When squid aliens burst into Smith family breakfast on Rick and Morty and kill every major character, you know that Season 5’s “Mortyplicity” is going to be pretty mind-blowing. What ensues is a stunning mise en abyme with over-the-top violence in a Russian Nesting Doll storyline that theoretically never ends.
After the drama with Space Beth in the Season 4 finale, Rick later explains, precautions were taken. “A lot of people out there want a piece of this,” he says. So Rick made a bunch of decoys. Except then that Smith family is vaporized by more squid aliens. This kind of fakeout feels somewhat familiar, and even though the countless repetitions in this episode sort of make it feel meaningless by the end, we’re forced to wonder: What’s the point of it all?
The point, as Rick vocalizes right away in the cold open, is that they’re going to kill the Christian God. And by episode’s end, that’s what they achieve.
“Mortyplicity” is a spirited riff on Multiplicity, a movie in which Michael Keaton plays a construction worker who is cloned, but then his clone gets himself cloned. Before you know it, we’re dealing with strictly too many Michael Keatons. The movie doesn’t even know how to handle this excellent core concept in any meaningful way, and ironically, as things spiral out of control, inertia takes over.
Rick and Morty applies the same core concept to Rick cloning decoys of the whole family endlessly, but it does some excellent things with it. “Mortyplicity” satiates our hunger for an “Interdimensional Cable” style of clip show episode. We see a myriad of decoy families doing random things before they die, going on vacation, getting caught in a mini time loop, and so much more.
In execution, it feels a lot like the memories of “Morty’s Mind Blowers” with an element of Battlestar Galactica and Edge of Tomorrow. Cylons are reborn into new bodies, memories intact. Tom Cruise lives, dies, and repeats endlessly. When a sci-fi conceit is cool enough, it lets the storyteller have their cake and eat it too. We (the viewer) must face the horror of seeing Summer killed with a knife, or Rick skinned alive, yet knowing that there are more versions of each a frame away allows it to be dramatic and evocative, but also darkly funny. It would be easier for a lesser show to make this feel cheap.
We’ve seen members of the family die numerous times before, but the way “Mortyplicity” lures you into a false sense of security over and over again leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat. For long stretches of the episode, you’ll be with a new copy of the family for several minutes. You might even think they’re the real deal, that the rest of the episode will follow their desperate attempt at survival. But just like the blissed-out decoys waiting peacefully for death while peeing in the ocean, every copy of Rick, Morty, Summer, Jerry, and Beth that we see from start to finish is — spoilers — a decoy.
If ever there was a truly self-contained episode of the show, it’s this one. Nothing at all matters, so it frees the show to go in some really dark directions. We see everyone get shot through the head and/or blown up many times over. A tortured version of Rick has no skin thanks to the version that’s basically Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Glockenspiel versions of the family save a normal-looking set from Leatherface Rick, revealing that a central hub of decoys are standing up to the squid aliens. Oh, and those squid aliens? They’re decoys trying to kill decoys because it’s Highlander rules: There can only be one. We get a satisfying conclusion in the traditional sense after hundreds of families converge on one location for a bombastic fight sequence — but then the conceit just keeps going. Rick and Morty is able to get away with this trick thanks to its final hilarious joke.
Remember when we said this was all about killing God? What happens in the post-credits scene initially just feels like another opportunity to make fun of Jerry, but in some sense, God does die.
The cowardly Glockenspiel Jerry had run away from the final battle, but he’s torn apart by a family of beavers in a river. The hollowed-out husk of his torso becomes a nest for the beavers. Instead of dying, he’s pecked at by anthropomorphic bird people. Then he awakens on the mantle of a mirror in a cowboy saloon ages later. Eventually, countless eons into the future, Glockenspiel Jerry awakes atop a large wooden cross as a new Jesus figure is crucified.
“Christianity ... again!?” an exasperated Jerry whines. “And after cowboys!”
To grossly oversimplify it, in Catholic Christian teachings, Jesus is both the son of God and God Himself. Glockenspiel Jerry endures eons into the future, long after every other iteration of the Smith family is (probably) dead. And he witnesses how Morty and Rick’s deeds this episode eventually led to the death of God.
There could be no better way to cap such a superb episode.
Rick and Morty Season 5 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11 p.m. Eastern.