What started innocently enough as an animated comedy about a mad scientist and his grandson has become the kind of pop-culture phenomenon over which the internet obsesses. Trying to pull apart the logic of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty can turn you into a mumbling Jerry, but that doesn’t stop devoted viewers from untangling the many timelines of a show that posits the existence of infinite universes. As the third season hits its homestretch, we decided to break down the different iterations of the title characters that we’ve seen to illuminate where this complex, daring show might be headed next.
Also known as Rick C-137, Rick Sanchez is both an undeniable genius and a misanthropic jerk. The writers of the show have been careful to reveal Rick’s past in pieces, leaving much of his background a mystery. We know that he lives with his daughter Beth, granddaughter Summer, and grandson Morty — and his son-in-law Jerry, before he moved out of the house — and he often pretends to have little room in his life for empathy and compassion, but has occasionally proven otherwise through his actions. If anything, Original Rick seems like he wants to break his grandson from the monotony and ridiculousness of “normal life.” He recognizes that he can teach Morty much more by going on inter-dimensional adventures than he could possibly learn at school. However, traveling to dozens of other dimensions has taught Rick that everything is fleeting and fluid. How can you love someone if you know there’s an alternate dimension right next to ours in which they don’t love you back? It’s enough to make you want to drink … which Rick does regularly. Most important for our purposes here, Rick left his family two decades ago, returning only recently to wreak havoc.
Also known as Morty C-137, Morty Smith wants to just be an ordinary 14-year-old at Harry Herpson High School. He has a crush on a girl in his class named Jessica, but he spends most of his days either trying to survive the brain-melting nightmare into which his grandfather has flung him or just finding time to masturbate. Morty started the series as a relatively average teenager, but he’s grown a bit more of a spine as the show has progressed, often fighting back against his bully of a grandfather while also proving that he’s learned a thing or two on their adventures. One of the turning points of the trajectory of Morty came in season one’s “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind,” in which we met dozens of other Ricks and Mortys in an alternate dimension: The Original Morty was heartbroken when Original Rick told him that he could just be replaced. Since their destruction of Evil Rick in that episode, Rick and Morty have become more of a team, for as Rick C-137 says, he’s the “Morty-est Morty.”
While season one’s “Rick Potion No. 9” really opened the can of worms when it comes to alternate versions of Rick and Morty — long story short, the show now takes place in a different dimension because our dynamic duo turned theirs into Cronenberg World filled with mutated monster people — it was the introduction of Evil Rick in “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind” that remains the most essential episode to understand the show’s converging timelines. In that episode, we met the Trans-Dimensional Council of Ricks led by Evil Rick, who not only pioneered the slow clap but put Original Rick on trial while torturing various Mortys from alternate dimensions. At the end of the episode, Evil Rick was killed by dozens of vengeful Mortys, leading to the revelation that he was actually cybernetic robot that was controlled by …
The twist ending of “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind” was beautifully revised in this season’s “The Ricklantis Mixup,” in which we returned to the Citadel of Ricks only to discover that Evil Morty was running for president under the guise of being an ordinary Morty. At the end of the episode, he wins the Citadel-wide election and murders every Rick that dares to disagree with him. Who is this Morty? Here’s where we need to start theorizing. In “Close Rick-counters,” we saw glimpses of Original Rick’s memories, including a moment when he reaches out to a baby Morty, which make no sense if he’s been gone for two decades. What gives? What if Evil Morty is actually the Original Morty, betrayed by his family and grandfather and now seeking revenge? Rick has made it clear that Mortys can be replaced, so the back story of Evil Morty perhaps includes a taste of betrayal from his Rick. What if Rick C-137 left this Morty behind and traveled to a dimension in which he never met his grandson until he returned to destroy his preteen life? Wouldn’t that lead the Original Morty to a path of multiverse domination?
Who Is Really the Morty-est Morty?
With all possibilities about Evil Morty’s origin, there’s one that deserves particularly careful consideration. Time travel exists in this show. What if Evil Morty is Morty C-137, who is clearly getting smarter as the show progresses? What if Rick C-137 betrays him so completely that he travels back in time and becomes Evil Morty, maybe after learning just how disposable Mortys have been to Rick in the past? Follow me down this rabbit hole: Rick Sanchez leaves his family, including his original grandson Morty, and jumps to an alternate dimension in which Morty is 14 years old. He goes on adventures with that Morty, making him significantly smarter than the average Morty. This “Morty-est Morty” eventually discovers Rick’s complete disregard for his original grandson and snaps, traveling back in time to get vengeance on all Ricks … becoming Evil Morty. It’s a little crazy, but so is this show.
The Other Ricks and Mortys
Now, Evil Morty could still be yet another Morty and Original Rick could even be another Rick. For the sake of comprehensiveness and to illustrate how fluid the Ricks and Mortys can be, we should note that we have met other versions of both: There were hundreds of Mortys in both episodes that visited the Citadel of Ricks, and the show has had several subplots involving a naïve variation known as Doofus Rick (who became best buds with Jerry, natch) and … well, the self-explanatory Pickle Rick. We have also met Cyclops Morty, a Morty who looked like Eric Stoltz in Mask, and heard rumors of a religious figure known as The One True Morty. And there are enough Ricks to populate an entire governing council in an alternate universe. There are an infinite variety of Ricks and Mortys out there, just waiting to melt your theorizing brains. Good [burp] luck.