Rick and Morty puts Jerry in the spotlight as the hard-luck case joins his ex-father-in-law for an unlikely but necessary adventure.
Last week, Rick and Morty ended an episode that essentially served up Rick Sanchez as the villain in his own story (as well as pretty much everyone else's) by delivering a coda wherein he essentially kidnapped his naked, soon-to-be ex-son-in-law, Jerry, from his bed for an impromptu midnight adventure. That move did little to counter the implications of the role Rick played in an episode like 'Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender', but it did kick open the door for an unlikely scenario in which Rick and Jerry can have a one-on-one adventure without Morty, Summer, or Beth around. It's an unusual dynamic that promises to shed some light on Jerry's situation since separating from his wife and moving into an apartment complex prowled by unemployment check-eating wolves and where "loser" is heard on the wind (though that may just be a phenomenon following Jerry).
At any rate, the thought of Rick and a naked Jerry cruising the galaxy is, strangely, an intriguing notion, especially after an episode like 'Vindicators' that demonstrated the degree to which Rick's grandchild has been forced to grow and mature, simply to deal with his grandpa's shenanigans. This is a relatively new scenario made hazardous by virtue of the extremes both Rick and Jerry have found themselves gravitating toward over the course of this third season. Rick's general disdain for others mixed with Jerry's rapid downward spiral promises an adventure unlike anything else this season.
What's surprising about 'The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy' is that the episode has precious little whirly or dirly, and is instead more focused on discussing the impact Rick has had on the lives of his daughter and her family. But it also continues a trend seen this season that has shifted the focus from Rick to the supporting cast of Morty, Summer, Beth, and in this instance, Jerry, just enough so that it creates a through-line of these characters taking stock of and sometimes even responsibility for the decisions they've made in the time that Rick's been back. Make no mistake, things have been wildly different for the Smiths since handing over the garage to an absent father and grandfather.
It would make sense to see the series deal with Rick's presence on an episode-by-episode basis, showcasing a wildly different scenario every week that demonstrates his scientific prowess and uncanny ability to rectify the wrongs that are inherently going to go along with his tinkering with… well, everything. To be fair, Rick and Morty does exactly that, but it also does the formula one better: showing the lasting effects of every adventure on the people in Rick's orbit. This was one of the elements that made the series stand out from the beginning, the idea that these adventures would have lasting effects, or that Morty would be forever aware that his original family was abandoned in a Cronenberged dimension while he replaced a dead version of himself in an otherwise identical one.
Season 3, however, has taken that unique aspect of the show a step further by reducing the emphasis on the fantastical and instead developing an unpredictable mix wherein domesticity and outlandish storylines commingle in interesting ways. The results, so far, have been seen in the way characters have grown and changed as a response to the conditions they find themselves in. In the season premiere, it was underlined in the way Summer chose to confront the notion of her parent's separation. Last week, it was how Morty somberly defused all of Rick's Saw-inspired traps. In that moment, he was no longer just a doofy teenager with a wildly eccentric grandfather; the toll of dealing with this sort of situation over and over again had aged him far beyond his actual years.
The result has delivered a Morty who is much less the dithering incompetent he once was. In season 3 he's become a far more capable character, one who has learned so many hard lessons that he's now the one delivering them. As much as the episode's Earthbound subplot is about Summer's body issues and Beth's inability to deal with or address her daughter's emotional needs beyond a dismissive acknowledgement that they exist, resulting in some body modifications that go predictably, horrifically awry, it's really about the degree to which Morty has, at the ripe old age of fourteen, gotten too old for this s**t.
Morty is quick to call Beth out on her Rick-like behavior and refusal to ask for help in a situation that's quickly escalating beyond her ability to deal with it. In a sense, Morty's dealings with his grandfather has given him the unique ability to recognize a certain kind of nonsense, and his mother is certainly guilty of it as she attempts to fix her daughter by guessing at the solution rather than addressing the root cause of the problem. It takes some doing, and by that the show means growing Beth to the size of a building and seeing her turned inside out, but eventually she is able to find the right solution. And while Morty has developed a finely tuned BS detector for those acting like his grandfather, here he also displays a penchant for Rick-like behavior of his own, punishing the young man who broke his sister's heart by turning him into a misshapen ghoul.
Were it not for Morty's evolution this season, Rick and Jerry's adventure might not have had the impact it does. It's telling that Rick's motivation is to please his grandson so he'll continue to go on adventures with him, so in an attempt to give Jerry "a win," he sets up an excursion to a resort encased in an immortality field, removing the threat of consequence for his or anyone else's actions. It's a perfect place for the show to underline just how important the idea of consequence is this season, especially when the protective field is removed after a failed assassination attempt on Rick exposes not only the plot against him but also Jerry's role in it.
All of that is really secondary to Rick and Jerry coming to terms with the roles they've played in the mess that's been made of their lives. Rick admits to having some culpability in the dissolution of Jerry and Beth's marriage, while Jerry seemingly comes to terms with his penchant for using pity as a tool to get others to do what he wants. There's a sense of maturation in both characters after a bizarre trip through space-time mingles the two (as well as the would be assassin) in more ways than one, but mostly it comes in the realization (for Jerry, anyway) that change is hard but necessary. It's an ongoing concern this season, and one the characters of Rick and Morty are stumbling toward in entertaining fashion.
Rick and Morty continues next Sunday with 'Rest and Ricklaxation' @11:30pm on Adult Swim.