My Grandmother fucking loved Christmas. Every year she’d cover the roof with lights and boggle us with epic holiday feasts. She was a Christmas hosting goddess. It should be of little surprise Christmas went off the rails most years. Something would always go wrong, she’d lose control, and our perfect Christmas would shatter again.
But hey, we’re not talking about Christmas. We’re talking about Rick & Morty!
Shit, what can I say about Rick and Morty? It’s one of the biggest stories of our time: literally anything can happen. Its setting includes all of Earth, space, and microbiology, and when it’s done touching the furthest reaches of the universe, it flips itself inside-out and reveals infinite parallel universes inside.
In creator Dan Harmon’s own words “It’s a show that can literally go anywhere and do anything. It has a boundless margin… you can’t go too far. Not only narratively, but also tonally, there is nothing off the table for the show.”
Basically, it’s a story sans limits. And with a shiny new contract for 70 more episodes in the chamber, Season 4 seems even more unbridled. Understand, Season 1-3 were Rick and Morty on best behaviour, fighting to prove their relevance and marketability one Season at a time in 10 or 11 episode spurts. This is no longer so: the shackles are off. Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland and their team are looking at nothing but blue skies out ahead.
It should come as little surprise that Season 4 feels a little different than previous Seasons. You can almost feel the writers letting out the throttle episode by episode. You’d think they’d be worried about running out of stories. Instead, these crazy bastards started the second half of Season 4 throwing away over a dozen characters and stories…including a Christmas special in May!
It’s been fun to witness these weirdos go Super Sayian. Many of the shows in Season 4 feel experimental, playing with non-linear timelines or insane meta-narratives. These are fun to watch, fun to analyze, but mostly fun to sit back and wonder: How the hell did they come up with this sh*t?!
Not that they’ve gone entirely Studio 54. There are plenty of straightforward, fully immersive stories to get lost in too. Their most recent adventure, “The Vat of Acid Episode” is a good example: with alien gangsters at the beginning and a classic SciFi device capable of changing life with the touch of a button, it has all the trappings of a classic Rick & Morty tale.
It’s a funny premise: Morty watches one of Rick’s more odd-ball ideas crash and burn. A fight erupts when Rick can’t admit it was a dumb idea. This quickly grows into a larger argument: not only can’t Rick admit when he has a bad idea, but he also can’t admit when someone else has a good one.
What follows is a staggering journey through the face-melting lengths Rick will go to put his grandson in his place. It’s Greek-Mythology level petty, emotionally devastating (glasses girl!!!! 😭😭😭), and has the single funniest fuck-you reveal, I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s absolutely brilliant and brutal and all boils down to teaching Morty one all-important lesson: Never. Question. Grandpa.
It’s a great show and a ridiculous ride. It’s kind of shitty what Rick does. Hell, it’s very shitty. But as die-hard Rick & Morty fans know, it’s necessary because Rick can’t let Morty get cocky.
I guess in a way, Rick is doing this for everyone. A cocky Morty means trouble and as we’ve seen on Season 4, Morty is starting to get a little cocky.
Rick: They think the galaxy is their own personal piggy bank.
Morty: What are we?
Rick: We’re Rick and Morty. (S4E1)
And also a little unimpressed with his Grandfather’s tricks..
Rick: Oh shit. I almost parked. Hey, Morty, hold on. What this. [Rick hits “Autopark” button and the ship parks itself.
Rick: Well, I thought it was pretty cool. (S4E8)
Honestly, this isn’t anything new. Morty (or at least some Morties) were pretty good at getting out from under their Grandfather’s thumb.
Pic- It sucks your Rick is making you do that./ He’s not my Rick. He’s my partner.
For that matter, Morty’s not the only character who’s fought to escape his Rick. Toward the end of S2E3 Rick nearly commits suicide after ex-girlfriend, Unity, breaks up with him again. If you recall, this Ex was no normal person. Unity was a collective hivemind, a powerful entity that existed by mind-controlling entire planets and species.
In her break up letter she explains the reason for leaving him:
Unity: I realize now that I’m attracted to you for the same reason I can’t be with you: you can’t change… I know how it goes with us. I lose who I am and become a part of you because, in a strange way, you’re better at what I do without even trying.
In Rick’s own words Unity “thrives on enslavement,” and in Unity’s words, Rick’s better at it.
Call me crazy, but I’m starting to smell core character flaw. Sure, Rick may be the smartest man in the universe. But if he has an irresistible urge to control people, that’s going to make for some crap relationships with whoever’s spending time with him.
If so it’s a fascinating fault, partially because it’s so human. But also because it can lead to a lot of interesting miscalculations. His plan with the Vat doesn’t work because he failed to realize he can’t control or predict what other people do. Point of fact, his plan with the vat actually fails twice.
Of course, the big time we see this is with Evil Morty. Our Rick didn’t catch what he was up to. Later an entire city of Rick’s couldn’t help but miscalculate and under-estimate him.
Season 4 seems to be leaning into this. Between S4E3’s gaslighting and S4E8’s petty-fest, Rick’s faults are getting harder to miss. Are we starting to see Morty figuring this out too? Like, more than usual?
There’s an exchange during The Vat of Acid Episode where Rick asks:
Rick: When did you get so cocky?”
And Morty says:
Morty: Tonight! The night I saw you fail.
Later at the end of the episode, Morty asks a random Rick who was in on his Grandfather’s plan all along:
Morty: “Why do you care? How do you even know about this?”
This random Rick responds:
Rick: “Every Rick has a Vat!”
I’m curious whether this was meant to be literal? Either way it would seem the Vat is somehow a fixed point of probability, a predetermined failure that Morty was pre-determined to see and become “cocky” about. If so, does that mean all Morties are destined to become problems for the grandfathers?
Eh. I don’t know what’s going on. The writers for Rick and Morty are some of the best storytellers of our time and they just got the greenlit to let-her-rip for the next seventy episodes. This is gleeful genius unleashed.
In any case, the lesson here is clearly don’t get cocky. I can’t honestly claim to know what’s going on currently and I certainly can’t claim to know what’ll happen in the future. At best, I can point out what I noticed and found interesting.
There’s a part in the opening of the Vat of Acid Episode where a rat climbs on top of a steam valve to chew on some bones. The top to the valve releases and the rat is vaporized by acid steam. Only its bones are left. A moment later a new rat climbs on the freshly lowered valve to chew on these freshly created bones.
What’s the larger meaning? Is it an allusion to Rick and Morty fandom and their futile attempts to “pick at the bones”? Is it a larger discussion of life’s futility, the blindness with which we all seek the things that will ultimately destroy us?
Or is it just a joke?
Again, I don’t know. You can’t force an unfinished story to explain itself any more than you can force Christmas to be perfect. In the end, none of us can control the outcome of the things we love. It’s dumb to think we can. All we can do is shut up, pay attention, and enjoy.