Why do we game? Sure, video games are an immensely popular hobby — and highly lucrative industry — but seldom do we stop and examine why so many people are drawn to spending hours and hours in immersive realities other than our own. Between Rick and Morty’s newest episode (Season 6, Episode 4: “Bethic Twinstinct”) and last week’s dramatic focus on Roy: A Life Well Lived, the answer is starting to look a little bit bleak.cl
Since Space Beth’s return earlier this season, Episode 4’s title is an obvious twist on “Basic Instinct” (Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 neo-noir erotic thriller) and the fact that we have two versions of Beth Smith in the show’s prime universe. Raunchy shenanigans ensue, yes, but some of the more interesting things going on in the B-Plot involve how the Smith children dissociate from reality using the multiverse’s most powerful video game console.
“Bethic Twinstinct” does more than a “full San Junipero”
It’s Thanksgiving yet again, and in a clever callback to last season’s raucous holiday special, Rick arrives home as a turkey. Space Beth is back to celebrate, having gotten Morty a Pooplickian GamePod XL, which is “the most realistic game console ever.” We quickly learn that Beth and Space Beth are getting very friendly as they bond over a multitude of shared interests that include guzzling red wine from Venus and rolling their eyes at Jerry.
In a bit that feels ripped straight out of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the two versions of Beth help crack each others’ backs. Except here, it’s foreplay for the most narcissistic sexual experience imaginable. Beth and Space Beth have a genuine affair that feels authentic. Rick may be a textbook narcissist, but Beth has always loved herself in a very confident way. Everyone knows Jerry doesn’t deserve her, including Jerry. It doesn’t take long before Rick, Summer, and Morty figure it all out. But of course, Jerry is totally oblivious and has to be told outright at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
In some ways, the romance of Beth and Space Beth was inevitable. It’s one of the horniest episodes ever of the show, but the story is also about self-exploration — and radical self-acceptance.
Eventually, they hack into Rick’s holodeck and spend many years in a relationship together, culminating in a romantic sunset at what appears to be the Santa Monica Pier. Rick calls it a “full San Junipero” a reference to an episode of Netflix’s sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror.
Particularly after Jerry and Beth had a three-way with Mr. Nimbus in the Season 5 premiere, this A-Plot wraps up in the only natural way it could: With Beth, Jerry, and Space Beth having what sounds like bizarre, kinky fun that capitalizes on their power dynamics. Beth and Jerry have both grown a lot as individuals and as a couple since their low point at the end of Season 3.
Summer and Morty use a Pooplickian GamePod XL to dissociate
The episode has two brilliant, jarring cuts that would work in almost any household drama: Summer and Morty separately witness their mother having the affair. We see their stunned reactions before the shot transitions directly into another scene of them playing video games. Cinematically, we’re jolted directly from the trauma to the dissociation, with the only consistent visual being their faces.
After Morty steals Rick’s controller to play, grandpa protests, but Morty says, “It’s mine!” Summer also refuses to fork up hers as well, saying, “Make your own controller! Some of us need all the control we can get!”
Their previous level of engagement with games was more interactive and lively, but as Morty claims, they’re now just “staring at them in a numb trance.” In an “Inside the Episode” video, writer Anne Lane points out that their arc is all about “avoidance.” Heavyhanded symbolic irony like this doesn’t always work, but for these kids to cling to “controllers” at a time when things are spiraling out of control in their household jives really well.
Rick and Morty makes fun of gamers
The games on the Pooplickian GamePod XL all seem pretty retro despite the fact that it has a legit “Realism Setting.” (The default is 4/10 for some reason.) More “realism,” however, makes outer space in a bland Asteroids knock-off far more empty. Most astronomers predict that something like 99.99 percent of outer space is just an empty vacuum. So Morty controls a ship drifting through space in search of an asteroid to blow up.
In a sense, this Realism Setting pokes fun at the never-ending push toward immersion in gaming. Some games like The Last of Us Part I or even the Call of Duty franchise utilize cutting-edge tech for the sake of cinematic realism, but for years, games have had to make do with limited graphics in digitized worlds, relying on the players’ imagination to do some heavy lifting. The most memorable game experiences are not immersive because they make you feel like you’re in another world; They’re immersive because they’re engrossing enough to make you forget about the real world. There’s a clear but subtle distinction here that Rick and Morty is poking fun at.
What comes next is a cutting indictment of gamer culture at large. “You guys are obviously just trying to convince yourself it’s cool because you feel lame about it,” Summer says. This one’s a bit tougher to unravel, but Summer has always been the show’s wisest character. When she makes a stray, sassy observation, it’s often the show’s writers dropping a truth bomb.
“Summer, you know nothing about gamer culture!” Rick spats before turning to Morty: “Bro, tell your son you love the sh*t out of him.” Morty nods enthusiastically.
There’s a certain kind of inauthenticity in gamer culture sometimes. We yearn to churn through hours and hours of a game, chugging through tasks with reckless abandon. What could otherwise be a tenderhearted goodbye from a dying father is reduced to a utilitarian game mechanic. But the delusion of “Realism” in gaming defeats the purpose of what it means to really “play a game.”
Morty’s son: Naruto or Morty Jr.?
When Morty is playing the “realistic” Asteroids game, Rick notices the option to record a video for his “kid” in case he dies in space.
Blurring the lines between reality and video games, Morty records a selfie clip for his “son.” Is this theoretical? Or is the video for Morty Jr., his half-Gazorpian from way back in Season 1? A far more likely explanation, however, is Naruto. You know, Summer and Morty’s giant accidental incest space baby? We even get a callback to Naruto at the end of the episode:
“I’ll keep an eye out for my grandkid in space,” Space Beth says as she leaves. Morty is initially confused before he remembers his son with a touch of sadness in his voice. The callback feels totally random and a bit uncharacteristic for Rick and Morty, a show that so often leaves plot threads dangling for years at a time. It seems very likely that Naruto may return sometime this season. Otherwise, why would the writers shove this practical but clearly deliberate reminder in there? We’ll have to wait and see.
Rick and Morty airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on Adult Swim.