Rick and Morty is known for its love of revisiting and remixing the tropes of TV and film’s genres, and Episode 3 is Season 4’s first real outing in that kind of cultural memory. It comes thick and fast, and is a sheer joy to watch. This episode is a thrilling riff on heist movies, specifically Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Ocean’s Eleven and the subsequent sequels (the characters mention those films by name). In purely visual terms, this might end up being the most cinematically directed episode of the season. This episode gave us very creative and memorable images of both Mr. Poopybutthole and Rick.
Like those movies, this episode is more than anything else a testament to the sheer magic and charisma of Rick and Morty. It’s relentlessly engaging and almost even jolly. But when put under a microscope, it ends up being an oddly built plot. The plot is rather clearly two half-ideas that were crammed together after the writers couldn’t find a way to spin each into their own independent episodes. And I want to be very clear: this episode, S4E3, is the best of the season so far and solidly in the better half of all Rick and Morty episodes ever. But this is because of the tremendous quality of execution of the show’s writing and complexity of storytelling that flies off the page. The dialogue is as sharp as a tack and the plotting is thick but never crowded and dense but never confused. But that doesn’t contradict the fact that we had one mini-episode occur in the first ten minutes, then a smooth transition into an entirely separate mini-episode, which lasted the remaining twenty minutes.
The first mini-episode is the one most clearly modelled on a heist movie, specifically Ocean’s Twelve. The writers have Rick outright say that Ocean’s Twelve was the worst of Soderberg’s remakes, and perhaps that’s why the episode pivoted so quickly to a second mini-episode. The second mini-episode does not have as transparent an inspiration, though War Games and 2001: A Space Odyssey are both contenders. And while we’re mentioning cinematic influences, the grave robbery at the beginning and the crystal skull later on seem to be clear nods to Indiana Jones, which are tangentially also Heist films.
At first, I definitely thought that all of the dramatic reversals and plotting intricacies were part of a complete and comprehensive plotting scheme, which would spell out something larger for us if we paid attention. For instance, Rick casually throwing out the crystal skull instantly reminded me of Rick’s infamous disposal of the green glowing rocks in S2E4. But in the end it really does seem beyond belief that this episode’s plotting honestly is a single act of premeditated storytelling.
To be fair, one theme we might find is that crews are more trouble than they’re worth. The first mini-episode in which Rick and Morty face off against Miles Knightly, is a hilarious little sketch about Rick defeating his rival’s ambitions, thus forcing him to experience the humiliation of failing at your plan and having to join another man’s crew. The second mini-episode has Rick and Morty grapple with the menace of Heistotron, who begins sucking all sentient life into a single crew of the universe – which seems like a rip-off of Unity from S2E3. Throughout the episode Rick makes clear his disdain for teams, and this is finally borne out symbolically by Rick’s Randotron, which undermines the very idea of teamwork. Randotron actually comes back to bite Rick, scattering his team and causing general chaos at the exact moment Rick discovers the true threat (which was hysterical and the season’s funniest joke yet). Finally, during Morty’s screenwriting arc that gets added to the end of the episode almost as a third mini-episode, we eventually hear him admit that going it alone in his screenwriting career is boring and shallow, and he’d rather just go on adventures with Rick. Which seems to be a pro-crew theme, in thematic conflict with the other arcs.
And at the very end, there is also one final scene that does knit the entire show together in a second way. In a flashback to two weeks earlier, Rick realizes that Morty might be losing interest in his grandpa ever since he got into screenwriting, however, Beth sternly stipulates that Rick must stay out of Morty’s new passion and that Morty can only quit screenwriting if he naturally loses interest all by himself. This scene implies that Rick orchestrated the whole episode as an ordinary Rick and Morty adventure that just happened to cause Morty to lose interest in screenwriting all on his own. However, the only connection between Morty’s writing phase and Rick’s adventure is that they’re both about heists. Rick’s adventure doesn’t deal at all with writing or creativity or movies… or anything that would actually cause Morty to become disillusioned with writing movies.
This episode was more of a song than a novel: entirely enjoyable while it’s happening, but at the end there’s not much to analyze. Part of me wonders if the larger commentary here is that the writers knew we would find this episode so engaging and so entertaining because of the upbeat style that they felt comfortable throwing the scraps and half-ideas into this one. Just as throughout this entire show the characters are bemoaning how audiences drool over heist movies despite their half-baked nature, we the viewers just watched a Rick and Morty episode comprised of 2 separate stories (3 if you count Morty’s entirely random screenplay arc), but we still applaud what we just watched because of the production and flash. The writers used the glamour of a heist to distract us while they pulled off a heist themselves. Respect.
In keeping with the free-wheeling vibe, here’s one final listicle of amusing things I skipped over in this fast-paced episode:
- Exactly one (1) Arby’s bag
- Rick stealing ideas from Dr. Strange
- The writers taking a square dump on David Lynch
- Intermittent gargoyle-Morty
- Heistcon fans repelling from the ceiling Ethan Hunt-style
- Abraham Lincoln’s preserved head (which could have only been obtained in another high-stakes grave robbery)
- Batman’s grappling hook gun
- Rick’s no-context signature purple lollipop
- “Whose kidneys are these?”
- Rick actually bringing two hover-chairs to the initial grave raid.