The Rick and Morty Darkometer: S3 E3 – ‘Pickle Rick’

The weird, insanely fucked up things Rick will do to get out of family therapy.

The various promos and previews intended to hype up series 3 for when it began in earnest made a lot of Pickle Rick, and I for one was worried. If you’ll cast your mind back to ‘Big Trouble In Little Sanchez’ in series 2, we had Tiny Rick, a plotline which could have been wrapped up in five minutes and so chose to pad itself out with Rick squawking ‘Tiny Rick!’ after every other sentence. If I really wanted to be uncharitable, I’d say the Tiny Rick plotline was one of the writers vicariously redoing high school via Rick. And of course, when animated shows do prequels where the characters are teenagers in high school, there is a tendency to assume the worst.

Pickle Rick, starting as it does with Rick having become a pickle and saying ‘Pickle Rick!’ a lot, seemed a lot like it was going down the same tedious path. So it was quite a relief – and a boon for this episode’s place on the darkometer – when it quickly became apparent Rick had transformed himself into a pickle in order to get out of going to family therapy, and, indeed, had set up a Rube Goldberg device (you know – overcomplicated rope and pulley contraptions) to reverse the procedure ten minutes after the rest of the family had left. Naturally he cheerfully denies both charges.

The therapy session, ostensibly about Morty’s incontinence and Summer’s substance abuse, quickly switches track to confronting something I talked about in the darkometer rating of last week’s episode – Beth’s colossal blind spot regarding Rick. Confronted with this, Beth is obviously hostile, but there’s also the subtle implication that on some level, she knows she’s being played by Rick – note that she takes the pickle-reversal serum, claiming as justification his obvious lie that he doesn’t need it. We also strike at the heart of Beth’s adulation of Rick, when the therapist suggests it is down to Rick’s complete self-sufficiency.

And Rick’s indomitable spirit is on full display in this episode. He is alone, helpless, and a pickle in an unfamiliar environment, and doesn’t have the family to help him – or, rather, to weigh him down. With nothing more than his mouth, he takes control of a cockroach’s nervous system. Before long he has modified his pickle body enough that he can slaughter a horde of sewer rats, and while it could be argued he’s doing this out of necessity, he revels in every moment of it. You might come away with the impression that, like the initial pickle transformation, this is simply him challenging himself.

A big part of the fun is Rick inventing things (ok, mainly weapons) on the fly. We’ve seen this before, when he was stuck in the Teenyverse in ‘The Ricks Must Be Crazy’, but there he was limited to sticks and stones – here, he’s ripping apart small animals and fashioning their biomatter into an exoskeleton, and later using ordinary office supplies to make a shoulder-mounted laser cannon. We also get several more Rube Goldberg devices, which are also weapons. Now, remember that he’s alone here, and try and imagine what it must have been like when he had Squanchy and Bird-person backing him up when they warred against the galactic federation.

Rick escapes from the sewers into a nonspecific secure facility – maybe run by the security services, maybe not – whose denizens make the foolish decision to try and kill him. And so the carnage continues, Rick killing humans as gleefully as he killed rats, the only difference being that now they can understand how he’s taunting them. The guards, and their generic Eastern European accents, are quick to cite the old wives’ tale about the evil pickle man. Backed into a corner, they’re forced to release Jaguar (played by Danny Trejo!) to try and take down Rick. Jaguar is a tragic figure all by himself, imprisoned in a lightless room (probably for a crime he didn’t commit), and manipulated by the promise of being allowed to see his daughter again – who, as it turns out, is long dead.

Unsurprisingly, after wounding each other in their evenly matched rough, tough gunfight, Rick and Jaguar then team up, burn the head guy to death and escape in a helicopter. To twist the knife further, Rick unthinkingly mentions that he has infinite daughters, but then must clarify that Jaguar does not – surely the high-concept sci-fi rigmarole version of swearing in church. Jaguar, free at last, doesn’t take it too badly, and in fact becomes another of Rick’s recurring allies, as we see in the post-credits scene. In fact, given what he’s been through, it’s a fair argument that Jaguar is the most psychologically healthy person in the entire episode.

Rick’s faux pas there is committed in the course of reasoning that, with access to infinite timelines, he need not actually get attached to any iteration of his family. Now, we’ve seen first-hand that this is, on some level, fronting. In ‘A Rickle In Time’, he was, however briefly, willing to sacrifice himself to save Morty. However, as he himself points out, he did once abandon instances of Beth, Jerry, and Summer in a Cronenberg world (referring to the events of ‘Rick Potion #9’). However sincere or insincere he’s being there, it does still speak to a worldview in which other people as essentially interchangeable – like the Council of Ricks’ blasé attitude to replacement Mortys. Perhaps more justifiable with access to infinite timelines, but nonetheless not a quality you might value in friends or family.

Anyway, from here, Rick – having defeated his own scheme of avoiding it by being a pickle – has nothing to do but finally go to the family therapy session. Even as his pickle body threatens to die on him, his battlefield surgery of stapling on a slice of dill clearly not doing the job, he still has the energy to disdain therapy as a concept.

Wong, the therapist, is something of a Mary Sue – an obtrusively perfect character, perfectly calm even as Beth swears at her, although you might argue it’s not hard to come off like that up against the dysfunctional Smith family. In retrospect she comes off a little too perfect, like the sort to have some dark secret. Since she’s a shrink the obvious comparison is Hannibal Lecter with the cannibalism tucked out of sight.

It’s hard not to hear the writers speaking through her when she argues that Rick and Beth’s dynamic punishes vulnerability, or when she suggests that Rick uses his intelligence to justify amorality, isn’t really taking responsibility for his own actions, and that deep down he would rather die than put in the slog of improving himself. This is perhaps why she is a little one-note, as she was clearly never intended to be a rounded character, rather a device to bring the family’s many faults out into the open – the straight man to Beth’s funny guy – and has plenty to talk about in that respect, without even mentioning the divorce.

Ultimately, Rick and Beth make an informed, adult decision not to take Wong’s obviously correct insights on board, and Rick invites Beth to have a drink with him. This is the lowest rung of manipulation, offering Beth the carrot of a chance to spend more time with her father, with the stick of Rick abandoning the family again unmentioned but clearly hovering in the background, since of course he did that as recently as the second series finale. What makes it all the worse is how earnestly Beth goes for it, even while in the back of the car, the kids impotently suggest they should perhaps go to therapy again.

On one final note – Rick, introduced as an alcoholic, is now enabling his daughter, who has for a while now been too fond of wine. But even more seriously, now Summer seems to be following in their footsteps of substance abuse, with her squanch of choice being pottery glaze. At no point is her desire to dissociate using intoxicating chemicals (‘I am in great pain. Please help me.’) analysed or expanded upon.

The darkometer, which goes from ‘picnic’ to ‘global famine’, registers Pickle Rick as ‘left-wing journalists backing Hugo Chavez’s rule of Venezuela’ – people who aren’t so very different from you or me making what any independent observer can identify as the wrong decision, with some bloodbaths for flavour.

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