Rick and Morty, S03E01:
“The Rickshank Redemption”

Rick and Morty, S03E01:
“The Rickshank Redemption”

After 18 Months Away, Rick and Morty Returned in April to Remind us How to Laugh Through the Struggle


Arriving just as our unrelenting impatience for new episodes was set to hit terminal bitch-itude, Rick and Morty’s first episode in over a year is better than we could’ve reasonably expected. The plot rejiggery limits the joke quota just slightly, but it’s still better than 95% of television by a quantum leap.

Rating: 9.5/11


Everyone wants to be Rick and probably wants to be with someone like Beth, in one way or another. We’ve all known someone like Summer and no one wants to be Jerry. But, deep down, most of us are all probably Morty, and we have to deal with that. This is the condensed spectrum of all our possible selves, of the lives we could live, according to Rick and Morty. As might be expected, the first episode of the show’s long-awaited third season – in between dozens of incredible jokes and a handful of breathless animated setpieces – hammers home the pros and cons of each existence, dealing quietly with the the ongoing theme of being honest about who you, and the people around you, truly are.

(Adult Swim)

Let’s start with Rick, the self-proclaimed (and, to be fair, widely regarded) smartest man in the universe. He’s savvy and resourceful, fiercely intelligent and impossible to shame or undermine. Of course, those same traits that make him a great inventor, interdimensional traveller and banterer also feed into his narcissism, selfishness and (sometimes suicidal) alcoholism. Yet, as complicated a character as Rick might seem, he has the most basic of internal conflicts in the whole show: he has to choose between doing what he wants versus doing what’s best for his family, which is almost always diametrically opposed. That’s what makes his choice to surrender to the Galactic Federation at the end of last season so layered. Because yeah, technically he did it for the sake of his family, but it still resulted in him abandoning them all once again.

(Adult Swim)

Beth, on the other hand, is a woman of considerable means whose entire life – up until recently, it seems – has been an attempt to course correct from the moment Rick left her when she was a child. I mean, she fuckin’ married Jerry to start with, the Anti-Rick if ever there was one. But she’s also established a comfortable, if staid, suburban lifestyle for herself and her family. She’s a horse surgeon, which seems to be some sort of nudge at falling just short of achieving her full potential, and often fights unnecessary battles in order to prove something of her own self-worth. Stubborn and sometimes a little caustic, Beth’s a loyal and dedicated person, someone you definitely want in your corner over the long-haul.

(Adult Swim)

Summer’s something of a wildcard, someone who can be just as willing to go along with Rick’s wayward schemes and adventures as she is to point out how fucked everything about them is. In the early days of the show, she heavily disapproved of her grandpa and Morty’s late night galavanting, but this was later revealed to be more down to jealousy than actual concern. As the years have gone by, Rick’s efforts to be more inclusive with her has definitely strengthened their bond, to the extent that she’s basically the only person actually worried about Rick at the start of this episode, wanting to set out and save him where Morty is much more content to leave him to his fate.

(Adult Swim)

Then, there’s Jerry… poor fuckin’ Jerry. Jerry is like every ineffectual male role model you’ve ever known, operating at about 35% capacity on his best day. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a loving father who mostly seems to recognise how lucky he is to have a woman like Beth, but in this way he sort of proves Rick’s theory that emotional openness somehow makes one a lesser person in the overall. Shit, Jerry himself seems convinced that he’s not really worth having around: in the course of the show, he’s gone from living the ideal version of his life in what is basically a broken simulator to believing he’s a parasite that has infiltrated the Smith family to, in this episode, crawling all the way home from danger because “it kept working“.

(Adult Swim)

And, of course, Morty is the young, uncertain and deeply impressionable kid at the centre of it all. With a squeaky, pubescent voice and temperament that’s probably best described as “terminally virginal”, it seems more and more likely that Morty will suffer the most consequential fate in the show, and it will be up to the decisions he makes. He’s the audience’s wimpy yet occasionally assert surrogate, someone in way over his head being pulled between two polar extremes: Rick’s intellectual callousness and Jerry’s well-meaning obliviousness. And, as “The Rickshank Redemption” begins, he seems firmly in the latter camp, less concerned with his grandpa’s current whereabouts than making the best of a bad situation.

So, getting to the episode, those whereabouts are, essentially, space prison. As per the events of 2015’s “The Wedding Squanchers”, Rick’s being detained by the Galactic Federation for his interstellar crimes and general Rick-ness. Now, you might think this would be incentive for the Council of Ricks to stage a rescue mission to save one of their own, but remember that Rick’s hate nothing more than themselves and, as our Rick is the Rick-iest (stay with me here), he is the most hated amongst them. That’s a tough spot to be in, having such a deep self-loathing that every conceivable version of yourself despises… you. Not only does it provide a great entity for Rick to rail against, it’s a heavy and deeply upsetting metaphor for the cycle of self-directed misery that is Rick’s life.

In one way or another, every other character’s arc in this episode is somehow informed by Rick’s multitudinous fuckheadedness. Morty and Summer fight over whether or not to try and rescue Rick from the Galactic Federation, with Summer insisting that their grandpa is a man worth having around while Morty assures her that his very absence disproves that notion. “He bails on everybody!” Morty yells at his sister, and though Summer sees him bailing as more of a sacrifice for the betterment of his family, it certainly fits with the pattern of Rick’s lifelong behaviour.

