What would you do if you knew the world was about to end and there was nothing you could do to stop it? Would you cower in fear? Or would you party your way into the apocalypse? Two of the best science fiction shows out right now are both asking the same question — but with very different answers.
In Rick and Morty Season 5 Episode 3, “A Rickconvenient Mort,” Rick and Summer decide to blow off some steam by party-hopping through the apocalypse, visiting three alien planets all doomed for extinction on the same night. But if this B-plot sounds weirdly familiar, it’s probably because you’ve been watching another dimension-hopping TV show: Loki.
Loki Episode 3 reveals that Sylvie spent most of her life running from the Time Variance Authority by hiding in impending apocalypses across time. Rick and Morty takes a similar look at the end of the world in Season 5 Episode 3. So is this a coincidence? Or did Loki head-writer Michael Waldron steal a few secrets before he left Adult Swim for Marvel? Let’s take a closer look.
The main plotline of "A Rickconvenient Mort" focuses on Morty’s romance with Planetina, a female version of Captain Planet who’s become a money-making slave to the four children (now adults) who summon her with elemental rings. This all culminates in a bland story about climate change, juvenile love, and graphic extreme violence. Rick ad Summer’s B-plot adventure is way more fun.
Summer’s recently had her heart broken again, so when Morty abandons Rick to pursue Planetina, it provides a rare opportunity for some grandpa-grandaughter bonding time. Three planets — Morglutz, Slartivart, and Ferkus-9 — will each soon be destroyed by a star going supernova, a black hole, and an asteroid impact, respectively.
“They’re all having a major final blowout,” Rick says. “And I’m going to drug it up and suck it up before each one goes kablammo!”
He and Summer make a “no getting attached” deal and participate in a series of planet-wide parties where the alien species have three eyes or some kind of orifice on their elbows they use for kissing. Sex, drugs, dancing, it’s all there.
The second planet, Slartivart, is a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia where a black hole is about to swallow everything. Though the manner of destruction is totally different than on Loki’s Lamentis-1 in Loki, it’s uncanny that both these shows would depict central characters as passersby in a cosmic apocalypse.
What specific societal anxiety are Rick and Morty and Loki tapping into here? What does it say about the zeitgeist right now for such prevalent shows to explore apocalyptic voyeurism?
In many respects, both of these shows already feel like new age Doctor Who, where a powerful figure with advanced technology travels across time and space with one or more companions. (But both of these shows are more concerned with branches in time rather than traditional time travel per se.)
Loki showrunner Michael Waldron was, in fact, a producer on Rick and Morty. He even wrote the excellent Season 4 episode "The Old Man and the Seat” and is credited as a writer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. So he went from helping shepherd the interdimensional weirdness of Rick and Morty to doing the same thing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the foreseeable future. So it stands to reason that they’d share similar DNA.
The key difference in all this, however, is that Loki handles the same premise in a much smarter way: In the face of annihilation, Loki and Sylvie are brought closer together. They spend all of Episode 3 at each others’ throats, struggling to survive as the apocalypse looms. When Episode 4 opens moments after they know they’ve failed, they fall in love in a way that feels simple, right, and totally human. This creates a Nexus Event large enough for the TVA to notice. Philosophically, it communicates the sense that love — and the choices we make in life — still matter even when death looms.
Rick and Morty sees the exact same circumstances as an opportunity to double down on the show’s penchant for nihilism. Existence is meaningless in a chaotic universe, as we’ve learned time and time again. And yet, Rick halfheartedly falls in love with Daphne, a Morglutzian with really nice ... elbow breasts? Out of pettiness, Summer destroys the asteroid heading for Ferkus-9 to sabotage Rick’s relationship. With her survival certain, Daphne abandons Rick, who respects Summer for doing “a pretty Rick” thing like that.
That’s not to mention a minor sub-subplot where an alien father and son participate in the orgy thinking they’d be wiped out by the meteor. Summer’s actions now mean they all have to resume their regular lives after eschewing all sense of morality to participate in the planetwide orgy. Rick and Morty assumes that people would behave like this in the face of certain death, but it also highlights how the reckless main characters almost never confront the consequences of their overwhelmingly selfish actions.
What would you do if the world was about to end? Would you do a bunch of drugs and have a lot of sex? Or would you reach out to grab the hand of the person you loved? If you’re Michael Waldon, apparently you can have it both ways.
Rick and Morty Season 5 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11 p.m. Eastern.