Synopsis of 2×09: Rick and Morty find themselves stranded on an alien planet in the midst of its annual purge festival. Jerry tries to reconnect with his daughter.
I always appreciate when a show dares to step into totally new territory, especially when that show is Rick and Morty because they do so frequently and to great success. Usually the science fiction premises of the show come from staples of the genre, which they deliver with a new twist – hivemind species, alternate dimensions, animals with devices that let them talk, the like – so Harmon and Roiland steal like artists with regularity. But never before have they delved into full-fledged parody, as they do in “Look Who’s Purging Now.”
Rick and Morty pull over the spaceship at a nearby planet looking for lighter fluid, but a townsperson warns them they should leave before “the festival” begins at sundown. He explains that their society lives in peace and harmony, but for one night every year, everyone goes on a punishment-free rampage to relieve all their pent-up anger. Yep, it’s the exact premise of the crappy 2013 horror movie The Purge, and Rick even exclaims, “It’s like The Purge, Morty! That movie, The Purge?” (Townsperson: “Oh, have you been here before?” Rick: “No, no, but I’ve been to a few planets with the same gimmick.”)
Morty’s disgusted by the whole affair, but Rick hangs around for them to watch. When an innocent townsgirl named Arthricia finds herself in danger, the pair swoop down to save her, on Morty’s insistence. But Arthricia quickly shoots Rick in the liver and steals the ship, leaving Rick and Morty on the ground to do the only thing they can do: purge.
Actual direct references to The Purge don’t appear often, as writers primarily use the premise as an excuse to try out a lot of new tricks, most notably tapping into horror comedy in ways they’ve toyed with before but never fully embraced. This climaxes in an outrageous scene where Rick and Arthricia pop on a pair of supersuits and attack the planet’s totalitarian leaders. Remember that modern horror movies pride themselves on the versatility and creativity of their murders, and picture that idea as it manifests in the imaginations of the Rick and Morty creators. The result is a brutal, gruesome bloodbath, so violent I’m amazed it made it on television, giving us the scene that singlehandedly justifies the whole existence of this episode.
Still, I’m not sure that Rick and Morty wears the parody hat particularly well. The show thrives on originality, and spoofing a topical movie doesn’t fit with that set of skills. It’s not that this episode doesn’t have a strong story in its own right, because it does, and it’s not that the episode isn’t funny, because it is (I particularly love an old man who offers to house Rick and Morty if they’ll listen to his story, which turns out to be an amateur screenplay). But the episode’s plot and humor sustain on attributes entirely unrelated to The Purge, which begs the question of why the episode needed the framing as a parody in the first place.
“Look Who’s Purging Now” also suffers from the weakest subplot of the entire season. Back on Earth, Jerry tries to reconnect with Summer, who rejects him wholesale. Eventually, he admits he needs to borrow money from her. That’s it. This would work for an episode of Full House perhaps, but when it’s placed between scenes of horrific alien carnage, it comes across tiresome and totally unnecessary. Luckily this part of the episode gets appropriately little screen time, and I get the impression it’s only there at all for pacing.
Next week, season finale! Its title, “The Wedding Squanchers,” suggests it’ll bring back Squanchy from the Season 1 finale, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. The Rick and Morty subreddit has built up an ongoing theory that Morty actually got switched with an alternate dimension version of himself somewhere along the line, and I’m curious to see if these rumors have any truth to them. Check in next week for our recap!