Rick and Morty pay homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey by contrasting two diametrically opposed visions of the present and the future of humanity.
Disclaimer: The following contains spoilers for Rick and Morty Season 5, Episode 4, “Rickdependence Spray,” which aired Sunday on Adult Swim.
2001: A Space Odyssey released in theaters 53 years ago and has been honored, emulated and mocked for much of the past half century. One of its most prominent scenes features Star Child, appearing in the closing moments of the two-and-a-half-hour film, hovering above the Earth with wide-eyed intellect. The most recent episode of Rick and morty added his own entry to this vast archive in an imaginatively twisted way.
The sex drama surrounding this season has reached an all-time high, but this episode is safely declared as NSFW. Rick and morty Season 5, Episode 4, “Rickdependence vaporizer,“ opens with Morty eagerly urging his mother to finish her job so they can watch the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. As she changes her scrub, Morty notices a contraption designed to extract horse semen from her mother’s patients and then decides that there is some value to her mother’s calling after all.
After a week of using the machine to unload their kidneys from their reproductive material, he notices Rick struggling with the dangling barrel of a supposedly dizzy stallion. While his grandfather attaches the Trojan horse sperm to scientific superconductors, Morty actively sabotages Rick’s experimentation by not disclosing his gift of genetic pleasure product to the sample in question. While Rick has a long and fruitful history of his hands-on research going awry, Morty’s lack of straightforwardness is the catalyst in this case. This leads to an explosion with climatic consequences.
Monstrous, murderous and titanic sperm are born from the barrel, rapidly evolving into an extinction level event that must be thwarted using the resources of the United States government. In an attempt to keep the sperm away from their destructive program, they deploy a giant egg, collected from Morty’s sister, Summer, and trust the biological imperative of the wild swarm to lead them to their own destruction in the hands of US military weapons. Ultimately, the plan fails, and a special swimmer makes his way through the center of Summer’s egg moments before being launched into space. During the post-credits scene, an astronaut struggles to fix his shuttle and mourns his family’s abandonment before being attacked by a colossal baby, who finds his way through the endless void and kills wayward space travelers.
Stanley Kubrick’s calm and elegant space opera detailed the origins and fate of humanity with iconic imagery and haunting melancholy. A series of monoliths serve as markers that influence Homo sapiens and their ancestors, triggering evolutionary leaps. “Rickdependence Spray” reflects this theme, albeit clearly in an absurd way, as Morty’s sperm becomes sensitive, then hyper intelligent. As Kubrick’s vision ultimately leads a human man to Jupiter to uncover the secrets of the cosmos, Rick and morty creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon make a point throughout the episode to highlight the ignored contributions of women to the panoply of human achievement.
Although there have been many differing opinions on what 2001: A Space Odyssey was trying to achieve and even what that meant on a fundamentally thematic level, Kubrick himself clarifies some things in rare interview on the cinema. He maintained throughout his life that the work should remain subjective so that the truth of its meaning would be personal to the individual who experiences it. However, he explained what was planned, in regards to who Star Child was and what he stood for.
Kubrick described the Star Child as a “super being”, the apotheosis of humanity’s potential, created by beings composed entirely of energy and intelligence. In Kubrick’s future, humanity has stretched out to the stars and left some of its lowest instincts behind. On the other hand, Rick and morty emphasizes how far humans today are from such a utopia, because they have become slaves to these same failed predilections. Collective misogyny, deception, shame, and the prioritization of gratification over intellectual rigor have led humanity to a very different place, and to a heavenly lineage more worthy of its ancient past than its imagined future idyllic potentials.
Rick and Morty stars the voices of Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer and Sarah Chalke. New episodes air Sundays at 11 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.
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