A pickle named Rick shouldn’t be this distressing.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Rick and Morty season 3, episode 3.]
When the concept of Pickle Rick was first introduced to viewers through a teaser for Rick and Morty’s third season, we assumed it would be harmless. “There goes Rick, the zany mad scientist who just so happens to be a pickle now,” we all thought. When Pickle Rick did make his debut in the show’s most recent episode, it wasn’t a lighthearted introduction. Rick hadn’t transformed into a pickle for the obvious “why not?” joke. This was Rick trying to escape from the shame he felt over breaking up his daughter’s marriage.
The episode begins with Rick gallivanting around in his new pickle form. Rick invites Morty into the garage to see his latest accomplishment — one that Morty accuses Rick of undertaking so he can avoid accompanying his family to see a therapist. In the fallout of Beth and Jerry’s failing marriage, Rick is trying to cope with unwavering guilt. He’s run away to a post-apocalyptic world, as seen in the season’s second episode, and is now making himself physically incapable of joining his family for any type of group activity. Rick is bogged down by the inescapable guilt. While his family is off working on fixing their dynamic, Rick takes on a different journey altogether.
The episode takes on two different tones: the saga of Pickle Rick and an intimate, almost voyeuristic family therapy session. The former is ludicrous; a distracting albeit entertaining journey through one man’s desperation. The latter is eye-opening, offering more insight into a dysfunctional family than we’ve seen. It’s one of the series’ most remarkable, self-aware episodes that captures the dichotomy of themes co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland want to present.
In the time that Beth, Morty and Summer spend with the counselor, going over everything from Morty’s “desk wetting” to Summer’s pottery enamel huffing, Rick embarks on the wildest of adventures. After a cat pushes his pickled form off of the workbench in the garage, Rick wounds up in a sewer. He’s forced to make a terrifying, monstrous body for himself out of a cockroach’s carcass and a dead rat’s endoskeleton, transforming it into an exoskeleton so he can walk. Rick isn’t a whole person — he’s not even a human. As Rick tries to find his way out of the mess he’s found himself in, he can’t deny that he’s never been more grotesque or less of a man than he is in this moment.
The more outlandish Pickle Rick becomes, the farther from reality the series drifts, until Rick meets up with a prisoner named Jaguar (voiced by Danny Trejo). As they take aim at one another, Jaguar informs Rick that he only agreed to fight because the mobsters who want Rick dead are holding Jaguar’s daughter hostage. Rick, in an unguarded moment of vulnerability, confesses that he’s just trying to get back to his daughter, too. Rick is done with running away, acknowledging that a life without his family is even more painful and unfulfilling than dealing with the excruciating guilt he’s suffering from.
Meanwhile in therapy, Beth refuses to acknowledge that she’s, once again, been abandoned by her father. She respects her father’s ability to keep his emotions locked up inside his mind, adding that it’s better than “making your problems other people’s problems.” Beth’s relationship with Rick has always been unhealthy, but it’s through therapy that she finally acknowledges part of what drives those around Rick mad with frustration are traits she’s inherited. It’s a breakthrough for Beth — not to mention Morty and Summer — but it’s all undone the moment Rick stumbles into therapy.
By demanding Beth hand over the anti-pickle serum, Rick admits that he had transformed into the vegetable form to avoid spending time with his family. Without saying the exact words, Rick confirmed that, in the moment, he cared more about himself than the familial unit he spends his time with. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s not without hope.
The episode ends with Rick asking Beth to go and get a drink with him. After spending time in the sewers and crawling back to his family, Rick makes it seem like he’s ready to try his hand at putting his daughter and her family first. Rick isn’t going to change his tune anytime soon. Rick will always put intelligence and personal advancement over his family, but he’s trying.
All we can do is ask people to try a little. We want people to acknowledge when we need them — and we want to feel loved. All Beth has ever wanted was her father’s approval and adoration, which was something he seemed incapable of doing. All Morty and Summer want is a family with a solid foundation, which is drifting further away with every new episode.
Rick’s simple gesture of asking Beth to get a drink with him in the wake of her separation from Jerry is the most meaningful action he could have done. It’s a sign that Rick is willing to change parts of his personality to try and repair the damages he’s created, but it’s going to take some time and much patience.
Rick and Morty airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.