It’s been a few days, and therefore roughly 14 years in 2017 internet time, since Rick and Morty’s unexpected season-three premiere. In that time, we’ve already gone through articles about which fan theories it does or does not confirm, wild speculation about when the season will start in earnest, and even a theory that “The Rickshank Redemption” wasn’t a canonical episode of the show. It is hard to know much about what’s really in store for us in season three, but if the Rick of the end of this episode is to be believed, things are about to get dark.
I mean, uh. Darker.
It becomes pretty clear the opening scene at family-friendly restaurant Shoney’s is some kind of fever-dream simulation around the time Rick asks Jerry to fold himself in half 12 times, and he successfully makes it halfway. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that the show hadn’t actually chosen to ignore its season-two finale, but I am sure there are plenty of fun “F— yous” to the audience yet to come.
Rick is in a prison of his own mind, trapped there by a Krombopulos Michael–esque alien creature played by Nathan Fillion, who is trying to figure out how Rick created his portal gun. But the prison is starting to grow unstable, especially as the aliens push Rick toward a psychotic break, with memories of a woman he lost on the day he invented interdimensional travel.
Back on Earth, Jerry is loving the planetary takeover by the Galactic Federation. He’s happily making his way up through the ranks, being compensated in piles and piles of pills. With Morty even jumpier than usual and Beth washing the pills down with full bottles of wine, it’s Summer who finds herself the moral backbone of the Smith family. Only Summer, it seems, is truly concerned about where Rick has gone.
“Don’t make the same mistakes I made,” says Beth. “Don’t deify the people who leave you.”
Summer is starting to break a little, too, and has been desperately trying to contact Rick. Over the past season, Morty has become resentful of Rick and all that he’s been forced to go through, while Summer has come into her own as Rick’s rightful sidekick. It’s hurtful, then, when Morty tries to talk sense into her by telling his sister that Rick doesn’t care about anybody, “not even himself.” He then says, “The only grandpa who won’t let you down is buried in the backyard,” and Summer gets an idea. She digs up Rick’s bones.
Rick drives his alien captor back to “the day it all began.” A younger version of Rick is handed a portal gun by a version of Rick from far in the future. On Earth, Summer finds that same portal gun buried along with Rick’s bones. Before either she or Morty can use it, they are attacked by the family’s new Federation robot, Conroy. Before Conroy can kill them, Morty opens a portal to the old Earth — the Cronenberg’d Earth — where the Smith family are the last remaining survivors.
The Younger Rick in Rick’s mind turns down the portal gun, and the Older Rick disappears, promising Younger Rick that he’ll change his mind. A woman, Diane — Younger Rick’s wife and Beth’s mom — enters the garage. Rick tells her that he’s giving up science.
On the Cronenberg’d Earth, Morty tells Summer that this is the part of Rick’s adventures she doesn’t get to see — what he leaves behind. Cronenberg’d Earth Jerry smashes the portal gun, much to Morty’s horror. A bunch of Ricks enter through a portal gun and save Summer and Morty, and they promise to break into the prison where C-137 Rick is being held — in order to assassinate him.
The Younger Rick of Rick’s mind watches as Diane and young Beth are disintegrated by a bomb that falls out of a portal. In a panic, he re-constructs the portal gun while the captor aliens quickly download the portal gun code.
Except it wasn’t the portal gun code. It was a virus, allowing Rick to escape the simulation. That wasn’t Rick’s origin story at all — in fact, Rick and his captor never left the Shoney’s in his mind. Rick steals the brain of his captor and reveals a long con to gain access to the kind of sensitive information that could allow him to collapse the universe. He’s about to escape when the army of other Ricks enters, shooting Old Rick’s now useless body in the head. Before Rick-in-the-alien-captor-body can be killed, he transfers his brain into one of the invading Ricks, a mohawked number from D-99. (This show … I can tell this show is going to be difficult to recap. Lotta moving parts, this show.)
Summer and Morty are brought to the Citadel of Ricks. C-137 Rick, hiding as D-99 Rick, transfers his brain into the Rick Chief Commander (it’s like that watch-the-ball-under-the-cups game, this). Summer and Morty are put on trial, and Summer tries to save Morty by saying that he’s already renounced Rick. Morty explains that that’s not true, he was just trying to save Summer from being disappointed by Rick.
C-137 Rick teleports the entire Citadel of Ricks into a galactic federal prison. He then goes to save Summer and Morty. Summer is held hostage by one of the other Ricks, and as they negotiate for her life, C-137 Rick repeatedly insists that he is only concerned about getting his cleanest shot to his opponent’s head, and not about Summer’s life. “She’s not even my real Summer.”
Morty points a gun at Rick, trying to be valiant but ruining Rick’s bluff. Everyone turns on Morty, and, frustrated, Morty shoots Rick in the head. Turns out that this too was part of Rick’s plan. The trio successfully escapes, and Rick is able to destroy the galactic government by ruining the intergalactic economy.
Jerry crawls through the streets of the crumbling empire, finally making his way back home. He asks if they’re ever going to stop paying for indulging Rick, as there’s very little left to lose. Beth tells him, “just each other.”
The family is reunited, and Jerry gives Beth an ultimatum — Rick or Jerry. Beth decides to divorce Jerry.
Rick pulls Morty aside, promising him that this will be the darkest year of their adventures. Jerry crossed Rick, so he replaced him as the patriarch of the Smith family, and, in dismantling the government, has become the patriarch of the universe.
An unhinged Rick confesses to Morty that his only character arc, his only true driving force, is to acquire that Mulan Szechuan sauce. Either this is who Rick has been all along, or his time in the prison of his own mind has left him truly unstable. Either this is a Rick we’ve never seen before … or this is the Rick we’ve known all along.
Which is worse?
—“There’s no tougher titty than a psychotic break.”
—I don’t remember the Mulan Szchuan sauce but now I really want to try it — and, apparently, since this episode aired, McDonald’s has stated they’re not opposed to bringing it back.
—Morty didn’t realize that it was a fake gun when he shot Rick in the head; this is one of many times it is implied that Morty has homicidal tendencies, and I can’t help but wonder if the show is foreshadowing an ending where Morty really does kill Rick.