Rick and Morty continued its contained style with the horror themed fourth episode “Night Family”. The lack of portal fluid brings about another contained and domestic episode with no easy solution for the family.
The episode opens with words from T.S Eliot as he describes what it is like to wake up from a nightmare. The unstable text and old cinema style screen introduce the attempt to add horror into the episode. Beth, voiced by Sarah Chalke (Scrubs), is unable to sleep next to a snoring and smiling Jerry, voiced by Chris Parnell (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, 21 Jump Street). She heads towards a dark and shadowy room to sleep on the sofa. She shouts in fright as she is woken by Rick, voiced by the show’s co-creator Justin Roiland (Solar Opposites), who doesn’t respond to her questioning.
Beth brings this up at breakfast the next morning, and Rick tells everyone how he wasn’t awake – she was talking to his ‘night person’. He has a machine that allows his unconscious body to perform tasks he doesn’t want to do during the day. He then shows off his abs that have come from his performance of crunches while he sleeps. Morty, also voiced by Roiland, is immediately in awe and wants nothing more than to have abs like Rick. As a result of some silent treatment from Summer, voiced by Spencer Grammer (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Rick gives into allowing everyone in the family to have a night person. Beth uses this to learn the trumpet, Morty uses it to get washboard abs with Rick, and Jerry uses it to write letters to himself by becoming pen pals with his night person. This immediately introduced the idea that one’s awake self is a different person from their unconscious self.
Night Summer gets frustrated at doing the dishes and uses Night Jerry to communicate this to Jerry. Rick rebels by deliberately making a mess. Things escalate when the night family, led by Night Summer, strip the house of the furniture and Night Summer force feeds Rick disgusting leftovers from dinner that night. Rick hatches a plan to have Summer go under cover, stay awake, and sabotage their operation which involves expanding the use of the machine so that they can enslave their daytime selves. Night Summer deceives the family, and quotes Rick from the sixth episode in the first season “Rick Potion #9” when she tells him that his opinion doesn’t really matter to her. This direct quote references the fact that resentment can build within the unconscious self and demonstrates once more how there is a difference between a person in different states of consciousness.
Their battle escalates among themselves as the Night family tries to cause the waking family to sleep and vice versa. The zombie-like qualities of the night family is noticeable. Night Jerry’s friendship with Jerry causes him to save the enslaved family. After a car chase and fight that involves them constantly switching between their waking and sleeping selves, eventually the Night family prevails only to find the tasks of everyday life to be too stressful. They destroy the machine that created them and awake the family from their prolonged slumber.
The idea of being a unique person while asleep was certainly thought provoking and made for a noted development in Summer’s character. Her dominance over Night Rick made for an interesting twist and her mentioning that she is most like Rick in the episode was a welcoming reminder as they fought tirelessly over her desire for him to clean the dishes. They were equally stubborn. But the line between unconscious and conscious fades almost too obviously when Jerry finds out that he can communicate with the sleeping version of himself. More mystery with regards to what was happening at night without the awake characters knowing what was going on might have helped to develop the horror within this episode. It still feels refreshing to not have the portal gun as an overpowering escape mechanism and the character development is stronger as a result.