Despite its thoughtful meditation on toxic relationships, sexual or otherwise, Season 4’s fourth episode — “Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktim's Morty” — feels redundant. The high fantasy art and animation may be a high point for the series, but the horny dragon plot soars pretty low.
The cold open is purposefully forgettable: Morty retrieves a purple “Ultimate Cube” but his feline friend Cha-Chi dies in the process. Rick had flippantly promised Morty a dragon for helping on this adventure, and he’s quickly forced into making good on that promise. So he buys a red dragon named Balthromaw from a magical reality where a puritanical, slut-shaming wizard has enslaved all dragons for his own profit.
For some reason, all of the dragons are super-horny, and the only thing more problematic than their behavior is all the slut-shaming going on. Despite a few interesting riffs on what Rick and Morty can do with a fantasy universe, most of the punchlines are played for easy laughs. Rick condemns magic as stupid, which is predictable and perhaps even uninventive. Meanwhile, Morty takes it very seriously, offering up one of the few times he’s more capable than his grandfather.
Despite show co-creator Dan Harmon’s apparent love for high fantasy like Dungeons & Dragons, this episode seems to come from a place of contempt rather than of loving adoration.
There are plenty of reasons why this is the worst-ranked Rick and Morty Season 4 episode, according to IMDb users. But “Claw and Hoarder” is more focused than the heist episode and much funnier than the somewhat miserable camping episode later in the season.
It's definitely a middling Season 4 episode, but it's by no means the worst.
The episode's best joke already appeared at the 0:28 mark of the Season 4 trailer.
The episode’s best nonsexual joke was used in the Season 4 trailer, which was released more than a month before “Claw and Hoarder” aired. After Balthromaw breathes fire through the living room floor, Rick says, “And that’s the end of the Morty gets a dragon experiment!” After Summer asks if he’ll slay it, his response is gold: “I always slay it, queen!”
Rick intends to kill the dragon, but upon realizing Balthromaw has cool vintage treasures like a 1989 Ecto Cooler, the two begin a night of debauchery that includes getting drunk, high, and releasing a bunch of animals at the zoo. Balthromaw might be contractually bonded to Morty, but that doesn’t stop Balthromaw and Rick from experiencing an orgasmic kind of resonance called “soul-bonding.”
It’s an obvious and crude metaphor for sex that gets even more awkward when Summer and Morty catch them in the act. Morty is the only sensible character throughout the episode, getting continually grossed out by the sexual nature of everything around him. He communicates these thoughts effectively. Even Summer is reduced to a “sexy arrow shooty lady.” The show’s always more effective Summer steals the spotlight in a meaningful way, yet here she's just sort of set dressing.
All the awkwardness is almost worth it to see the wizard show up to whip Balthromaw while screaming, “Slut dragon!” That’s how all of this episode functions: an obscene joke makes you feel uncomfortable, then something outrageous and unexpected makes you laugh as a reflex. But it’s all a repeated, escalating pattern of slutty behavior and the prudes looking to curb it.
Rick, Morty, and Summer wind up having to travel to the land of Dragonarchy to save Balthromaw, because if he dies so does Rick (Dragonheart style!). Morty masters using a magical tome of spells, Rick harnesses magic as a fuel source to power a gun that can do anything, and Summer has a bow so cool that any Dungeons & Dragons player would pay real money for.
“Shadow-Jacker! You haven’t come out of your masturbation cave in eons!”
Their mini-adventure showcases some incredible art and animation, but the looming sexuality of the story becomes a bit much when they participate in a “10-slut soul orgy” and wield the power of the “All-Slut Phoenix Dragon.”
We get it. Dragons are sluts, and they deserve the freedom to be that way. But why? “Claw and Hoarder” doesn’t really have anything to say on the matter. Instead, the episode is more interested in increasingly more outrageous lines. Occasionally it feels a bit tired, but everything related to the aging dragon Shadow-Jacker is genuinely hilarious.
One of the more questionable narrative choices in the episode is the B-plot where Jerry encounters a random talking cat. Rick’s comment on this rings true: The concepts of a talking dragon and a talking cat “bump.” So … why do it? Drawing attention to that fact is meta, but it’s not necessarily funny.
The cat has a carefree demeanor and urges Jerry to just have fun and stop asking questions. Jerry’s just meek enough to let the cat talk him into buying expensive tickets to Florida so they can go hang out. Why Florida? “Because they don’t ask questions,” he says. “They play volleyball. And they have fun.”
It almost makes you feel bad for people from Florida.
But there’s no real narrative drive or payoff here, and it doesn’t make sense that Jerry would actually spend the money. Surely, his fear of Beth would be enough to stop him? Rick and Morty has earned the right to throw logic out the window when it’s still able to tell fruitful stories, but other than a delightful diss to Florida in general with a hilarious “peanut butter gargoyle” joke, there really isn’t any point to this B-plot.
It would work when paired up with just about any other A-plot ever, but here it just seems to detract.
Towards the end, Rick picks up Jerry and the cat and scans its brain. We never see the horrifying reason why the cat can talk or what he’s done, but it’s enough for Jerry to vomit immediately and Rick to almost kill himself. Even the post-credits scene where the cat and Balthromaw meet implies far more depth than we’ll ever get from these characters. Rick and Morty often leaves plot threads dangling for years, but it’s only worthwhile when we get at least a little bit of closure.
It's possible Season 5 could reveal what happened to the cat and Balthromaw, and that might redeem this subpar episode, but we wouldn't count on it.
This "Claw and Hoarder" post-credits scene feels like the kind of thing Rick and Morty will forget about entirely.
Chances seem pretty high that we’ll never meet these characters again, so among the swath of great Season 4 episodes, “Claw and Hoarder” is one of the few that will be forgotten quickly.
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