It’s become a vaguely fun, vaguely insufferable habit for Rick and Morty fans to moan about the shocking wait times between seasons. But the first few minutes of Season 4’s premiere episode are enough to shut down all echoes of those whining complaints. The first episode of Rick and Morty Season 4 is a masterpiece of brilliant storytelling, equally shocking and painful as it is irreverent and laugh out loud funny.
On its surface “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” is your typical Rick and Morty adventure. Without giving away any spoilers, the episode generally follows the plot of Edge of Tomorrow, as Rick and Morty find something that allows them to see their futures. Naturally, this isn’t a big deal to the death-courting Rick, but it becomes all-consuming for Morty. As they say, antics ensue.
There are tons of excellent sight gags and enough character transformations to make any collectible loving fan giddy with the merch possibilities. But what truly sets Season 4’s opener a part is its subtleties. All of the trauma and growth the Smith family has endured through the past three seasons leaks through the gaps of this “typical” adventure. This is a version of the Smith family that’s no longer happy to let their son wander off with Rick through outer space. They’re hesitant, distant. From the show’s very first episode it’s been clear that Beth (voiced by Sarah Chalke) has been hurt too many times by her father to be anything but broken. But after nearly dying by his hand and almost losing him too many times to count, the cracks of that betrayal are finally starting to show.
The same goes for Morty. Episode by episode we’ve watched Morty slowly discard the idyllic version of his grandfather that his mother no doubt sold him. We saw the typically hopeful teenager at his most jaded in Season 3’s “Morty’s Mind Blowers,” a clip show style episode that almost completely revolved around all the times Rick irreparably abused, insulted, and hurt his grandson. Rick may have erased those memories, but as Season 4 hints, those wounds never healed.
Things are different between Rick and Morty, though only based on one episode it’s too early to tell if that’s a good or bad thing. All of the meticulously placed character development that’s been planted throughout three seasons now grows even more confidently in Season 4, circling once seemingly wholesome relationships within a forest of dangerous contradictions.
And yet through all of its pain and turmoil, “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” is still shockingly funny. There are at least three jokes that are sure to be obsessively quoted by fans in the weeks to come. They’re no Szechuan sauce rant, but they’re still funnier than 85 percent of everything else on TV. If this is what takes over two years of work, a story that’s as brutal and emotionally devastating as it is ridiculous, then maybe we need to shut up. Great art takes time, and at least based on its first episode, Rick and Morty Season 4 is great art.
Season 4, Episode 1 of Rick and Morty premieres on Adult Swim Sunday, November 10 at 11:30/10:30c p.m. New episodes premiere every Sunday on Adult Swim.
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