11th Aug2015

‘Rick And Morty 2×03: Auto Erotic Assimilation’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“If I wanted to be sober, I wouldn’t have gotten drunk.”

One of Rick’s defining traits is his cultivated individuality, a combination of disdain for others and an intense desire to embody his own vision of his personality without limitations. He’s a man who literally passed on joining a club made solely of versions of himself. All of that, though, is meant to conceal his deep craving to belong somewhere, anywhere, for any length of time. It’s what keeps him with his daughter’s family, what drives his relationship with Morty(along with a selfish need to disguise his own unique brain waves), and what draws him to his old flame: the hive mind Unity.

Unity is a body-snatching consciousness, a parasitic life form which has stretched itself over an entire planet and subsumed that planet’s residents into its oneness. It does this, naturally, by secreting a thick yellow bile in its hosts and then vomiting it up into the mouths of the uninitiated. The derelict space ship where Rick and his grandchildren encounter Unity is played up smartly as its own potential setting, references to Alien practically buzzing on big neon signs until things take a sudden left turn into bat country. ‘Auto Erotic Assimilation’ uses the incredible sandbox of Unity’s mind-controlled world to take a look at how Rick lives life when the few limitations he tolerates are stripped away. Apparently that means hang-gliding, while dressed in a crotchless Uncle Sam costume, onto a stadium field full of screaming redheads while thousands of men resembling his father chant “Go son, go!” from the stands.

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‘Auto Erotic Assimilation’ runs on spectacle, but its heart is in the small stuff. Rick’s wild fling with Unity, who tosses its news responsibilities aside and goes on a planet-wide bender that leaves its hosts reeling and puking in the streets, is an object lesson in human suffering. Rick can be happy for a while when distractions come as big as imported fuck-giraffes and towns bombed into rubble on a whim, but when the boredom creeps back in there’s precious little to insulate him from the aching loneliness at his core. Unity(voiced by several performers but centered on a wonderful performance by Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks, by turns giddy and painfully sincere) represents inclusion and safety, an “us” so big and durable that Rick never needs to worry about its limitations or desires. At least until it leaves him, writing a planet’s worth of breakup notes showing a keen insight of how it and Rick bring out the worst in one another by giving each other the freedom to be themselves.

That, more than anything, lives at the center of ‘Auto Erotic Assimilation.’ There are no easy answers to how we should live or what we should do. From Beth and Jerry’s endless circuit of projected self-loathing, which drives even a baby-eating alien serial killer with Space AIDS to declare them “the worst,” to Summer’s crusade to restore individuality to Unity’s hosts which spins out into full-blown race war in a matter of seconds, the episode leans hard on the idea that living life can be ugly and unsolvable. Sometimes your problems travel with you. Sometimes no amount of sex, drugs, and crotchless hang-gliding can drown out the background noise of living as yourself. Morty’s smug, “First race war, huh?” when Summer begins panicking is his answer to the problem: sigh, run if need be, and don’t get invested.

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‘Auto Erotic Assimilation’ is a bleak, human episode of television in which an alcoholic dickbag goes to town on an entire planet. The idea of Unity as an entity is mined for jokes with deft attention to detail. Its borderless identity, its planet-wide drunken blackout, and its production of an ersatz Community(just after the show’s real-world death, appropriately enough) at Rick’s bored request keep the darker subject matter moving quickly. Beth and Jerry’s plot is an effective marriage of myopic bickering and deferred sci-fi horror, their inability to see themselves and address their own glaring, disfiguring faults a mirror image of Rick’s ugly self-interest.

Rick’s lapse into depression after Unity dumps him is profound and stark. He caves without a fight to his daughter’s request not to conduct subterranean excavation without consulting her, assembles some kind of energy projector in his lab, tests it by killing a squalling, hapless little abomination, and then comes within inches of killing himself. The episode ends pulling back from Rick lying face-down on his desk, having dodged death by moments but incapable of getting up or of reacting at all to the world around him. He’s seen that his true self is unpalatable, a poison pill not even a whole planet of lovers can swallow, and in the process of finding that out he might have alienated his grandchildren who represent one of the few points of connection remaining to him. That final image of a man so miserably unsure of what to do that he’s simply stopped feeling anything at all is a strong call back to Morty’s quiet break from reality after burying his own corpse and an unsettling indicator of the toll Rick’s self-destructive lifestyle takes on his own mind.

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