April Fools’ Day is normally an awful time of year to be online. Your best bet is to shut off all your internet-connected devices and just hunker down with a good book, go for a walk, or enjoy a long nap lest you be sucked into a pit of online misery that’s somehow worse than the usual, everyday internet. The slew of bogus inventions, products, entertainments scoops, and movie news was made more worse this year given the already ridiculous prevalence of fake news in people’s online lives – leading to a realization that the internet’s obsession with April Fool’s Day may well necessitate the coining of the phrase “actual fake news” to distinguish silly website stunts from… well, you know.
Despite the myriad reasons there were to log off and forget the internet existed, Adult Swim did the unexpected and made April Fools’ Day a little more bearable, while also giving those living under a harsh but necessary 24-hour abstention from the online world a legitimate reason to fire up their laptop or tablet by stealthily planting the season 3 premiere of Rick & Morty on its website for everyone to enjoy. The result, then, was one of the darkest episodes of an already dark series that made the extended wait following the season 2 finale cliffhanger totally worthwhile.
From the beginning, Rick & Morty has buoyed its outlandish storytelling sensibilities by establishing a strong sense of continuity between them. That means when it comes to the adventures of the titular mad scientist and his dim-witted grandson all the interdimensional and world-destroying shenanigans they embark on, not to mention the seemingly random and arbitrary death and destruction that follows them around from one moment to the next, isn’t undone at the end of the episode. The show assures those watching that the events happened and are either being fitfully being processed by a still-developing teenage mind or are completely ignored by a brilliant yet probably sociopathic and certainly misanthropic one. For instance, when a love potion designed to give Morty a chance with his middle-school crush begins turning people into horrible monstrosities christened “Chronenbergs”, the show doesn’t resolve the situation by turning back the clock or, you know, actually fixing things; it (or rather its characters) simply jumps ship and heads to the next most viable dimension around, leaving a teenaged boy to try and wrestle with the crushing existential weight of abandoning his family in a horrible, inside-out dimension while also coming to terms with the fact he just buried himself and his grandpa in his new backyard.
That level of continuity meant that, for season 3, Rick & Morty would have to deal with some fairly major ramifications, like Rick being sent to prison and the Galactic Federation taking over Earth – which admittedly put Rick’s harebrained son-in-law Jerry in a better position career-wise, but you can see why others might not be too keen on the idea. Add the difficulty in bringing such a monumental storyline alteration full circle in a satisfying way to the overall difficulties in creating additional episodes – which co-creator Dan Harmon described early this year – and you can see why season 3 was delayed, and why Adult Swim was so eager to drop a brand new episode on unsuspecting viewers.
What’s surprising, then, is how ‘The Rickshank Rickdemption’ manages to hit the reset button of sorts, while still maintaining that same level of continuity. In typical Rick & Morty fashion, the consequences of everything that just transpired aren’t explored on the macro level – the Earth is more or less restored to its former self, albeit one that was formerly under alien rule – but rather in the extreme micro. As the episode’s closing moments slowly pull away from Rick’s garage workshop, the series has once again whittled itself down to a single question: How this is going to make Morty’s life even worse?
It’s the sort of thing viewers should expect from the show by now, but what makes the episode all the more entertaining is how it takes a grand universe-and-dimension-spanning storyline, mixes it with some very graphic sci-fi violence and space opera intrigue before focusing on a psychotic old man tormenting his grandson in a suburban garage. What’s more, in a moment of meta-madness, the episode actually let’s Rick admit this season is going to go to some pretty dark places and jokingly (or maybe not) insisting his character arc is more or less all about getting his hands on a discontinued McNugget dipping sauce.
But aside from Rick tricking an alien voiced by Nathan Fillion into thinking he’s acquired the algorithm for interdimensional travel and then jumping from one body to the next, laying waste to both the Galactic Federation and the Citadel of Ricks (all while apparently in search of a toilet) in increasingly bloody fashion, the episode excels at demonstrating its willingness to explore the nightmare that is Morty’s life. One of the best jokes in the series is the subversion of the Marty McFly/Doc Brown or Dr. Who/Companion dynamic by turning every adventure had by Rick Sanchez and his grandson into a psychologically scarring escapade in which the latter is not just witness to horrors beyond belief, but is also berated constantly for being such a numbskull.
The relationship between the two characters raises an interesting question in what exactly Rick’s role in the grand scheme of things is. While in the Citadel of Ricks, Morty takes his sister Summer to task for thinking their grandpa is a hero. And although he’s pretty sure Rick isn’t a villain, Morty likens him to something more akin to a vengeful god – one whom everyone (but especially Morty) is at the mercy of. That’s a fairly accurate description of what the show has turned Rick into: a trickster god fighting a losing battle against his own deep psychological demons. It’s no wonder, then, that Morty, seizing upon an opportunity, inadvertently saves his sister by shooting his grandpa in the head with a fake gun – only to realize the gun was fake (and labeled as such) after he pulled the trigger.
What makes Rick & Morty worth coming back to and waiting for isn’t just the wildly bizarre situations its titular characters find themselves embroiled in or the way co-creator Justin Roiland is sometimes just riffing, allowing Rick to go off the rails in a rant about a Disney movie tie-in Szechuan sauce (or any other time the show has gone off the rails). It’s the way the series is increasingly aware the cost of its madness on all the characters involved. Sure, Summer seems gleefully unaffected by it all, running off to draw and quarter some aliens because it’s “patriotic,” but the same isn’t true of the rest of the house. Beth and Jerry are on their way to a divorce – one that’s always felt like it was just around the corner – while Rick assumes a frighteningly aggressive patriarchal presence in Morty’s life, one that, given how often Morty finds himself an accomplice to his grandfather’s dimension-sullying machinations, makes the authoritarian rule of the Galactic Federation seem almost appealing in retrospect.
Perhaps the increased understanding of what an unending sequence of traumas Morty’s life is explains why season 3 has been so difficult for the writers to bring to fruition. But the obvious degree of difficulty also makes the episode’s success all the more rewarding. Adult Swim’s April Fools’ Day stunt not only brightened many a fan’s day, but it did so by bringing about one of the darkest and most satisfying episodes of Rick & Morty yet.
Rick & Morty season 3 will air on Adult Swim in 2017.