Beth, meanwhile, doesn’t even want to hear her father’s name in light of his most recent abandonment, though she’s ironically taken to heavy drinking in his absence, a reflection of one of Rick’s most entrenched pastimes. Jerry, unsurprisingly, is flourishing in a Rick-free, Galactic Federation-governed world, one where his casual stupidity and lack of any real purpose can be medicinally managed and comfortably tolerated. One of the craftiest tricks “The Rickshank Redemption” manages is having every character’s initial position on Rick almost totally reversed by the end of the episode.

The second most impressive? Somehow making Jerry look even fuckin’ stupider. (Adult Swim)

But, before we get to that, it’s worth reiterating that this is why everyone wants to be the Rick of their own story, not only because of his boundless knowledge, quick wit and resilience but because of the impact he has on those around him. Who doesn’t want to believe they’re the most important person in the lives of others, as Rick clearly is? For better or worse, he’s the driving force in all of these peoples’ lives, and his sudden absence incites as much incident as his chaotic re-emergence. Of course, that’s a lot of pressure to have, knowing how much your own brilliance and outsized presence affects others while simultaneously trying to play it cool. Hence, the absurd amount of drinking and dickishness that is Rick’s trademark.

Although, maybe that’s too generous a reading of this perennially belching madman. Maybe he simply has a fundamental incapability to assimilate with a loving family, to reciprocate the affection they so willingly shower him with. Maybe it’s that he can’t accept them in his heart while knowing that his very presence irreparably fucks with their lives and so, in order to manage the guilt of that, he numbs himself with whatever is in that ubiquitous flask of his. As Morty says, a normal life is “something you can’t have when Rick shows up.”

In any case, Rick’s incarceration and subsequent escape takes up most of this episode, and his interactions with the rest of the Smith family throughout firmly establishes where everyone will stand for the rest of the season. For instance, it seems likely that Morty will exhibit some more of the pushback against Rick that’s been a long time coming over the series, as evidenced by the hilarious extended Mexican standoff scene this episode. When Morty finally snaps and shoots Rick (with a fake laser gun), it’s not much of a surprise to learn that Rick planned the whole thing, but it is telling that, in the moment, Morty basically decided to murder his grandpa out of long-simmering frustration.

Although, you give Morty a gun and, really, you reap what you sow. (Adult Swim)

In that same scene, Summer veers between having to reassure herself that her grandfather wouldn’t sincerely gamble with her life, having the startling realisation that he totally would and then, once again, swinging back to seeing him as a secretly sentimental old bastard. It may not be too far removed from her original feelings towards Rick, but it’s pretty representative of how tenuous a real connection with Rick can seem.

Finally, Rick’s return brings Beth back around to idolising her father, which is pretty indicative of her unwillingness to fault him so long as he sticks around. Which, Christ, is just about the most concise illustration of a passively abusive relationship that I can imagine. Meanwhile, Rick being allowed back into the house winds up being the final straw for Jerry, who puts an ultimatum to Beth that is so tragically unwinnable from his perspective (“It’s either him or me!“) that it’s almost hard to laugh at her blank stare. And, while I doubt their divorce is gonna stick – or that, at the least, we’re not still gonna be seeing Jerry on a weekly basis – it’s a fundamental disruption of the status quo that typifies Rick’s entire existence. He is the very personification of entropy, a gradual and unpredictable decline into chaos within a closed system. Or, I don’t know, something science-y like that.


Quotes & Random Thoughts


  • By the way, as it’s likely new episodes of Rick and Morty will be airing any day now, we’ve decided to do a write-up of this episode now so as to be up to date when and if that mythical second episode actually arrives.


  • Also, goddamn I know how unnecessarily long this review is, but I wanted to use it as an opportunity to discuss the show as a whole before we get into strictly episodic recaps. Won’t happen again… probably.


  • Everything, fuckin’ everything about Nathan Fillion’s guest performance as Cornvelious Daniel is incredible, from his typically debonair interrogation methods to his incredulous love of the legendary szechuan sauce and, of course, his stellar Rick impression after he’s been assimilated.


  • It’s weirdly humanising to see how much 9/11 actually fucked with Rick, and his rambling, panicked background dialogue (“…used to take away our freedoms!”) is a great detail.


  • “I’m leaving you with my fear of wicker furniture, my desire to play the trumpet, my tentative plans to purchase a hat and six years of improv workshops. Comedy comes in threes!” It’s hard to make an original meta-comedy joke these days, but that one was pretty great.


  • “I’m bummed I didn’t get to give that insect dick a test drive.” Aren’t we all?


  • “He’s a spy, blow him up. I’m gonna go take a shit.” Yeah, Rick basically gets all the best lines this episode.


  • Ok, here’s a great Morty shutdown, speaking with Lawyer Morty: “What…? No, I don’t wanna see your pog collection!


  • The montage of beatdowns dispensed to the various Ricks and Morties at the crumbling Citadel of Ricks is a thing of impenetrable beauty, with my obvious favourite being the brutal use of Hammer Morty.


  • “Employee of the Month, ladies and gentlemen.” Rick’s dry as fuck comments after killing people/aliens is why he’s my pick for the next James Bond.


  • For my money, there is no commentary of capitalism on TV as consistently clever as that on Rick and Morty. First, there was the hilarious squabble between who will make the bread so everyone can eat at the end of “Look Who’s Purging Now”, and now there’s the glorious descent into chaos after Rick switches the intergalactic currency from “1” to “0”.

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“The Rickshank Redemption”

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