Season Three of “Rick and Morty” has been marked by change in a way the series has never seen before. From its first episode, the series has taken a significantly darker, more emotional, more violent turn. One could argue that from a narrative perspective, this was the best season yet. Others, however, have found themselves perplexed by the shift from Dan Harmon’s wacky, sci-fi, nihilistic take on a “Family Guy”-styled sitcom to an emotionally honest depiction of a family undergoing serious turmoil.
In a lot of ways, the third season brings home to roost all the emotional baggage of the main cast. Rick’s selfishness and constant lashing out at his family’s vulnerabilities forces them to react. Morty decides he’s had enough of Rick’s abuse and begins to consistently challenge Rick’s authority—no longer so easily cowed as he was in previous seasons. Summer starts to act out, attempting to find her role in a family that was dysfunctional long before Rick destabilized them. Beth starts to push away from her father’s vice-like grip on her happiness. Jerry uses the time away the divorce gives him to reflect on his own role in their unhappy marriage.
Thus, it is particularly striking that the season finale functions as something of a reset button for the Sanchez-Smith family in a season which has been explicitly about change. In the backdrop of Rick’s feud with the President of the United States—which is couched in the language of a breakup and satirized by all-out guerilla war between the two—Beth decides to remarry Jerry and reunite the family. Rick, who manipulated Beth into divorcing Jerry at the beginning of the season, is furious. When he goes to exact revenge, however, he finds that Morty, in another first for the series, has stolen his portal gun and left their adventure early. The show ends with the family sitting down to a meal together, just as they have in previous seasons.
But when Rick insults Jerry, as he normally does, Beth stands up for him. The way in which the family interacts is different now: Rick is no longer the center of the family’s universe. The central characters of “Rick and Morty” have undergone the most intensive character growth the series has seen, over the course of the darkest, most emotionally complex season so far. Rick, though complex in his own right, has remained obstinately static, and so the rest of the family have outgrown him.
This is how the season finale, though seemingly a reset, renders the cast of “Rick and Morty” as fundamentally different than they were in seasons prior. Throughout the series, Rick has been a god unto his own, able to shape the lives of any person through sheer intellect and ruthless manipulation. Lost in his own depression, still bleeding from the wounds of the past, Rick has pushed his own emotional inadequacies and fears onto the family since the beginning of the series.
The finale is the culmination of people learning to fight back over the course of the season. Each character comes to understand the triggers Rick uses to control them, and grows into a person who no longer responds to those triggers. Beth overcomes her abandonment issues, Jerry accepts his narcissism, Summer learns to live without depending on Rick’s approval, and Morty learns to stand up to the only person who’s ever made him feel special. The writers have certainly built up the series’ mainstays into much more complex characters than they started with. The only question left is whether or not they’ll do them justice in the seasons to come.
—Staff writer Noah F. Houghton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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