Warning: This Rick and Morty season 6 episode 2 review is packed with spoilers. If you haven’t seen the episode, stop reading now – you don’t want to make Mr Poopybutthole sad, do you?
When did "to Die Hard" become a verb? While the following definition is yet to make it into dictionaries of note, any self-respecting movie fan will know that it refers to a hero running around with a gun, crawling through air vents as they foil the evil schemes of some (preferably European) bad guys.
This brilliant, self-contained episode of Rick and Morty is built around the idea that everybody – at least, those older than 17-year-old Summer – knows exactly what "doing a Die Hard" means. Like Back to the Future or the original Star Wars, the film that introduced Bruce Willis’s John McClane has been so well-and-truly absorbed into our collective consciousness that its beats are as ubiquitous as those of a classic Beatles song. This near-perfect spoof subsequently has indecent levels of fun messing around in a Nakatomi playground, reveling in a quickfire succession of gags ranging from the stupidly obvious to the smartly meta.
But in the tradition of the very best Rick and Morty outings – whose ranks this episode is surely destined to join – there’s much more to 'Rick: A Mort Well Lived' than simply being “the one with the Die Hard”. In fact, Summer’s efforts to singlehandedly overthrow a group of not-quite exceptional thieves in an amusement arcade are just the tip of a very clever sci-fi iceberg.
Because while Morty’s sister gets busy educating herself in the ways of McClane, Rick plugs himself into arcade machine 'Roy: A Life Well Lived' as part of a virtual-reality rescue mission. Morty’s consciousness has been divided across five billion non-player characters, all of whom have their own distinct personalities, but no awareness that they’re living in a game. Rick therefore turns central character Roy into an iconoclastic, devoutly non-religious prophet on a quest to tell the world’s population that they’re actually fragments of a 14-year-old’s mind.
This isn’t simply a version of Free Guy where everyone talks like Morty, however. The attention to detail in Morty World is impressive, everything feeling consistent with the limited world view of a naïve teenage boy – a veteran talks of befriending his translator in some "generic overseas war", for example, while the main current affairs broadcaster is known simply as Good Enough News.
As Roy/Rick gradually gets his message across, the NPCs accept that they’re “grandsons” rather than people in their own right. Before long they’re dressing like Morty, and devoting their lives to video games and masturbation. The question is, will Roy/Rick convince them all to get on the spaceships that will carry them to the edge of the game – echoes of Black Mirror episode ‘USS Callister’ here – and free Morty from his VR prison?
Where John McClane was the reluctant hero rescuing a bunch of hostages from Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Summer’s die-harding objective is buying Rick enough time to save Morty – and time really is of the Inception-y essence, seeing as one second in the real world equates to an entire month in the game.
Her enemies are a bunch of Jar Jar Binks-esque aliens led by a mustache-twirling bad guy voiced by Peter Dinklage, clearly having the time of his life as he rolls out an accent as impossible to place as Tyrion Lannister’s in Game of Thrones. But unlike Hans Gruber, he happens to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Die Hard, thanks to the wonderful notion that every sentient civilization in the universe eventually develops the same myth about a guy in a skyscraper. As well as being a clever wink to the proliferation of Die Hard imitators in the early ’90s (see Speed, Under Siege, and Passenger 57, among others), it’s a super-smart piece of sci-fi, and a very Rick and Morty riff on the actual scientific notion of convergent evolution.
While Summer appears to have misplaced the Wolverine claws that came in so handy last week, she’s the perfect foil for the terrorists, using her lack of Die Hard knowledge to turn her adversaries in narrative knots.
The episode saves its emotional punch for inside the game, however, where Roy/Rick’s cold realization that he won’t be able to save every single Morty creates a massive rift among the NPCs. When his principal disciple, Marta, refuses to accept that 8% constitutes an acceptable loss, she inadvertently kick-starts an all-out holy war that decimates the planet. Rick’s reluctance/inability to say “I love you” to his grandson ultimately has very tangible consequences, as a sizeable chunk of Morty’s personality – crucially, the bit that’s skeptical about Rick – is left behind in the videogame ether.
Whether this diminished Morty will carry over into future episodes remains to be seen, but it’s a satisfyingly bleak end to an episode that delivers silliness, sophistication, and everything else you could possibly want from Rick and Morty. It’s also better than most of the Die Hard sequels.
A little Mort information…
- Beyond Roy: A Life Well Lived, other games in the arcade include Game Hunt, SkeeBalls, and Don’t Touch Me!.
- Roy is also the codename John McClane uses in the original Die Hard when talking to LA cop Al Powell. He takes the name from Roy Rogers, the star of TV Westerns who was also the source of the famous "yippee-ki-yay" – though not, it’s important to note, the NSFW bit McClane traditionally adds to make the catchphrase his own.
- The Nakatomi Paradigm, the book that provides Summer with Die Hard spoilers, is named after the Nakatomi Plaza, the skyscraper in the original movie. Other Die Hard books mentioned include The Thornburg Cycle (named after Richard Thornburg, the slimy journalist played by William Atherton) and Tower Man (the source of that one’s obvious). We’ll admit we’re a bit stumped on the origins of the more oblique Foolish to Have Imagined You’d be Able to Kill – perhaps it’s an overseas title for Die Hard, or a very tenuous reference to Nothing Lasts Forever, the Roderick Thorp that inspired the film.
- In neat, subtle touch, the world map in the background of a GEN news bulletin is an extremely crude representation of the continents – exactly what you’d expect a 14-year-old kid to draw from memory.
- One of the alien terrorists carries a boom box playing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, the main musical theme in the original Die Hard.
- The vast storeroom where the Roy: A Life Well Lived arcade cabinet is placed at the end of the episode feels like a riff on the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- The post-credits sequence spoofs John McClane’s third movie outing, Die Hard with a Vengeance. This time the alien terrorist leader’s brother is the antagonist, just as Jeremy Irons’ Simon Gruber inherited the bad guy mantle from Alan Rickman’s Hans on the big screen. His plan involves dispatching one of his minions wearing a sandwich board carrying the message "I hate everybody" – a rather less incendiary version of the horribly racist phrase McClane wore in the film.
New episodes of Rick and Morty debut on Sunday nights/Monday mornings, respectively, on Adult Swim in the US and E4 in the UK. Here's the full Rick and Morty season 6 release schedule for more information.