I’m neither the first nor the last person to tell you that the fifth season of Rick and Morty—which concluded with an hour-long special episode last Sunday—is the most disappointing one to date. It has also produced some of the most controversial episodes in a catalog that also includes “Claw and Hoarder.”
“Rickdependence Spray,” a continuous string of cheap and tasteless sex jokes built on the premise of a horny Morty accidentally turning his sperm cells into sentient, flesh-eating monsters, feels particularly far removed from the calculated genius of classics like Season Two’s “The Ricks Must Be Crazy,” in which Rick reveals his car battery to be powered by a micro-sized society trapped inside it. But while it’s easy to say Rick and Morty is getting worse, explaining why that’s the case is anything but.
If you Google, “What happened to Rick and Morty?” you will find no shortage of hypotheses. One Redditor proclaims it must be due to a lack of stakes, something that has been the case for almost every episode this season. A YouTuber made an entire video essay to prove each and every problem with the show can be traced back to family dynamic, which played a prominent role in earlier seasons but is virtually absent from the most recent one.
Some blame it all on franchise fatigue, which has only gotten worse since Adult Swim decided to renew its biggest cash cow for a whopping 70 additional episodes. Others point at the debilitating influence of Rick and Morty’s cringy fanbase which, though not as vocal as it once was, now holds greater sway over development than it ever did before.
Personally, I think the main reason Rick and Morty seems to have lost that elusive Rick and Morty feeling is the fact that many of the writers originally responsible for creating said feeling have moved on to other, perhaps greater, things. Tom Kauffman—credited for episodes like “Ricksy Business” and “The Wedding Squanchers”—left to work on Marvel’s Loki. Both Ryan Ridley—“Look Who’s Purging Now,” “The Ricklantis Mixup”—and Eric Acosta—“Anatomy Park,” “Raising Gazorpazorp”—are balls-deep in other projects.
The indispensable Mike McMahan, who joined Rick and Morty as a wee intern and was eventually promoted to lead writer, terminated his contract in 2019. He promptly quit to help boss Justin Roiland launch a new sci-fi show, titled Solar Opposites, which premiered on Hulu a year later.
As the show’s co-creator and voice of both protagonists, Roiland couldn’t leave Rick and Morty behind completely. Judging from the increasingly apathetic attitude he gives off on R & M’s “Inside the Episode” videos, however, it’s clear that his interests no longer lie with his most commercially successful creation.
To that end, Solar Opposites—which follows a family of aliens that crash land on Earth after fleeing the destruction of their home world—has more in common with classic Rick and Morty episodes than, well, the current episodes of Rick and Morty. This is, in part, thanks to the way Roiland and McMahan use sci-fi gadgets to mutate their suburban sitcom into an oddly charming blend of slapstick comedy and cosmic horror. Sound familiar?
Hope it does, because I don’t really have any time to go on a tangent. This is, after all, meant to be a review of the Season Five finale. As mentioned, that finale consists of two episodes, “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” and “Rickmurai Jack,” which are connected only in the loosest sense of the word. When Morty—feeling unappreciated by Rick—starts sneaking off on solo adventures, Rick—realizing (for the nth time) just how toxic his relationship with Morty is—decides to leave the family and roam the galaxy by himself.
Grandson and grandpa eventually reunite at the infamous Citadel, where they are captured by Evil Morty. When the show’s longest-running baddy finally reveals his plan—to find a dimension outside Rick’s jurisdiction—the eponymous duo escape by, you guessed it, working together as a team.
All in all, it’s a commendable attempt to wrap up one of the show’s most hotly debated storylines—and a noticeable improvement over the unearned conclusions of Seasons Two and Three. It’s also not without its flaws. Personally, I found these episodes, much like the one where Rick traveled through Bird Person’s memories, revealed too much about Rick’s past. Though bits and pieces of his backstory were explored in previous seasons, the writers always left them open to interpretation. i.e., did Beth and mom really die, as seen in “The Rickshank Rickdemption,” or did Rick make everything up so he could trick the Galactic Government? The more we know about him, the less compelling he—and, by fiat, the show built around the inherent unknowable-ness of his God-level intellect-becomes.
By setting up its central conflict across multiple episodes, the finale is able to pack some genuine punches. But while these episodes will be remembered as highlights of an otherwise dismal year in Rick and Morty history, they still pale in comparison to the towering heights this show could reach back in its prime. This isn’t because of any lack of stakes — death is always around the corner in this multiverse. Nor is it because of a lack of emotional involvement—Morty, having spent the entire season being a caricature of himself, once again becomes the heart to Rick’s brain.
If I had to make a bet, I’d say the plummeting quality of the show is the result of a room full of writers putting themselves through hell finding ways to one-up their predecessors, rather than just having fun—and it kind of shows.