Rarely do one-off antagonists get fully-realized character arcs on Rick and Morty, but Season 3 seems to be trying harder with its second episode, “Rickmancing the Stone,” in which Joel McHale’s Hemorrhage ushers in better storytelling than we’ve seen on the show before.
As Morty and Summer struggle with feelings of frustration and anger over their parents’ separation, Rick whisks them away to a post-apocalyptic wasteland to hunt for treasure in what’s basically a Mad Max universe. Community’s Joel McHale voices Hemorrhage, the bondage-clad leader of the Death Stalkers who slips between villain and ally more than once, offering up some of the episode’s best moments.
McHale is one of many higher-profile guest stars that’s slated to lend their voices to Rick and Morty in Season 3, and his role sees him become commander of the Death Stalkers and eventually even a love interest to Summer, all so the two of them can get divorced — that’s all during an episode focused on Morty and Summer’s reactions to the impending divorce of their own parents.
It makes for bleak, cynical sci-fi. Yep, Rick and Morty is back.
After Summer kills the original leader of the Death Stalkers in the episode’s opening minutes, Hemorrhage makes his debut and thanks her: “You have removed weak blood from us and made us stronger!” He then offers them the chance at teaming up so they can all “feast on the weak together.” Yikes.
McHale’s voice — which is usually higher-pitched and his phrasing a bit spastic — isn’t immediately recognizable. (Maybe it has something to do with the bucket over his face muffling his voice, or the deeper tones he uses.) But as the episode progresses, McHale transforms Hemorrhage from a hyper-masculine archetype into a mustachioed, insecure man-child. It’s a fair and rather harsh indictment of Mad Max’s campiness that’s highlighted by his atrocious vocabulary when he goes hunting irradiated mutants with Summer:
“After the Boom-Boom, some adapted to the New Truth and some chose to huddle near the Boomy-Holes, clinging to the lie of the Before-Fore times. The Rady-Rays rotted them away, leaving only their love for the Vert-Vertisements on Billy-Boards.”
Hemorrhage oscillates between threatening and friendly throughout the episode, joining up with the protagonists before, then preventing them from leaving, trying to kill Rick, and then eventually settling down with Summer for all of three weeks. In one scene that exposes the character’s vulnerability, McHale’s manic humor shines through — coincidentally right when we finally see Hemorrhage sans helmet.
“This cracked drive shaft brings me great pain,” he says. “There is no deeper bond than a Death Stalker and his car.” It’s perhaps the last uber-masculine thing he says. When Summer flirts with him and convinces Hemorrhage to remove his helmet, we all expect a grotesque, mutated face. But he’s just a regular blonde guy with a weird mustache, and as he begins rattling off his insecure thoughts, you can really hear Joel McHale’s native voice and humor.
Hemorrhage is transformed from burly warlord to a manic and fretful caricature of himself when he ponders his own vanity:
“I’m not weak. I’m just thinking, ‘Well why not get rid of this?’ You kill everyone that sees it! And it’s hot under here which, by the way, is why I shaved the beard part. So right there: I’m making a decision based on vanity, which is what I was trying to avoid with the whole bucket-over-the head thing because who am I and why am I grooming myself!?”
But Summer doesn’t care. They wind up making out and getting married. It makes for the kind of story that, by Harmon’s own admission, the Rick and Morty writers’ room probably couldn’t have managed when it was full of only men.
Sure, the Summer-Hemorrhage marriage lasts only a few weeks before Rick, Morty, and Summer get bored and go home — but especially in her relationship with the warlord, Summer actually becomes the main character of Rick and Morty for an entire episode. Her journey is more important than that of Rick, Morty, or Armothy (the lame name that Morty gives to his sentient Hulk arm).
By also making Hemorrhage a love interest to Summer, she’s ultimately given more agency as a character while the show simultaneously fleshes out the story of a one-off tertiary character.
Rick and Morty hasn’t taken this storytelling approach before, and it demonstrates a more equitable and gender-balanced approach to writing we can safely attribute to the more gender-balanced writers’ room this season. Though next week’s episode looks to be entirely focused on Rick’s adventures as a pickle, we can safely expect even more stories with Summer and even Beth as the focus this season.
Rick and Morty’s Season 3 continues Sunday, August 6 at 11:30 p.m. Eastern on Adult Swim with “Pickle Rick.”