Be warned, here be spoilers.
After taking a week off, Rick and Morty is back with The Ricklantis Mixup. The opening intro scene, as well as the title of the episode, are a calculated misdirection. The episode itself features none of the fabled city and only barely includes Rick and Morty C-137.
Instead, while the characters we’ve been following for most of the series travel to the lost city for a much needed vacation, we go through the proverbial portal to the Citadel of Ricks, or what’s left of it, to see firsthand the aftermath of its destruction.
What we find is a city in the midst of painful rebirth. The assassination of the council at the hands of Rick C-137 during The Rickshank Rickdemption has had lasting effects. The remaining inhabitants of the citadel are prisoners, unable to access or use portal guns. Many of them, Ricks and Mortys alike, thrust into roles outside their station or ability.
The citadel is holding an election to select a new President. In the running is a Morty, a foil on the nightly news (anchored by increasingly mutated versions of Rick from neighboring realities), he is expected by all within the citadel to be summarily defeated.
While the election takes center street in the narrative, in the meandering byways are glimpses into the outskirts of life in the citadel. One subplot that follows two police partners, one a Rick sensitive to the needs of the Morty population, the other a hardened Morty, flips the script on the usual relationship these characters have, regardless of their native reality. Another subplot follows a group of four Mortys, in a nod to Stand by Me, as they leave Morty school (instructed by a Snape-esque Rick, where they learn how to be good little disposable sidekicks) in search of the Wishing Portal in hopes that they might change their fortunes. The third, and final, subplot follows a Rick working in a candy factory where he helps to manufacture candy crafted from the neural secretions of a captured Rick as memories of happy times with a young Beth are replayed on a loop in his brain. Scenes like this, the enslavement of one Rick by other Ricks for something so insubstantial as creating candy, tell us more about the character than any monologue could. The fact that seeing it on screen is accompanied by a knowing nod, not the shock and disgust it deserves, is telling.
All of the citadel is waiting for the next Rick to rise up and take control when a campaign debate goes sour. The Morty candidate delivers a compelling speech about the real problems in the citadel and about the power of the people. It might have fallen on deaf ears had the ordinary power structure remained intact, the Mortys outgunned by their Rick counterparts. But in a society where disenfranchisement is equal opRicktunity, the notion that the one percent are outnumbered, hits a cord with everyone.
In the wake of such positive response, Morty’s campaign manager expresses his disbelief and is fired, only to later be presented with a file containing secrets about the true nature of the Morty candidate. Secrets we aren’t privy to but that push the campaign manager Morty to murderous action. His attempts to kill the Morty candidate do not succeed and after a failed assassination attempt, the Morty Candidate is elected as the new President of the citadel, inspiring the populace to rise up against their oppressors.
Never missing an opportunity for social commentary, the episode is a very thinly veiled allegory for social and political strife around the world today, perhaps specifically in the United States. The Morty candidate promises hope to a population that has none and they grab on with both hands.
What they don’t know, what they can’t know, is that this isn’t any ordinary Morty. When a governing committee of Ricks, meant to aide the President, makes it clear that they have no intent of abdicating power to a Morty, President Morty has them killed.
In the final scene, accompanied by the song For the Damaged Coda by Blonde Redhead (the same song the plays at the end of Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind) we’re shown dozens, perhaps hundreds of bodies being ejected from airlocks into space and, at the last second, the body of campaign manager Morty floating near the files that reveal, too late, that the new President of the citadel is none other than Evil Morty.
The Ricklantis Mixup is proof positive that Rick and Morty is more than just high flying science fiction shenanigans. Mega seeds planted in season one are just now bearing fruit. There is a greater narrative being slowly built behind the scenes, one that will have heavy implications for the characters we’ve come to love, even while they’re cavorting with mermaids, none the wiser.