Rick and Morty, S03E10: “The Rickchurian Mortydate”

Rick and Morty, S03E10: “The Rickchurian Mortydate”

In an Underwhelming Season Finale, Rick and Morty Twists Itself into a Fine Mess


“The Rickchurian Mortydate” isn’t a bad episode of Rick and Morty, but it is demonstrative of the show at its most shallow and disappointing. If you want funny, it still delivers, but there’s nothing particularly satisfying about watching it disappear up its own arse.

Rating: 6.5/11

Season Rating: 9/11


Every artist has the capacity to lean so hard into their best aspects that its brings out the worst in them. One day, Kanye West might push his extravagance so far that it becomes vulgar and hollow. Louis C.K.’s brand of biting observation might get too real to be satirical. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ portrayal of deluded grandeur could somehow wear thin. With that in mind – and with all respect to Justin Roiland and the extensive writing staff that also help to define Rick and Morty – the danger inherent to Dan Harmon is in his tendency to be a bit of a show off.

Harmon’s innate understanding of how stories operate and characters function within them has always been to his benefit, at least in theory. Because he’s so attuned to how plots and tropes usually play out, he’s able to subvert them and toy with the audience’s expectations. To add another layer to it, he often addresses the audience directly to let them know precisely what he’s doing. There’s about three of four different shades of meta playing out at any given time in a script penned by Harmon, and he’s not shy about pointing it out. When it works, it can lead to some phenomenal television, like “Look Who’s Purging Now” or Community‘s series finale. When it doesn’t (which is, admittedly, pretty rare), it can derail things very quickly.

It’s for this reason that – as much as I would’ve loved for this fantastic season of Rick and Morty to go out on a high note – it’s hard for me to be too thrilled with “The Rickchurian Mortydate”. It’s the only episode of the show thus far to be solely written by Harmon and, yes, you can very much tell. It’s full of cringey winks (a South Park reference gets thrown in pretty early), some very smug one-liners (“When smart people get happy, they stop recognising themselves.”), a bunch of windy back-and-forths (mostly the confrontation in the oval office) and waaay too much of Rick’s grandstanding.

Basically, without Roiland’s goofier sensibilities to reign in Harmon’s most analytical impulses, huge swaths of this episode play out as the show contemplating its own existence without even bothering to form a cohesive story around it. To employ a crude metaphor, it’s like paying to see a monkey juggle when instead it just sits there and sucks its own dick. It’s still pretty impressive and entertaining, and you can tell the monkey loves it, but it’s not really what you paid to see.

(Adult Swim)

As is usually the case, we begin with Rick and Morty being called upon to help save the earth, this time by the U.S. president. Turns out, the problem is simply just a weird mutant dog roaming the Kennedy sex tunnels underneath the White House. Rick and Morty quickly grow bored of the adventure and, when the president calls them out for not doing their duty, Rick suggests that he doesn’t have any real authority over them. This leads to a pissing contest between the two men, where the president tries to prove that the U.S. has no need of Rick and Morty while Rick stubbornly insists that he’s still the smartest man in the universe. Chaos ensues.

That’s what happens in the episode but, really, it’s as much about Beth’s emotional arc as anything else. Last episode, Beth was faced with the choice of either abandoning her family and being replaced by a clone or sticking around for the long haul. Naturally, we have no idea what she ultimately decided, but it’s starting to concern Beth that she might be the clone version of herself. Even after Rick’s half-arsed assurances that she’s not a clone, she finds herself driven to Jerry’s apartment, begging for some sort of affirmation that she’s the real Beth.

This leads to the best scene in the episode, as well as a fairly believable redemption for Jerry after what’s been a stupendously depressing run for him this season. He sits with Beth on his carpet and plays some orchestral music from the movie Volcano to remind them both of a concert he once took her to. This was back when they were first dating, and Jerry recalls his inner turmoil at wanting to hold Beth’s hand so badly. It’s a disarmingly sweet moment, filled with precise little Jerry-isms – like his hand sweating so much that he has to wipe it on the grass, only to get a Snicker wrapper stuck to it – which results in Beth coming back around to accepting him as the (doubly) simple man she once fell in love with.

If I could take that moment with Beth and Jerry and believe Harmon wants it to be the core of this episode, and the show as a whole, then I would probably be a lot more buzzed with this finale. But, whether he intends for it to be the case or not, Harmon continues to frame Rick as our hero, something that it seemed the show was making an interesting push away from this season with stand-out episodes like “The Vindicators” and “The Ricklantis Mixup“.

(Adult Swim)

Amazing though Rick and Morty is, there are some pretty toxic elements of this show’s fanbase, a lot of whom identify with Rick and his nihilistic boorishness; so, as both a corrective for the show and a repudiation of these dickheads, it’s become more intriguing to watch Rick and Morty shift away from his attitude as the central drive of the show. Because often, when Rick’s entire credo as a self-aggrandising arse is laid bare and called out for what it is, Morty and his family are given a much bigger opportunity to define themselves outside of Rick’s toxic orbit.

Honestly, watching Rick cede some of his control in favour of allowing other members of the Smith family to bring their own outlook to the forefront has become one of the most rewarding aspects of the show. Last episode, we got a signature Rick speech all about the meaningless of existence, but it was in service of Beth accepting who she is. In “Vindicators”, Morty is caught off guard by what he thinks is Rick showing a vulnerable side of himself, only to be bitterly reminded of what a truly cold motherfucker he is. But there’s no such luck this time around.

