Rick and Morty has never been shy about trolling its fans with meta episodes. The show’s fourth season gave us multiple examples of that. But season five’s completely absurd second installment, “Mortyplicity,” felt less like a troll job and more like an omen. An omen for viewers expecting to eventually learn Rick Sanchez’s secrets. In the end, the show’s lore and backstory might be nothing more than decoys for what the series is really about.
Anything can happen on Rick and Morty. Not because it’s an animated series, but because it takes place in a universe with infinite dimensions. There are infinite Ricks out there, which can be hard to remember because it’s impossible to comprehend. Human minds just aren’t built to imagine something that never ends. Still, the show hosts an inexhaustible number of both Ricks and possibilities. Even though the series has (seemingly) been primarily following the exploits of just one— Rick C-137—by definition, an infinite multiverse will contain an infinite numbers of Rick C-137s. We might be seeing a totally different Rick in every episode.
And if you think that’s impossible, just ask yourself how many times in this episode you were positive the real Rick had finally shown up. Yeah, if all of this hurts your head and makes you feel like Jerry, you’re actually getting it.
Season five’s second episode made the concept of infinity more manageable by showing us how it works on a small scale. Rick developed a decoy family system. The Westworld/Ex Machina doubles served as an alert system. They would take the brunt of any unexpected assault, giving the real family time to escape. However, the decoys, unaware of their own identity, created their own decoys too. The result was a single dimension overrun with decoy Ricks killing other decoy Ricks. It wasn’t never-ending, but it felt that way until the final scene with the family flying around with Space Beth.
Decoy decoy decoy, decoy decoys? pic.twitter.com/iXeUDToYH4— Rick and Morty (@RickandMorty) June 28, 2021
In some ways, this episode served as a standalone story. But “Mortyplicity” explicitly raised the possibility that we’ve been watching Smith robot copies for multiple seasons. “That’s what the decoys are for. They go on fun, self-contained, terrestrial adventures and take bullets meant for us,” said one Decoy Rick. Have we been watching decoys in every episode? Is it possible that much of what we think we know about Rick C-137 is a lie? Those are question the show raised itself. That is, if anything we saw or heard at all was real.
“You get far enough down the decoy line and s*** starts to get weird,” said another Decoy Rick. A copy-of-a-copy’s thoughts may just be a distorted—if not outright incorrect—version of the real Rick’s. That quote makes it impossible to evaluate how much stock (if any) we should put into the words of decoys. Can Rick come to “grips with his bulls***,” as one Decoy Beth said? Is Rick C-137’s primary goal to “provide for his family?” And did the real Rick inadvertently create “an ocean” of decoys because he’s “terrified of losing” both his family and his life?
The unsatisfying answer to all of those questions is “maybe.” Despite what the series told its audience in season four about not overthinking everything, Rick and Morty‘s creators keep intentionally giving us reasons to overthink everything. Like when the Sesame Street Decoy-Decoy Rick seemingly offered real insight into how everything said by copies still had meaning.
“Look, Beth, I might not be the real Rick. But even if I’m not, he made me, or the ‘me’ that made me. Which means somewhere inside of him is a version of Rick capable of hearing that. A version of Rick who’s sorry. I’m sorry about the clone thing too. I love you.”
There’s no way to know if that quote, or anything else a decoy said, applies to Rick C-137. This apology could be fact. Or at least have elements of the truth. Or it could be complete nonsense. It’s not clear that this is a piece to the bigger Rick puzzle. More importantly, it’s not clear there’s even a puzzle to solve. Since we obviously have no idea if any Rick is “our” Rick.
And that’s the point. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have created a universe where the infinite is possible. And if anything and everything can happen, it might not be possible for anything to have meaning. Not even what we see happen on the show. The season five premiere appeared to confirm an indisputable fact about Rick’s past: his wife Diane was real and he cared for her. Only, on Instagram, Dan Harmon himself commented on our story to point out that:
A) there’s an argument to be made that the show didn’t do that, but…
B) the episode also gives evidence why “A” is not true. All before he said…
C) “I don’t know. It’s a confusing show. I hope they do more meseeks.”
When the series’ co-creator admits that it’s nearly impossible to get definitive answers to anything—right before a bunch of decoys remind us why that’s true—it might be time to stop expecting major mysteries to ever get resolved. We might never learn what happened to Diane. Or why Rick left his daughter behind. Clues about lore and backstory are meaningless when you aren’t even sure which version of a character you’re watching every week.
That’s not a problem, though. It’s actually one of the show’s strengths. Like Rick breaking the fourth wall, the series uses self-awareness to create an entertaining viewing experience while also keeping audience expectations in check. Rick and Morty‘s writers know it’s fun for fans to explore the show on a deeper level. But the show also understands the limits and dangers of doing that. When expectations go unchecked, a show can become a victim of those very same theories. Rather than viewers judging a show on its own merits, they sometimes judge it for what it didn’t end up doing. Like with WandaVision, which disappointed some viewers by never introducing Mephisto despite suggestive Easter eggs.
Like Rick and Morty often does, this episode walked that line by giving viewers both sides. Decoy Ricks gave us a reason to think we had uncovered more lore, while the show gave us reasons not to believe them. What we do with that dichotomy is up to each viewer. But no matter how you feel, it’s never been clearer that one day this show might end without giving us the answers we have spent so much energy searching for.
It no longer seems like Rick and Morty is about filling in Rick’s backstory and explaining his motivations. In fact, this is something that Rick and Morty has been telling viewers from the beginning. In season one, Morty told Summer why life is so hard and how to deal with it. It might be a bleak outlook on existence. But it captures why Rick and Morty will have been worth watching even if it never answers any of our questions: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”
When the infinite is possible, all you really have is what’s in front of you right now, in the moment. Infinity doesn’t end. But, just like us, TV shows do. And how they end isn’t as important as whether or not they were fun to watch while they were on.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.