The Rick and Morty so-called “Story Circle,” coined by co-creator Dan Harmon, uses an eight-part story structure to ensure every episode of the popular animated series is fresh and captivating. This detailed breakdown guides the protagonist along on the classic “Hero’s Journey,” or Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, as they hit all eight story beats in Season 1’s Episode 4, “M. Night Shaym-Aliens!”
As is usual for an episode of Rick and Morty, more than one character goes on the hero’s journey. In “M. Night Shaym-Aliens,” Rick and Morty share a story circle while Jerry simultaneously cycles his way through each of the eight stages.
Rick, Morty, and Jerry are trapped inside a simulation, which is inside another simulation, which is itself trapped inside one final, all-encompassing simulation. They’ve been put there by Zigerions, a humanoid alien race that is trying to scam Rick out of one of his most valuable secrets: the recipe for concentrated dark matter.
Rick and Morty both start out in their usual comfort zone, the garage. Except, they’re not actually in their garage; they’re in a high-tech simulation of it. Rick realizes this and quickly informs Morty, leading them to both want something in order to escape. However, since Rick knows he’s being tricked, he decides he wants a little something extra: to pull a reverse-scam on the Zigerions.
They enter an unfamiliar situation when they escape the first simulation and adapt to it after they discover they’re still in a simulation, ultimately deciding to escape that one as well.
When they finally make it to the getaway ship, they get what they want but pay a heavy price in doing so when they realize they’re still in a simulation. This means that Rick’s recipe for dark matter is revealed, his plan for scamming the aliens out of their processing chips is rendered futile, and the character we thought was Morty was actually just part of the simulation the whole time. Oof.
Morty’s circle drops off here (since fake characters don’t get story circles), and Rick is left to return to the familiar with Jerry — which might as well be by himself. He accomplishes this by revealing that he knew he was in a simulation the whole time, and he actually did cheat the scammers by giving them a forged recipe that resulted in the destruction of their ship. (And, maybe their race? We haven’t seen them since…) Rick’s default is knowing what is going on at all times, so this plays out perfectly.
Rick having changed is often a bit of a stretch, as he never learns lessons or fixes any character flaws, but he has permanently defeated another foe, so we’ll chalk this one up as a “Rick change.”
After all, this is Harmon’s version of the monomyth — which means Rick and Morty will only loosely follow the classic hero archetype.
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