by Benjamín Harguindey
With five episodes down and five to go, Rick and Morty is officially halfway through its belated third season. Is it everything we hoped for?
After premiering with “The Rickshank Redemption” this April Fool’s, the series – on hold since October 2015 – was put back in hybernation for three more months. The episode basically retconned the season two finale – which had ended with a couple of characters killed, Rick in jail and Earth assimilated by the Galactic Federation – and backtracked Rick’s character development, restoring the show’s status quo but for the dissolution of Beth and Jerry’s marriage.
Now that Adult Swim is broadcasting weekly episodes, we can finally cop a better feel of the show’s new direction. Turns out Jerry is exiled for good from the Smith household (at least for the duration of the season), and that the new focal point of conflict seems to be Rick v Beth, specifically Beth being in denial of her father’s negative impact on her and her family. But other than the occasional call-out, all is back to normal in the show.
Series creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have written themselves into a corner by reaching for character development (as well as emotional investment) in a show where reality is always one button push away from being rid of long-term consequences and rewritten back into status quo. With Rick’s arc about guilt, remorse and redemption having been rendered moot by the opening episode, we’re left instead with Morty as the one character going through any kind of development.
This ties back to Morty’s nihilistic diatribe from season one’s “Rixty Minutes”, which ended with “nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die.” Since then Morty has become the one reliably developing character, growing out of victimhood and into a jaded force of opposition to Rick’s mounting antics of destruction. You see this in episodes four and five of the latest season, reverse-engineering Rick’s psychological traps in the former and filling in for him as a vengeful deus ex scientist in the latter.
The lastest episode, “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy”, is probably the best out of the third season so far. And it has nothing to do with the fact that Jerry is finally a major part of it, or that him and Rick have any semblance of development (really a candid reaffirmation of the conflict of interest between them), or that Morty levels up as a dejected anti-hero. Plain and simple, it’s the first episode to go back to basics and deliver 1) a wacky central adventure and 2) a contrasting, relatively grounded subplot.
If you think about it, the better episodes in the series are the ones that stick to that formula: Rick and company go off adventuring into space or an alternate reality, while a simple emergency gets out of hand on Smith turf. This is the plot of “Meeseeks and Destroy”, “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” and now “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy”. Alternatively, the show is at its funniest with bottle episodes like “Rixty Minutes” and “Total Rickall”, since it forces the Smiths’ contrasting personalities to clash.
When you think about the third season, none of that is really a factor. We’ve had two episodes without a contrasting subplot, “Rickmancing the Stone” and “Vindicators 3”, and a third episode, “Pickle Rick”, which isolates Rick into action mode while giving the Smiths a boring therapy subplot and relegating Jerry to a measly post-credits scene. Rick on his own is simply not as interesting as when he’s given a foil to riff against, and there’re more exciting ways to peek into the Smith family psychology than having it catered to us in the form of an unremarkable therapy session that spells things out.
The obvious prediction to make here is that Beth will eventually want to take Jerry back, but in the process something else will be lost: Jerry will decline her, and in turn Beth will veto her father, or maybe Morty will finally burn out from his grandfather’s noxious adventures (maybe via Evil Morty). Any bets regarding Rick’s own development are off though. Not falling for that again.
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).