Despite being one of the show’s less critically-loved outings upon its initial release, season 4’s “Promortyus” might actually be Rick & Morty’s best episode ever. Beginning life as a raunchy spoof of Back to the Future way back in 2013, Community creator Dan Harmon and voice-over artist Justin Roiland’s Adult Swim hit Rick & Morty has since developed over its 4 seasons into an anarchic, inventive, and often surprisingly smart sci-fi satire.

An animated sitcom that spoofs family comedy tropes as well as genre fare, Rick & Morty have parodied everything from Game of Thrones (and its over-zealous fans) to Jurassic Park, to A Nightmare On Elm Street, to The Avengers in their scattershot, mile-a-minute deconstruction of contemporary pop culture landscape. The series is famous for taking satirical aim at a bevy of targets, but one of Rick & Morty’s most underrated adventures sees the eponymous pair taking on the sci-fi genre at large.

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A less acclaimed season 4 outing, ‘Promortyus’ might actually be one of Rick & Morty’s best episodes yet. Coming right after the ambitious meta-comedy of “The Never Ricking Morty,” “Promortyus” may seem on first viewing to be a more conventional parody of the Alien series and its prequel, Prometheus. However, the scenes that see the titular duo slaughter an entire planet only to have to return there and survey the extent of their rampage offers a smart, sharp satirical take on sci-fi’s love of fictional wars that lack of realistic consequences. Meanwhile, the unusual decision to focus the narrative on Summer rather than Rick or Morty results in a fresh new perspective for the show.

Promortys Has A Clever Structure

Rick & Morty is no stranger to ambitious storytelling tricks, so much so that the episode immediately preceding “Promortyus” was a story about stories that relied on the characters breaking a literal narrative engine. So it should come as no surprise that the story of “Promortyus” is told almost in reverse, but unlike a lot of experimental storytelling, Rick & Morty uses this technique to illustrate new perspectives instead of just using the new style for the sake of showing off.

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First, viewers see Rick and Morty’s gleeful destruction of the alien planet that they find themselves stranded on, and most watchers might be tempted to laugh along with the feckless pair as they destroy a city, but the episode reframes in a way that draws it in parallel with real-world tragedy. Suddenly the entire rampage seems tasteless as the viewer, along with Rick and Morty, realize they’ve been cheering on mass murder. And that’s before viewers discover that Summer is responsible for building the entire civilization that Rick and Morty just unthinkingly laid to waste. The twist is effective because rather than use an experimental structure for the sake of novelty, the episode forces viewers to reconsider Rick and Morty’s actions and in turn, the actions of many protagonists whose destruction of alien planets sci-fi fans have cheered on before.

Promortyus Offers Rick & Morty A Fresh Perspective

Summer’s viewpoint is rarely central to Rick & Morty’s action, and although she’s had a few side quest B-plots that earned a lot of laughs, seeing how she reacts to an adventure and making her choices markedly different from each of the title character’s ways of interacting with the world is a fresh and interesting angle. It’s a pretty familiar sight to see every version of Morty try and do the right thing, only for it to blow up in his face in gory and/or brutally funny fashion. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to see Rick start cynical and heartless, only for him to pull the last bit of remaining humanity out of his hardened heart at the last moment and do the right thing despite himself. For all the invention of Rick & Morty’s writing, the show’s two central figures are recognizable archetypes.

As a result of this formula, there’s a running joke on Rick & Morty about how the adventures on the show really ought to should incorporate female characters like Summer more, but this episode goes a step further by illustrating that Summer’s unique character reshapes the show’s action by reacting to problems with a new and different attitude. In this regard, it’s a great touch that she only survives the initial alien attack because she’s trying to be a “toothpick person,” a tacit admission by the series that her character traits haven’t been the show’s focus in recent episodes. It’s hard for any series to admit that it has short-changed a character, but Morty’s insistence that Summer being a toothpick person doesn’t “fit her character” is a solid embodiment of Rick & Morty‘s willingness to admit that it hasn’t done much to make Summer more believable or fully rounded in recent outings before this installment.

Satire With A Purpose

Promortyus boasts some of the smartest satire from the Rick & Morty writer’s room. Rather than reveling in the stars of the show shooting and killing their way through another planet, this episode forces viewers to question how responsible Rick and Morty are for the gleeful bloodletting of their adventures, and it even pushes the viewer to consider this question outside of the series (as Rick puts it, “I’m political now”).

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There are obvious parallels to real international politics in the sight of Rick and Morty setting up a society only to then blow it to bits later when it starts to inconvenience them and expect to be viewed as somehow “cool” for it instead of monster for doing so, and one of the sharpest points that Harmon’s show has ever made is that most depictions of victorious wars in sci-fi don’t acknowledge that sometimes the protagonists are the people responsible for the repressive regime existing in the first place. This episode’s satire is solid because, rather than positing the episode’s aliens as villains who represent some real-life cultural issue or problem, Rick & Morty depicts Rick and Morty themselves as the problem, and asks viewers to wonder how often they’ve cheered on victorious images of mass destruction without really considering its repercussions, whether in the real world or the multiverse of televised sci-fi.

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