Rick and Morty’s recent season 4 “The Vat of Acid Episode” episode once again marries sci-fi fandoms—this time spoofing Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige.
The Prestige, based on the 1995 Christopher Priest novel, is maybe one of the most unique genre films of the last twenty years—mixing magic and historical drama with science fiction. (It’s the kind of genre elixir Rick and Morty often stirs furiously every episode.)
In the film, the unsolvable act, the water tank trick, involves Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier, who is submerged and then locked in a glass tank on stage before somehow escaping and appearing behind the theater’s audience. It’s only revealed in the end of the film how Angier was able to accomplish the trick: he had cloned himself before each performance, meaning he (not his double) dies during each performance, the double then continuing the show and dying during the next performance, passing off the act off to his double, and so on and so on.
The Prestige is more interested in the concept of the double (the film also involves twin characters), deception, and the trickery of filmmaking, rather than the consequences of this final reveal. Rick and Morty laser-gun focuses on the latter, often taking on the moral consequence of sci-fi tropes and finding in them some dark, unredemptive humor. In the series’ first episode, Morty guns down an alternate dimensional “robot”—“They’re just bureaucrats, Morty!”—then watches, horrified, as the creature screams out, his friend asking to call the creature’s wife and kids. These moments make Rick and Morty something of a moral satire. (NPC’s have feelings too.)
In “The Vat of Acid Episode” episode, the humor (and horror) involves Morty inadvertently killing alternate versions of himself (Prestige-ing himself.) The “trick,” however, is Rick’s.
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Fans of the series will have no doubt predicted some Nefarious Rick Plot, given the series’ position on time travel. The show has consistently balked at time-travel concepts—mostly mocking them in favor of parallel universe plays. Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon has also spoken about the sheer difficulty in writing time travel episodes. The series’ solution has been to avoid the conceit altogether (though, they may have flirted with the sci-fi trope once or twice.)
The episode ends by neatly tying up all moral responsibility. All blame is assigned to one particular Morty (in an unknown universe). Rick and Morty C-132 then enter that universe (probably killing that Rick and Morty) in order for Rick to teach Morty a lesson, the lesson eternal: never question Rick (alternatively expressed in the exclamatory: “Pickle Rick!”)
Vat of acid tonight! Or like.. a bit ago if you’re on the east coast. It’s my favorite of this batch. pic.twitter.com/6OrW453n5r
Of course, the viewer is probably left with that familiar sinking feeling, realizing that there were, in fact, consequences, that moral blame is often irrelevant, and that a live TV audience—in some universe—really did watch a man boil himself in acid. Not to mention Morty’s girlfriend believing him actually incinerated. Oh, and that cop he totally bisected with a laser gun. Consequences, Morty. Consequences.
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