When Independence Day came out in 1996, no one thought for a second that it would one day be used for the title of a TV episode about the mortal consequences of secret masturbation. Although, Rick and Morty S5E4 has little in common with its namesake. Granted, the stock scientist, Professor Shabooboo, appears to be a riff on Jeff Goldblum’s character, the President makes an appearance, and it shares a lot of disaster movie tropes (ticking countdown clock, takes place at recognisable American landmarks, etc.) but really, ‘Rickdependence Spray’ has more in common with Killer Sperm from Deep Space. Yes, this is an episode about giant sperm.
It seems Season 5 has been building to this moment—in other words, the warning signs were there. There was Mr Nimbus’ erotic personality and character design, the joke in ‘Mortyplicity’ about Morty masturbating into a Yosemite t-shirt, and the apocalypse sex parties in ‘A Rickonvenient Mort’. The dam has finally burst on the long-running gag about Morty’s teenaged hormones. It’s definitely an uncomfortable one if you were, say, watching it while your Dad was in the room…The creators at Adult Swim seem as shocked as anyone that they actually made an episode where the Smith family spends the entire twenty minutes trying to defeat a swarm of giant sperm (which look oddly like the plant from The Little Shop of Horrors).
This is out there, even for us
– Morty Smith
In some ways it feels like the show is retreading old ground. Morty having sci-fi offspring was the focus of an episode way back in Season 1 (‘Raising Gazorpazorp’). Even more common territory is the weird life forms that develop tools and civilisation (‘Promortyus’, ‘The Ricks Must Be Crazy’, to name but a couple). Perhaps it is apt for the science fiction genre that the show can churn out one bizarre creation story after another, however it is rare and disheartening to tune into an episode of Rick and Morty and think “I’ve seen this before”.
In S5E4, Summer and Beth get “all the responsibility and none of the credit”—Professor Shabooboo steals Summer’s world-saving giant-egg plan and gets all the praise for it. If the show really wanted to do an episode on the way female characters are treated in science fiction, it would be fertile ground for parody, however ‘Rickdependence Spray’ feels like the wrong place to do it.
From the logistics of Rick’s human-horse coupling, and Summer and Beth riding on the back of Morty’s giant sperm, this is as over-the-top and disgusting as the show has been since the dragon orgy in ‘Claw and Hoarder: Special Ricktim’s Unit’. Think this is as far as it can go? Think again. There is now, canonically, a Summer-Morty incest baby floating in space.
We are your shame incarnate
– Sperm Queen.
‘Rickdependence Spray’ half-commits to a theme about shame—specifically Morty’s—which befits a notoriously shameless show. Rick calls Morty a “world ending pervert”, but inevitably turns out to be a hypocrite, having been getting his kicks with Princess Poneta of the CHUDs (horse people)—once again, this has been done before this season, when in ‘A Rickonvenient Morty’, Rick’s whirlwind romance with Daphne made him a hypocrite for admonishing Morty’s relationship with Planetina. Morty’s sperm became monsters because he was ashamed that he used the “horse jerk-off machine” and lied about it (although he still admits, as he weeps in remorse, that it felt “fantastic”). The attempt to deliver an “always be honest” message is, in true fashion, swiftly cut down by the new lesson that if you are too honest, people will think you’re gross. How almost meta.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to be harsh about this episode. The premise is decidedly less clever than time dilation or decoys; the stakes should feel high, but don’t; the episode relies on in-your-face gross-out tactic to make the audience say “wow, I never expected that”, rather than a creative and surprising plot. What this episode really does is give critics and online bellyachers more reason to dismiss the show as immature. Again, this is a somewhat reductive way to look at the show, but arguably, people either watch Rick and Morty for the intelligent genre play, or they watch for the comedy—S5E4 barely has either.
On the other hand, the most charitable interpretation is that this was a deliberate rebellion against the show’s own reputation for being ‘too clever’. Perhaps it was a statement about how all storytelling is absurd and childish in a way, and you just have to roll with it…but this is doubtful. And even if that was the intention, it is the execution, above all else, that will make or break a story. In this episode, it was just a little disappointing.
Measure twice, cut once, especially with semen
– Rick Sanchez
Some of the best comedy moments included the implication that Bigfoot and other cryptids may have been sperm from outer space, Rick’s “Hand-job Solo” pun, and the Vegas dancer who uses his hula hoop to kill the sperm. The post-credit scene is one of the most enjoyable moments of the episode…even if the Summer-Morty baby is really really disturbing. The thing is, it wouldn’t really be a Rick and Morty ending if they had successfully avoided an incest baby. Regardless, the best part is the short and deliberately contrived speech from an astronaut about fatherhood that is reassuringly self-aware (and funny) about the absent parent trope in science fiction…which is largely what Rick and Morty is about, and kind of sort of what ‘Rickdependence Spray’ was getting at.
What’s worrying is that next week’s episode will mark the halfway point, and Season 5 may have peaked too early on with ‘Mortyplicity’. The latest episode of Rick and Morty is a head-scratcher…just not in the way fans are used to.