Credit Adult Swim
April 1st, 2017: the day Rick and Morty addicts had no idea they were waiting for. In true Sanchez style, the first episode of the long-awaited season three, The Rickshank Redemption, was unexpectedly dropped in an epic double bluff of an April fool’s joke. Less skeptical fans believed the stream of tweets claiming the episode’s sudden appearance and were thus rewarded with an early trip inside the twisted imagination of Rick Sanchez. A promising opening episode finally resolved the cliffhanger left by season two; freeing Rick from prison and leaving Jerry to “spend some time…divorced”. At the end of the excellent opener Rick launched into a trademark crazed, nihilistic monologue over a terrified Morty, spouting what was to be expected from the next stage of their adventures. Rick emphasised season three would hold “the darkest timeline yet”, a promise that was consistently delivered on… not entirely to the benefit of the season.
Each member of the Smith family was given an episode in which their darkest fibers were revealed, and as appealing as this sounds the trend came at a sacrifice. It wasn’t until episode four that we actually got an adventure with the titular characters together without another family member. In episode five, The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy, Rick and Jerry shared an adventure which explored, inverted and pushed their relationship to the extreme. This “sympathy adventure” turned murder conspiracy exposed the darker sides of Jerry through his tentative attempt on Rick’s life, and hilarious cruelty to Rick when “neutralized” for public transport. The episode worked considerably better than Beth’s equivalent episode, The ABC’s of Beth, predominantly because Jerry’s juvenile mind makes him a much better Morty substitute than Beth. Beth’s adventure into her simulated childhood fantasy world “Froopyland” was certainly interesting as we learned much more about Beth’s childhood and growing uncertainty as an individual. But the father-daughter relationship failed to strike the right comedic tones and the episode suffered as such. I also think they should have focused more on the world itself, and how it reflects and insights Beth’s adult life. Instead, focusing on a new character with an elaborate connection to Beth confused the narrative while adding little extra.
Summer’s menacing side was released in episode two, Rickmancing the Stone, when she turned to a “Mad Max” dystopian world to deal with her parents’ divorce. The episode effectively explored Summer and Morty’s pent-up emotion and certainly delivered on darkness. However, what it had in darkness and emotion, it lacked in classic Rick and Morty themes such as Sci-Fi fantasy and comedy.
Overall the darkest timeline theme caused a fundamental break from the incredibly successful formula of a typical Rick and Morty episode. Up to this point, most episodes were clearly split into two stories: An “A” story and a “B” story. The A story is almost always a crazy sci-fi adventure containing the characters Rick, Morty and occasionally one other family member. Within the same episode the B story would contain some or all the remaining Smiths, in a more domestic storyline relative to the A story.
In season three however, this was much less consistent. The A story contained exclusively Rick and Morty on an adventure four times. Whilst the other six episodes were often still incredibly entertaining, they naturally lacked the most important part of what makes Rick and Morty so widely loved- the relationship between Rick and Morty. Their relationship is akin to that of Sherlock and Watson, or the doctor and his companions; all of these shows rely on the dynamic of that relationship. Without the presence of the sidekick the audience connection with the genius character is completely undermined. Season three clearly failed to recognize the importance of this dynamic as it only existed in four out of the ten episodes.
Further to this, in two out of the four episodes in which Rick and Morty did adventure together, Morty’s Mind Blowers and Rest and Ricklaxation, the characters were put in situations that transformed their behaviour entirely. So again, the relationship between Rick and Morty was somewhat lost. The problem with this trend is not that it creates bad episodes, nor does it necessarily create a bad season. Instead, leaving such a large dynamic of the show absent in a total of eight out of the ten episodes makes the fan base feel like something was missing from the season. In other words, an unfulfilling season. Another crucial element to a fulfilling season is its finale. Episode ten, featuring the return of the President, would have worked brilliantly as a mid-season episode as it contained some one of the best Rick battles we have ever seen. However, The Rickchurian Mortydate did little to wrap up the season or ask new questions to look forward to in season four. A true finale, like the one in season two, leaves no doubt as to whether the season is over. The lack of this is perhaps most evident in the mass conspiracy of a secret finale that has subsequently risen- this is clear indication that the Rick and Morty fan base feels disappointed with the overall effect of season three, especially after such a long production wait.
Season three undoubtedly contained some incredible episodes that continued to leave audiences thinking- “how can anyone come up with something so brilliant?”. However, by allocating so much “A” story time on the family characters they repeatedly excluded the elements most associated and unique to Rick and Morty, and the season failed to supersede its previous two seasons or truly set up the fourth. It’s episodes were largely enjoyable individually but provided little flow or accumulating satisfaction. In summation: enjoyable but not a triumph.