Impossibly meta and self-referential, indescribably bonkers, and featuring an explicit reference to the on-going pandemic, “Never Ricking Morty” is a loud announcement that that Rick and Morty is back.
This recap of Rick and Morty season 4, episode 6, “Never Ricking Morty”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
It has been a long wait for the back half of Ricky and Morty’s fourth season, but the wait is over – and with “Never Ricking Morty”, an obvious play on The NeverEnding Story, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the show had ever been away. Set on a literal story device, we’re in for a circular, self-referential tour through the very nature of Rick and Morty itself. What else were you expecting?
Unpacking this thing isn’t going to be an easy feat, but let’s have a go anyway. That literal story device is a train, and Rick and Morty Season 4, Episode 6 begins aboard it, with travelers discussing Rick and their desire to kill him in a weirdly leaping logic that doesn’t go unmentioned. The entire train seems obsessed with Rick, and so speaks in the show’s own voice, exaggeratedly mythologizing the figure who turns out to be the space cowboy. He and Morty are both aboard, looking for the train’s engine – the train itself is, as mentioned, a literal literary device, an anthology, linking otherwise unrelated narratives.
This is confusing enough on its own, but Rick and Morty get into it with a ticket inspector, leading to a blown-out window and a vacuum and a scene switch and a gory explosion.
The episode’s writing and continuity are constantly made reference to in Rick and Morty Season 4, Episode 6, as is co-creator Dan Harmon’s circular structuring of many of the show’s episodes – the train’s carriages are arranged thusly, which Rick learns from a guide. “Never Ricking Morty” flouts linear continuity in much the same way the show always has. Here, its exceptionally meta posturing is commented on again and again, though, in terms of whether it’s becoming too self-aware and self-referential for its own good. There’s a case to be made, and the episode’s mileage will vary per viewer.
Nevertheless, as Rick and Morty agree not to worry about the mechanics too much and just have fun, we’re treated to a string of far-flung ideas that, even if they don’t necessarily hang together all that well, make for some enjoyable moments on their own. The body of the ticket inspector becomes a new god, and Rick and Morty in space suits have to kill him again. They have to tell a story unrelated to the current one to disrupt the “thematic seal”, and they have to tell one that passes the Bechdel Test to break it completely – Morty improvises that “feminist masterpiece” while Rick asphyxiates. Behind the thematic seal is the Story Lord, who can punch Rick and Morty into various realities where established canon doesn’t matter but is riffed on endlessly anyway.
Eventually, Rick turns to Jesus Christ himself, which in the context of “Never Ricking Morty” seems one of the less far-fetched plot elements. As it turns out, the way to thwart the Story Lord is to tell a story so awful it malfunctions his narrative machinery, thus consigning him to a biblical writer’s hell.
The point of Rick and Morty Season 4, Episode 6, which is so outlandish that you can scarcely thread a narrative through it, is addressed outright. Did it bring Rick and Morty together, to test them, or was it just the show’s creators getting their meta impulses off their chest? A late reveal that most of the episode was fantasized about while playing with a train set brings any underlying point into question. Unless it’s a big, broad question about existence itself. Is a nihilistic comedy cartoon the right source for those kinds of questions? I have no idea, but at least it provokes them in the first place, which is rare enough to be commendable.
How established fans will feel about any of this is anyone’s guess. Any potential newcomers must have been, one imagines, totally lost in the pondering of canon, continuity, fan-service, merchandising and whatever numbered walls can be gleefully broken in the midst of such self-reflection, and the decision to hone in rigorously on the show’s own construction and identity is a curious one for a midseason premiere.
Then again, this is Rick and Morty. If it wasn’t doing something curious, you wouldn’t have realized it was back.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.