Rick and Morty is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to television. The cartoon, created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, somehow incorporates science fiction, fart jokes, political commentary, portrayals of human relationships and mental illness, gratuitous violence, messages about nostalgia and puberty, existential dread, and popular culture parodies all into one pretty little package- given to us in 10-11 twenty minute installments once every year and a half or so.
This past season, which concluded earlier this month, gave us all of that and more, and gained a whole lot of attention in the process. For one, fans somehow convinced McDonald’s to bring back a promotional dipping sauce that was created twenty years ago during the release of Disney’s Mulan.
At the end of season three’s premiere, Rick exclaims to Morty that his entire season arc this year was to get the sauce back. This led to McDonald’s re-releasing the sauce for one day only on October 7, 2017, fighting off mobs of angry nerds, and running out within 45 minutes much to fans’ dismay. One guy even allegedly traded a car for a one-ounce package of the sauce.
Much more important than nugget sauce, this season of Rick and Morty incorporated FEMALE WRITERS for the first time. If you were naive like me, you may be surprised to learn that the first two seasons of Rick and Morty, much like many shows on Adult Swim, had zero female writers.
That’s right, half the population was completely excluded from the writing room. Adult Swim’s vice president and creative director, Mike Lazzo, has even publicly stated that he is hesitant to take on any projects created by women.
Rick and Morty included four female writers this season though! That’s great, right? Fans must have been so pleased! WRONG.
There was an extensive fan backlash this summer about the inclusion of female writers. Reddit users commented about the “downfall” of Rick and Morty caused by female writers including references to real world problems, racism, relationships, and reflecting Rick’s alcoholism as a problem rather than an amusing part of his character. Fans even went as far as harassing the female writers on twitter- to which Dan Harmon responded, “I think it’s all disgusting.”
The thing is, Rick and Morty has always been about real world problems, racism, relationships, mental illness, and hey, feminism too! There wasn’t really anything new about this inclusion in season three. Remember “Raising Gazorpazorp” in season one?
It details an entire society of women who separate from the males of their species in order to advance as a society- using men only for reproduction by using sex robots. Remember how Summer saves the day in that episode, not Rick? Remember how Morty takes on the challenge of becoming a single parent while Summer runs off and has adventures with Rick? The whole episode was a commentary on sexism and gender norms.
And about relationships- what about the first interdimensional cable episode, “Rixty Minutes”? Alongside the hilarious improvised television that Rick and Morty watch, Jerry and Beth explore the basis of their relationship and whether they were really together by choice. How about “Unity,” which explores the conflicts of individuality and togetherness in romantic relationships?
Racism was addressed too- what about the hilarious post credit scene in which Rick and Summer beat up a neo-Nazi?
The emphasis on character development, real-world commentary, rejection of stereotypes and inclusion of characters of all genders, races, and species while still maintaining a hilarious backdrop of violence and fart-jokes is what makes Rick and Morty such an excellent show. So why, then, are so many of its fans so angry about seeing these elements in season three?
Perhaps some fans are missing a huge part of the series, which is that Rick is an antihero. He’s an allegory. A cautionary tale. If you are watching the show and identifying with Rick, you are not supposed to be comfortable with that. If you went into the detox chamber that Rick and Morty try out in “The Detox,” the part of you that identifies with Rick should be the part that gets left in the toxic dimension.
He represents disdain for others, denial, addiction, and abuse. His relationships are all one-sided and toxic. He is the most intelligent man on earth, but he lacks any sense of real self-awareness. You are supposed to laugh at Rick, maybe even empathize with Rick, but you are not meant to be like him.
Just look at the actual line that inspired the Szechuan Sauce debacle in the first place. Rick says:
“He threatened to turn me in to the government, so I made him and the government go away. I’ve replaced them both as the de facto patriarch of your family and your universe. Your mom wouldn’t have accepted me if I came home. without you and your sister, so now you know the real reason I rescued you. I just took over the family, Morty, and if you tell your mom or sister I said any of this, I’ll deny it, You’re gonna deny it. and they’ll take my side because I’m a hero, Morty. And now you’re gonna have to go and do whatever I say, Morty, forever! And I’ll, I’ll go out and I’ll find some more of that Mulan Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce, Morty. 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! That was fake. I-I-I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. I want that Mulan McNugget sauce, Morty! That’s my series arc, Morty.”
