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The team behind Rick and Morty are up to their old tricks by surprising fans with a bait and switch. This time Justin Roiland promised an adventure to Atlantis and what audiences got was so much better.
Just as Rick and Morty C-137 prepare to go on the promised adventure, another Rick and Morty ask for funds to rebuild the Citadel: a place Rick C-137 destroyed in the Season 3 Premiere. This leads Morty C-137 to ask the question “What do the other Rick and Mortys do in the city?” and the episode shows the day-to-day activities of some of the citizens. This includes a rookie-cop Rick being partnered with a corrupt Morty, a factory worker Rick going postal, and a Morty becoming a surprisingly popular presidential candidate.
“The Ricklantis Mixup” is one of the most ambitious Rick and Morty episodes from a structural standpoint. It is the Rick and Morty equivalent to the classic The Simpsons episode “22 Short Films About Springfield,” a collection of stories that are linked together – although the Rick and Morty stories only tie together in the end, whilst in The Simpsons episode one story flows into another.
“The Ricklantis Mixup” is also a collection of movie parodies. The most obvious is the storyline involving the four Mortys – they look the kids in Stand by Me, have a similar journey to find a fabled thing, and, like River Phoenix’s character, Slick Morty has an emotional reveal because he has a drama implant that makes everyone sad and maybe a little bored. The storyline involving Cop Rick and Cop Morty is a homage of films like Training Day and there are smaller references to films and franchises ranging from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Harry Potter. With the exception of the story with Four Morty which is a quick retelling of Stand by Me the rest of the reference are either more nuanced or incredibly quick. It’s not the Family Guy approach where the show pretty much says “remember that pop culture reference.”
The episode is also an incredibly subtle reference to the classic Aldous Huxley sci-fi novel Brave New World. Near the end of the novel, it was revealed that the island of Cyprus was set up to be an experiment where only people from the highest caste lived but it failed because nobody wanted to the rudimentary jobs. The point of Rick is he’s the smartest and the best, but how can a Rick be special in a society of Ricks? Factory Worker Rick even uses the same term as Rick C-137: he is the “Rickiest Rick.” The setting of the Citadel plays into existential and nihilistic themes of the show with many of the various versions of Rick and Morty having their own personal crisis.
The setting of the Citadel also allowed for social commentary about racism and race relations. In the Citadel, if a Morty is unable to be paired with a Rick then they live in Mortytown and are treated as second-class citizens. Cop Morty states that Morty-on-Morty violence is a major issue and he is more prejudiced than other cops: it’s similar to black cops in films Boyz n the Hood and Straight Outta Compton, where they are more racist than the white cops as an attempt to prove themselves. Nelson Mandela revealed in his biography that black police officers and prison guards were the harshest as they tried to prove their loyalty to the Apartheid regime. The Morty running for President taps into this anger and offers a vision of unity and hope – he is basically the Barack Obama of the Citadel.
From this point on the review will go into SPOILER territory.
The episode ends with a big twist: it’s revealed that the Morty who wins the presidency is really Evil Morty and launched a power grab when he wins the presidency. Some fans have stated that they were shocked by the reveal, although I saw it coming because of this Morty’s self-confident and it was confirmed when Campaign Manager Morty met a raincoat-clad Rick with an envelope of game-changing information. It doesn’t stop the reveal from being a terrific moment when Morty eliminates his rivals in a palace coup and ends with the song “For the Damaged Coda” by Blonde Redhead, the same song used at the end of “Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind.”
The idea of Evil Morty winning the presidency on a ticket of hope and inclusiveness and turns those lovely notions on their head. Rick and Morty has done this a few times now- distort virtues and value we believe are good. In “Mortynight Run,” Morty tries to save Fart’s life and ends up being responsible for a few hundred deaths and in “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” Summer finds out the cost of freedom is people can be dicks to each other. However, the subversion in “The Ricklantis Mixup” is much more somber.
The episode also shows a version of Rick known as “Simple Rick,” who is kept unconscious, reliving a happy memory. This Rick looks very similar to the one whose family dies in “The Rickshank Rickdemption,” a fake memory that Rick C-137 uses to trick his integrator. However, Simple Rick’s dream suggests they might be more truth in Rick C-137’s memory then he lets on.
“The Ricklantis Mixup” is one of the most daring Rick and Morty episode because it moves away from the original parting and changes the characters and the setting. The humor is a bit more sporadic, but that’s because the episode has more serious moments and the various versions of Morty are hilarious.