We’re three episodes into the new season of Rick and Morty, though the first episode premiered back on April Fool’s Day, so it’s really only our second week of new material. Confused? Don’t be. It’s par for the course with this show. One thing that has haunted us since the first trailers for season 3 launched is the promise of Pickle Rick. As in: Rick, but as a pickle. As in: “I turned myself into a pickle, Morty. I’m Pickle RIIIIIIIIICK!” Would that actually be a thing the show did? Would there be a reason for it? How long would that last?
Last night we got our answer. The episode opens with Morty being summoned to the garage to witness Rick’s achievement. He turned himself into a pickle. Why? Because he could. Morty seems less than overwhelmed with awe at this development, and we soon see why. Beth and Summer join Morty in the garage, and they’re all dressed up to head to family counseling — a session Rick had agreed to attend as well. The session was set up at the recommendation of the school, because apparently Summer has been huffing pottery enamel and Morty has been pissing himself at his desk. Morty continues his developing streak of not putting up with Rick’s BS by pointing out to the others the very apparent mechanism Rick has set up to cure him of his experiment: an antidote-filled syringe timed to drop right when the family would have left for the appointment. Beth refuses to believe her father would be so manipulative as to literally turn himself into a pickle to get out of therapy. But she takes the syringe anyway as she heads to the appointment with the kids.
It’s a beautiful set up, splitting the action between Rick’s insane solo adventures as a pickle, and Beth with the kids at therapy. The therapist, Dr. Wong (a perfectly serious Susan Sarandon), is deeply unimpressed that the quasi-patriarch of the family is absent due to, uh, being pickled? Of course, her practice specializes in dealing with coprophagia recovery (i.e. people trying to not eat poop anymore) so she’s probably heard worse. Instead, she focuses rightly on the difference between how Beth and the kids reacted to Rick’s behavior, despite Beth’s attempts to focus the session on her little “discipline cases” instead of her relationship with Rick. The kids accept without a doubt that Rick would and did go through all of that to avoid therapy, while Beth can’t help defending her father.
Dr. Wong’s insights are spot on, as she identifies that Beth’s dynamic with her father is one that doesn’t reward “emotion or vulnerability” and that it may be the root of the family’s overall dysfunction. Beth admires the fact that Rick doesn’t “need” anything from anyone — and the fact that this therapy session is intercut with Rick demonstrating just how little he needs help getting himself out of a pickle (haha get it?!) makes it all the more impactful. While Beth and the kids are in therapy, Rick has found himself batted around by a cat, roasting in the sun, washed down a street drain in a sudden downpour — all without limbs to defend himself. It isn’t until he sinks his teeth into a cockroach that he begins to slowly save himself. First he controls the nerves of cockroaches to manipulate their legs and get around. Then he sets his sights on the rats of the sewer, killing enough of them to fashion himself a rat-part exoskeleton. Eventually he’s harnessed enough materials to blast his way out of the sewers and through the toilet of a mobster (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), at which point Rick’s storyline sort of turns into a John Wick-style action film. Rick wants to leave the compound. The mobster refuses, and sends goons to take Rick out, including a guy called Jaguar (Danny Trejo) who has been imprisoned and can earn freedom for himself and his daughter if he can kill the pickle. Meanwhile Rick has been fashioning his own laser guns out of office supplies and killing EVERYONE. Rick and Jaguar eventually join forces, blow up the criminal base, and make their escape in a helicopter.
What Rick and Morty does so well is balance crazy hijinx with emotional development and consequences. It may take awhile for characters to learn or grow on the show — it took two seasons for Beth and Jerry to finally split up, and Rick had to engineer it — but they often get there eventually. It also finds the space to recognize that sometimes people just are who they are (as Summer says, “I am mad that I can’t huff enamel without people assuming it’s because my family sucks. I hope to be seen one day as someone who just likes getting high.”) And Rick, above all, is someone who is unlikely to change. Though, in the end, he does drag his pickled butt into that therapist’s office to see his family.
Because that was where the syringe of anti-pickle serum was. Turned out he did need some help after all.
We’ll just have to wait and see whether Dr. Wong’s insights about Rick’s own mentality will have any impact. Though, based on that last scene in the car, where Rick and Beth make plans to ditch the kids and go out drinking, it seems like there won’t be any growth for awhile.