I guess it’s easy to forget about what the world’s most powerful leaders would think about a duo like Rick and Morty running around through infinite timelines, doing whatever they want. And it’s not like most cartoons of this nature even want you to think about something like that, so it’s no surprise that Rick and Morty‘s season finale insists on working out the needlessly complex relationship the duo have to the US President (Community star Keith David), an ego-driven, drone-strike happy jingoist who sends the smartest guy in the universe on little intergalactic errands for the fun of it.
It’s true, we have met the President before in season two, but “The Rickchurian Mortydate” does force us to consider what the world would do with someone like Rick Sanchez in it, especially when the driving force behind all this conflict is little more than pure ego. The episode also works really well as a kind of thematic culmination to all of season three, which focused heavily on the family dynamics and worked hard to dig up the love and camaraderie between these characters that’s been buried deep inside by years of abuse, drinking, and denial.
The most striking thing about season three was just how soft Rick has gotten over the last few years, and the third season finale stretched that idea to its absolute limit, combining two of Rick’s most notable characteristics into one especially fruitless pursuit: getting Morty a selfie with the President of the United States as a reward for all the hard work they’ve done. When Rick and Morty decide to bail on the President’s little “mission,” it ignites a war of wits between both sides, who utilize every single resource they have to force one to submit to the other. Rick brokers a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine in mere minutes, while the President uses invisible soldiers and hordes of secret service agents to try and intimidate Rick into doing what he wants. But he’s only doing all of this for Morty, and immediately abandons the battle when Morty loses interest in the whole ordeal.
Meanwhile, Beth is struggling to figure out whether or not she’s her original self, or the clone Rick said he’d be able to create if the real Beth decided to abandon her family. Beth’s season arc has been one of pure existentialism, and having her torment over her own humanity is kind of a perfect way to cap off her storyline this year, especially since it ends with her realizing she still has feelings for Jerry after all this time. Rather surprisingly, the show manages to argue itself out of using the “nothing matters” philosophy has a cop-out for coming to an actual conclusion, instead reframing it as Rick’s only true defense mechanism.
It’s almost hard to remember a time in the show’s run where Rick was constantly threatening to leave in exchange for something better. It’s when you see that Rick honestly could be doing anything he wants but chooses to stay and help raise this family, instead, that’s where the philosophy of Rick as an individual is at odds with the philosophy of the show as a whole. While you can say that Rick believes both are equally true, he’s too much of an egomaniac to create a perfect double for himself, forcing him into the only decision he’s ever truly had to make: will he abandon those who love him in favor of his own hedonism, or will he choose his family? And, ultimately, he always chooses the latter.
Of the three seasons, this has got to be the most controversial. It’s not exactly the joke-a-minute riot we’ve come to know and love, but I do stand firm in thinking it’s the best of the bunch, especially when you consider the emotional weight these episodes carry in comparison to previous years. Reestablishing the original dynamic was a smart decision, allowing the writers to have a kind of blank canvas that gives them an opportunity to go back to doing more episodic work like we saw in seasons one and two. If anything, season three was more of a narrative fluke that ended on a pleasantly simplistic note, but I hope that some of the maturity we saw this year will carry over into season four, which has the potential to be their best one yet.
P.S. Am I the only one who thinks the Evil Morty subplot was something that was planned for the 14-episode season but then never got enough screen time? They sort of left that one open-ended.
GEEK Grade: A
Images: [adult swim]