WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for “Never Ricking Morty,” the latest episode of Rick and Morty.
Sunday’s new episode of Rick and Morty marked the return of the show for the remainder of Season 4, and what a return it makes. The episode, “Never Ricking Morty,” is a non-stop barrage of convoluted nonsense, meta analysis and mockery. Creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roland bring the meta to a whole new level, making his circle theory of writing the plot device of the episode.
Rick and Morty find themselves on a train filled with people who want to tell stories about why they hate or love Rick, with plenty of cuts to vignettes of adventures the audience has not seen before. Things become more meta when they realize the story train is a circle, a clear nod to Harmon’s style of plotting. The whole thing feels like “Interdimensional Television” and “Total Rickall” mashed together.
Rick and Morty has never been shy about being meta, but “Never Ricking Morty” takes it one step further, critiquing the idea of being meta, and Harmon puts his own tropes on full display. This is perhaps the most clear when Rick explains how to get to the “engine” of the train by loosely explaining how the rest of the episode will go.
It all culminates when they confront the Story Lord, the villain of the episode and master of the train. After a really disorienting fight, he intends to “burn them out” by forcing out vignettes until he sees how their story ends. The meta analysis continues, as Rick claims that everything they are seeing may or may not be canon.
At the end of the episode, audiences learn that the story train is just a toy the real Morty bought, and the Rick and Morty trapped in the train are fictitious. Rick then goes on a rant about how proud he is of Morty for mindlessly consuming under capitalism. It’s truly a bizarre chain of events, even for this show.
The real treat comes at the end, though, where the URL www.story-train.com pops up in the credits. Fans were excited, hoping this would lead to an extra gag. However, it was simply a final, cruel jab at the audience by the showrunners with the link leading nowhere (it’s since been redirected to Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty website). That, in and of itself, is the joke. Needless to say, some of the fans were less than thrilled about this response as seen in the flurry of tweets.
Many fans of the show were champing at the bit to impulse buy a story train from one of their favorite TV shows, and that was the final point the episode was trying to make. As a hugely popular show, Rick and Morty has a swathe of toys, clothing and collectibles its loyal fans consume at will. In being a show that ridiculed mainstream ideas and features cutting social commentary, it has in a way became the thing it stood against.
The show is mainstream, and its marketability and broad appeal hardly make it a niche cartoon that only a few elite fans understand. The URL at the end shows how mindlessly Rick and Morty fans consume the show and its products, similar to how Morty conforms to the capitalist system. They will jump at anything thrown at them, even a link tagged to the end of one of their most insane episodes.
Created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, the second half of Ricky and Morty Season 4 airs Sundays on Adult Swim. Seasons 1 through 3 are available to stream on Hulu.
Rick and Morty's Story-Train.com is another joke that extends beyond the episode and plays with the show's meta humor.