Adult Swim is a bunch of evil geniuses. When I first heard that Rick and Morty’s long-awaited season three premiere was airing on loop, I assumed it was another prank and continued preparing for my Saturday night plans. But nope… the best April Fools Day joke was the one that turned out to be real. Forgive me if this review is a little rough around the edges—I’m still getting over the reverse mindfuck—but here are some thoughts on what transpired last night.
Rick is back in force, and he’s as muddled a mixture of ravaged depression and utter sociopathy as when we left him. Throughout season two, we watched him stretch self-deception to great lengths, but we caught glimpses of the profound sadness within when his guard was let down, in moments when Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon put him alone. The attempted suicide after Unity rejected him, the genuine melancholy that overcame him when he heard his family discussing him on the Tiny Planet—those are opportunities for us to see the tortured soul within. What the season three premiere shows us, though, is that however much effort we thought Rick puts into dissociating his real self from the callous, selfish front he puts on, we were off the mark. Rick is maybe the most dissociated character ever to appear on television.
Take his appearance in the cerebellum simulation room with his insectoid interrogator (an excellent Nathan Fillion), the core of the Ricks-ploration we embark upon in the Season 3 premiere. We know that Rick can absolutely massacre simulations, but in “M Night Shyam-aliens,” he wasn’t forced to conjure up a forged origin story. And because Roiland and Harmon juxtaposed the brutal destruction of Rick’s “wife” and “daughter” with the silhouette of Rick and Beth in front of a portal that immediately preceded it, we’re inclined to think that maybe Rick has actually been broken down by this arthropod Robin Williams. Adding that this false Rick and his family were going to get ice cream was a brilliant cherry on top of the sundae, because that’s what Rick said he was doing when he turned himself in at the end of last season, when we thought we were seeing Rick have his Heisenberg-esque come-to-terms moment. I think I believe him when he says that the origin story was fake, but it’s more than likely that we got a flash of Rick Sanchez’s real demons in the interrogation, and I’m even inclined to believe that parts of his “memories,” like taking Beth to get ice cream, are based in reality.
It’s beautiful to have our fix of Rick again, both in real life and in the Smith family, but his self-deception is to be expected at this point. The more interesting part of the episode is how the Smith family behaves before (and after) Rick reenters the picture. Everything in this realm seems a bit heavy-handed until you consider the full implications of each Smith’s behavior, at which point the show’s typical and unexpected plunge into deep moral dilemmas takes the wheel.
Let’s start by talking about how fucking awesome Summer is in this episode. It’s always been clear that she loves her Grandpa Rick, but the depth and unconditionality of that love shine in the season three premiere in a beautiful, surprising way. Even after Morty shows her the Cronenberg reality—one of several callbacks in this episode—Summer is undeterred. Not even her belief that Rick isn’t bluffing when he threatens to let Summer die (perpetuated by a clueless Morty) turns her completely against him; there’s more fear in her voice than anger. She has most often been depicted as the archetypal shallow teen girl (and she returns there when she rushes off to watch aliens get drawn and quartered), which makes it even more remarkable to see how much she cares about Rick. Of all the things in the world an aloof high schooler could pick to cherish, she picks her manipulative asshole of a grandfather. Family works in mysterious ways, and Roiland and Harmon have a magnificent grasp upon the irrationalities that pervade our relationships. After all, if people are willing to stretch the limits of their imagination to make excuses for a failing president, it’s no big deal to cover for a blood relative.
Morty has his own moments of glory as well. At this point, he’s both a seasoned veteran of interdimensional hijinks and a young man who is confident in his moral judgment—a point he first proved last season when he killed the sentient gaseous cloud named Fart—and those qualities dictate his actions throughout the episode. By this point, Morty is morally righteous enough that he is willing to kill Rick because he’s through with his grandpa’s treating Summer and the rest of the family like pawns. Can we even say that he loves his grandpa anymore, after a goddamn attempted murder? All of a sudden, we need to view Morty as more than just the voice of reason or Rick’s incompetent sidekick—he’s a powerful actor whose rigid code of values here takes a step toward fanaticism. There’s a hint of his internal struggle—a “wait, did I just try to kill Rick” dawning—that shows us that Morty still probably cares about his partner in crime, but as this season progresses (and hopefully we’re due for weekly episodes now), watching Morty determine the degree to which he will hold Rick accountable for his douchebaggery will be fascinating. If there’s going to be anyone who forces Rick to confront the ghosts of his past, it will be Morty, who knows him better than anyone else alive and has gained enough clout to command Rick’s respect and, perhaps, his honesty.
And then, of course, there’s Beth and Jerry. Their separation, in hindsight, seems like an obvious development, but it’s the way that Roiland and Harmon pull it off that deserves our supreme accolades. Beth is at best minimally satisfied with Jerry and she probably always has been, but when push comes to shove—and perhaps because she never really grew emotionally out of her teen years, having become pregnant with Summer in high school—all she really wants is a relationship with her father. We knew this going in, but somehow it still doesn’t feel hackneyed when Beth goes from a tender reconciliation with Jerry to demanding that he move out after his “him or me” ultimatum. Clearly, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jerry… my own prediction is that Beth will prove to be just as miserable without him, and she’ll prefer to suffer through the despair living alongside a wet blanket that clings to her and keeps her warm rather than shivering alone. After all, that seems to be the overarching point of the Beth-Jerry dynamic, and Rick’s new supremacy within the family won’t change Beth’s inherent misery.
Oh, and was I forgetting to mention the actual humor in the premiere? Because the episode, as usual, was hilarious as hell. From Rick’s realization that maybe he shouldn’t have relinquished his improv skills to the blatant reference to the end of the show’s very first episode—albeit with a more jaded, less physically disabled Morty—Roiland, Harmon and their team were firing on all cylinders in the running gag department. And the episode, as with classics like “Total Rickall” and “Meeseeks and Destroy,” combined lightning-quick wit with good old-fashioned butt jokes to show that Rick and Morty is still the best mixture of crass and brilliant available anywhere.
Anyways, let’s hope that this reverse April Fools’ Day gag wasn’t just a one-off, and that we’ll be graced with the presence of Rick Sanchez and the Smith family each weekend for a hundred years, forever, until Rick gets all that Szechuan McNugget sauce… or at least until they run out of season three episodes. Because Rick and Morty picked up right where it left off, at the top of all animated television—and now the rest of the season has to live up to this glorious mindfuck of all mindfucks. My guess is that Roiland and Harmon are up to the task.
Miss the episode? Catch it again on adultswim.com.
Zach Blumenfeld is sleeping off Law Prom. Follow him on Twitter.