Raise your hand if you were hyped for “Pickle Rick.” Rick and Morty trolled us well. That hand better be way, way up, because he was an instant cultural icon when the season 3 trailer dropped. It was pretty much an instant meme! It’s the most inane, high concept thing Rick and Morty has done, and Rick’s own enthusiasm for being a pickle jumped right off the damned screen and into our hearts. He already had his own catchphrase, and when the episode landed online, the show tweeted out “ The wait is over,” because they knew that this was the one we’d been chewing our nails to get to. Then, in the cold open, the show did the only thing it could do: use Morty’s reaction to Rick to steal the excitement wind from our pickle sails (these are real things). He’s straight up bored. Rick’s a pickle. So what? He can’t move or do anything except yell about being Pickle Rick. Morty stares not in disbelief, but in disappointment. Rick begs for recognition, appreciation of the intrinsic value of turning oneself into a pickle, but Morty already knows that Rick’s done this in order to get out of family therapy. It’s a glorious, epic trolling. You wanted the unmitigated hysteria of pickle goodness? Great. Your sloppy hero can’t move, his plan was embarrassingly transparent, and he could fry up on the sidewalk to death. Turning himself into a pickle is undoubtedly the dumbest thing Rick’s ever done; not because it’s risky, but because it’s stupid. Those first dull moments of Rick stuck as a pickle, alone in his garage, give us what Morty saw of him. Intentional or not, the symbolism of an alcoholic pickling himself is pretty plain, but he’s also helpless and vulnerable. Rick would be dead if not for a random, coincidental change in weather, which makes him something we almost never see in the show: not in control. [mpx_video type=”alpha” guid=”cdIo8p5eBn0AvNKPAii9kL_p7Veybbjd”] Obviously the episode kicks into high gear to deliver an ’80s action movie of international intrigue after sending us crawling like Cronenberg through rat bodies in the sewer system. We got the thrills we hoped for, which is when the second trolling kicks in. Loved Rick patching himself up with a stapler and a sandwich pickle? Loved the largest bloodbath since “Look Who’s Purging Now”? Loved Danny Trejo tough-guying-it as Jaguar, the recycle shaming, and nailing that parkour? Good. Then you didn’t mind that the show was a treatise on mental health and self-care hiding calmly inside a Trojan Pickle. We got exactly what we came for only to be told—in a notably relaxed way by Dr. Wong—that all of that excitement is specifically what’s hurting the family we care enough about to watch every week, year after year. “Repairing, maintaining and cleaning is… not an adventure,” Dr. Wong says, nailing Rick (including the pickle version of him) right to the floor. She turns his massive intellect against him, pointing out the damage it’s done. Then, Rick nails himself to the floor. His monologue about why he doesn’t respect therapy is, at first listen, a logical rebuttal. One more than a few of us have heard (or maybe even felt) in real life. But he also says, “When I don’t like something about the world, I change it,” which is both the key to understanding his speech and exactly what he did to himself at the beginning of the episode. Faced with going to therapy, he made a disruptive choice, one that revealed what he didn’t like about the world: himself. So he became helpless and vulnerable in his own way, and then, only when faced with death and the sewer, did he science the shit out of things to survive. We wanted Pickle Rick, and we got him—immobile and boring. We wanted death-defying violence, and we got a message about living better. Oh, and if you expected this was Rick’s episode because of the title and the promos and all the time we get putting on rat bone armor, you were wrong. He is, as ever, a chaotic distraction. It’s actually Beth’s episode. After Summer and Morty had different amounts of space to work out their initial divorce demons in “ Rickmancing the Stone,” it’s Beth who is given the choice between therapy and her father. She spends the entire episode defending herself, and making herself the center of attention, which means she has to defend herself again. Her telling her own children, “F**k you both, too,” is the most honest thing Beth has ever said on the show, and the way she lights up when Rick suggests they go get a drink together—with Morty and Summer nervously, passively suggesting they enjoyed therapy—insinuates that Rick was right when he said this would be their darkest season yet. It just may be Beth that leads them to that darkness. The children learned to make choices and to leave the past in the past (after owning the Mad Max-style wasteland), but the adults are stumbling further and further into selfish psychosis. Still, an episode meant to be asinine and extreme—where a humanoid pickle uses rat brains to murder dozens of Russian agents in a spy fantasy—ends with us in the back seat of that car, eyes opening to how delusional and mentally poisonous the two parental figures of the show really are. We wanted nonsense, and we got the largest emotional leap forward (and backward) for the characters yet. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have a top five all-timer here, giving us exactly what we wanted, and then asking if all of that is worth it if the family falls apart. It’s trolling with a big, big heart.
If you liked this, be sure to check out the science behind Rick and Morty‘s cockroach brain manipulation, hear the show’s composer explain a musical easter egg, and decide for yourself who’s the better Rick: Pickle Rick or Tiny Rick.
Images: Cartoon Network