I really do love bottle episodes. They’re a trope that has worked for many a sitcom and drama. Take some or all of the main characters, put them in a room, and explore what makes them tick. Dan Harmon is not just any television writer or creator. In “Remedial Chaos Theory,” he explored what happens in various timelines. On Rick and Morty, he questioned the very idea of memories and how accurate they can be.
Never has a show been more willing to commit to its dark humor and sense of science fiction adventure than Rick and Morty. What they’re able to stuff in 20 minutes, some shows wouldn’t have the guts to do in a half season. The concept of “Total Rickall” is fairly simple. Rick and his family deal with various people coming into the house and planting memories of their existence. These parasites throw everything into a loop as Jerry questions his sexuality and manhood.
Rick knows what the problem right away and shoots “Uncle Steve” before the credits roll and explains everything. We see the first appearance of Mr. Poopybutthole. How committed to this bit are they? Mr. Poopy Butt Hole is inserted into the opening credits. He’s teased as being a parasite, but the pay-off is hilariously tragic. More on that later.
We see various fake memories as this serves as a fake clip show. They acknowledge other bottle episode tropes as one of the fake memories is in a elevator. Every flashback means a new character or new characters. In a way, this serves as a parody of Family Guy and its obsession with flashbacks as well. This show has so many sight gags and throwaway gags that you can almost see Harmon’s ADD shine through all 20 minutes.
Rick tries to maintain his sanity and the memories of everyone involved even as everyone tries to get him to have a flashback of his own. the fake characters acknowledge Rick’s own obsessions and want to overreact to everything. Jerry questions if he’s real to the fake Sleepy Gary at one point and the flashback is where we see their relationship get a little closer than they should have gotten. Rick thinks he might be the only real person in the whole house, and then the other fake characters call out Rick for being fake. Morty sees this as a possibility and this leads to a parade of Rick catchphrases.
Morty finally realizes his grandfather is real when Rick makes fun of him and dares his grand son to shoot him in the face. In the show’s twisted way, the resolution comes because of how fucked up all these various relationships within the family are. Negative memories essentially equal real. We see some bad memories the family has of each other. Rick and Morty lead the charge and take out every fake character. Rick even shoots Mr. Poopy Butt Hole…and he bleeds. As it turns out, Mr. Poopybutthole was real. The post-credit sequence shows the tragedy of his situation as he’s in rehab and doesn’t want to see Rick and Morty.
Like all Rick and Morty episodes, this brings new meaning to the word dark comedy. The payoff to the fake memories was incredibly well executed and challenges the very notion of what’s real and what isn’t. Although it is one of the busiest shows airing, it still retains central themes and clearly defined characters who may not like each other but are stuck in this crazy world dealing with the craziness of multiple universes.