds to deliver a blow far more devastating than Jaguar ever could have, saying:
Rick, the only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness.
You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse. And I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it’s your mind within your control. You chose to come here, you chose to talk -to belittle my vocation- just as you chose to become a pickle.
You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces. Your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand.
I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy, the same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work. And the bottom line is, some people are okay going to work, and some people well, some people would rather die.
Each of us gets to choose.
The family then leaves, with Beth and Rick trying to play down what just happened and make a small amount of amends to each other and Morty and Summer asking about going back, seeming to think that it actually WAS helping. However, ultimately Beth and Rick decide to grab a drink rather than contemplate what Dr. Wong said.
There’s an episode of Doctor Who where River Song (Alex Kingston) describes an event as the moment that the Doctor rises higher than ever before and then falls so much further. This is Rick’s version of that. Throughout the episode, we are shown exactly how amazing Rick is. He turns himself into a pickle, something that is impossible on a hundred different levels, then manages, as a pickle, to survive being in the sewers, moving his way rapidly up both the technological and literal food chain, until finally he takes out a building full of mercenaries while still being a combination of pickle and rat parts. This whole sequence is, to an audience, absolutely amazing. He even says “I love myself” after murdering a giant rat in single combat.
That’s why it’s so amazing when Dr. Wong just flat-out tells him that everything he has just done is all a sign of his illness and his reckless desire to live on the edge rather than just be happy or healthy. Rick tells her that he’s a scientist and that when he doesn’t like something, he doesn’t learn to accept it, he just changes it, and he compares people who accept things to cattle, but Wong counters that the thing Rick refuses to change is actually himself.
This is something that the show really does appear to be trying to convey to everyone, particularly fans of Rick: Rick’s not healthy, Rick’s not happy, Rick’s not a good person, and even if he does appear to be a bad-ass at times, the only reason he does anything is because he’s trying to avoid dealing with himself. Despite his claims of being superior and intellectually dominating, even trying to belittle Dr. Wong, Rick is constantly on the edge of dying just because he can’t handle the simple act of talking about his feelings. Rick even points out that he abandoned his daughter and replaced her with another version without really caring about it. He’s a miserable asshole.
In terms of story structure, this episode is nearly perfect. We get to watch Beth’s futile attempts to fight back against Dr. Wong’s psychoanalysis intercut with Rick’s progressive victories over the rats and the agents gives both more emphasis. We finally see her start to make a little growth when she forces Rick to tell him what’s in the syringe, just as he starts his decline at the hands of Dr. Wong. However, as part of the “darkest season,” the episode ends with Rick and Beth both choosing to learn nothing from what just happens and instead go get drunk. It’s the same kind of wonderful rejection of traditional character progression that the show does so well.
Frankly, this is one of the best episodes of this show. Its only major drawback is that it leads so many people to shout “Pickle Riiiick” to the point that you want to smash their face in with a sledgehammer.
Joker’s Theory Corner
Dr. Wong specializes in Family Counseling and Coprophagia Recovery. The episode could have just made this a background joke, but instead repeatedly informs us of what this means: Eating sh*t. Dr. Wong is helping people stop eating sh*t. We even have Mr. Goldenfold (Brandon Johnson) asking the Smiths how long they’ve been eating poop.
Two things are notable about this gag. First, while Dr. Wong is technically helping Mr. Goldenfold and others like him stop eating literal crap, she’s also trying to help Beth stop taking sh*t from Rick, metaphorically. Beth is constantly manipulated by Rick and, more tragically, she is completely aware of it but chooses to ignore it out of fear that he’ll leave again if she doesn’t. She’s metaphorically eating shit and liking it because she doesn’t want to admit she could do better. This doesn’t really have a theory attached, I just love the analogy.
Second, Dr. Wong has enough patients with coprophagia to merit a specialization, a book of coprophagics, and even a different motivational poster for her lobby. Normally, coprophagia almost exclusively affects people with Pica or Schizophrenia, and even then only a relatively small percentage of those groups, so how many patients could she possibly be seeing? Well, note that I said “normally.” See, there’s one potential circumstance that could drive a number of people to coprophagia… being forced to live in the sewers during an alien invasion that lasted months.
In the season premiere, we see Goldenfold lead a group of people to try to reclaim the surface from the aliens by rising from the sewers. Presumably, these people might have been living in the sewers for a long time… sewers that were full of poop. Yes, it’s disgusting, but I think that a number of people in the city probably were forced to survive on alien dung and developed coprophagia. Enough to give Dr. Wong a second specialty.
LEAVING THE CORNER
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.