On Ricks, Mortys, and Jerrys

(SPOILERS – Stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens in season three of Rick and Morty)

I have been watching Rick and Morty for a few years now and I took it as a fun, light-hearted, sci-fi romp where a genius grandfather takes his grandson on adventures that have a little bit of an edge. Grandpa Rick is an alcoholic and a sociopath and his adventures take his grandson Morty into real danger, though with his god-like genius Rick is able to save the day. Even if sometimes that means he has to literally move the whole family into a new timeline.

The first two seasons were like that. A bit of a guilty pleasure, funny writing, and some memorable improv comedy genius moments. It took them a year and a half but the creators behind Rick and Morty (Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon) finally dropped a much anticipated third season and immediately things started to get dark. Real dark.

In the very first episode of the third season Grandpa Rick Sanchez breaks up the family – getting his daughter to separate from her husband Jerry because Jerry tried to confront the family with Rick’s sociopathic behavior. This episode ends with Rick telling Morty that this will be the darkest season yet, and that the television show Rick and Morty won’t end until he gets his McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan Teriyaki dipping sauce.

“Because that’s what this is all about Morty. That’s my one-armed man. I’m not driven by avenging my dead family, Morty, I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. I want that Mulan McNugget sauce Morty. That’s my series arc Morty! If it takes 9 seasons, I WANT MY MCNUGGET DIPPING SAUCE SZECHUAN SAUCE MORTY! TH-THAT’S WHAT’S GONNA TAKE US, ALL THE WAY TO THE END MORTY! SEASON, 9 MORE SEASONS MORTY! Szechuan sauce?! 9 MORE SEASONS UNTIL I GET THAT DIPPING SZECHUAN SAUCE! FOR 97 MORE YEARS MORTY! I WANT THAT MCNUGGET SAUCE MORTY!!!”

In the third episode, which is the “Pickle Rick” episode, Rick Sanchez turns himself into a pickle in order to avoid a scheduled family therapy session. Pickle Rick instantly became a meme and thousands of people are now running around with Pickle Rick tattoos, permanent reminders that they don’t even remotely understand the television show and characters that they adore.

Pickle Rick isn’t cute. Pickle Rick is an old man, a Baby Boomer, avoiding the responsibilities of the world he helped to create. He’s an alcoholic who won’t stop drinking. He’s the man who will destroy his family for his own selfish desires and justify it all with his superior intellect. Pickle Rick is Rick Sanchez: an awful father figure who we later learn is “just taking the universe for a ride.” And in the end of the Pickle Rick episode Rick finally makes it to therapy (only because he needs to get the cure for turning himself into a pickle and his daughter Beth has it) and when the therapist asks Rick why he didn’t want to come to therapy, he says:

“Because I don’t respect therapy. Because I’m a scientist. Because I invent, transform, create and destroy for a living, and when I don’t like something about the world, I change it. And I don’t think going to a rented office in a strip mall to listen to some ‘agent of average-ness’ explain which words mean which feelings has ever helped anyone do anything. I think it’s helped a lot of people get comfortable and stop panicking, which is a state of mind *burp* we value in the animals we eat, but not something I want for myself. I’m not a cow. I’m a pickle. When I feel like it. So…”

Dr. Wong’s response to Rick is devastating:

“Rick, the only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness. You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse, and I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it’s your mind within your control. You chose to come here, you chose to talk, to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces, your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand. I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy, the same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work. And the bottom line is some people are okay going to work, and some people, well, some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.”

Rick pickles himself to avoid the work of everyday life and some people think that’s so fantastic, such a great message, that they got a Pickle Rick tattoo. “I’m Pickle Rick.” If you see someone with this mark, this tattoo announcing their illness, avoid them.

That episode, however, set off a firestorm. Some Rick and Morty fans don’t like being reminded that the man that they worship isn’t a good man. They want to be like Rick (hint: they never will) so, criticism of Rick, and especially criticism of the very thing that they love about Rick (that he’s a sociopath) isn’t accepted. So, in a rage they blamed the writers, specifically the female writers who had been brought on board this season to explore the characters of Summer and Beth. They harassed the female writers of the show and doxxed them on Reddit. Returning to the bad old days of Gamergate: male nerds playing out sexist hatred of females on the internet.

As Dan Harmon eloquently put it:

“These knobs, that want to protect the content they think they own — and somehow combine that with their need to be proud of something they have, which is often only their race or gender.”

