While offering some great adventures, this season lands between the previous two, as more time is devoted to the resolution of existing plot lines than the creation of new ones. Some might argue that this is a natural development of overarching plot lines introduced in earlier episodes – which this season executes stunningly in The Ricklantis Mixup – but I see as Harmon’s and Roiland’s writing catching up to them.
The driving theme of this season is Beth and Jerry’s divorce, and Morty, Summer, and Rick’s place in the resulting family unit. Unfortunately, each of this years stories serves the end goal of reaching the resolution of Beth and Jerry’s divorce. It’s this rush to resolve this plotline by the end of the season that pushes what could have been fantastic standalone adventures to the side, instead making them slaves to the season’s narrative.
Cast your minds back to early April, when Roiland and Harmon teased us with an early April Fool’s episode, one devoted to breaking one of our titular characters out of a mind prison. For four months we were left up the creek without any zany, nihilistic, Sci-Fi paddles. It is maybe because of this time between this first episode and the rest that leaves The Rickshank Rickdemption feeling more like the second half of last year’s finale, rather than a fresh start to season three.
Season three doesn’t really kick off until the third episode, Pickle Rick, which is a fairly bread and butter episode that would fit thematically into any of the three seasons. Like The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy and Rest and Ricklaxation, this is as close as we get to a true standalone episode this year. Still, Rick spends most of this episode avoiding dealing with the issue of his daughter’s divorce, something I wish the shows creators would have done too.
Episode continuity can be a fantastic way to keep a show feeling like a living, breathing world. But when the last episode negates the whole reason we have spent so much time on the development of our characters it feels cheap and frustrating, as we know how good this show can be at its best. Whether to start afresh with the many story opportunities that a full family offers, or an attempt to recapture what may have made the series so successful to begin with, the actual result is to render many of the key plot points irrelevant.
Perhaps realising this shortcoming, we are treated to what is easily one of the strongest and most complex episodes yet in The Ricklantis Mixup. The gimmick of having every character be a Rick or a Morty is much more than that, as having these blank canvases allows them to both assume cultural tropes and remain recognisable and familiar. The fact that the episode is literally Justin Roiland talking to himself for 23 minutes takes nothing away from the density of storytelling in this episode. It culminates in a dramatic dolly out, accompanied by the recurring theme for the series’ darkest moments Do You Feel It? which eagle-eared fans might remember from that time Rick tried to kill himself.
Placing this episode in the middle of the season, however, is like having your cake before your steak, especially as the season ends on a dry, unremarkable tale that could have fit into any part of the season, save for the fact that Beth and Jerry finally get over their irritating divorce. The disappointing climax has led to many fans speculating that there are more episodes to be released, and that the season isn’t really over. As much as I’d like to believe this too, to do so is to make the same error that befell fans of Sherlock, and afford an initially promising showrunner far too much credit. Sometimes a disappointing ending really is just that.
While I appreciate Harmon and Roiland’s twist on a clip show, cramming all of this season’s standalone adventures into Morty’s Mindblowers was short sighted, as they would have been welcome as fully fledged episodes throughout the season. However, the small insights into Morty’s deleted memories we do get is lighthearted and fun. Well, as lighthearted as a story about a suspected peaodophile’s suicide can get.
The last episode is a thematic continuation of The ABC’s of Beth, the first real time Beth’s character complexity is actually explored. This development comes across as retroactive considering we have known these characters for 28 episodes already. However, it does also serve to end the season, with a disposable tale about the President and return to both the family and premise we loved in the first two seasons. Let’s just hope that this season was a necessary evil for Rick and Morty’s return to the quality we had come to expect.
Catch the last episode of Season 3 on Netflix and Adult Swim this Sunday, if you haven’t pirated it like you should have done.
Rick and Morty Season 3
Creator: Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland. Starring: Jusin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer, Sarah Chalke