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RICK AND MORTY Gets to the Heart of What Makes Beth Tick (and Worse)

RICK AND MORTY Gets to the Heart of What Makes Beth Tick (and Worse)

Warning-lubba-dub-dub: Spoilers for Rick and Morty follow!

Beth and Jerry have been almost completely absent from Rick and Morty this season, with the focus of the year landing on Morty’s emerging confidence and the revolution at the citadel. But it makes sense that “The ABCs of Beth” would need to bring Morty and Summer’s mother back into the fold before the finale next week. While the episode was one of the clunkier ones, it brought both Beth and Rick to emotional places that seemed impossible even a few episodes ago–notably in “Pickle Rick,” which showcased the height of each Sanchez’s unwillingness to change.

Yeah. They hugged and said, “I love you” like it was no big deal. That’s what this show is. After a lost little boy grows up in a world built by imaginary DNA, surviving by having sex with pretend beasts and eating the offspring until he becomes kingfather and foodbirther, a father telling his daughter that he cares for her is the most shocking thing to happen.

It’s hard to put a robotic finger on why the episode felt flat, but it probably has something to do with waiting so long for a character to figure out something we’ve known for a long time. Beth’s journey to realizing that she’s her father’s daughter is something we have to endure regardless of the creative candy coating. Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, and the writing team seem to wink at that pain by pressing so hard on Tommy’s (voiced with gleeful abandon by Thomas Middleditch) insistence on using a shoddy play to tell the origin tale Rick’s already figured out. Rick’s got it. We’ve got it. Everyone’s got it. Why can’t Beth just get it?

Plus, her ultimate awareness occurs off-screen, as if the show has grown tired of showing a cartoon bloodbath to pop music. One day, on a DVD extra, we’ll get to see the slaughter of the Froopians.

There’s also the weird note that the series started off suggesting Beth had become a horse because she wasn’t good enough to go through regular medical school, which conflicts a bit with the fact that Beth’s curse is that she’s a genius with a genuinely evil childhood (invisibility handcuffs? teddy bear with anatomically correct innards? lightning gun? night vision googly eye glass? sound-erasing sneakers? a gag that goes on for way too long but then forces you to respect it because of how long it goes?). Her identity has been a plot convenience for too long for this episode to have the impact it was going for, but it’s wonderful to see the family is all teed up for whatever large-scale nonsense is headed their way in the “The Rickchurian Mortydate.”

Even if Beth is just a clone now. I mean, do you think she took Rick’s deal to swap places with an exact duplicate so that she may head off on adventures more suited to her intellect? It seems to me that Beth chose to stay with her family, but there’s a tranquility at the end of the episode that’s a bit too Stepfordian to ignore.

Meanwhile, it’s a testament to the show’s strengths that a Beth story and a Jerry story can get equal screen time, and I can forget the Jerry story twice as fast. His dalliance with the psychic Krutabulon was fun, Chris Parnell continued to drop incredible work as the show’s Mr. Cellophane, and everyone had a hunting good time. It’s hard to see whether Jerry has grown in any real way. Or if he can. He’s mired in a different flavor of self-loathing. A co-dependent version where he keeps waving his arms out of the quicksand with no one on the edge to help him out. Summer challenged him to pull himself out in this episode, and…he didn’t. He went right on weaseling his way out of a tough situation by blaming his children for the breakup with Kiara.

What’s fantastically clever about how Rick and Morty treats Jerry is that he always retains the ability to fool us. No matter how many times he lets everyone down, he’s still there, scraping by with the potential to have potential. When his apartment is decorated, and he can move things with his mind, it genuinely appears as though he’s made a big stride in changing his life for the better, but he hasn’t. He’s literally leeching off of someone else. Again. His powers aren’t even permanent–he gets them from having sex with Kiara. Once she’s out of his life, he will revert back to his sad sack self once more, scuttling around his dingy apartment without his children or ex-wife in his life.

Unless something dramatically changes in the season finale.

“The ABCs of Beth” was funny, but it faced an uphill battle because both stories were about characters stuck in ruts. Beth was stuck denying a true nature that has kept her defending her father regardless of how much it damages her family. Jerry was stuck, and remains stuck, in an empty life that he doesn’t have the strength to define for himself. Tommy was stuck in a cartoon paradise from hell.

But the show slogged through those ruts to emerge on the other side with something amazing. The season started with Rick turning himself into a pickle to get out of therapy, and Beth rewarding that behavior by wanting to go get blasted at the bar with him afterward. It looked like growth wasn’t in the cards. Beth wasn’t mature enough. Or Rick’s calculus couldn’t allow for it. But now here we are. One happy family.

Images: Cartoon Network/Adult Swim

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