Rick & Morty Recap: “Get Schwifty”
Can we agree to have Keith David play the president in everything?
The Recap: A giant head appears over the earth, demanding that Earth produce a hit single or perish. While Rick’s improvised song “Get Schwifty” pleases the alien, it only succeeds in getting the whole planet transported to a win-or-be-disintegrated reality show for the universe’s best musical act.
I’ve always sort of dreaded the day Rick & Morty did an Episode About Religion. Subjectively speaking I find the joke mine on the subject to be pretty mined—holy shit, did you know that human beings are terrified of their powerlessness in the universe, and that the resulting tribalism can lead to poor decision making in stressful situations?—and that most western comedies tackling the subject tend to fall into self-congratulatory mental masturbation (and here I am unabashedly looking at Seth Mcfarlane) or compensate by going off in an especially weird direction (Strangers With Candy’s weird, excellent “The Blank Stare”). And with a series as openly committed to a multiverse based on chaos theory (you’re already quoting it, you don’t need my help) the range of options gets even narrower.
Rick & Morty’s answer to this comedic conundrum is…to kind of not give a damn. Beyond the rather interesting development that Summer, who’s second only to Morty and Rick in exposure rate to multiverse horrors, is the one who buys hardest into the comforts of the new cult (a potential mirror of Rick’s frantic prayers during “A Rickle in Time”), and a new breakthrough in tentative honest communication between Jerry and Beth, the entire subplot is 100% incidental to the actual cosmic events that form the narrative’s moving action. The camera doesn’t even take many opportunities to play on the comedic beats, content to sit back and watch the absurdity unfold with an almost late-Cronenberg-fishbowl sort of approach. Sure, it’s stupid, but not dumber than the insistence on shooting nukes at giant cosmic heads.
Speaking of absurdity, it almost feels redundant to keep mentioning the show’s great alien designs (they’re good, they’re all good, even the ones that are just testicles with eyes), but I do want to give a special shout out to those poor, short-lived Kermit aliens and their lily pad stage. The actual music here is functional and on point in its complete blandness, a fine example of Poe’s Law that perfectly fits what the episode needs it to do.
But the heart of the episode is in that question of caring, and the razor’s edge the show’s always been riding on. Much of Rick’s allure is how detached, or seemingly detached, he is from the horrors surrounding him, navigating them with an ease that would make The Doctor proud and then probably infuriated. But a character who has no stakes beyond his own survival is pretty hard to root for, and so the script’s dedicated a fair amount of time to that question of to what extent Rick loves his family. Which, as is becoming increasingly clear, is not always mutually exclusive with his need to save his own skin: is Rick nervous because he’s worried about Morty’s safety, or because he’s lost his ticket out if the song doesn’t work? Why not both? Rick’s fear of consequences (“even dumber than regular planning”) has been coming back to bite him more and more this season, and I forsee things coming to a dramatic head before the season’s out.
On the subject of things we don’t know about Rick, Birdperson! Who shows up to confirm the punk rock Rick headcanon I think we might’ve all universally dreamed into reality, and to give the best joke of the episode: “It is random debris. I found it in my carpet. I don’t know what humans eat,” which is currently warring with “Maybe we’ll see Chewbacca” for my favorite line this season. In all technicality Birdperson’s purely a plot device, who has made both of his appearances just in time to talk Morty out of abandoning Rick. But he’s such a comforting plot device, a certain voice in all that cosmic uncertainty with seemingly no doubts about his own place in the universe. He’s a calm in the storm, a moment to take stock in an episode that’s all over the breather we’ve been waiting for.
And about that photo. Of course, our collective instinct is to say “it’s you, you numbskull”—the color of the shirt and the show’s general pattern of focusing these dramatic moments on the Rick and Morty bond would seem to give it away. And that’s probably true. We still have Rick getting teary eyed over memories of a baby Morty to contend with, after all. But I’m still unconvinced that it’s this Morty. While Roiland and Harmon have stated that they moved away from multi-episode twists because the audience inevitably guesses them way ahead of time, I’m not sure that applies here. A twist for its own sake loses power without the surprise factor, but a twist for the character has power to affect character development and relationships, and seeing how they react has just as much if not more power than the narrative revelation itself. Particularly if, say, the erstwhile eyepatch Morty were involved somehow.
Okay, tinfoil hat off. This episode was a solid, welcome breather before we dive headlong into the back half of the season (without having to bite our nails as to the state of renewal, which is a nice change of pace for a Hannibal fan). Given that next episode will no doubt feature more than a few existential crises for the aliens living inside Rick’s engines, it’s up in the air how much gut punching we can expect in our immediate future.
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger, currently trying to find a Serious Writerly justification for their newfound fondness for Wander Over Yonder. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.
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