Rick and Morty is a great series. How great? Great enough that picking just my top five favorite episodes was tough. But I did manage it, and here they are:
#5: Rick Potion #9 (S1, Ep6)
After Rick gives Morty a love potion for prom, things quickly spiral out of control when the serum splices with the flu – causing it to spread. Rick and Morty scramble to cure the crisis, making matters worse in the process. –IMDB
This is, in a lot of ways, the defining episode of Rick and Morty, and contains a lot of the defining elements of the show: reckless Rick tickering, universe hopping, and the tone of the episode plunging off a cliff. But more than that, it introduces the central existentialist theme and horror of the show: if there are infinite universes, then what does this one matter?
By making the decision to abandon the rick-potioned universe of the mutated Cronenbergs, Rick and Morty doom the Jerry, Beth, and Summer we’ve spent six episodes getting attached to… and yet it doesn’t really matter. In a universe of infinites, they’re meaningless.
#4: Total Rickall (S2, Ep4)
The Smith house is locked down after parasites threaten to take over the world by multiplying through flashbacks. –IMDB
Though not an ‘arc’ episode in that nothing that happens in this episode moves the greater Rick and Morty storyline forward, it’s a perfect self contained episode, and shows off a lot of the strengths of Rick and Morty as a comedy series. Rick and Morty often breaks the fourth wall. But the central premise of Total Rickall, that the Smith household is under siege by aliens who are essentially the Remember The New Guy trope incarnate, aggressively engaging with the fourth wall.
What makes A Rickle in Time work so well is that it takes a singular idea (aliens that invade through flashbacks) and fully explores it (what’s their weakness? That they can’t appear in negative memories). What also sells the idea is the way the story is structured, with the Smith house growing increasingly crowded as more and more cliched sitcom characters slip in after each flashback, ultimately leading to a supremely satisfying slaughter of the aliens at the climax of the episode.
#3: A Rickle in Time (S2, Ep1)
Having restarted time, Rick, Morty and Summer are in a quantum-uncertain state of existence. An argument leads to the creation of two alternate timelines, which need to be stitched back together fast if they are to escape quantum collapse. –IMDB
This is such an incredibly ambitious episode, and tackles a subject most hard scifi shows can’t even touch. Portraying the infinite number of universes generated by each split by decision is beyond our ape brains to fully understand, and most serious science fiction media doesn’t even try. Not only does A Rickle in Time try, but it succeeds at making it both hilarious and engaging.
Much like Total Rickall, what makes A Rickle in Time so great is that takes a singular idea, fully explores it, and structures itself around it: in this case the screen splitting each time the characters’ reality does. This creates a cacophony that was a nightmare to produce and wrangle (skip to the production section here for just a taste of how much) but is effective and hilarious in showing how the alternate realities keep reproducing, and the best gags of the episode are from the different squares interacting, such as when Rick suddenly becomes paranoid that the alternate versions of him are trying to murder him
A Rickle in Time also low key contains my favorite line of the show when the multi dimensional aliens rewind through time too far and mistake Einstein for Rick, proceed to beat him down, and he pledges that; “I vill mess vis time!” Don’t ask my why, but something about the line delivery I find endlessly hilarious.
#2: The Rickshank Rickdemption (S3, Ep1)
Rick, still in galactic prison, puts an intricate escape plan into action. Back on Earth, which is now under federation control, Morty and Summer have an argument about their grandpa. –IMDB
Season three has something of a reputation of being a dud among the fandom; and it’s at least partly the fault of this episode. The Rickshank Rickdemption starts season three off with a bang that it isn’t able to keep up. It achieves this by smashing together two of the longer running and better Rick and Morty plotlines: the citadel of Ricks, and the fly people of the Galactic Federation.
The Rickshank Rickdemption is an episode that fires from all cylinders from start to finish. None of the jokes are duds, and the action is fast and fun. It’s a great example of just how much chaos Rick can unleash, and his ability to constantly be two steps ahead of everyone else. His rant at the end of the episode also sets out the theme and stakes of season three, and shot szechuan sauce into the meme-sphere.
#1: Tales From the Citadel (S3, Ep7)
Whilst Rick and Morty go off to adventure in Atlantis, we take a look at how the Citadel has rebuilt itself since both Rick and Morty visited. –IMDB
This episode is sublime on so many levels. Rick and Morty has never been a show that shied away from pop culture references, and Tales From the Citadel definitely doesn’t, with each of its four plotlines taking the shape of a different movies: Training Day, the Manchurian Candidate, Stand By Me, Willie Wonka. But what makes the episode so good is the way it marries the specifics of Rick and Morty to the pitch perfect parodies of each, and the way it weaves the four to tell a coherent story of a city in turmoil and social upheaval.
There are so many things about this episode that are specific to Rick and Morty and are only funny if you’ve seen the series: the way the stripper Morty is bad at math, the references to Beth and Summer, the black market portal guns. At the same time, the themes this episode deals with are intelligently told through that vehicle. For example, the eerily accurate metaphor of the citadel insisting every Rick is special and then most inevitably turned into cogs under a capitalist system. This metaphor only works because we know as the audience that every Rick is identical, that each is hyper intelligent, and thus how nonsensical it is that any Rick should be higher than any other in a fair system.
Tales From the Citadel also provides one of the greatest ends to a Rick and Morty episode: the chilling reveal that Candidate Morty is Eyepatch Morty from Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind, the return of his haunting theme song, and the knowledge that he now controls the entirety of the citadel.
Photo Credit: IMDB