This wasn’t the happiest season of Rick And Morty, was it. Oh sure, last season had plenty of horrible shocks (remember when everyone on Earth except for Summer, Jerry, and Beth, got Cronenberged? Also, there was the jelly bean king who molested children), but there was a playfulness to those shocks that kept them from being completely devastating. There was an excitement driving year one even in its grimmest sequences, a delight in the possibilities of the universe, even if that universe was rife with potential catastrophe and death.

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While season two hasn’t lost sight of that excitement, the thrill is somehow gone, at least for the characters. There’s a feeling that none of these people are exactly happy, and no crazy space-time adventure is going to fix their broken lives. Jerry is a putz, doomed to try too hard and fail regardless. Beth is still struggling with the trauma of having her father abandon her when she was young. Summer is—well, Summer’s mostly okay, but living with these parents, and this grandfather, doesn’t make for a stable adolescence.

Morty? Well, despite pushing even harder this year for some kind of moral and ethical framework, he’s committed multiple murders. The first was a floating alien cloud who he first tried to save; the second was an elderly lighthouse keeper with a terrible screenplay. It got worse from there. Morty’s still making the case for decency, though, and in a sad, awful, terrible kind of way, he’s at least partly responsible for the decision Rick makes at the end of tonight’s episode. Morty’s insistence that there has to be something more to life than just doing whatever the hell you want regardless of who it hurts seems to connect to Rick; and that, plus knowing what he’s done to his daughter, drives Rick to make a choice. Whether or not that choice is for the best remains to be seen. (I mean, okay, of course it isn’t for the best because Rick is in Maximum Security with no hope for parole, but at least he did it for the right reasons?)

Speaking of Rick—maybe the most unexpected turn this season has been seeing the occasional glimpses of his, I guess we’ll call it “humanity” for want of a better word. Having Rick be a genius sociopathic hedonist worked just fine last year, and slowly realizing that he loved his grandkids and his daughter (and tolerated his son-in-law) no matter how many times he swore at them helped to give the character some necessary depth. But this season has, without ever belaboring the point, been in part about why Rick is the way he is—that his mania and callousness are a cover for deep-rooted depression and self-loathing.

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Okay, that sounds a bit heavy, and I should probably mention this now: “The Wedding Squanchers” was hilarious, in addition to being, by the end, pretty goddamn heavy indeed. I’m not suggesting the writers are offering us a schematic for Rick’s character motivation, but one of the things that makes the series so great is its ability to balance absurdity with effective, and sometimes deeply moving, tragedy.

A purely goofy show written by clever people could’ve given us the first ten minutes or so of this season finale—the Sanchez’s ending up at Birdperson and Tammy’s wedding on Planet Squanchy, which offers plenty of opportunities for gags about squanching, alien strangeness, Birdperson’s stilted conversational style, and Jerry’s general uselessness. A goofy show with a dark side could’ve even given us that wedding’s violence and unexpected conclusion. The reveal that Tammy, of all people, was actually working deep cover to arrest Rick, Birdperson, and their friends, was a great twist, and shows the benefit of the show’s moderate use of serialization—Birdperson and Tammy’s relationship went from one-off joke to accepted part of the series’ reality in a way that made her betrayal unexpectedly upsetting. (That last is key. No matter how many jokes there have been about Birdperson and Tammy, when he realizes she’s been lying, his reaction is played entirely straight. Yes, it’s funny that a parody of Hawk from Buck Rodgers is getting destroyed by what we all assumed was a dippy, but sweet-hearted, high school student—but the humor doesn’t make what happens somehow false or bullshit. The situations can be absurd, but the characters within those situations treat them with all the authenticity and seriousness of people with actual lives.)

A goofy, dark show could’ve managed all of this, and been very good while doing it. But what elevates everything, and leads into a cliffhanger so strong that I’m actually a little angry at the people involved for forcing us to wait another year, year and a half (and rubbing it in!) before we see things resolved, is watching Rick overhearing his family’s argument about him, an argument that inspires him to turn himself in so that Morty, Jerry, Summer, and Beth can all go home. It was a gut punch, and it only worked as well as it did because of the little moments we caught from Rick all season, seeing the him behind all the catchphrases and the crazed energy.

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There’s something dead and sad and fucked up in the guy. And it’s hard not to blame him much for it, considering that the purest, most noble act we’ve ever seen him take will break the hearts of the people he’s making it for. It’s a brilliant conclusion—one that both presents plenty of story possibilities for the season(s?) ahead, while still serving as a fitting conclusion to the show’s excellent sophomore year.

Stray observations

  • “Weddings are basically funerals with cake.” -Rick
  • So, Rick and Birdperson fought together against the Galactic Federation, huh? Sounds a bit Firefly to me.
  • “I am not staring at you, I am a cyber-photographer.” -the cyber-photographer
  • After Rick calls Birdperson his best friend, Squanchy throws away his BFF bracelet. (Later he swallows something inside one of his teeth to become a giant tiger beast so he can save Rick and the others, so I guess there were no hard feelings.)
  • Rick’s speech notes are the best.
  • “Being nice is something stupid people do to hedge their bets.” -Rick
  • Planet Cob! Run for your lives! (I love that there’s no explanation as to why this would be scary.)
  • “What did you do that for?” “Dramatic effect.”
  • Well, that’s yet another very effective use of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

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