Rick and Morty is primarily known for being an absurd and grotesque adult cartoon, playing off tropes of sci-fi classics, such as Back to the Future and Star Trek, to cast an irreverent take on the genre. What is less known, however, is that the show often runs deeper, examining characters’ admittedly absurd struggles through a genuinely thoughtful lens. Sunday night’s episode has two branching narratives, and while one follows the traditional formula of a Rick and Morty story, the other serves as a more introspective look into its main character’s pain and motivations.
Early in the episode, Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland) travels through a portal to a lavishly ornate and peaceful planet for the purpose of pooping in peace. After finishing his business, he finds signs that someone had used his toilet before him and goes on a needlessly complex and violent series of missions in order to find the perpetrator.
Back on Earth, Morty (Roiland) tries and fails to prevent his father, Jerry (Chris Parnell), from developing an app with a Glootie, a race of alien interns, voiced by Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit director and actor Taika Waititi. The app turns out to be an extremified iteration of Tinder and other dating apps, dubbed “Lovefinderrz,” making each of its matches fall madly in love with each other until another match is found.
The secondary storyline branches off even further, with Morty and Jerry infiltrating the Glootie spaceship to shut down Lovefinderrz, and Morty’s sister Summer (Spencer Grammer) evading her mother, Beth’s (Sarah Chalke), attempts to prevent her from using the app.
That story provides the majority of laughs for the episode and gives more attention to Rick and Morty’s secondary cast, which were mostly ignored in the season premiere. Despite this, the premise seems a bit too contrived, and the commentary on the apparent superficiality of dating apps is a tired one that the episode does little to challenge. There are some hilarious individual jokes and important character moments, but as a whole, the storyline is mostly forgettable and uninteresting.
Once stepping beyond the initial absurdity of its premise, Rick’s solo adventure ends up being a lot more serious than one might expect and gives more insight into how miserable the gung-ho adventurer really is. Following a series of increasingly bizarre and intense scenarios, Rick finally locates the culprit, Tony (Jeffrey Wright), who ends up being a kind-hearted individual with a tragic backstory.
Determined that Tony is either lying or trying to be emotionally manipulative, Rick sets up a number of elaborate schemes to catch him brown-handed, only to find that his distrust and possessiveness of his toilet originates from his own insecurities and desire to control even a small, crude aspect of his life.
Comedies can often fall into the trap of always going for a laugh, robbing its characters of the nuance necessary to remain interesting. Part of Rick and Morty’s appeal lies in its willingness to take a break from constant zingers and examine why its characters act in the ways they do. Not only does this make the show more rewarding to watch, but the added understanding and complexity can make the inevitable jokes hit even harder.
“The Old Man and the Seat” serves as a sobering reminder of these themes, balanced by a lighter and more traditional secondary storyline. Rick is a sad, nearly broken character, chasing the high of adventure — not to mention alcohol, drugs and sex — to avoid confronting his own issues. Fans who laud Rick as a heroic figure ignore the show’s insistent reminder that its characters are not ones to be envied or emulated. Rick and Morty is a funny show, but it’s also a sad one. It’s sad to see how some viewers have internalized the very toxic behavior the show aims to caution against.
Rick and Morty airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim.