If the Avengers meeting comic deaths in a Saw style game show sounds funny rather than traumatizing, you’re probably a Rick and Morty fan. The animated comedy is as smart as it is dark, and is only getting better. Episode 5: “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” marks the halfway point of the season, and as of this writing is the most recent episode to air on Adult Swim. (Spoilers ahead, consider yourself squanched.)
Walking dose of depression, Jerry Smith, makes his appropriately pathetic return. Fans can finally stop speculating the day to day of Jerry’s sad, lonely existence. The latest episode has confirmed Jerry is living a true bachelor’s life, which in his case means microwave dinners and being unable to take a dump without seeing his family’s faces in ceiling mold. Right as Jerry is about to cry himself to sleep, Rick breaks down the door and drags a naked, confused Jerry out of bed, for the thing nobody thought would happen, a Rick and Jerry episode.
Rick’s disdain for Jerry has always been a touchstone of the series, and the roasting of Jerry Smith is at its best here. But now that Jerry and Beth are officially over, Rick’s disgust for his daughter’s now ex-husband seems to have faded, if only slightly. Morty convinces Rick to take Jerry out for an adventure to stave of his father’s inevitable thoughts of suicide. Surprisingly Rick agrees to that request, (but he did create a deathtrap for Morty’s heroes last week, so it’s unlikely Rick is going soft.) Later in the episode Morty admits he didn’t actually care about his father, he just needed a break from adventures with Rick. It’s subtle, impactful, choices like these that make the show great. Not caring about Jerry is an easy joke, but the growing divide between Rick and Morty gives the show an edge, and is a source of endless speculation for fans of the series. Fans have theorized that the rift between Rick and Morty actually parallels the one between show creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, and was the reason behind season 3’s delay. Harmon refuted these claims on his twitter and an interview with Entertainment Weekly, but that hasn’t stopped people from talking.
The central plot of the series is Rick’s relationship with Morty, but every other member of the family has a meaningful impact on that, even Jerry. Jerry and Beth’s divorce was met with praise by critics and fans alike. Character choices having permanence separates Rick and Morty from other “everything’s okay at the end” animated comedy series, such as Simpsons and Family Guy, where all they have to do is crack enough jokes to run out the clock. Even shows with coherent storylines like South Park lack the emotional consequences of characters being exposed to violence and death. “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” was almost a targeted roast towards that homogenized type of storytelling. The luxury resort that Rick brings Jerry to is covered in an “immortality field”, protecting guests from the fatal consequences of their actions, whether those actions be shooting their sibling in the head or overeating to the point of heart attack. The immortality field was clearly a metaphor for plot armor, and its destruction at the end of the episode is very telling.
Rick and Morty doesn’t shy away from discord and existential dread, in fact it thrives on them. Fans have seen the main characters killed over and over again, brutally. Episode 3 “Pickle Rick” was a perfect example of how dark the show is willing to go. It took the threat of death to get Rick to go to family counseling, and while he and Beth pretended everything was alright, Morty and Summer ended the episode emotionally traumatized in the backseat.
Character development doesn’t always mean growth, and Harmon and Roiland understand this. Morty has transformed from an incapable idiot to a jaded survivor, while Rick has become more vulnerable with each passing episode, to the point where Jerry, the most incapable man in the universe, accidentally saves him. Rick’s biggest weakness has always been Beth, and her arts and crafts with severed horse hooves show how her humorous descent into insanity is going to be relevant later. Beth is definitely a future plotline this season, as hinted at in the text for upcoming episode 8 “The ABC’s of Beth”. Thus far Beth’s defining character traits are bad parenting, a bad judge of character, and a ton of daddy issues, those traits may come to head, or be fleshed out this season. The description for the upcoming episode reads “Jerry is lucky with a lady and Beth recalls her childhood.” The idea of Jerry getting lucky is a huge departure from his normal character arc of uselessness, and Beth’s childhood could give us our first on screen appearance by Beth’s mother, who has been a dark horse the entire series.
Rick has saved Beth in the past, but with his visible decline, and the show’s love of conflict, there’s no guarantee this will always be the case. Morty meanwhile, is dealing with the loss of his father through divorce, could the future loss of his mother in some way be the thing that pushes his relationship with Rick over the edge? Of course these ideas are all just speculation, and the show has a streak of unpredictability. But it’s fun to wonder what this psychedelic sci-fi comedy drama has in store. The title of the season finale in particular seems made for speculation, “The Rickchurian candidate” and the description text ominously reads, “Rick goes on a confrontation with the President.”
Could the season finale be Rick and Morty’s first major foray into current events? The show thrives off of controversy, and nothing is more controversial than politics. Only thing we know for sure is that the journey won’t be painless. To quote Mr. Meseeks, “existence is pain.” Lucky for us, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland know how to make pain hilarious.