Rick and Morty is going off the rails. At least, that's one way you could choose to understand Season 4 Episode 6, a bizarre twist on an anthology episode that ended with a literal toy train falling off its tracks and spilling blood everywhere. But a closer look at one particular moment could reveal how the new episode, titled "Never Ricking Morty," reveals how Rick and Morty is sticking to its own rules while also subverting them in the weirdest way imaginable.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for Rick and Morty Season 4 Episode 6, "Never Ricking Morty."
The clue in question comes at the end of the episode when Rick and Morty realize that the train they're stuck on is actually just a plastic toy. After defeating the Story Lord, Rick reaches for the controls and they snap off, rolling across the floor. A quick shot reveals the interior of the broken lever with some mysterious numbers written inside.
That might seem random, but Rick and Morty rarely is, and when you consider the specific numbers hidden within the thing that's supposed to be controlling the train (a metaphor itself for the show's narrative) it becomes clear that the show's animators are trying to give us a major clue. But to understand it, we're going to have to revisit the one concept that unites every episode of Rick and Morty: The story circle.
The story circle is basically Dan Harmon's simplified version of the Hero's Journey. Here's a quick breakdown (via Decider):
- A character is in a zone of comfort
- But they want something
- They enter an unfamiliar situation
- Adapt to it
- Get what they wanted
- Pay a heavy price for it
- Then return to the familiar situation
- Having changed
However, what if we apply those numbers hidden in the Story Train's control lever to the story circle? That order, in case you need a reminder, is 0-2-3-7-6-3-1-9.
Let's ignore 0 and 9 for now because those aren't numbers in Harmon's story circle. However, the rest of it actually lines up pretty perfectly.
2. But they want something: Rick and Morty want to escape the train.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation. The fight against the ticket conductor.
7. Then return to the familiar situation. The Blips and Chitz joke and Rick seeming to understand the situation as they go outside the train.
6. Pay a heavy price for it. Morty telling a story that would never happen on Rick and Morty to break through the "thematic seal" and re-enter the train.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation. Fighting the Story Lord and bringing Jesus/Christianity into the story.
1. A character is in a zone of comfort. After they defeat the Story Lord, Morty tries to suggest they've learned something but Rick makes it clear they haven't. They're basically at square one, which brings us to...
What is part 9 of the story circle? The only answer seems to be that part 9 is some sort of fourth-wall-breaking technique where the characters acknowledge not only that they're in a story but the nature of the medium itself. Rick praising Morty for buying Rick and Morty merch feels like a direct reference to the true purpose of any popular TV show: to sell shit. (Dan Harmon did something similar in the Community series finale when he revealed that the entire show was actually just a board game commercial.)
As for part 0, my best guess is that this is a reference to the show's initial setup before Rick and Morty arrive. It's a meaningless sequence that reveals nothing about the rest of the episode or the show itself. In other words, it's the opposite of part 9.
The best part of this Rick and Morty theory is that it basically means nothing. Understanding how Season 4 Episode 6 subverts Harmon's story circle doesn't actually mean the episode makes any more sense. If anything, it makes even less sense when viewed as a bizarre deconstruction of the show's basic framework.
What are the show's creators trying to tell us? That the story circle is as meaningless as everything else in Rick and Morty's infinite multiverse? That our attempts to cling to story structure like a guard rail are futile?
As one Reddit commenter suggests, the true answer may come from cutting this episode up and editing it back together into a Frankensteined story circle. But until someone does that (it's way beyond my video-editing capabilities) we'll just have to assume that this story train Easter egg is just one more example of Rick and Morty messing with our heads for thinking about the show a little too much.
New episodes of Rick and Morty air Sundays at 11:30 EST on Adult Swim.