Okay, so, I already did this one once, because I listed this as one of the greatest episodes in the history of television. As such, I’m going to re-use a lot of that material, because I’m lazy and a little drunk.
Rick (Justin Roiland) mocks the Smith family for being invested in an episode of The Bachelor, leading Jerry (Chris Parnell) to challenge Rick to show them something better. In response, Rick upgrades the family’s TV to get channels from every dimension, meaning that they can see things such as “Showtime in a world where corn evolved sentience instead of humans.”
While scrolling through channels, they catch sight of a universe where Jerry is famous, which Jerry wants to keep watching. Rick, annoyed by this, throws Jerry, Beth (Sarah Chalke), and Summer (Spencer Grammer) a pair of goggles that lets them see other universe versions of themselves, including a universe where Jerry bangs Kristen Stewart and another where Beth is a rich, successful surgeon. Unfortunately, the two realize that these are the universes where Beth and Jerry aborted Summer when Beth got pregnant at seventeen, which they say out loud in Summer’s presence.
Meanwhile, Rick and Morty (Roiland), are watching interdimensional television. This can’t really be summarized, because almost every clip was improvised by Justin Roiland, apparently while stoned. Even when other actors were asked to do the voices, they were told to copy everything about the way that Roiland had spoken. I love the majority of them, but I think my favorite is either “Quick Mysteries,” which is like Unsolved Mysteries except that the killer immediately confesses, or Tophat Jones and his advertisement for Strawberry Smiggles, where he’s murdered by the children who want the cereal.
Summer, shocked at the revelation that her existence has made her parents’ lives worse, decides to run away. Morty follows her upstairs and, after she yells that he doesn’t understand, shows her the grave of his other-dimensional double from “Rick Potion #9.” She asks if he’s her brother, and he says “I’m better than your brother. I’m a version of your brother you can trust when he says, ‘Don’t run.’” He then delivers 13 of the greatest words in the history of anything:
Nobody exists on purpose.
Nobody belongs anywhere.
Everybody’s gonna die.
Come watch TV?
Summer and Morty head downstairs and watch TV, only to find that the other versions of Jerry and Beth reunite, believing that their biggest mistake, even in their seemingly perfect lives, was breaking up. The regular Jerry and Beth, realizing that they have something even their seemingly perfect selves don’t, kiss passionately.
First, most of the episode is improvised. I consider this to be a brilliant way to do these vignettes, because it seems like ad-libbing produces the absurd kind of things that one might encounter by looking through infinite realities and also makes the inter-dimensional content feel very distinct from the show itself. Some people might not enjoy it, and maybe not all of the sketches are gold, but it at least sets it apart.
But, let’s not beat around the bush, this episode is all about the B-Plot. Even by Rick and Morty standards, there are some devastating moments when it’s revealed that not only was Summer an unplanned Prom-night baby, but that her very existence apparently is what kept her parents from living the amazing lives they wanted. Yeah, not the happiest moment in television history, and her response seems to be exactly what a teenager would do when confronted with that information. After all, how the hell could anyone process that rationally?
Somehow, though, Morty manages to say the exact right thing to her, because it’s almost the exact right thing for anyone to hear.
Nobody exists on purpose.
Nobody belongs anywhere.
Everybody’s gonna die.
Come watch TV?
Look, I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve read a lot of philosophy. I’ve read the core texts of most religions and I subscribe to one or two. I’ve even been sick on a hospital bed waiting to die. But, despite all of that, I believe that I have never seen anything summarize the human condition as well as Morty does in this moment.
Morty straight up tells Summer, and by extension everyone, that he doesn’t care about the futility of existence. He doesn’t care that everything is meaningless. He doesn’t care that there are infinite realities and no grand purpose out there. He’s choosing to be happy anyway by just enjoying what he has. I’ll argue that this is one of the rare moments where Morty proves he’s actually better than Rick. Rick saw infinity and all it told him was that nothing matters, making him a miserable bastard who tells everyone not to think about it. Morty saw that nothing matters, thought about it, and chose to find something meaningful anyway.
In Season 3, Rick essentially insists that his unhappiness is because his intelligence makes the universe his and the universe doesn’t like it. It fights his desire to control or fully comprehend it. The fact that he has an infinite number of other universes at his disposal only intensifies this. Rick has seen things that no other human has seen and done things no other human have done, or even can do, but he isn’t able to grasp the idea of just being happy by embracing futility and moving on anyway. In the episode “Pickle Rick,” Dr. Wong (Susan Sarandon), even tells him he can’t do it because it requires accepting that he’s responsible for his own happiness. He constantly says that the key is NOT to think about it, but in this episode, Morty seems to say that’s wrong. You don’t have to try not to think about it, because trying to avoid thinking about it is still refusing acceptance.
A lot of great episodes of television involve dealing with the idea of facing your mortality or the void at the end of existence. Some involve turning to God, some involve denying mortality, some involve just accepting that you’re going to die, but this one nails it hardest. Whatever is true doesn’t matter. You get to exist. That alone is something to enjoy. Be happy anyway.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Why did Rick give Jerry the goggles? Well, on the surface, it’s to get Jerry to leave him alone so he can watch TV. But, it’s the way the goggles work in this episode that makes me think there’s more to it. We first saw the goggles in “Rick Potion #9” when Rick is looking for other dimensions to escape their Cronenberged world. He says they latch onto the wearer’s DNA and let the user look through alternate dimensions. Since there are an infinite number of universes, or at least a huge number of very similar universes near to their universe, it’s strange that Jerry is immediately viewing the same universe that was on television (C-500A). We know that the goggles don’t immediately show the viewer the dimension they want, because Summer gets no response due to her not existing in C-500A. Additionally, it’s strange that one of the first channels Rick turned to, in the whole of all dimensional cable, is Jerry on Letterman.
So, why would the goggles already be attuned to a universe that Rick had just shown them? Because Rick planned this whole thing as a way to try and break Jerry and Beth up. Rick, knowing how selfish Beth and Jerry are, knew that showing them a universe where they both achieved their dreams would make it obvious that their marriage is what’s keeping them in perpetual misery. After all, there are infinite universes, so it would make sense that there’s a universe where Jerry and Beth lead happy lives and are also married and had Summer, but that’s not the universe Rick shows them.
Why does Rick’s plan end up failing, then? For the same reason Rick’s plan failed in “Rick Potion #9”: Rick doesn’t understand love. He tries to break it down into just “cause and effect” or specific chemical motivations of lust and desire to breed, but that cause him to fail almost every time he tries to manipulate it. Rick knew that Beth and Jerry would see that they were both objectively better off without each other, but he didn’t predict that Beth and Jerry in C-500A would realize that they still wanted to be with each other because that’s derived from their love for each other. Admittedly, Beth and Jerry are terrible together and seem to actually make each other worse people but, somehow, they really do have a connection that they both need in order to even approach being happy. Because love is insane like that.
LEAVING THE CORNER
Obviously, I think this episode is about as good as Rick and Morty gets. Hell, I think this is about as good as television gets. It’s funny, it’s original, it’s insightful, it’s emotional and it’s got Ants-in-my-eyes Johnson. This is 24 minutes of genius sundae that’s got a cherry made up of four of the most brutal sentences ever put down on paper. And yet, this isn’t my favorite episode to re-watch. Still, I think you know what I have to give it.