Each episode thereafter reveals deeper and darker secrets about Rick. In Vindicators 3 Rick gets insanely drunk and booby traps an adventure in a Saw-like horror show. At the end he reveals that he doesn’t even love Morty (something he actually says often). In Morty’s Mind Blowers, Rick takes Morty into a special room where all of Morty’s bad memories have been erased, which seems at first to be a favor that Rick does for Morty – removing the horrifying memories of their deadly adventures – but quickly reveals that Rick also uses his mind eraser to remove memories which make Rick look bad – going so shallow as to remove a memory of Rick saying “taken for granite” when he meant “taken for granted”.

The writers are savaging Rick. Revealing all of his flaws. And the knobs who worship him don’t like it at all.

And then there was this: in the penultimate episode of the season, the ABCs of Beth, Jerry – the dad who was cut out of the family in the first episode – has started dating an alien warrior. He quickly learns that he wants to get out of the relationship but doesn’t know how. Being the sniveling coward that he is, he asks his daughter and son for help. Specifically asking if they will let him blame their racism for him having to break up. That scene plays out like this:

Jerry: I have to get out of this soul bond.
Summer and Morty: WHAT? DUH.
Jerry: Can you guys help me? Can I tell her it’s because of my kids? Like, you know, you don’t like the shape of her head or..
Summer: That’s you dad! THAT’S YOU. You’re a baby and an idiot.
Jerry: Ok, I think that’s been established, now help me.
Summer: First, I want you to admit that you’re a closet racist, a beta-male sexist, and you dragged everyone into a horrible situation by only thinking of yourself.
Jerry: OK…
Summer: I want to hear you say it.
Jerry: (Sighs) … look, I’m a closeted racist and I’m sexist and selfish and I dragged us all into my sexist racist bad things because I’m stupid.
Summer: thank you.
Jerry (eager) now you’re going to help me?!
Morty: She just did.

This was a great bit of writing which has many layers. Of course the character Jerry is a beta-male sexist and racist, a selfish baby man who drags his family into bad things because he’s stupid. But it’s also a criticism, I think, of much of the American population: closeted racists, beta-male sexists, who have dragged our nation into a horrible situation by electing Trump because they were only thinking of themselves and they are stupid. And finally, I think this is a criticism of the nerds who attacked Rick and Morty’s female writers on Reddit. If not intentionally written that way, the character of Jerry does fit them exceptionally well. I think America and these damn Gamergate males would do well to repeat after Summer: “I want you to admit that you’re a closet racist, a beta-male sexist, and you dragged everyone into a horrible situation by only thinking of yourself.” So many people in America think they are Rick but are actually just Jerry. Meanwhile the Ricks are in charge and the Mortys all have to suffer.

Rick and Morty season three has been my favorite season of all of them and could even rank among my favorite seasons of television. The show is taking on huge topics and stabbing America in the blind eye with the pointed stick of their wit. I loved this season. I needed this season of Rick and Morty. I needed a comic outlet for all of the hopelessness and helplessness I feel as I watch my country descend into madness with Nazi rallies, mass shootings, and a president who spent four days tweeting about the NFL while American citizens broiled to death in Puerto Rico.

I don’t know if there will be a fourth season. At the end of the second season Mr. Poopybutthole (that’s his name, it’s childish, I know) has an after credit scene where he says “Tune in to Rick and Morty season three, in like, a year and a half. Or longer. To see how we unravel this mess.” And exactly a year and a half later, Rick and Morty season three returned.

This year at the end of season three Mr. Poopybutthole returned for another after credit, this one both revealing and even more biting than the last:

“What a season! Sorry I never showed up but I got married, I had a baby, I went back to school and got my GED. What did YOU do while you were waiting? Hopefully you didn’t just FUCK around and waste your life. Oooo-Weeee. See you for season four in like, a really long time. I might even have a big, white Santa Claus beard and a couple of grand kids and all that kind of stuff. See you then.”

Of course Roiland and Harmon could return with season four. They left the possibility open in this final scene. But it could be in a year, six months, two years, or even longer – they have left the return date intentionally vague.

They wrote that scene before the McDonalds Mulan Szechuan sauce debacle, where some Rick and Morty fans showed themselves to be true Jerry’s of the highest order by harassing the staff of their local McDonald’s when it ran out of or didn’t have this ridiculous dipping sauce. They may even have wrote that ending before the Jerry’s all started harassing the female writers of the show.

But as an artist I wonder if the demands of the series, the writing, and the drain of the fans of the show will push Harmon and Roiland to just say “fuck it” and pull the plug. Either way, I can take it or leave it. This third series was so perfect in its criticisms of America (I didn’t even mention the “Morty on Morty crime” episode The Ricklantis Mixup) that I don’t know how they could write a fourth series that will top this one. If they return, I’ll be there. If not, then it was a great run and I appreciate what they gave us. Whatever you do, don’t fuck around and waste your life waiting for Rick and Morty to return.


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