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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you have watched “Rick and Morty” Season 5, Episode 2, “Mortiplicity.”

It’s hard to believe that it took this long for “Rick and Morty” to go to the 1996 film “Multiplicity” for an episode title reference, but here we are now in Season 5, with “Mortiplicity.” However, the premise here is that Rick has created decoys in the aftermath of the Space Beth situation, which is quite smart considering just how often people, places, and things seem to be after him. (In this case, it’s squid aliens. Or is it…)

As Justin Roiland’s synopsis for this week’s episode asks, “Who’s even real, broh? Are you real? Broh?” That is the question du jour while watching “Mortiplicity,” and while one can assume they have the correct answer by the final, pre-epilogue scene, the thing about “Rick and Morty” is that it always leaves that lingering question. Who’s real? Who’s a clone? Who’s a decoy? The Albro Lundy-scripted “Mortiplicity” asks these questions again and again (and again and again) in a way that’s both familiar to the series as a whole and a promising sign for this new season.

This is far from the first time “Rick and Morty” has gone the “Inception” route with its storytelling. Obviously, there’s “Lawnmower Dog,” the most apparent example. But intricate plots full of repetition and confusion and sweeping the rug out from underneath the audience is the series’ bread and butter. Episodes like “A Rickle in Time,” “Total Rickall,” “One Crew over the Crewcoo’s Morty,” and “Never Ricking Morty” are clear examples of that.

“Mortiplicity” is an episode in the same vein as those, keeping the audience on their feet as they try to figure out who the real Smith (and Rick Sanchez!) family is and who the decoys are. Oh, so many decoys… In true “Rick and Morty” fashion, this particular format works overtime to give the audience false senses of security before, again, sweeping the proverbial rug out from underneath them.

It also bumps up the ultra-violence that the show never grows tired of. Because while “Rick and Morty” has proven its ability to show gravitas when it comes to loss of life, ultimately, it has fun in treating life as meaningless as Rick believes it to be. And, to be fair, the decoys technically aren’t “alive.” Especially not once they’ve been killed. Which is how you get dozens of decoy Ricks and Morty and Beths and Jerrys and also Summers being killed in increasingly elaborate in this episode.

Going from a premiere with multiple plot threads for the family to one solid thruline, “Mortiplicity” opens the way plenty of “Rick and Morty” episodes do: with the Smiths at the kitchen table, learning about what new horrific adventure Rick and Morty are about to embark on. There’s obviously an episode premise in Rick and Morty’s respective proclamations that “It’s a big day” and “We’re gonna kill God,” which sets the scene as normal as it possibly can. That’s the key to the episode, really: Until it gets to the variant and dud versions of the Smiths, it’s so difficult to tell who’s a decoy because of how normal (for this family) they all seem. Which just goes to put Rick’s — both real and decoy — smarts on display once again.

But from there, everything becomes decoy — “very different” from clones — family inception. According to what ends up being a decoy Rick, much like the real Smiths, the decoys were made “to go on fun self-contained celestial adventures.” To be fair, that is certainly what is happening in this episode and with these decoys. However, because of the self-contained nature, every other beat of the episode is a Rick explaining to his family that he made decoys of them, as well as the entire concept of this episode.
There’s also a couple of beats with a villain called “Mr. Always Wants to Be Hunted” whose deal is that he wants them to hunt him. That’s fun too.

Early in this episode, it almost looks like the decoy plot is actually just subterfuge for another installment of Interdimensional Cable. But alas, that’s also a decoy. As squid aliens (the supposed villains of the week) who are upset with Rick (who’s also a decoy) for sleeping with their queen kill every decoy they come across, Summer (a decoy) begins to question if they’re real or if they’re just decoys. (They’re decoys.) From here, things get even more convoluted, as Rick’s (still a decoy) belief that decoys can’t create decoys is soon challenged. And despite the explanation that decoys are not clones, there is a heck of a lot of overlap in the way all of these decoy versions of the Smiths think.

That’s really no surprise when it comes to Rick and Jerry — who spends his time as a decoy questioning the logic of all this and cowering possibly even more than the real Jerry, as Rick won’t allow him his own B-story — but it does make for some fun when the decoy Ricks enlist their decoy families to fight each other to the death.

As Morty and Rick note, respectively, this episode is also an homage to “Ex Machina” and “Highlander.” Everyone’s a decoy, but there can be only one. (Also in the case of the “Highlander” of it all, this episode features a needle drop for Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” from the movie.)

All of this then leads to decoy Smiths — still constantly under the assumption they’re the real deal until they’re not — deciding to pose as squid aliens to go around undetected and also take out other squid aliens. However, it then turns out that the other decoys had the exact same idea and that there are no squid aliens — which is perhaps the most Mobius strip aspect of an already pretty loopy episode.

From this point on, the episode really continues to milk the fact that these decoys are sentient beings with their own emotions and feelings — both to temporarily fool the audience that they’re the real deal and to tease the audience, in general. The most obvious instance of teasing the audience is the drop-in on the decoy Smiths where Rick is in the middle of explaining what happened to Beth’s mom.

But there’s also a montage of the various decoys reckoning with the reality as decoys and fates right before they’re massacred. Then there’s the decoy Smiths who savor their last moments as such, with the decoy Smiths who kill them — at least, decoy Morty — wondering if they really had to kill them, because they looked so happy. Later on, there’s also the puppet decoy Smiths — not to be confused with the glockenspiel decoy Smiths, which look like marionettes — which are obvious decoys because of their appearance but feature a seemingly genuine heart-to-heart between Rick and Beth. In that case, it reveals that they were actually wearing “too cute to kill” decoy costumes, which suggests they might possibly be the real deal… but they are not.

The least surprising aspect of this episode is probably the detour it takes to the pre-war decoy sanctuary, because if there’s one thing “Rick and Morty” truly loves, it’s getting all of its various versions of certain characters into a presumably safe place just for them… and then ultimately massacring them. (And the fact that the President wants absolutely nothing to do with Rick’s latest drama.) To what end? Well, that’s another question the show loves to ask. As for the question of who’s even real, ultimately, the assumption is that it’s the version of the Smiths (with Space Beth) we see in the final scene of the episode. But considering the rest of the episode, there’s still a lingering question about that one.

However, (glockenspiel) Jerry does at least get his B-story with the epilogue. A truly horrific, living-forever-like-the-Highlander B-story, but a B-story nonetheless.

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