Dear reader, I’m ashamed to say I’ve found myself on a bit of a tangent. It all started with the last CC, which deviated from the original idea of analysing sci-fi comedy to looking at character development using alternative dimensions, and if you’re not into that then I’m afraid this is more of the same. But it is about Rick and Morty this time, and since you’re on the internet then you probably love it to the point of obsession, so bear with me for this week and we’ll get back to the task at hand next time.
Like Red Dwarf, Rick and Morty uses the interpretation of quantum mechanics/ science fiction trope known as “The Many Worlds Theory,” developed by Hugh Everett and John Wheeler in the 1950s, basically positing that everything that could ever happen has happened in an alternate or parallel universe. Unlike Red Dwarf, Rick and Morty uses it as a premise, giving the protagonists ( mad scientist Rick and his fretful, easily influenced grandson Morty) the ability to cross dimensions at will in order to explore an animated multiverse of cosmic horror, pop culture references, and dick jokes.
Pertaining to character development, S01E10 “Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind” is a good place to start.
In this episode, the Rick and Morty of earth C-137 (who, for the sake of clarity are the original or Prime duo, although it can get rather confusing) are brought before The Council of Ricks, a cooperative of Ricks throughout the multiverse who banded together for protection.
Rick C-137 however is deeply against the concept, having been established over the last 9 episodes as an alcoholic, convention eschewing narcissist, comparing them to cattle, or “those people who answer questions on Yahoo! Answers.”
The council reveal that 27 Ricks across the multiverse have been killed, and as a non council member, Rick C-137 is the prime suspect. Having Rick put on trial by a group of himself further cements his rebellious nature, and his distaste of being considered anything else than as a lone maverick:
” You wanted to be safe from the government so you became a stupid government! That makes every Rick here less Rick than me!”
As Rick and Morty C-137 go on the run to catch the real killer, the episode splits focus between their exploits and the situation back at the house, now occupied by the council in the event that Rick makes contact. Here, the council Ricks are at their most Rick-like (particularly in their bullying of Jerry, Rick’s pathetic son-in-law ), with the exception of Rick J-19 Zeta 7: a buck toothed, bowl cut Rick that actually befriends Jerry over the course of the episode.
coincidence? Almost certainly!
Like Dwayne, this Rick defines our Rick by reinforcing what he isn’t- soft, caring, self-deprecating and complimentary of others. The contrast is immediately demonstrated by the other Ricks, who call this one “Doofus Rick,” bullying him like frat boys by claiming he eats his own poop, and at the end of the episode demonstrating their outright contempt for him (“You make us ashamed to be ourselves!”).
Meanwhile, Rick and Morty C-137’s journey explores what it’s like to be a Morty in the grand scheme of things. Rick callously explains that he’s merely camouflage- a being whose brainwaves compliment and make his own invisible:
“See, w-w-w-when a Rick i-is with a Morty, the genius waves get can cancelled out by [Clears throat] …Morty waves.”
Morty C-137 is understandably annoyed by this, but even when confronted by a dome covered in Mortys to cloak the real killer’s brainwaves (Evil Rick, complete with black shirt and eyescar), he refuses to accept this fate, and leads the Mortys in a bloody rebellion, saving the day.
“I know you’re scared, because I’m scared. But that’s no reason to accept our fate! We’re Mortys! We’re not defined by our relationships to rick! Our destiny is our own!”
Much like the other Ricks, the other Mortys seen throughout the episode (both at the council with their Ricks and the ones kidnapped) are the boiled down essence of his character (good-hearted but easily distressed/ traumatized), but unlike the Ricks, the Mortys show us how our Morty has developed as a character, showing courage and a will to reject his usual role as sidekick.
Between bouts of inter-dimensional adventure, the series also focuses on the disharmonious domestic life of the Smith family, particularly Jerry and wife Beth’s (Rick’s daughter) rocky relationship, which in a perverse play on the “will they won’t they” trope, is always on the brink of divorce, only for the episode’s events to bring them back together.
In SO1EO8 “Rixty Minutes,” an inter-dimensional cable box reveals that in an alternate dimension without their eldest child Summer, who was likely aborted so that her parents could carry on with their lives (Jerry becomes a famous movie star doing coke with Johnny Depp, whilst Beth achieved her dreams as a nobel prize-winning surgeon). Seeing this makes them realise how unsatisfied they are with their lives, but when the alternate Jerry and Beth realise how miserable they’ve been without one another, they realise they same thing, and decide to stay together.
Use of alternative dimensions allows the couple to see the truth of their relationship- that it is both a pretence for the sake of their children, their alternate lives proving that their marriage is the main cause for their dissatisfaction in life, and also that there is a deeply felt love and kinship between in spite of this.
In S02E07 “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez,” Rick dumps the unhappy couple at the best marriage counsellors in the universe, which uses a machine that scans their brains and produces physical manifestations of their visions of each other, called Mytholog. They come up with this:
Jerry’s perception of Beth and Beth’s perception of Jerry
The Mythologs are placed in cells with each other for the couples to obverse their interactions, intending to show that they do not work like the real marriages of the visitors. whilst the other couple’s Mythologs tend to fight, Beth and Jerry’s Mythologs become co-dependent and escape, Beth’s Mytholog slaughtering anything she comes across, and capturing the real Beth, and strapping her into the machine to clone an army of Jerry Mythologs. When asked why not an army of Beth Mythologs, she responds:
“There could never be more than one of me. I’m the strongest, smartest being alive because Jerry thinks you’re that much stronger and smarter than you are!”
Meanwhile the real Jerry encounters his Mytholog, easily scaring it into submission. Angry at his wife’s perception of him as a subservient worm creature, Jerry storms in guns blazing to save her. This act changes Beth’s perception of Jerry and her mind starts spawning hunky Jerry’s to fight, but they are still no match for the Beth Mytholog. Jerry uses the machine on a hunky Jerry, creating a goddess Beth to vanquish the other one. Jerry explains:
“Well, I had a feeling that, in your mind, the ideal version of me is one smart enough to see you as… A goddess.”
The couple once again agree to stay together, at least until Morty graduates highschool.
Like Red Dwarf’s Dimension Jump, Rixty Minutes presents a pivotal moment in Beth and Jerry’s life (Summer’s abortion), and lets them see what might have been, whilst Big Trouble in Little Sanchez treads similar paths to Terrorform, by having the darker parts of a person’s psyche made physical to explore not only their own negative character traits, but how they interact to creative their strong, but poisonous relationship.
For me however, Red Dwarf comes out on top here, but only because of authorial intent. Whereas the Red Dwarf plots are full episodes designed around the main characters, Beth and Jerry often star in short, secondary plots because they are ultimately secondary characters, there to provide a bedrock of normalcy to juxtapose against Rick and Morty’s wacky space adventures.
The parental heart of the sitcom family that provides a warm, loving stability is a classic sitcom trope, but Rick and Morty plays with this trope, using the grim and familiar reality of unprepared parents forced into becoming a family, but still having them provide that bedrock, creating a relationship stuck in a cycle of denial, on the brink of destruction, moments from collapse, but not quite willing to live without each other.
It’s this kind of grim reality that, more than it’s adventures through the universe, makes the show so special.