It’s difficult to imagine the mind-breaking stresses that any member of the Smith family would be subjected to, living in the world of Rick and Morty. They’ve all seen and suffered so much—particularly Morty, but those stresses are no longer unique to him as they largely were back in season 1. As last week’s episode, “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” made clear, no one—not even Jerry—is beyond the threat of being suddenly ripped out of their bed, naked, and thrust into a life-or-death situation by a slavering Rick, all in the guise of “an adventure.” The elder Sanchez is a living force of deus ex machina, and everyone around him is helplessly sucked into the vortex of his oversized sense of agency.
The opening sequence of “Rest and Ricklaxation” is actually one we’ve seen before—the tearful, screaming meltdown of Rick and Morty in Rick’s spaceship was released as a teaser before the third season ever premiered, but it comes to us now at an interesting point in the season. In short, it’s a little bit surprising that Morty now finds himself so vulnerable—not to mention Rick—because so much of this season has highlighted Morty’s development of both strength and cynicism. “Vindicators 3” in particular is the most clear example we’ve ever had of how far Morty has come since we first met him. He’s no longer fazed by seeing the worst side of the man he’s occasionally compared to “a demon” and “a super fucked-up god.” If anything, he’s become numb to facing death and the stresses that come with it—look how resignedly he tackles all of Drunk Rick’s various challenges in “Vindicators 3,” including disabling advanced weaponry. Rick may have been bullshitting in the series pilot when he implied that Morty would get smarter from tooling around with him, but it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t actually HAPPENED at this point.
Regardless, the point is that it must have been one doozy of a six-day adventure that finally led to the pair’s complete, hyperventilating meltdown in the spaceship, which is handled masterfully by Justin Roiland’s vocal performance as Morty in particular. This is another one of those things the show does so well—it skillfully leaves out vast chunks of the “adventuring” that is always going on, leaving us with an even bigger world to imagine. But eventually, those stresses catch up to everyone. What Morty and his grandfather experience can really only be properly called PTSD. Their bodies simply aren’t able to take it any more, so the only recourse is obviously to visit an alien health spa and have the “toxins” literally sucked out of said bodies.
Of course, this being Rick and Morty, those toxins immediately develop their own consciousness and plot escape, which gives us the primary plotline of “Rest and Ricklaxation.” But the most interesting analysis is of which parts of their personality both Rick and Morty have deemed “toxic.”
Rick states that it would be impossible for the spa machine to determine for itself which portions of a personality are “toxic,” and thus must be working off the definitions in the mind of the user. Therefore, “Toxic Rick” has all of the qualities that sober-minded Rick would deem “toxic” about himself, and “Toxic Morty” has all of the qualities that Morty secretly wishes he could cast off—primarily Morty’s self-loathing and generally pathetic qualities, or anything he would have inherited from Jerry.
This leaves us with idealized versions of Rick and Morty, but it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean these versions are their “best selves”—they’re only the versions of themselves that R&M would like to be. Because neither Rick nor Morty (at this point hin his development) can be trusted to make a noble or non-self-serving choice in this matter, their idealized selves are the selves that make life easiest or most pleasurable for them. Idealized Rick, for instance, has left behind much of his hostility, distrust and megalomaniacal tendencies, but he’s also left behind the things that made him “weak”—such as his genuine fondness for his family, and Morty in particular, which can no longer be denied. Idealized Morty, on the other hand, is a very strange, awkward character—he finally possesses the confidence to be with Jessica, but his now boundless energy and ambition means he’s no longer interested in or satisfied by the idea of being with her. It’s an unnerving performance by Roiland, and difficult to pin down the truth of this new Morty’s personality—is he just an empowered, hyperactive version of his good-natured self? Or has his idealized self been pushed far in the direction of Rick, leaving him as a Patrick Bateman-esque psychopath who spends all his time talking to hide the fact that he’s completely empty inside? It’s never quite clear, and likely never will be, considering that things are brought back to “normal” by the episode’s end.
Ultimately, “Rest and Ricklaxation” feels a bit more slight and self-contained than some of the other episodes of season 3, despite the darkness confronted in the brilliant opening meltdown. In particular, the sitcom-esque “everything is back to normal” ending (at least for Rick and Morty themselves) doesn’t quite jibe with a series that once Cronenberged an entire universe and then left it to rot. I for one would have been interested in seeing this strange new Morty live out the life of a stockbroker for a little longer, but it’s a small quibble about what continues to be the most ambitious and smart comedy on television.
Until Rick and Morty returns in two weeks, take some deep breaths, Rick and Morty.