Season 3 Made 'Rick and Morty' the 'Darkest' Show on Television
How TV's best animated comedy series made good on its season-long promise.
When Morty’s drunken grandpa Rick began drooling more than usual in the final moments of Rick and Morty’s Season 3 premiere, he belligerently shouted, “Welcome to the darkest year of our adventures!” Against all odds, the top-rated comedy on television brought the laughs in Season 3, but Rick also helped deliver what was undeniably the darkest year ever for the show.
Rick and Morty’s always been pretty dark. Violence and death lurk around every corner of the exotic worlds Rick, Morty, and the rest of the Smith family visit. Remember that time Rick and Morty caused a Cronenberg apocalypse? They moved to a new universe where they buried dead versions of themselves and took over their lives. But most episodes in Season 3 make that sequence seem tame by comparison.
Violence and gore have only escalated, but this “darkest” year brought so much more. Inverse spoke with Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist who analyzes fictional characters. She offered insight into just how dark Rick and Morty has gotten.
Here’s how Season 3 made good on its promise as the “darkest year” of Rick and Morty’s adventures:
Morty Legit Tried to Kill Rick
The Season 3 premiere, “The Rickshank Redemption,” saw Rick bust out of prison to kill tons of people from both the Citadel and the Galactic Federation. Amidst the chaos, he still manages to save his family and cause his daughter to divorce his hated son-in-law. At a pivotal moment, when Morty’s stress levels peak, he tries to kill Rick. It’s a good thing the gun wasn’t loaded.
After this episode, Morty seems to chill out and accept Rick. “Being more attuned with Rick,” Letamendi explains, “allows Morty to let go of some of his past frustration and anger toward Rick’s seemingly anti-social behavior.” It’s pretty dark when a 14-year-old kid can come to terms with his grandfathers abusive, alcoholic tendencies.
And remember those bodies Morty buried? He and Summer dig them up!
Summer Becomes a Murderous BAMF in the Mad Max Desert
Summer takes center stage in “Rickmancing the Stone” and lets out some murderous rage over her parents’ separation.
Similarly, after Morty’s arm is possessed by the muscle memory of a former Death Stalker, he goes on a total rampage, killing tons of people. Remember when Morty freaked out after getting a little too into the Purge? Here, he’s all out of remorse. What’s a little murder and mayhem?
As Letamendi points out, episodes like this show how Morty has become “more comfortable in his own human skin, realizing his insignificance, his mundaneness, his impermanence.” He’s steadily adopted more of Rick’s nihilism, it’s made him less anxious, more willing to embrace the violence and meaningless chaos of the multiverse.
Pickle Rick Slaughters Dozens of Roaches, Rats, and Human Beings
Never has Rick and Morty been more violent than in the truly insane survivalist adventure that is “Pickle Rick.” Beyond the obvious gruesome violence, Rick’s issues with therapy and his tendency to avoid emotionally connecting to anyone at the end of the episode say something dark, and expected, about him and Beth. Rather than commit to therapy, they’d rather make plans to go out drinking and avoid emotions altogether.
Rick Kills a Bunch of Superheroes After Blacking Out
Rick’s always been a functioning alcoholic, but when he gets so wasted that he blacks out, kills a supervillian, and sets a bunch of Jigsaw-style traps for the Vindicators, you know he’s gone too far.
“Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” absolutely destroys our expectations regarding the derivative superheroes that Morty worships. (Is this discount Star-Lord a pedophile?) We see more than ever a Morty that’s “a bit more self-confident,” according to Dr. Letamendi, as he “begins to use Rick’s psychological framework, strategy, and wit to his own advantage.” In this case, he uses it to predict what Rick might do for each successive puzzle. How twisted is it that he can predict Rick’s insane puzzles?
Depressed Jerry Tries to Kill Rick, Has a Time- and Mind-Bending Trip
So many dark AF things happen in “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy.” Rick drags Jerry naked from his gross apartment for an adventure. Jerry’s so depressed that he thinks Rick will murder him. Instead, they go to a resort where people can’t die — as such, giggling children senselessly kill one another and a get resurrected over and over … until they don’t anymore. Even child death is played for laughs.
Jerry cooperates with some aliens trying to kill Rick, and in a truly bizarre scene, a loose piece of paneling as the ship they’re in passes through a wormhole causes the minds of Jerry, Rick, and the alien Risotto Groupon to merge for what seems like an eternity in a “cosmic apotheosis.”
The imagery is dark and troubling.
Toxic and Non-Toxic Versions of Rick and Morty Disturb Equally
It’s hard to gauge if the physical manifestations of Rick and Morty’s toxic personality traits are less or more disturbing than the two docile, kind, and assertive remnants of the characters. Toxic Rick proclaims himself a god and conducts what looks like black magic in a messed-up underworld. Non-Toxic Rick is still brilliant, but he’s lost his tenacity.
Without his whiny traits, Morty becomes some kind of sociopath resembling both Jordan Belfort from Wolf of Wall Street and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.
Letamendi explains that the episode communicates something pretty heavy but true to life: “Even the worst parts of our identities, no matter how ugly and toxic, are still a part of our human makeup, and that’s a pretty difficult idea to digest.” Morty and Rick came to terms with it by episode’s end, so maybe we should too.
The Only Thing More Bleak Than the Citadel’s Present Is Its Future
Evil Morty is back more sadistic than ever. After his democratic takeover of the Citadel, Evil Morty started a brutal reign in which he had any opposers murdered.
Aside from his brutal rise to power, “Tales From the Citadel” also offers a look at just how bleak life on the Citadel is for Mortys and Ricks from all walks of life. Perhaps the darkest tale comes from how Wonka Rick captures a Simple Rick’s satisfaction and use his brain’s secretions to lace a candy bar.
Rick Erased the Darkest Things He’s Ever Done From Morty’s Memory
“Morty’s Mind Blowers” blew a lot of our minds with quick vignettes offering some of the tightest, and darkest, Rick and Morty stories to date.
There are too many dark stories to list — some even show Rick being an idiot — and many more we didn’t even get to see. In one, a device that Morty gets lets him hear animals’ thoughts, which forces yet another universe migration after the squirrels catch onto him.
Beth Tried to Kill Her Childhood Friend
What’s more twisted: The fact that Rick made his daughter a procedurally-generated Wonderland just to distract her or the fact that Beth tried to kill her childhood best friend out of jealousy because his father actually gave him attention? Actually, things get much worse when Beth and Rick return to “Froopyland” in the present day to find that Beth’s friend Tommy humped and ate his way to the top of the food chain in a world now ravaged by cannibalism and incest.
Impossibly, things get even darker when Beth goes back, hoping to bring Tommy back to the real world. She murders countless … Froopies? … and returns home with Tommy’s finger so Rick can clone him.
The Most Popular Presidents Were Sick Freaks
The U.S. President in Rick and Morty reveals that his predecessors were total freaks.
In addition to the Kennedy Sex Tunnels, the White House also has the Truman Cocaine Lounge, McKinley Hooker Dump, and Lincoln Slave Coliseum. We don’t get to see what horrible things happen in the Hooker Dump or Slave Coliseum, but when Rick and the President brawl with high-tech gadgets, they crash through the Truman Cocaine Lounge. Rick gets a faceful of cocaine tossed his way — which naturally doesn’t phase him in the least.
In the season-ending B-plot, Beth actually thinks she’s a clone of herself that Rick will eventually kill. Grim stuff.
Rick and Morty Season 4 has no projected release date, but Mr. Poopybutthole says it will be a “really really long time.”
If you liked this article, check out this video about an Evil Morty fan theory.