If you stop and think about any given episode of Rick and Morty — especially any episode of season 3 — there are always implications that are far more disturbing than what is made explicit in the episode itself. Last week it was the idea that Rick was erasing Morty’s traumatic memories, rather than either letting Morty learn from them or, you know, not letting his grandson get traumatized over and over and over again.
This week’s episode digs into Beth’s own traumatic childhood, so you know there’ll be all sorts of psychodrama to explore. The plot, in a nutshell: A man who was convicted of eating his son Tommy is about to be executed. Beth sees the story on the news, and reveals that she was friends with Tommy as a kid. To deal with her pain, she’d pretended that Tommy had simply gone to live in Froopyland, the imaginary land that felt real to her as a child. Because of course it was real — Rick built it from the ground up to occupy his darling daughter. It was a perfectly safe, whimsical Lisa Frank-esque world full of rainbows and breathable water. And yeah, Tommy was actually lost there and not eaten by his dad.
Oddly enough, though, Tommy himself has been eating children! In order to survive in Froopyland he started humping the native fauna, producing hybrid offspring (surprisingly rapidly) which he could then consume. Fast forward all these years later and he’s a benevolent, creepy god/king revered by his own children — or at least the ones not tasty enough to eat.
(And no, I don’t know why he couldn’t just eat the initial Froopyland creatures, but I think they’re made of carbons and the human DNA mixed into the hybrids created essential proteins. Or something. SCIENCE!)
Beth’s return to Froopyland did more than dredge up her feelings of abandonment — it revealed her own repressed jealousy of Tommy, and maybe also some mild homicidal tendencies. Turns out Rick created Froopyland to sequester Beth, who was a “scary fucking kid” — as evidenced by the ray guns and talking switchblades she asked him to invent for her to play with. Or, more accurately: all Ricks created Froopylands for all Beths, because as Rick and Beth both acknowledge, she isn’t his actual daughter. Infinite worlds, yada yada. In the interest of sparing the neighborhood, Rick created a safe space for Beth to be her nutty self in. And while she contends she only asked him to make her what amounts to a kiddie murder kit in order to spend time with him, she also maybe intentionally left Tommy to rot in Froopyland.
While Rick is an admittedly terrible father, he’s still the kind of man who built an entire fantasy land for his daughter. And while Beth was likely traumatized by her childhood, she was already messed up to begin with. Beth’s problem isn’t that Rick is her father. Her problem is that she’s just like Rick.
What starts out seemingly as an adventure between just Rick and Beth takes a turn when Rick pulls them out prematurely (right around the time when King Tommy, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, demonstrates the whole humping/eating process). Beth objects to this, probably because this in all likelihood was her first adventure on her own with her father.
“Here’s some things an adventure needs, Beth: conflicts, stakes, a way for me to benefit… and clearly, Morty.”
And this is where those implications I mentioned come in. Rick, deep down, hates himself. That much is pretty obvious. And that’s why he doesn’t really adventure with his daughter. He loves her, and he has demonstrated that he’ll go to great lengths to protect her (especially when it comes to driving Jerry away), but one-on-one time isn’t something he can handle. Hell, he drinks because he already has to live with himself. Morty — awkward and sensitive and no great genius — is different enough for Rick to tolerate spending time with. But after seeing the hardened edge that Morty has developed, especially this season, it’ll be interesting to see if eventually he too will become another little Rick that Rick can’t stand to be around. If Beth is Rick by nature, will Morty become Rick by nurture?
But I digress. Beth heads back to Froopyland to save Tommy and clean up her own mess. She fails, but she does come to recognize just how much like her father she is, mostly because they both have mastered the “I’m sorry you think you deserve an apology” non-apology. And she even comes to enjoy being like Rick, right around the time she starts beating the shit out of King Tommy’s weird muppet babies. Then Beth comes back to Rick with Tommy’s finger, which they clone together and use to save his father from lethal injection.
In the end, Beth realizes that she’s wasted her life idolizing Rick, rather than seeing him clearly and, by extension, seeing herself clearly. So Rick offers her the chance to go off and try living life as herself with no consequences… by making a clone of her that has “zero chance of going Blade Runner.” It would raise the kids and do her job, and when Beth’s ready she can come home and step into her life with no one being the wiser. We don’t see what she decides… but I think we can all agree that the plan would absolutely have unforeseen consequences and Beth totally chose to clone herself, right?
Anyway, in the b-plot, Jerry is a worse parent than either Rick or Beth. Seriously. He soul-bonds with an alien hunter chick to make Beth jealous (and learn telekinesis), but when he decides he wants to dump her he’s too chickenshit to take responsibility for it, so he blames it on Morty and Summer. Thus endangering the lives of his children, because it turns out alien hunter chicks are revengey. It’s a solid side story, not only because Summer and Morty both have the opportunity to lay some harsh truths on Jerry, but also because it parallels the parenting themes so nicely. In the end, I’d rather have an amoral genius raising me than a coward.
Assorted quotes from Summer, who continues to be the absolute fucking best:
“Bitch, my generation gets traumatized for breakfast” - Summer, to Beth
“I thought you were the alien expert, Isaac Asihole!” - Summer, to Morty
“First, I want you to admit that you’re a closet racist, a beta-male sexist, and you dragged everyone into a horrible situation by only thinking of yourself.” - Summer, to Jerry
Also, Summer, there’s nothing wrong with using paper towels as toilet paper in a pinch. Don’t be judgey. We’ve all been there.