In ‘A Rickonvenient Mort’, the early ’90s cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers gets the Adult Swim treatment, and Rick and Summer indulge in a little end-of-the-world hedonism. Following the Brechtian detachment of ‘Mortyplicity’, Rick and Morty S5E3 is surprisingly emotional—the show’s chameleon-like nature is nothing new, but it is interesting that in an episode that features multiple apocalypses, and Earth’s own climate crisis, it is Morty’s breakup that is treated with the most respect.
The episode title is a reference to the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which is about global warming, and is fitting for the central plotline of the episode. The character Planetina—voiced by Community star Alison Brie—is a parody of the eponymous Captain Planet. Now that Morty has struck out with (possible) time god Jessica, Planetina becomes his new love interest. They engage in a whirlwind romance, and eventually Morty rescues her from the Tina-teers, the four grown-up child-stars of the Captain Planet parody. Rick and Morty takes an anti-nostalgic approach to this homage; the Tina-teers are unpleasant and scheming, Planetina has essentially been reduced to a cash cow, and the elements are used for violence more than anything else. Something that people remember as colourful and innocent has been corrupted by greed—whether intentional or not, this is actually a nice analogy for the climate crisis.
I don’t want to think, I want to see a girl I like!
– Morty Smith
How would a show like Captain Planet be regarded today? The recent gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico makes the cartoonish whimsy seem more than a little out-of-touch. Planetina has to do more than just encourage Morty to recycle—in a suitably shocking montage of vigilante justice she sets a Congressman’s house on fire. In fact, her escalation into out-of-control violence is comparable to Danaerys Targaryen in the infamous Game of Thrones episode, ‘The Bells’. Though Planetina’s intentions may be good, the audience is left to ponder whether a line might have been crossed when she sent a group of miners plummeting to their deaths.
The cold open begins with Rick and Morty buying custom t-shirts emblazoned with their own names and faces. What could be passed off as a standalone meta gag actually subtly introduces the importance of merchandise and commercialism to the episode. Diesel Weasel—also appearing in the cold open—is an imitation of a typical highly marketable cartoon villain; the irony of Captain Planet was that, despite its environmental zealotry, it largely existed to sell plastic toys. The villainous Tina-teers are plotting ways to make even more money out of Planetina, and through this plot thread, the episode seems to be commenting on the tragedy of how beloved characters become commercial property…while also nudging the viewer to buy more Rick and Morty merch.
You might want to keep your eyes on the road, it’s about to get sloppy.
But enough about the A-story—an episode with a Rick and Summer adventure is a rare delight, and should be highly regarded. Summer is such a fun character that the more time spent with her the better, and her eldest-grandchild rapport with Rick is very entertaining. While Morty can sometimes be a bit of a wet blanket, Summer’s Gen-Z existentialism makes her the perfect companion for Rick’s “apocalypse party crawl”. They visit three planets that are doomed to imminent destruction, to engage in strings-free hedonism with the inhabitants. Again, it is ironic that this is airing concurrently with Loki, to which both apocalypses and hedonism are fundamental. Although perhaps this is not so surprising, given the global situation in which these seasons of television have been produced.
She’s the one who saved the world. Now we gotta go to work tomorrow!
– Unnamed Ungrateful Alien
Rick is highly skeptical of Morty’s attachment to Planetina and vows to have totally meaningless fun with Summer—they have one rule: “no getting attached”. And yet Rick fails at this almost immediately, when he develops feelings for an alien called Daphne. This is quite uncharacteristic for Rick, but in the broader context of the episode, it actually makes perfect sense. It can be—and often is—argued that Rick and Morty is skeptical of sentimentality. This show as a whole sometimes shares Rick’s cynicism towards attachment. However, the ending of this episode makes a case for the contrary, as it prioritises pathos over comedy…
Morty experiences real love, and then real heartbreak—director Juan Meza-León said for Adult Swim’s Inside the Episode: “we tried to capture that by treating it like an actual dramatic story”. Indeed, the fallout from Morty and Planetina’s breakup is unusually void of flippancy. Even the ridiculously comedic B-story is grounded in the development of Rick and Summer’s relationship (“love you Grandpa Rick”, “don’t make it weird”). Arguably the most touching aspects of the episode are the interactions between Beth and Morty; in this atypical family, Beth rarely exhibits typical maternal behaviour, but when Morty goes from stubborn and rebellious teenager to a heartbroken boy who needs his mum, she is there to comfort him. The final shot of the episode shows Beth hugging Morty as he cries, before it rather abruptly cuts to the credits. So far there has been little connectivity between the episodes; it would be a shame (although not necessarily a surprise) if there were no emotional repercussions for Morty in subsequent episodes.
In conclusion, S5E3 was quite unexpected. One wouldn’t anticipate such violence or angst from a Captain Planet homage. But through it all, Rick and Morty maintains its bizarre sense of humour—if the repeatedly re-emphasised age gap between Morty and Planetina isn’t enough to make you say “ew”, then there is a post-credit scene about incest that will surely push you over the edge. Season 5 continues to exemplify the numerous wonderful facets of the show. No matter what fans anticipate for the next episode, they will surely be pleasantly surprised.