Rick and Morty returned to our screens on 1 April, 18 months after the hard-hitting finale of season two. Was the wait worth it? Did Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland top the mind-bending and emotionally fraught season two premiere ‘A Rickle in Time’ this time around?
Perhaps the biggest question on our lips at the end of the weekend’s episode is whether we can trust anything that we have seen. Harmon and Roiland have rightly garnered a reputation for deviously manipulating and subverting audience expectations, and thus this author is not wholly convinced what took place in ‘The Rickshank Rickdemption’ was strictly ‘true’: major developments in the episode didn’t fit with the established premises and tone of the show.
Most obviously, although Rick’s disdain for his son-in-law is an integral element of Rick and Morty, the thought that he manipulated Beth to divorce Jerry seems a step too far for our protagonist. Remember when he was prepared to die to save Morty’s life at the end of ‘A Rickle in Time’? Furthermore, the episode being released on April Fool’s Day should definitely send our brains into paranoid overdrive.
Yet, one must entertain very seriously the notion that the events of the episode were true, as much as this would leave this author disappointed. Not only would Rick’s treatment of Jerry fundamentally alter the audience’s understanding of him — a flawed, selfish, shallow and callous character yes, but ultimately compassionate — but would also spell an end to the Beth-Jerry marital dynamic. Theirs is an underrated duo, with their dysfunctional marriage offering some of Rick and Morty’s most ingenious plot lines; the ‘Mr MeSeeks’ episode ranking as perhaps the show’s greatest adventure which did not involve the titular characters.
Furthermore, we must also now face up to Rick being responsible for the death of most, if not all, other Ricks and Mortys in every other alternate universe. Whilst murder is nothing new to Rick and Morty, this would be an especially unhappy development, given that some of the best plots involve alternate versions of the title characters entering the fray. Such a development would also again lead us to question whether we can truly consider Rick a ‘good’ character: killing different versions of himself was palatable, but being responsible for the deaths of different Mortys is another thing altogether. This would risk blemishing the cartoon’s track record of staying on the right side of the morally precarious tightrope it so often walks, as it would be hard for Harmon and Roiland to re-alter our perception of Rick back to a damaged but loveable rogue from the irredeemably bad human being that he may now have become.
So whilst this author has mixed feelings about the new episode, this in itself is a testament to the supremely high quality which Rick and Morty has consistently lived up to. We were once satisfied with South Park and The Simpsons pushing the bounds of polite humour, but then reverting back to the narrative status quo after 25 minutes or so. Rick and Morty has pushed us to demand of cartoons not only strong, dynamic narrative progression, but darker humour than any other animated series which has gained a mass, mainstream viewership. Rick and Morty is a trailblazing television show, yet one can hope — maybe somewhat naively — that Roiland and Harmon have not pushed their concept too far, and dealt us too heavy a dose of existentialism and nihilism by turning our beloved Rick into an antagonist.