17th Aug2015

‘Rick and Morty 2×04: Total Rickall’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“We could be infested with these things, so we gotta keep an eye out for any zany, wacky characters that pop up.”

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‘Total Rickall’ presents a race of alien parasites who mooch off of their hosts by insinuating themselves into their lives via the creation of false memories. They multiply in the fertile mental territory of manufactured flashbacks, making for an episode absolutely bursting with callbacks to the lives and times of such beloved characters as Mrs. Refrigerator, Sleepy Gary, Ghost in a Jar, Baby Wizard, Frankenstein (‘s monster), Twinkles the flying lamb, and Pencilvester. The opening scene in which the family, less Rick, eats breakfast with Jerry’s bearded and happily supportive brother Steve establishes the stakes with an easy eye for traumatic violence, distrust of the self, and what proves to be the Smith/Sanchez family’s saving grace: their deep-down horribleness.

The episode suggests briefly that it’s going to be an anxiety-inducing The Thing number as Rick struggles to keep the number of people in the house straight. There’s even an enemy infiltrator teased with Mr. Poopy Butthole, a squealing imp who talks about his bowel movements with distressing regularity. Then the first parasites slip through Rick’s defenses, a thousand more follow on their heels, and pretty soon Jerry is flashing back to a youthful shipboard romance with Sleepy Gary, a man in pajamas and a night cap whom he knows to be Beth’s husband, while a screaming Morty has a raygun pressed to Rick’s head.

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The idea that the family must recognize one another by recalling their lowest moments together is a crushing engine of dysfunction and shame. That they stumble into it by accident when Rick starts pelting Morty with abuse is sickly appropriate. Summer’s memory of walking in on Morty masturbating in the kitchen (“I hate you and I was thinking about your friend Grace!”) leads a strong field of contenders including Jerry’s aforementioned romance, Beth’s recollection of a homeless man attacking her while Jerry cowered in a car, drunk Beth clocking Summer with a wine bottle, and Morty looking back on Summer’s having kicked him right in the nuggets for absolutely no reason (“She’s real. She’s my bitch of a sister.”). The looks back into the family’s grindingly frustrating relationships with each other contrasts gorgeously with the saccharine wish fulfillment offered by the parasite flashbacks, an endless parade of fond memories and zany adventures.

The putrid writhing of the parasites in their death throes is one of the highlights of an episode with a lot going for it in the animation department. Scenes overflowing with parasite-generated goofballs move naturally and quickly without still frames or cut corners. Also, and even though writing this sentence feels like playing a game of Rick and Morty bingo I’m going to be laboring over for years I’m going to go ahead and finish this thought, Keith David voices a reverse giraffe with a very short neck and limbs. And then just when the shit stops flying, Mr. Poopy Butthole toddles back into frame with a high-pitched quip about shitting himself and Beth puts a plasma bolt through his stomach. Screaming, Mr. PB bleeds very real blood as Jerry dials 911. The rest of the family rushes to Poopy Butthole’s aid. Beth pours a glass of wine, red sloshing over her shaking hand, and downs it before the cut to black. The runner is just Beth staring through the glass at Mr. Poopy Butthole in grueling rehab. The attending nurse tells her, “If you love him, leave.”

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In other news, a show with a character named Mr. Poopy Butthole has been renewed for a third season.

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