I’ve done a lot of shitty things to my friends. I apologize a lot for things that I’m afraid have hurt them. My one friend tells me not to worry about it, but I worry constantly. I’ve hurt people without knowing it, I’ve hurt people on purpose, because I wanted to, because I was mad. Everyone does this. This is how humans are. There is not a single person on Earth that I have exclusively good memories of.
“Total Rickall” starts out leaning heavily on making fun of sitcoms before careening violently into that harsh reality of human behavior. An alien parasite has infected the house, and it replicates by posing as an old family friend and inserting itself (and other, newer people) into their memories. They’re short snippets of memories, so the characters have to be memorable. Photography Velociraptor is a velociraptor that’s always taking pictures. They have catch phrases—Cousin Vinny’s is “Hey! I’m walking here!” As it grows faster and faster, the characters have to be more unique to be memorable.
There’s a thing that happens in sitcoms where characters begin as rounded people and then end as flat caricatures. I watched the first episode of Friends once, just trying to figure out why the fuck people like that show. I was surprised that these six assholes were once humans with some pathos, some flaws, and not a collection of gags and quotes and on again off again romances. But memory is a weird thing. Things get pancaked in there, you only remember what triggers the most extreme emotional response. I had a friend in college that I lived with that I am no longer friends with. We were friends for many years, she was one of the first people I met, and we did a lot of fun, or weird, or mundane things together. What I remembered most vividly is how our friendship ended.
The parasite can only make up good memories, which Morty realizes after they try to convince him to shoot Rick (who, with his vague backstory and outlandish occupation is as likely a parasite as Sleepy Gary). Obviously, Rick and Morty have incredibly painful memories of each other. It may surprise you to hear this, but Rick isn’t the greatest of grandfathers.
What follows is a montage of the family murdering parasites as they remember the ways that they’ve hurt each other. It’s a little clumsy and doesn’t really gel, but the memories themselves are incredibly funny, especially Summer’s memory of Beth getting drunk in her bed and accidentally swinging a bottle in her eye (“It’s picture day!), or Morty’s satisfied smile as he remembers Summer kicking him in the balls. In general, I’ve been enjoying the attention on Summer this season. Watching her gleefully kill aliens is great. She seems a little more rounded out, she has more lines, and she’s surprisingly dogmatic and reasonable. The less they rely on the trope of what a Teen Girl is supposed to act like, the better.
You can’t be alive without hurting other people, it turns out. You can’t know other people without hurting them. It’s not like Rick and Morty is saying that humans are all bad, but that they’re all fallible. You cause pain by existing. That’s just how humans are. it’s okay.
Except Mr. Poopy Butthole. That guy’s alright.
Gita Jackson has dedicated her entire adult life to wading through the marginalia of popular culture and finding gold.