The first two seasons of Rick and Morty mined a lot of humor and drama from the core family dynamics of the Smith household. The idea of parents who let their kids go on intergalactic adventures with an alcoholic super-genius is both necessary for the plot, and incredibly neglectful. That Beth and Jerry are both so absorbed with their own insecurities and dissatisfaction initially seemed to me a way to justify that their attentions would be elsewhere, rather than worrying overly much about the safety of Morty and Summer. But that flawed relationship as come to the forefront of the storytelling, as the couple has finally separated — thanks in no small part to the machinations of Rick himself.
Sure, Rick may like to take credit for driving a wedge between Jerry and Beth, and while he definitely precipitated their current separation, the question of whether they should have ever gotten married or whether they should have stayed married was always in the fabric of the series. Their refusal to separate for so long may have been used as a punch line by their own children, but it wasn’t really ever a joke. Yes, a cartoon that airs on Adult Swim — a programming block dominated by dubbed anime, stop motion action figures and shows about talking fries and milkshakes — is currently presenting a nuanced view of divorce. These are the times we live in.
But for anyone who expected Jerry to be relegated to the sidelines from now on, last night’s episode proved that there is still room in the story for Daddy Smith. The third season has already delved into the psychology of Beth, Rick, and their father-daughter relationship, as well as the coping mechanisms Morty and Summer are using to deal with their anger and confusion at Jerry for moving out. So last night the focus shifted to Jerry, because apparently Morty was worried about his dad being depressed and wanted Rick to take him on an adventure to give him a win and help him feel useful. That Rick agreed to the ruse for Morty’s sake borders on a break in character, but the fact that he quickly drops it and tells Jerry the truth helps rectify things. So the two men set off to a fancy death-proof resort to hash out a story they can tell Morty.
When I say «death-proof» I mean the resort is covered by an immortality field that prevents death. This is illustrated hauntingly by two children who chase each other around. One shoots the other in the head. Then she gets up and the chase resumes. Ya’ll see where this one is going, right?
The episode has Jerry confront his resentment with an opportunity to aid in the assassination of Rick, who has made enemies of the locals (their leader, named Risotto, is voiced by the incomparable Clancy Brown). The plan involves luring Rick onto a ride called the Whirly Dirly, a sort of rollercoaster with three rings, one of which momentarily dips outside of the immortality field. And while Rick does unload a lot of honesty at Jerry, largely about how he uses being pathetic to manipulate others (TRUTH) and how bad his marriage was even before Rick moved into the picture, Rick also admits to meddling in Jerry’s marriage. That move is so unexpected, it makes Jerry regret his part in the assassination attempt. Too bad he decides to save Rick while they are already on the ride, leading to a massive disaster that brings down the immortality field.
Those poor kids find out the hard way that death is back to being a consequence when the girl gets shot… and doesn’t get up again. It’s a fleeting moment, but also one of the most disturbing things the show has ever done (and this is a show that has had characters get chased by STDs and create exoskeletons out of rat limbs). Rick and Morty has never shied away from the idea of consequences, but in a season where the psychological underpinnings of the main characters are being poked and prodded, it’s nice to see a reminder that these adventures impact far more than just the Smiths and Rick.
Back on Earth, Summer has some boy troubles, Beth is a terrible mom about it, and things get blown out of proportion. And by that I mean Summer literally blows herself up to a huge size in a misguided attempt to make her boobs bigger. Rather than calling Rick for help, Beth decides this is her moment to shine — and she makes everything worse. Morty, who is continuing his streak of not putting up with shit from anybody, takes his mom to task in glorious fashion. The B-plot culminates in giant inside-out Summer and giant inside-out Beth hugging it out over a campsite, while Morty makes himself a s’more and threatens the boy who broke Summer’s heart. Who, we find out in the tag at the end, does wind up mutated (presumably by Morty). The kid is definitely learning from his grandfather’s ruthlessness if nothing else.
The characters all seem much more comfortable expressing their feelings than they ever were before. But did they actually learn anything? We’ll have to wait and see. One thing is for certain, though: Jerry will not be moving back into the house while Rick has that defense system hooked up.