It’s a lot (this is also the infamous Szechuan Sauce episode), but it manages to stay coherent and focused because the drive of the episode throughout is Rick escaping and upending the Galactic Federation, thereby restoring order. Furthermore, there are good, grounding character moments between Rick, Summer, and Morty as well as a surprising change in the family dynamic at the end when Beth announces she’s leaving Jerry. The show’s setting, too, feels solidly characterized as the episode builds upon previous plot elements—the Citadel of Ricks, the Cronenberg universe, and Birdperson—in fun and inventive ways.
Now, take “Gotron Jerrysis Rickvangelion,” which is ostensibly a Voltron homage episode, but which, in the end, actually has precious little in the way of giant robot vs. monster battles. Yes, to an extent, the episode is a deliberate bait and switch; it sets you up for a giant robot homage, but reveals itself instead to be a stealth gangster homage (Goodfellas, mostly, though there’s some Scarface in there, and also a reference to The Aviator, just for kicks). This is one of co-creator Dan Harmon’s signature moves, combining two drastically different genres together. He most notably first showcased it in the season two Community episode, “Critical Film Studies,” which managed to be both a dual homage to Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre, and its own interesting Frankenstein’s monster besides that. The problem with “Gotron Jerrysis Rickvangelion” is that, as more bizarre plot turns get thrown in, it doesn’t feel like a giant robot episode or a gangster episode; it’s just a bunch of crazy crap.
There are two big plot developments that make it feel like random junk is just happening. My least favorite is the sudden introduction of anime characters who make funny anime faces and noises. This series has never shown much respect to the fourth wall, but there’s something very lazy and lame about these goofy characters drawn in a different art style that rubs me the wrong way. It feels sort of Family Guy-esque in the way that series is so centered around inane asides and cutaways that the plot is just a formality. These anime characters, too, signal that this storyline is just a lot of silly fluff.
Then there’s the return of the giant incest baby from “Rickdependence Spray.” I know I just said “The Rickshank Redemption” was good because of how it brought back old plot elements, but that’s because it built upon them. The Citadel of Ricks, for example, returned in that episode as an antagonism that the characters had to deal with. Comparatively, in this episode, it feels like they just mention the giant incest baby a lot so that it can turn up as a giant incest baby ex machina at the end. When taken with everything else already going on in this episode, the giant incest baby is just another non-sequitur.
As far as characterization goes, this is another episode that, like “Mortyplicity,” flirts with the concept of family being the most important thing, but, also like that episode, it does so seemingly just to point and laugh at the idea. It’s hard to take the family stuff seriously (and I don’t think we’re expected to) when the characters abruptly reconcile immediately after plotting to murder one another (again, compare this with Jerry and Beth’s separation, which took a whole season to resolve). There’s potentially interesting character stuff at the center here, with Morty and Summer vying for Rick’s affection, but not enough time is spent on it to lend it any emotional weight. Also, all emotion kind of goes out the window when the climax of your episode is a giant incest baby named Naruto slaughtering anime people.
“Gotron Jerrysis Rickvangelion” isn’t the worst episode of season five, but it’s just another episode of season five. I feel I should note that the overstuffed zaniness of these episodes is not entirely exclusive to this season. This brand of Rick and Morty has always been lurking in the series’ DNA and I’ve found portents of the problems I have with these episodes rearing their heads in my reviews as early as season two’s “Get Schwifty.” The core difference here is that those older episodes were at least still consistently funny, while season five episodes only get a few chuckles out of me per. “Gotron Jerrysis Rickvangelion” unfortunately continues that trend.