Rick and Morty‘s “Night Family” wasn’t a one-for-one parody of any single horror movie or TV show. Some of its influences include Pod People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Twilight Zone, Night of the Living Dead, The Thing, and Apple TV’s Severance. But while it wasn’t referencing any one story, it clearly paid tribute to one director. “Night Family” was Rick and Morty‘s humorous homage to Jordan Peele’s universe of films.
The plot of “Night Family” combines Get Out and Us into a perfect horror-comedy. The episode features the Smith clan using alien technology to create (what should be) unconscious “night” versions of themselves. Their nocturnal selfs are tasked with all the menial tasks the “dayminoids” don’t want to do while awake. For Rick and Morty that means getting in a full workout while sleeping. Meanwhile, Day Jerry becomes pen pals with Night Jerry, Beth learns to play the trumpet, and Summer learns Spanish and washes dishes.
Things take a sinister turn, though, when the Night Family gains sentience and begins making (reasonable) demands of the Day People. What follows is a tale of terror that takes inspiration both from Peele’s “Sunken Place” and his “Tethered.” The Day Family ends up locked inside their own brain, just like the victims in Get Out. They are made prisoners of the mind who are still technically “there” but not really.
Once in charge, the “evil” versions of the Smiths finally get to crawl out of the darkness and experience life of the Day People, same as the red-clad tunnel dwellers in Us. In reality, the Night People are not inherently bad anymore than the Tethered were. They just want the chance at a life they’ve been denied by those who have more than they do. They’re the oppressed serving doubles who don’t consider the feelings of their counterparts.
Rick and Morty‘s use of Peele’s films is so effective that the episode, while absolutely hilarious, is genuinely creepy. Seeing the Night Family hover over Rick’s bed is unsettling. As is watching Night Summer rule over day with an army of sleep-inducing robots. (Her answer to stirring a cup of tea.) But the episode does more than take inspiration from the plots of Get Out and Us. It begins like Nope and opens with a quote that both frames the coming story and invite viewers to dig deeper for meaning.
Nope opens with the Bible passage from Nahum 3:6. It reads: “And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a spectacle.” That quote connects with the action of the film, where an alien swallows things up and spits out garbage on people. And it relates to the movie’s primary theme about the perils of spectacle, as those who hope to profit off the alien become victims in the creature’s own deadly performance.
“Night Family” also begins with a passage. It starts with a partial quote from T.S. Eliot. (Which doesn’t sound real but absolutely is.)
When you’re alone in the middle of the night,
And you wake in a sweat and a hell of a fright.
When you’re alone in the middle of the bed,
And you wake like someone hit you on the head.
You’ve had a cream of a nightmare dream,
And you’ve got the hoo-ha’s…”
That comes from the poet’s incomplete verse drama Fragment of an Anon. It’s a work many Rick and Morty fans (including me) likely didn’t know about previously. And while it’s easy to see how this passage, much like Nope‘s Biblical verse, foreshadows the story that follow, there’s even more to take from it for those who want to engage with the episode further. Same as all of Peele’s movies.
The episode ends with the Night Family in charge and traveling around the world. But they soon learn Day People have responsibilities they never considered. There are bills to pay, jobs to work, and errands to run. All of which makes actual life sort of terrible! It’s all so overwhelming they decide they’d rather “die” and give their bodies back to their sunlight counterparts than deal with normal life. And that idea is also present in Fragment of an Anon, where the main character says, “Life is death.” You don’t need to know that to enjoy the episode, but doing so adds another layer of depth to an already great half-hour of television.
It’s a dark conclusion that has something to say about the nature of existence. Exactly the type of ending we’ve come to expect from Peele’s movies, which are always as thought provoking as they are entertaining.
And this episode reminds us why we love Jordan Peele’s films. A story that at times makes us laugh while also scaring us is exactly what keep us coming back to the “Peeleverse” and Rick and Morty.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.