[This is a review of Rick and Morty‘s season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
The conceit of Rick and Morty has always been for Rick's genius, unfettered by morality, to force Morty and his family into situations that test their understanding of the universe. Yet throughout the course of two seasons, Rick has also been tested. Living with his daughter, her husband, and their two children has forced on Rick a sense of responsibility he's avoided for much of his life.
Season 2's finale, "The Wedding Squanchers" puts Rick's flirtation with familial responsibility right at the center, as Rick and the Smith family travel to Planet Squanchy for the wedding of Birdperson and Tammy. Obviously, a wedding isn't really Rick's scene ("Weddings are basically funerals with cake."), but with a little prompting - and because Jerry gets accidentally shipped as wedding present - the whole family is off to celebrate the nuptials.
Rick and Morty is at its best when it places its characters in seemingly mundane situations and slowly cranks up the weirdness. A wedding may be one of the more mundane settings the show has ever had and it makes good use of the available gags: a cyborg photographer, Tammy's bird pun-laden vows, Rick's speech notes (trail off, crumpled notes, ad lib). There are a lot of laughs to be had in the episode's opening minutes, which is great because for the remainder "The Wedding Squanchers" takes on a more serious tone.
It isn't as if the episode drops the comedy completely, but once it's revealed that Tammy has been a deep cover agent for the Galactic Federation sent to hunt down Rick, Birdperson, and anyone else who fought with them against the Federation, it's pretty hard to ignore the serious ramifications. The wedding quickly spirals into chaos, Tammy kills Birdperson, Squanchy makes a final heroic stand, and Rick does what he can to get his family the squanch out of there.
Yet it isn't as simple as escaping, because the Galactic Federation will continue hunting them, making a return to Earth no longer viable. Though it isn't as if they're without options. After all, there are at least three planets similar enough to Earth that exist outside of the Federation's jurisdiction: a tiny, tiny world, a planet with a screaming sun and 42 hour days, and one where literally everything is on a cob... everything.
Rick's errant behavior has again put his family at risk, and more now than ever before. Unable to return home and not at all happy with the idea of living out their lives on a planet roughly the size of a major metropolis, a family meeting is called. Jerry, in his typical cowardly fashion, wants to turn Rick over so they can go home, while Beth doesn't want to see her father leave, afraid of again suffering through his abandonment.
But if there's been anything of a theme for Rick and Morty season 2, it's been Rick's growing acceptance of his family. Throughout this season we've seen Rick grapple with the affection he feels for them, especially Morty, who he (almost) sacrificed himself to save during the premiere episode. And while overhearing his family lament their situation - a situation they wouldn't be in if it weren't for Rick - he does the unthinkable and puts their needs ahead of his own.
To the tune of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", Rick tells Morty he's leaving to get ice cream, only to call in a tip to the Galactic Federation about his and his family's whereabouts. The Smiths are returned to Earth - a very, very different Earth since becoming a member of the Federation, with alien tourists and job assignment robots - while Rick is locked up in a maximum security prison.
And thus ends season 2, with Rick imprisoned and his family left to think he's abandoned them when things got too real. It's a somber ending, for sure, but then Rick and Morty has always played well with unexpected emotions. The absurdity is only ever one part, often needing to be tempered by honest and sincere moments between its characters. The ending of its season 2 finale isn't one played for laughs. There's no catchphrase or zany dance as a sendoff. Instead, the show's entire dynamic is put on hold, forcing the characters and us to ponder how season 3 can put right what's gone wrong.
Rick and Morty will return for season 3 in like, a year and half, or longer (as the season 2 finale puts it).