Yes, Rick claiming that the Smith family are choosing to care about the wrong stuff in an infinite universe does seem to fall on deaf ears, but I couldn’t help feeling that the show is still framing them as the idiots in this circumstance. It seems very much like Rick’s the struggling genius that they’re too stupid to get, and it’s more of a sacrifice for him to have to continue living within that context than it is for the Smith’s to have to accept him. This also comes down to how much the show loves to play up Rick’s awesomeness: when there’s so much spectacle involved with him trashing the White House in his struggle with the president, it doesn’t really matter that his whole reason is to stubbornly procure Morty a selfie. At the end of the day the show definitely wants us to be thrilled with the violent mayhem Rick inflicts, and it can’t help but feel like Beth and Jerry’s sweeter, more intimate reconciliation gets overshadowed by comparison.

Not to mention – and this really is the most unforgivable part of the episode – none of this really comes together as a proper story with emotional stakes. Think back to the final episodes of Season 1 and 2 of Rick and Morty. Each contained some of the most inspired storytelling of the entire show: “Ricksy Business” saw Rick, Morty and Summer throwing a wacked-out space party, while “The Wedding Squanchers” had the Smith family attending Birdperson’s wedding. Notice how neither of those plots, on their own, are even sort of original. And yet, it was the emotional catharsis (or tragedy) of each episode that made it special. In the former, Morty realises for maybe the first time that his grandpa’s indifferent facade masked a well of desperate loneliness; in the latter, Rick was forced to abandon his family in order to protect them.

(Adult Swim)

The payoff for each of these instances is right there, woven perfectly into the stories. Of course Rick’s crushing misery is finally acknowledged in “Ricksy Business”, where he spends the whole episode trying to numb himself with intergalactic narcotics. And it’s doubly harrowing in “The Wedding Squanchers” that Rick leaves his loved ones after coming to terms with Birdperson’s love for Tammy, especially when she turns out to be an undercover agent for the Galactic Federation. Funny though they are, these episodes are defined by their careful and genuine treatment of their characters, by laying the foundation for the gut-wrenching realisations they have and decisions they’re pushed to make by the end.

In contrast, “The Rickchurian Mortydate” contains a few breaths of sincerity which are smothered by an ironic sense of remove. It pushes the narrative of Rick’s God-like capabilities and startling intellect as hard as the show ever has, then makes a half-cocked attempt to walk it back in the last few minutes. It contains a miniature civilisation, a balls-out battle setpiece and at least 30% more of Rick’s bullshit than necessary and, by the time it reaches the end, you can practically hear it panting with exertion. I mean, shit, it even has Beth shattering the fourth wall by commenting on what’ll be different about the show going forward, completely undermining her and Jerry’s newfound love. I’m sure this will sit well with a good deal of the fanbase, but it felt way too smirky for me.

Look, obviously – based on the decent grade above and my overall love for this show – I didn’t think this was a terrible episode. Hell, it wasn’t even strictly bad, even if it did revel in some of Rick and Morty‘s least appealing tendencies and was (hopefully) the worst episode the show will ever make. Granted, it was still a pretty funny episode of television. Also, though the lead-up was pretty bloated, the central battle between Rick and the president does present the show at its most ludicrously inventive. And, once again, I really loved that Beth and Jerry scene. But I couldn’t help but get a bad taste in my mouth from this episode, especially as a capper to such a successful season. It’s as if that monkey from earlier finished up with himself and – just to add to to the insult – kissed me square on my fat, dumb mouth.


Quotes & Random Thoughts


  • This week, on Second Rickpression: I noticed on a repeat viewing that the scientist who accompanies the president and his troops to Brazil is the same one who intercepts Rick’s “first contact” when he and Morty were trapped in that alien menagerie in “Morty’s Mindblowers”. Small world.


  • Apologies for the lack of screengrabs, more will be added when available.


  • “Come on football, go, go!”


  • Someone who wants to read further into it can, but I for one am grateful that the show chose to basically opt out of the Trump narrative with their fictional president. Yes, on a surface level they’re both stubborn and thin-skinned, but beyond that there aren’t a whole lotta connections to be made. Again, yes, Rick calling him a “spoiled control freak who thinks he controls the world” is almost a giveaway, but I’m gonna go ahead and just call that, y’know, every president.


  • “Is this game popular with autistic people?
    “Why would you say something like that?
    “‘Cause I’m starting to love it!”


  • Sanchezium isn’t real, but it turns out Rick is afraid of pirates.


  • “I am presidentress of the Mega-Gargantuans. We named ourselves before learning we were small.”


  • “China doesn’t piss on the White House.”
    “Well, why would they? I’m sure it was expensive.”


  • For darkest joke, I’ll go with Rick’s words to that poor first casualty of his onslaught: “Son, you have a right to refuse his order and I guarantee you’re going to die if you touch me. And there’s no afterlife, everything just goes black. Don’t do it.”


  • “Is that her address?”
    “You don’t know, ’cause you’re a bad son!


  • “You’re a terrorist, you’re an enemy of the state, and you kicked me in the balls ten minutes ago!”


  • Rick is right about one thing: Summer’s strained fart was, subjectively, funny.


  • It is good to see Mr. Poopybutthole again.

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