Warning: This Rick and Morty season 6 episode 4 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?
It’s a classic case of be careful what you wish for in a fun, self-contained Rick and Morty adventure. A device that allows your body to carry out useful tasks while your conscious self sleeps feels like a dream come true but – as with the Meeseeks in season one classic ‘Meeseeks and Destroy’ – the Smith/Sanchez clan manage to turn Rick’s Somnambulator into a waking (and sleeping) nightmare.
The episode immediately sets out its stall as a video nasty, as a title card appears in a haze of VHS-style audio and visual interference.
“When you’re alone in the middle of the bed,” goes the TS Eliot quote, “and you wake like someone hit you on the head.
“You’ve had a dream of a nightmare dream, and you’ve got the hoo-ha’s…”
The first thing that goes bump in the night is a snoring Jerry, prompting a very awake Beth to go on an early-hours walkabout. Her attempt to sleep on the sofa is quickly interrupted, however, by an excellent jump scare, an appropriately ominous, John Carpenter-esque synth score, and the unlikely sight of an out-of-it Rick doing sit-ups on the living room floor.
Over breakfast, Rick reveals that Beth was freaked out by his “Night Person”, who – thanks to his new Somnambulator – is helping him live his best life. Rick’s programmed his unconscious self to crunch like crazy until he gets the washboard stomach he craves, so naturally, the rest of the family decide they want their own piece of the Night Person action. Rick’s initially reluctant to share, but it’s not long before Summer is getting fluent in Spanish, Beth is learning the trumpet and Morty is imitating his grandad’s rock-hard abs. Jerry just wants to avoid fainting when the machine takes a blood sample.
In the finest traditions of a Twilight Zone fable, everything starts off swimmingly, with Summer an honours student, Beth a brass virtuoso and Morty bouncing bowling balls off his newly contoured stomach. In fact, the Night Life has been so good for Rick and Morty’s relationship that they’re hosting a successful podcast celebrating the wonders of a toned midriff. Only Jerry fails to fully embrace the opportunities, choosing instead to exchange letters about Tori Amos and pajamas with new pen-pal, Night Jerry. It seems lame but the correspondence might just come in handy later…
Of course, we always knew that Night Person utopia couldn’t last forever, so it’s no surprise when the Smiths start to wish they’d left that Somnambulator in its box. There’s something deliciously creepy about the Night Family, carrying out menial household tasks with half-open, bloodshot eyes and a zombie-like gait. But the episode’s smartest twist is that they’re not so much mindless automatons as enslaved, sentient beings. If only Rick had a little less contempt for Night-Jerry’s message regarding rinsing their plates after dinner, they might have all got along. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that he messed with the wrong Night People…
While most humans would have said, “Yeah, fine, I’ll clean my dishes,” Rick instead declares war, and travels to some distant part of the galaxy to pick up some new, 110%-indestructible crockery. “Seems like you spent an awful lot of energy just to not give the night family what they want,” points out Jerry, for once the family’s voice of reason.
From here, the episode lurches into the darker territory of Apple TV Plus’s brilliant workplace satire Severance and (especially) Jordan Peele’s chilling horror Us. Like Severance, ‘Night People’ explores the implications of two minds unwittingly playing timeshare in the same body. Meanwhile, just as Us showed us a legion of angry doppelgangers ready to step out of the shadows, this episode introduces a family of sentient nocturnal zombies waiting to quite literally “seize the day”, and become the dominant consciousnesses in the Smith household. We’re sure the fact the Night People all speak in Us-style raspy voices is just a massive coincidence.
While Rick is the de facto leader in whatever waking reality the Smith family currently call home, at night there’s no question Summer is in charge. Indeed, the episode strongly implies that this new dark personality – the kind that ruthlessly shovels food waste into Rick’s mouth – has always been lurking inside the teen, a plot point we’re guessing will be revisited in a future episode.
But for all ‘Night Family’’s horror leanings, this is arguably the funniest outing of the season so far. ‘Night People’ wholeheartedly embraces the sillier implications of its plot, whether it’s slapstick car chases, Summer trying to stay awake in a suit powered by itchiness and soft drinks, or Morty encouraging the family to protect themselves behind his glistening abs of steel. There are also numerous sight gags that feel like The Simpsons in its ’90s pomp – Night Summer’s fall being cushioned by a conveniently placed pile of empty boxes; a burning police car flying into a gasoline factory, a dynamite museum and a dry-leaf storage facility – with at least one joke (Beth mocking Jerry with a sad tune on her trumpet) a direct lift.
Speaking of Jerry, this is the second consecutive episode where the put-upon patriarch has shown a degree of agency, his sweet pen-pal relationship with the kindly Night Jerry turning out to be the Smiths’ only salvation. Alas, Rick learns precisely nothing from the experience and turns down the offer of a truce with his Night Foes because it means compromising on rinsing those dishes.
He presumably feels a degree of schadenfreude when the Night Family embark on a spectacularly hedonistic end credits sequence – backed by a wonderful, one-off ’80s-style theme tune – and wind up bankrupting the family. Wake-up calls don’t come more brutal than the one facing the Smiths when they destroy the Somnambulator, but if rebuilding their lives proves too much of a hassle, they know they can always find yet another new reality to call home.
A little Mort information…
- The T.S. Eliot quote on the opening title card is taken from the poet’s 'Fragment of an Agon'.
- The episode must be set in 2021. Why? The calendars that appear on screen show that March 1 is a Monday, and July 1 is a Thursday – as happened last year. That said, it could also be 2027. Or dates might work differently in the universe the Sanchez/Smiths now call home.
- It seems unlikely that Rick would describe Chewbacca as “that little raccoon man from that one movie”. Even if he’s not a Star Wars fan, surely the smartest man in the universe has a passing knowledge of that galaxy far, far away – he may even have been there.
- Although Rick is reluctant to say “wubba lubba dub-dub” to keep the podcast’s corporate sponsors happy, it briefly became his catchphrase in early seasons of the show – its first utterance came in season one’s 'Meeseeks and Destroy'. In Birdperson’s language, it means, "I am in great pain, please help me."
- When Summer compares her sleep deprivation suit to being “covered in all this Terry Gilliam”, she’s presumably referring to the very odd sci-fi stylings of Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and The Zero Theorem.
- The sequence where Rick travels to the Forbidden Zone to manufacture indestructible plates is a spoof on Avengers: Infinity War, where Thor enlists the help of Dwarf king Eitri to forge Stormbreaker.
- Few things in Rick and Morty happen by accident, so we’re assuming the “eight marmadukes beyond the outer rim” is a nod to something or other. Our best guess is that it’s a reference to Brad Anderson, creator of the Marmaduke comic strip, who briefly appeared (voiced by Maurice LaMarche) in season one episode ‘Raising Gazorpazorp’.
- Gene, the neighbor who asks if Rick if he’s “having a bit of trouble with your car?”, first appeared in season three episode 'The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy', and was mentioned several times in season five.
- An episode where the night rules the day might be the only place in history where Independence Day, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Groundhog Day are thrown on the fire, while Will Ferrell vehicle Talladega Nights survives.
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.