The entire Szechuan sauce line is about how Rick doesn’t care about his family. He doesn’t care about anything. All of his effort is meaningless, he goes through all of that just to get McNugget Sauce. At the end of season two, we believe that Rick has turned himself in so that his family can be safe and have a life back on Earth. We are led to believe that this is Rick finding a purpose, and that it means he really cares for his family and puts them first.
We believed this for a year and a half as we waited for season three- and in the end the joke was on us. Rick didn’t care at all, he just cared about Szechuan sauce. We see the same theme again in “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender,” in which Rick gets blackout drunk and creates an entire Saw scenario with Morty’s heroes, a Guardians of the Galaxy-like crew. We are meant to believe that the true reason Rick wants to kill the Vindicators is because they have Morty’s true admiration, something he desires and needs. We learn at the end that it had nothing to do with his care for his grandson- it was just another destructive thing Rick did while he was drinking.
In “Pickle Rick,” Beth encourages the family to go to family therapy, and Rick turns himself into a pickle so that he does not have to go. At the end, his therapist shares with him a monologue to rival his own:
“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 choose 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 am 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 ok going to work and some people… Well, some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.”
The therapist here, of course is right. Rick is not as in control as he believes. He lacks self-awareness and self-control, and uses his mind as well as his alcoholism to escape from his problems rather than solve them, and destroys everyone around him in his path. He is not “better” because he doesn’t give a damn. Rick learns this again in “Detox” in which Rick and Morty enter a psychological detox machine that removes the parts of themselves that they disavow. “Healthy” Rick learns that the machine chooses which parts to label as toxic based on what the user himself believes. The Ricks discover that “toxic” Rick actually contains the part of Rick that cares for his family- because “regular” Rick believes that is something that makes him weak. But “healthy” rick isn’t truly healthy after all, and Rick discovers that he needs to integrate both his desired and non-desired self in order to be truly healthy. As a therapist, I would say that message sounds a lot like therapy!
But of course, by the next episode, Rick is not driven by self-awareness and allowed to develop as such. Of course not. Rick is still in denial of his problems and displaces them onto other people. This is Rick’s character. He is toxic. He is both aware and unaware all at once. He is truly complex and complicated.
The response of the viewer here, is not meant to be “Hey, screw caring about the world and other people. The world is going to end anyway, we all die, nothing truly matters. Give me my damn McNugget Sauce.” On the other hand, maybe we are meant to learn from Rick’s mistakes.
Maybe we are meant to see that while life may be meaningless, as humans our greatest function is finding and making meaning in our world, and that means caring about our relationships and other people, and about world issues like sexism and racism too.
Isn’t that what Beth learns at the end of the season? In episode nine, we learn she is just like Rick. Intelligent, selfish, ambitious, and horribly depressed. But in episode ten, she makes meaning. Beth believes she is a clone, who Rick will soon kill because she became self-aware. Non-clone clone Beth believes that her life is meaningless, she creates meaning through love for her children and for Jerry. (Why Jerry though, is something we may never understand).
Or maybe it’s all about fart jokes and nuclear bombs. Maybe I’m trying to insert my psychobabble and angry liberal feminist killjoy opinions into a show that was meant to be a man’s space. Maybe you will read this and tell me, “maybe people that create things aren’t concerned with your delicate sensibilities, y’know? Maybe the species that communicates with each other through the filter of your comfort are less evolved than the ones who just communicate. Maybe your problems are your own to deal with, and maybe the public giving a shit about your feelings is a one-way ticket to extinction.” Maybe. But I’m not the one breaking windows because the clerks ran out of McNugget sauce.
I’M PICKLE RIIIIIIICK!!
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