It turns out that self-care isn’t only important for those enduring the Trump presidency. Even a cartoon mad scientist and his adolescent grandson deserve to treat themselves every once and awhile, which is why this week’s episode of Rick and Morty takes the pair to an alien day spa. Where, naturally, hijinx ensues.
After being vomited out of an exfoliating purple worm monster (¯\_(ツ)_/¯ space!), Rick and Morty are convinced to try a special kind of detox — one that addresses their mental health as opposed to their physical well-being. The machine is designed to remove their toxins, though in this case “toxins” are really their most unhealthy personality traits. Soon Rick and Morty are waking up in a sickly booger-world, on the run from twisted specters and seemingly more unhinged than before. And that’s when the other shoe drops.
These ARE the toxins of Rick and Morty, trapped in a containment unit/hellscape. Toxic Rick is all of his ego, rage and drunkenness combined, while Toxic Morty is concentrated fear and insecurity. So what does a mentally healthy Rick and Morty look like? Well, they’re happy! Rick is emotionally honest, sober, and cares about doing the right thing. And Morty is full of confidence.
What could possibly go wrong?
Toxic Rick uses his godlike intellect to transmit a message out to Healthy Rick, who is balanced enough to realize that, if all of his negative impulses have taken on a life of their own, then that new being has as much a right to exist as he does. Healthy Morty, on the other hand, has a sense of self-preservation. He doesn’t want to merge with his toxic self, because his life is so much better now that he’s free of all that negativity. He impresses his classmates. He gets Jessica to agree to a date, and when he proves to be too much for her, he doesn’t take rejection poorly at all — instead, he hits on a kinky stranger at the restaurant bar. Healthy Morty’s got it going on.
But this entire episode would be pointless unless there was an epic clash of Ricks and Mortys, so naturally Healthy Rick brings the detox chamber back to Earth and releases the Toxic versions. What follows is the Rick vs. Rick battle glimpsed in this season’s titles sequence, only after the pair crash through the glass door in front of Summer, they proceed to utilize all the weapons Rick has hidden around the house (somehow culminating in the pair dying and being reborn stark naked, pixellated dongs and all).
Toxic Rick decides that if he can’t send their non-toxic doppelgängers back to rot in the toxin chamber, then he’ll turn the entire world into a toxic paradise. As everyone on the planet succumbs to their darkest impulses, Healthy Rick has a revelation: the detox chamber is subjective, meaning it only removes the personality aspects that the person BELIEVES are toxic. Of course it makes sense that Morty would want to get rid of his fear and awkwardness, but it also means that deep down, Rick has always recognized that several large cornerstones of his personality are unhealthy. He also realizes that includes his concern and affection for his grandson — a trait that Healthy Rick lacks, which means that it must reside in Toxic Rick.
That’s right: Toxic Rick may be a huge asshole, but he’s the one who would actually do anything for Morty. Which is just the leverage Healthy Rick needs to convince Toxic Rick to give up and merge back into one person (after, you know, shooting Toxic Morty a few times). Rick is whole again and saves the world, but Healthy Morty isn’t ready to embrace his inner darkness yet. He escapes and reinvents himself as a successful Wall Street honcho, complete with a fancy apartment and a beautiful woman. And then Rick shows up with Voltron-esque drones to forcibly merge Morty, and everything goes back to normal.
At first, this episode seemed like a very surface-level attempt at continuing the psychological exploration of the characters we’ve come to expect. But that twist where we learn that Rick believes his love for Morty is toxic is not only well done, but builds on other elements of the season (including the moment in “Vindicators” when sober Rick admits that Morty might be the thing he would have drunkenly claimed to value most). Rick may no believe in love, but he does experience it, which is something that has been hinted at but not confirmed quite so unequivocally as it is here. Meanwhile, the fact that the best, most healthy version of Morty is sort of like a less evil Patrick Batemen also dovetails with his character development this season. Morty is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and perhaps his fear is all that is keeping him from going full-on sociopath.
So are Rick and Morty’s adventures together making them better people, or worse? Apparently that is entirely subjective.