The past couple of years haven’t been the easiest time to be a Rick and Morty fan. Once an underground cult favourite that layered its wildly inventive sci-fi adventures with a deep and urgent existential angst, the show found itself wrestling with its place in the zeitgeist the moment it crossed over to become a mainstream hit. Its Szechuan Sauce-crazed super-fans didn’t just cause havoc at fast food restaurants, many also turned on Rick and Morty itself, targeting their abuse with grim inevitability at the show’s female writers. The lightning rod at the heart of the debate over the show became the figure of Rick himself, who some fans wanted to see as an omnipotent and infallible God of science, even as the show itself sought to undercut his heroism by highlighting the nihilism and narcissism that ultimately casts him as a tragic figure.
“Mort Dinner Rick Andre” deals with these issues deftly, firstly by introducing us to Rick’s “nemesis” Mr Nimbus (voiced by Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon). Exactly why, out of all the many multiverses’ worth of rivals Rick has encountered, Nimbus should be deemed his nemesis is never fully explained. Then again, arbitrariness is part of the appeal of an Aquaman-esque character who controls not just the sea, but also the police, for some reason. In a behind-the-scenes video extra, episode writer Jeff Loveless argues that Nimbus’s true value is in demonstrating that great power doesn’t necessarily have to lead directly into the depths of depression. “He’s the antithesis of Rick – maybe he’s the purest form of Rick,” says Loveless. “Nimbus actually is happy with himself, because he knows he’s the King of the Ocean and he controls the police.”
As it turns out, however, the episode isn’t really about Rick and Nimbus’s long-stewing rivalry at all. Even the title, a play on the 1981 classic “My Dinner with Andre”, is a piece of misdirection. It sets us up to expect that Nimbus’ arrival for a dinner-based peace summit will pit the pair into the sort of dialogue-heavy tête-à-tête that Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory pulled off in that film – and that Harmon more faithfully parodied a decade ago in the Community episode “Critical Film Studies”.
Instead, what’s initially presented as a subplot about Rick ordering Morty to age wine for the dinner by taking it through a time portal ends up morphing, in classic Rick and Morty fashion, into a full-blown sci-fi battle. Through no real fault of his own, Morty’s interdimensional booze runs make him a more immediate kind of nemesis to the cow-people who live in the other dimension, and they soon begin building their entire culture around their desire to capture and kill the demon child who keeps invading their reality. As Rick and Morty producer Scott Marder puts it: “Morty can be on the higher ground a lot because he’s this young, innocent kid and Rick is like: ‘You watch – you’ll make enemies in your life no matter how well intentioned you are.’”
It’s this decision to send Morty off to stand on his own two feet and fight his own interdimensional battles that proves most promising in terms of where the show could now be headed. As much as many fans want to believe they’re Ricks – able to cut through human frailty with their laser-focused scientific minds – the truth is we’re all actually Mortys, baffled by our place in a mind-boggling universe and trying to make sense of it as best we can.
The fact that Rick and Morty no longer feels culturally commanding works in its favour. Remove that pressure and the show suddenly feels like itself again.