“Rick and Morty” is undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon, regardless of whether you personally enjoy the show or not. It’s not just about its popularity or the fact that it has reached its 7th season – there are plenty of popular animated series with more than 20 seasons, but they haven’t left as significant a mark on the world of cinema.
What truly sets the series about the brilliant grandpa and, let’s say, the less brilliant grandson apart is its approach, which is postulated from the very first frames of the very first episode. Rick is there during a family dinner – a classic scene for a family animated series like “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” or even “South Park” – assembling a robot. A sentient robot that can ponder the meaning of its existence and experience emotions.
But only to get it to pass him the butter.
In this simple scene lies the essence of the series – rejecting traditional morality, conventional values, and pitting itself against traditional “family” themes and standard heartwarming conclusions. Cherish your loved ones, try to be a good person, respect others’ free will, don’t kill, don’t steal – all of that? Forget it. Nothing is true, and everything is permitted, and friendship, love, and family values are nothing but a mix of chemical reactions and the self-deception of the psyche. So, in an alternative reality, see how cool it would be to live without your family, kill your friend to save the galaxy, create a civilization with billions of sentient beings just to save on fuel for your car. And even if the main character sacrifices himself at some point to protect his family and surrenders to the authorities… it’s all part of a cunning plan to bring back the sauce from McDonald’s to the market.
However, at the same time, “Rick and Morty” negated narrative conventions. For example, if everything goes wrong for you and you mess up badly, putting the world in danger, no problem. Just find a parallel reality where everything is fine, but the alternate you is dead, switch over there, bury your own corpse in the backyard, and continue living. Want a cohesive plot and a showdown with some villain? Well, here’s the villain… and then forget about him for almost three seasons. There are plenty of such examples, not to mention the moments when the series simply mocks various genres like fantasy, Christmas movies, heist films, and so on.
And this was, no joke, wonderful. However, there is a tiny drawback to nihilism: when you deny everything, in the end, there’s nothing left, and you simply lack material for new episodes.
This problem isn’t exactly new; its beginnings were visible as early as the first season when Rick, who essentially played the roles of both the main character and the “god from the machine” in the series, an all-powerful being with ready solutions to any problem, appeared human and weak. In the early seasons, there was just a little of this, but over time, it became more and more prevalent, and the number of filler episodes per season steadily increased. A turning point could be considered the memorable episode where Rick turned himself into a pickle just to avoid going to a therapist. In this episode, our God-from-the-machine, denying all forms of human attachment and demonstrating it time and again, lost an intellectual duel to an ordinary woman (naturally, representing America’s minority communities).
By this point, you probably have a reasonable question: what about the first episode of the seventh season? Yes, we’re getting to that; it’s just crucial to understand the context of the entire series for discussing this episode.
And just as the series itself became a milestone in the history of television series, the first episode of the new season also became a milestone in the series’ own history. Just like the episode with Pickle Rick.
I can’t say that this episode is downright bad because from the standpoint of basic storytelling, it’s… well, normal. What happens on the screen is dynamic, there are various cultural references for enthusiasts of this sort of thing, and the tone of the scenes constantly fluctuates, so if the previous scene ended on a “minus,” the next one will start with a “plus” – it’s all written in the “A Million Dollar History” textbook. In general, the episode fulfills the basic minimum.
But that’s it. It doesn’t do anything more.
Here, we have a fairly standard storyline about friendship, which predictably unfolds and, unexpectedly, ends. It’s genuinely hard for me to imagine someone who watched six seasons of “Rick and Morty” and still expected something positive in the finale. No, folks, we are experienced, and you can’t fool us that easily.
Furthermore, they placed a secondary character at the center of the narrative. And honestly, does anyone really like Mr. Poopybutthole? He was essentially a funny joke a hundred years ago, then he had amusing cameos at the end of seasons, but they keep dragging him further, using him more frequently, and he’s starting to get seriously annoying. Because he isn’t even a fully fleshed-out character or some kind of archetype; he’s just a joke: a nice guy who regularly has bad luck in life. That’s it. How much can you really squeeze out of this concept? And whose brilliant idea was it to make him the main character for a whole episode?
Another discouraging aspect: humor. Throughout the episode, there were only two genuinely funny jokes: the coffee one and the ghost-making one. Actually, the robot ghost would have been amusing, in reality; it was the exact moment that made “Rick and Morty” famous in its time. Rick literally creates life, with feelings and thoughts, emotions, but this time, not even for the sake of getting some oil but literally to immediately end an unfinished task and condemn to eternal suffering. I may be cynical and cruel, but that… it’s funny.
And, of course, the central plotline with “Evil Rick,” who killed “Our Rick’s” wife. Unlike the mocking storyline of “Evil Morty,” which the creators overtly trolled the fans by ignoring it for seasons and then concluding on a stunningly disappointing (in a good way) note, here, we seem to have a genuinely serious storyline that they will gradually carry from episode to episode and from season to season. Hooray?
However, filler episodes themselves are not new to the series; they were present even in the first season, let alone the post-Pickle period of the series. The interesting part is something else. Until this point, the first episodes of new seasons always tried to be in the spirit of the “old school,” with some nihilism, epicness, and to reset the high stakes and epicness of the previous season to zero in a matter of seconds.
Here, there’s none of that for the first time in the series’ history, and we literally start the season with a filler episode – not a good sign, in my opinion. But we’ll keep watching and see what happens. Even in their worst seasons, “Rick and Morty” sometimes delivered such cool stuff that it outweighed all the mediocre content. Maybe the second episode will be exactly like that?