After over four months, the long wait for the second half offourth season is over. Arriving during lockdown, the new episode, titled Never Ricking Morty, actually references the , joining the first wave of TV shows to reflect the current social distancing reality.
The episode, spoofing NeverEnding Story's title, is set on a train -- in space. The setting, as Rick notes, represents a literal story device, charting us on course for a breakneck-paced self-referential anthology episode.
Warning: This recap contains all the spoilers.
The episode begins on the space-train, where two travelers meet at the bar. One of them, who looks like an alien version of Wolverine, details how he fought Rick on his planet Ramamama (it sounds like it's spelled that way).
The comic book hero-looking traveler is on the train in search of Rick to kill him. Everyone on the train, he says, is there to kill Rick. The other Clint Eastwood-looking traveler, who wears one of those short Wild West capes, questions this "weird leap in logic."
Visiting another section of the Rick-obsessed train, the space-cowboy encounters aliens who describe stories revealing how Rick saved "space-Christmas."
However, one involves Rick disappointing new character Goomby, a little, purple alien friend who helps Rick deliver presents to Morty and the Smith family but ultimately isn't invited to their festivities, instead left out in the freezing cold.
All of this is peeling back the layers on how personal this storyline is to Rick -- and how meta it is for the show.
In another carriage, Morty, disguised as a blond woman, encounters a dozen of Rick's ex-girlfriends, who bond over having dated Rick as a rebound in a low-point of their lives.
Leah, a space-ice queen, reflects on Rick's confusing behavior when he met her family: They all sat at the table, while he stayed out in the snowy tundra fighting massive space-wolves.
The train's going in circles
The space-cowboy is revealed to be Rick in disguise, and after his investigations, he realizes the train has been "amplifying and linking unrelated narrative fields."
He and Morty have been searching for the engine of the train that's really a "literal literary device quite literally metaphorically containing us." Not a simulation, but "worse -- an anthology."
Refusing to have a "one-off," "uptight," "overwritten" episode, Rick threatens the old ticket inspector, who turns out to be ripped and stamps on Rick's shin. Morty, showing more bravery and loyalty than ever, immediately jumps on the ticket inspector, and Rick, showing that he cares for Morty, refrains from shooting the inspector while he's holding Morty as a shield.
Shooting the window instead, Rick creates a vacuum that sucks the top half of the inspector out of the train. Cutting to a completely different scene, the inspector wakes up in a games arcade, asking Rick and Morty's favorite existential questions, "Is this real? Is life real?" Then, back in space, we see him exploding into blood and guts.
The train represents the story circle
We then cut to a group of train cop students discussing with their instructor how they should have handled arresting Rick and Morty to best keep continuity.
Rick and Morty suddenly appear in the room and beat everyone up -- traditional continuity isn't a big priority for the show. Rick finds a "structural guide" to the train showing the carriages in a circle -- a reference to co-creator Dan Harmon's creation of a story circle used to structure many Rick and Morty episodes.
Rick discusses when he could rig up a couple of space suits that fail at just the right point in the story circle for them to "pay a heavy price" and reenter the train at the equivalent of just before the story's end.
Self-aware that this might be what crosses the line as being too meta, Rick points out that Morty watches videos of people on YouTube reacting to YouTube.
After cracking a joke about the ticket inspector's upper half floating by, Rick and Morty decide from now on to have good old-fashioned fun, not overthink things and keep the rest of the adventure grounded and fully immersive.
We then see a few clips of Rick and Morty's musical moments, featuring a cameo from Birdperson.
Meanwhile, the ticket inspector, now known as Floaty Bloody Man, becomes a new god. His followers believe the entire universe is Floaty Bloody Man's nightmare as he dies in a "time-dilated" reality.
Rick and Morty then appear in space suits outside the train and shoot the inspector until he's properly dead.
Destroying the thematic seal
Rick and Morty walk across the outside of the space-train until they find the "thematic seal," big glowing gold rings with Middle-earth-like symbols. To disrupt it, they have to tell a story unrelated to them. We then see Morty's story -- as improvised as the intergalactic cable episode.
They then have to tell a story that passes the Bechdel Test. Morty loses his oxygen source, but Rick, notably saving Morty again, gives Morty his oxygen so that he can improvise the story. He tells one about Summer and their mom defeating female space-scorpions, without talking about men.
This "feminist masterpiece" destroys the thematic seal and Rick and Morty find the control room, where they discover Story Lord is behind everything.
Breaking the fifth wall
Story Lord describes Rick to a tee: "No rules for you, spiralling through the multiverse, burping semi-improvised dialogue about how nothing matters."
He then proceeds to beat Rick and Morty up, punching them into different realities where "nothing is canon," including Rick deciding to "help people now."
Story Lord has been using Rick and Morty to fuel his anthology with their "limitless potential" and take them to the last stop: "beyond the fifth wall" -- which would have to involve co-creator and voice actor Justin Roiland referencing his previous works or real life outside Rick and Morty.
We then cut to a "human moment" where Rick, Morty and the Smith family are seeing Summer off to college.
They then encounter blasts from the past -- "the good stuff" -- including Abradolf Lincler, Tammy Guetermann, Phoenixperson, Snowball, Evil Morty, what looks like an Emperor Palpatine version of Mr. Poopybutthole (a nice touch), an army of Roman Centurion Ricks (from the Citadel?), an army of Mr. Meeseeks and an army of Gazorpians. It reminds me of Doctor Who's Pandorica conglomeration of favorite aliens.
A divine presence
With seemingly no way out, Rick turns to his "best friend and personal savior, Jesus Christ."
By gushing about letting Jesus into their hearts and praying, Rick and Morty do something they would never normally do, causing Story Lord's narrative machine to break down with such an "awful" story.
Defeating him, they send Story Lord to spend eternity in "every writer's hell." The Bible.
"We were literally saved by Jesus Christ, tell me in any way how that's offensive," Rick says when Morty worries if that's too cynical and offensive.
The meaning of everything
In the "Change" section of Harmon's story circle, Morty then tries to figure out the purpose of the "confusing" adventure: It brought them closer together and tested their demons.
"We got all that meta canon shit out of the way and now we can just be ourselves," Rick says.
But when they try to bring the train into the station, they discover that it's not real. We zoom out and see the real Rick and Morty in the Smith family living room, playing with a purple train set that Morty bought from the Citadel of Ricks gift shop.
Rick loves it, because Morty did the "most important thing." He fulfilled his purpose in life, that is to "buy and consume merchandise."
Story Lord and Jesus
Story Lord and Jesus reflect on their lives in the toy train, how it's enough to make them question all of existence.
Deciding to leave, Jesus causes the toy train to derail and break.
Rick tells Morty to buy a new one, because "no one's out there shopping with this fucking virus."
We see an ad for the Citadel of Ricks story train that Morty bought, a toy targeted at Ricks tired of their adventures with "dog shit" Mortys.
It comes with car after car of enemies, lovers and Goomby, "all grappling with the nature of who you truly are."
Thanks to the anthology generator, the stories will never end. The characters are alive, but "not in any ways that matter." The advertisement points to its website, story-train.com, which at time of writing... doesn't lead anywhere.
Focusing intensely on the show itself is an interesting choice for this episode. It's near-inaccessible to people who might be trying Rick and Morty in search of more entertainment during lockdown.
But for fans, Never Ricking Morty serves to put to bed some of the arguments around the show. While the episode's hard-to-follow jumps through space and time ultimately don't lead to any clear message, it addresses the notion of canon, fan-service and whether the show makes fun of Christianity.
Either you're exhausted, impressed or just along for the hilarious ride.