A few weeks ago, San Diego Comic-Con was packed with people wearing free Pickle Rick T-shirts, carrying inflatable Pickle Ricks, and shouting to each other, “Look! It’s Pickle Rick!” Had this been free advertising for any show other than Rick and Morty, I’m pretty sure I would have thought all of it was pretty irritating (but then, by the end of Comic-Con, that’s how I thought about everything). Rick and Morty, though, is a show that likes to back itself into corners with the world’s dumbest ideas and execute them in the absolute smartest ways.
The hype was earned. “Pickle Rick” is brilliant.
The episode begins as Rick calls Morty to the garage. He has turned himself into a pickle. Morty seems unclear about why this is exciting, but Rick is very proud of himself.
Beth and Summer enter, all dressed up. It turns out that they’re running late for an appointment with a family counselor. Morty suspects Rick turned himself into a pickle so he wouldn’t have to go with them, a hypothesis that seems to be proven by the fact that Rick has a specific plan to un-turn himself into a pickle ten minutes after they’re supposed to leave. Beth doesn’t want to believe that Rick would purposefully avoid something so important to her, so she takes the syringe that was supposed to un-turn him into a pickle.
After Beth, Summer, and Morty leave, a stray cat arrives in the garage and pushes Rick out into the blazing sun. (Because cats are afraid of pickles.) Rick closes his eyes and accepts death. Luckily, it starts to rain. Unluckily, this carries Pickle Rick out into a sewer grate. Rick manages to lure a cockroach over to him and proceeds to kill it, opening up its head and tonguing at its brains to steer its lifeless legs.
In the family counselor’s waiting room, Beth reveals that their therapy session was ordered by Principal Vagina, who was worried about Summer huffing pottery enamel and Morty wetting his desk. After Mr. Goldenfold leaves from the doctor’s office, it’s revealed that Dr. Wong (Susan Sarandon) has two specialties: family counseling and coprophagia recovery. Mr. Goldenfold is there for the latter. Beth brags to Dr. Wong about Rick’s work, and the doctor responds by asking whether Rick “turns himself into a pickle a lot.”
Beth, unsurprisingly, is loath to talk about any potential problems with Rick, but Dr. Wong tries to drive the conversation toward the dynamic of their relationship, which doesn’t reward emotion or vulnerability. Beth also refuses to believe the syringe she took from the garage may contain anti-pickle serum, because she doesn’t want to believe that Rick didn’t want to go with them to family counseling. Dr. Wong helps a resistant Beth to realize that she admires Rick for not appearing to need other people. Beth admits that she does exactly that, because “it’s better than making your problems other people’s problems.”
Meanwhile in the sewer, Rick, now using the corpse of the cockroach to walk upright, is confronted by a rat. Rick manages to sever the rat’s head and uses it to jump-start a machine he’s built for himself that straps him into an exoskeleton made from the body of the dead rat. He fights off an army of rats, gleefully tearing them apart with giant razor arms, and launches himself out of the sewer and into the toilet of an office building. He makes his way out of the toilet to look for the exit, but he’s confronted by an armed gang of mobsters. Rick runs away, and later, the mobsters inform their boss (Peter Serafinowicz) of the pickle/rat hybrid who’s going around the building stealing office supplies and shaming them by moving recycling from the trash bin into the proper receptacle.
Rick calls the boss, who relates the urban legend of Solenya, the pickle man, who crawls out of cold soup bowls to steal the dreams of children. Mobs of henchmen try to kill Pickle Rick, but he has developed a laser gun, with which he takes out all of the henchmen. It’s then that the boss opens a vault door and makes a bargain for the release of a prisoner named Jaguar (Danny Trejo), who is motivated by the possibility of freedom for his daughter, Katerina. Jaguar agrees to kill Pickle Rick.
Rick and Jaguar square off. Jaguar shoots Rick in the side, and then Rick’s laser gun slices Jaguar’s shoulder. Jaguar tells Rick he is only doing this because they have his daughter, and this is the only way he can see her again. Rick tells Jaguar that this is about getting back to his daughter, too. Rick and Jaguar repair their respective wounds and the fight resumes. Having taken out the security cameras, Rick calls the boss to tell him that it’s over. Jaguar is dead. The boss offers to unseal the building, but Rick says it’s too late. He’s coming to kill him now. The boss offers to give Rick $100 million worth of bonds. Rick tries to negotiate to get that money to Jaguar’s daughter, but the boss reveals that Katerina was dead after all. The boss kills the last remaining henchmen and makes his escape. But TWIST! Rick didn’t kill Jaguar — he partnered with him. Together, they steal a helicopter and make their way out of the building just as it explodes. Before he jumps from the helicopter, Jaguar warns Rick against taking time with his daughter for granted.
Back in family therapy, Beth, Summer, and Morty go around practicing “I” statements. Pickle Rick finally enters the therapy session. He asks for the syringe in Beth’s purse, and when she asks why, Rick says that it’s a serum to make him stay alive. Dr. Wong calls him out on the lie and Rick admits that it’s an anti-pickle serum. He says he didn’t want to come to the session because he doesn’t respect therapy. He argues that he is smarter about the way the world works than needing to confront his feelings in order to become more comfortable. Dr. Wong points out that his family functions by using intelligence to “justify sickness.” Rick alternates between viewing his mind as a gift and a curse. Dr. Wong tells Rick that the reason he wants to avoid therapy is because there is no danger in it for him — it is necessary work, but there is “no way to do it so wrong you might die.” The idea of therapy bores him. It’s work, and some people are just not okay doing work. Dr. Wong gives Beth her card, and the family drives home.
Rick apologizes for lying to Beth. Beth shrugs it off and dismisses the therapist’s concerns. Summer and Morty seem much more affected by what they’ve just been through, and Summer asks Beth if they might go back. Beth laughs.
Rick asks Beth for the serum, and he immediately turns back into a human after using it. Still ignoring the question about whether they’ll return to Dr. Wong, Rick suggests they drop off Summer and Morty so they can go get a drink.
“Pickle Rick” reminded me of BoJack Horseman’s season-three underwater episode, in that it took a premise that would have been impossible for any other show to pull off and used it to show everything that makes it great. Rick and Morty, at its best, is surreal and self-aware. “Pickle Rick” is a Freudian acid trip.
I’d like that free T-shirt now.
• “I don’t do magic, I do science. One takes brains, the other takes eyeliner.”
• The poster outside Dr. Wong’s office flips from an inspirational poster to get her coprophagia patients to stop eating poop to a family dedication poster, depending on who is in session.
• Rick didn’t give the largest rat a nickname because he wasn’t special to him. “You were only special to rats.”
• The tag is the new scene from the opening credits where Rick and Morty are tied to the strings of a piano as the key hammers are about to crush them. They are trapped there by a villain named Concerto, who’s about to kill them when suddenly, Jaguar appears and slits Concerto’s throat. “That,” says Rick, “is why you don’t go to therapy.”
• Therapy is genuinely wonderful and worth it and I encourage everyone reading this to seek it out. I’ve spent too long as a mental-health advocate not to include this addendum.