Rick and Morty often tries very hard to push the envelope, but when Morty’s sperm mutates into giant monsters that threaten the world, the end result is an absurd but hilarious episode that’ll make you cringe.
Once again, Morty’s horniness almost dooms everyone. After a serious and emotionally impactful Episode 3, “Rickdependence Spray” feels like lowbrow whiplash.
Season 5 Episode 4 might be the series’ boldest episode ever, and it borders on the obscene. Early discussions on Reddit make it clear that you either love this story for its cutting commentary on gender dynamics, or you hate it for being too ridiculous and/or offensive and going too far off the rails. “Rickdependence Spray” will definitely be a memorable one, that’s for sure.
The episode starts out at the horse hospital where Beth works as a horse heart surgeon. Morty’s impatiently waiting to go to a movie when he notices a device called a “breeding mount” used to extract "reproductive material” from the horses. Morty gets that same look on his face we saw back in “Raising Gazorpazorp” when he saw an alien sex doll, and that led to him having an alien hybrid son.
Somehow, this is so much worse.
After Morty spends a week “volunteering” at the hospital depositing his reproductive material, Rick conveniently winds up building a biochemical weapon to combat the “Chuds,” the cannibal horse people living underground.
Rick’s device backfires because the DNA is all sorts of messed up. The levels of catastrophe that ensue are on par with that time Rick made a love potion but the flu caused it to mutate enough to Cronenberg the entire planet. The sperm become enormous dragon monsters with horrible teeth and enough intelligence that they can build a trebuchet, understand language, and eventually develop enough machinery for the Sperm Queen to speak from an android body.
Giving her a voice and gendering it as a female is a stroke of brilliance because it enhances the theme of male shame at play here. There are moments of this episode that feel a little bit like Big Mouth in its exploration of shame related to masturbation in adolescents. The Netflix series is known for presenting abstract ideas like shame, anxiety, and hormones as monsters we can communicate with directly. There’s a lot of inherent value in normalizing taboos if only so we can talk more openly about them. Does this Rick and Morty episode go a little bit too far? Probably, but at least the show is tugging us in the right direction.
Co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland seem to delight in generating shock. Even at its worst, Rick and Morty is a smartly written show that maintains one serious rule: Never take anything too seriously.
Sometimes that makes for a mixed bag. Remember, the pilot episode has a bit where Morty has to put a mega seed “way up” in his butt. The show has also made several incest jokes throughout the years. It’s programmed to make you feel uncomfortable, to push the envelope and expand your boundaries.
This particular episode is unhinged, especially when the big strategy to defeat the creatures is to embiggen one of Summer’s eggs so they can lure the monster sperm to Las Vegas. And the many performers from Vegas are deputized and fight in an epic final battle. The off-the-rails approach works here, especially when there are such brilliantly scripted moments and one-liners.
There’s a genuinely smart throughline about the failures of male bravado and the negative impact of toxic masculinity. The giant human egg is Summer’s idea, yet a man takes credit for it. Then she and Beth play a crucial role in the battle at Las Vegas, where the Chuds also inexplicably show up to lend a hand — or a hoof? A male caused this problem, and (almost) every man that gets involved just makes things worse. Horse people and sperm monsters aside, Rick and Morty is saying some really compelling things about gender dynamics and the patriarchy.
It helps that we’re in on the joke from the get-go. Morty hides his shameful secret for as long as he possibly can before he’s outed and shamed for his masturbatory practices. And of course he bonds with a nervous monster sperm of his, even treating it like a pet. (Typical!) He gets his comeuppance when that specific sperm fertilizes Summer’s egg, resulting in a giant mutant incest baby that gets shot out into space.
Yeah, it sounds a bit like Rick and Morty Mad Libs.
One of the episode’s best lines — one that’s easy to miss — comes rather late when someone says they should kill the mutant incest baby. “That’s a human life!” the President says, “and this is an election cycle.” As absurd and far removed from reality Rick and Morty gets, it is still astutely aware of the backward logic and inherent absurdity in the real world. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, the POTUS is only concerned about his re-election campaign.
What could be more realistic than that?
Rick and Morty Season 5 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11 p.m. Eastern.