Rick might need Morty’s stupid brain waves to mask his own super-genius brain waves, but as Rick and Morty proceeds through its third season, Summer is gaining traction as the new morally ambiguous audience surrogate at the heart of the show, which needs a “good” person to act as foil to Rick’s selfish insanity.
Over time, Morty has come to resent Rick’s mistreatment, and it’s led him down a dark path towards becoming a nihilistic sociopath just like his grandfather. To use Rick’s own terminology, he’s the Rickest Rick, and being around him corrupted Morty, turning him into the Rickest Morty. Meanwhile, Summer still admires Rick and has assumed leading roles in recent episodes. Her character’s growing and doing more interesting things, like sticking up for her family and building a life for herself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Summer took the lead in trying to rescue Rick in “The Rickshank Redemption.” She and Morty exhumed the corpse of that universe’s native Rick (the one Rick buried way back in “Rick Potion #9”) to use his Portal Gun. Morty wanted to show her the terrible things their grandfather had done, but it does very little to chance Summer’s perception of Rick.
Viewers get sort of annoyed by Morty’s disloyalty when openly renounces Rick and tries to tarnish Summer’s opinion of him, even if we can’t blame him for trying to kill Rick towards the end of the episode. Summer, on the other hand, constantly reaffirms her admiration for Rick. Morty’s been through too much shit, but Rick and Morty and Rick himself need a sidekick that’s going to offer up some love and companionship.
When Rick and Morty began back in 2013, Summer was little more than Morty’s sassy older sister that spent all her time on her phone. But as Morty gradually changed from bumbling idiot to raging sociopath, Summer got more room to shine, and the show gets to do more interesting things with her as a central character.
In “Look Who’s Purging Now” and the more recent “Rickmancing the Stone,” Morty unleashes the full extent of his unbridled rage and massacres perhaps dozens of people each time. And Every time Tiny Rick cries for help in “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez,” Morty selfishly ignores Tiny Rick’s misery because his own popularity in school is rising. In stories like this and “Auto Erotic Assimilation” (arguably Summer’s first real adventure), Summer is the one genuinely trying to do good things despite Rick’s bad influence and overall neglect. Meanwhile, Morty just sort of laughs about race wars.
When Summer dives headfirst into dangerous adventures in “Rickmancing the Stone,” it makes for a more complex story for a female character on Rick and Morty. It’s more interesting for the show to explore Summer’s unhealthy reaction to her parents’ separation than it is to dwell on her suspicions of Rick. Rick serves as little more than a MacGuffin source of conflict when he injects Morty with “muscle memory” and steals the glowing rock from the Death Stalkers. Morty has his own story in this Mad Max-esque wasteland, but his sister becomes the main character.
Neither Morty nor Summer deal with their parents’ separation in healthy ways, but at least Summer does with assertiveness and authority. Morty acts out in more disturbing ways, even when it’s Summer that truly embraces the violence. We’re seeing the same violent Morty we did on the Purge Planet, but the episode explores new avenues to Summer’s character as she makes rational choices and even builds a life with Hemorrhage.
By the end of the episode, it’s Summer who processes her feelings and grows up a little bit. She even goes to see Jerry before the end. Morty doesn’t really get that kind of closure. He lets simmering resentment for his father linger, and it perpetuates the arrested development brought on by his personal trauma.
Rick and Morty Season 3 continues Sundays on Adult Swim at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.