This post contains spoilers for the first two seasons of Rick and Morty, and mild spoilers for the third. Read on at your own discretion.
To maintain the interest of its audience, television programmes must be constantly evolving to keep their content fresh and accessible. Such change must be slow and gradual rather than sudden, thereby allowing plenty of time to explore a setting or situation. In that sense, the third season of Rick and Morty is a success – at least, for the most part it is.
As the season begins, Rick (voice of Justin Roiland) remains incarcerated by the Galactic Federation having previously turned himself in, as per the season two finale “The Wedding Squanchers”. Meanwhile, Earth has become a colony of the Federation, which does not seem to bother Rick’s family. They have been living in relative happiness since the events of the previous season, with Jerry (Chris Parnell) having been given a job to support his family. The only unhappy member of the household being Summer (Spencer Grammer), Rick’s teenage granddaughter, who openly criticises her new lifestyle.
Generally, the purpose of a premiere episode is to provide exposition or set-up a scenario for the upcoming season; in this instance, one could be led to believe that Rick and Morty’s third season would focus on Rick’s time in custody, or Morty’s (Roiland again) adjustment to life under the Federation’s rule. Instead, “The Rickshank Rickdemption” has Rick make a convoluted escape from prison, destroy the Council of Ricks and anti-climactically dissolve the Galactic Federation. It’s not until episode’s end that the season’s major story-arc is revealed: Beth (Sarah Chalke) divorcing Jerry.
In fairness, this conflict does provide Season Three with some of its most enjoyable episodes. One such example is the sophomore episode, “Rickmancing the Stone”, which sees Morty and Summer release their frustrations in a Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic wasteland – one of the more obvious references to another science-fiction property. Another episode, “The Whirly-Dirly Conspiracy Theory”, has Rick take Jerry on an intergalactic adventure to help the latter overcome his divorce, while back on Earth, Beth must adjust to life as a single parent.
For this author, the best episode of the third season would have to be “Rest and Ricklaxation”. It sees the titular protagonists relax at an outer-space day-spa after a long, arduous and death-defying adventure. They enter a sauna to undergo a detox, only for the “toxins” to leave them entirely, providing both with a more positive outlook on life, but also causing them grief. This episode is a great reminder as to why these characters, the show and we as human beings occasionally need the toxic elements of our personality to operate.
If only this message were reinforced more frequently, for this season of Rick and Morty is also the most unpleasant in tone. Throughout the ten-episode run, there are plenty of moments where the programme is either needlessly violent (think “Pickle Rick”, “The Rickchurian Mortydate”) or just plain depressing (“Vindicators 3”, “The ABCs of Beth”, “Morty’s Mind Blowers”). Issues also arise with Summer’s character who, aside from being a stereotypical teenage girl, isn’t given much to do – it’s only in the first two episodes that she takes a proactive role in the affairs of her grandfather.
Not that any of this will damage the programme’s reputation. 2017 has seen the popularity of Rick and Morty reach fever-pitch, with phenomenal ratings and glowing reviews seeing it transform from a darkly comic, but otherwise fun, animated series to one of the most popular shows on cable television. It seems that audiences are far more comfortable with Rick being a dotard than a nuanced character, and the stories being nihilistic rather than satirical in nature. But who is this reviewer to judge.
The third season of Rick and Morty may not be the programme’s finest, but there are instances of brilliance, fleeting as they may be. Ultimately, this season was let-down by its own toxicity – the show could never function without it, but it does need to be eased here and there in order to be more enjoyable.