The long-awaited season 3 premiere was finally released a couple of weeks ago on April 1st, much to everyone’s surprise, delight… and a touch of disappointment.
Initially a black humor riff on Back to the Future’s Doc and Marty, the animated show Rick and Morty (2013) quickly became a pop culture favorite due to its rapid-fire slapstick, flashy visuals and cosmic sense of pessimism. Superficially it feels like a successor to Futurama – a sort of “anything goes” wacky cartoon hour loosely harnessed by the tenets of comedy sci-fi – but with a more morbid sense of humor.
The show follows the interdimensional adventures of mad scientist Rick Sánchez and his grandson Morty Smith (both voiced by series co-creator Justin Roiland), with the former usually leading the pursuit of rare hedonistic pleasures and the latter tagging along haplessly (the rest of the cast includes Morty’s dad Jerry, mom Beth and sister Summer, usually the stars of the episode’s subplot).
On the surface the main duo’s dynamic mirrors Marty and Doc Brown’s, but here their impulsiveness and daredevil antics are taken to perilous extremes: people die, races are extinguished and whole worlds explode. Meanwhile all these sitcom-sized dalliances have an ongoing psychological toll on the characters, with Morty suffering recurring mental breakdowns and identity crises and the alcoholic Rick slowly revealing his own self-hatred and death wish. All in good fun, natch.
If the show was popular during its first two seasons, it officially upgraded to cult TV when the second season ended. The finale, which aired October 2015, ended on a cliffhanger as a depressed Rick finally seemed to own up to the destructive influence he had on his long-suffering family and willingly gave himself up to the Galactic Federation (all the way accompanied by the melancholy tones of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt). It wasn’t the first time the show hit this kind of somber note but something seemed to have finally broken in Rick, and to end the season on a cliffhanger like that seemed to threaten the very status quo of the show. What next?
After waiting about a year and a half (as promised by the finale’s stinger), the season three premiere pretty much rewinds things back to square one and appears to undo a lot of the character progression as well. Rick breaks out of prison (rather spectacularly) and in doing so reveals he had planned his escape since before turning himself in, which cancels the significance of his self-sacrifice and belittles the weight of his emotions as well. Even within the episode we’re treated to a tragic origin story that appears to explain his cynical dejection of humanity, only to have that taken away seconds later – the flashback was a dud, a trap to deceive Rick’s captors (who’re proving his mind for the secrets of interdimensional travel).
After Rick shoots his way out of prison, he proceeds to kill two birds with one stone by teleporting the Council of Ricks (which house his many doppelgangers across different dimensions) into the Galactic Federation, which results in his two major nemeses killing each other, as well as removing Earth from the totalitarian hold of the Federation (another remnant of the season two cliffhanger). And in the episode’s post-credits stinger we even see the resurrection of Bird Person, whose sudden death in the previous episode signalled Rick’s wake-up call to maturity.
You see here how in your average 22 minutes the show has retrieved its precious status quo while retconning any semblance of character drama and character conflict into a joke or out of existence altogether. It goes without saying that the Rick of Rick and Morty would escape his captors to continue his double act, but to have not one or two but three significant moments of genuine pathos sacrificed in the name of a gag – while eliminating all of said characters’ enemies in the process – is a little bit dispiriting. It means Harmon and Roiland were “crying wolf” this whole time, that they’re unwilling to commit to the development of their characters, and that they won’t try it again. Can you imagine anybody falling for that kind of bait and switch again?
The problem perhaps is that this episode was never intended as a season premiere, but rather as the second part of a two-part finale. It certainly plays like an ending rather than a beginning, quickly sweeping the trail of the preceding episode under the rug. The ending of the episode itself is a callback to the series’ pilot, in which a deranged Rick rambles and salivates about the adventures that await him and Morty, suggesting an endless cycle of pointless lunacy. So we’re literally back to the beginning in more ways than one.
In an ironic twist that is very becoming of Jerry – the unassuming everyman who pathetically deludes himself about his role as the voice of reason – about the only thing that appears to have a lasting significance as of right now is the deterioration of his marriage to Beth. Rather abruptly, Beth announces that they’re getting a divorce (we don’t even see the discussion) and that’s that. And while this is probably setting up an arc of desperate wooing for the season, who’s to say even that won’t be handwaved by the next episode?
By all means Harmon and Roiland appear to be manipulating their audience at this point with their expectations and perceptions of significance and continuity. Hell, when the third season finally airs in full, who’s to say this April 1st taste won’t be written off as an April Fool’s prank? It would be in line with the show’s brand of internet comedy: trolling their audience while delivering memetic humor, but also burning up so fast it’s in danger of living and dying like a fad.
One thing is for sure – Rick and Morty has burned so many bridges at this point, you want to continue watching just to see where it goes from there.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).