Rick, a Character Study

Warning: This is probably the most offensive, inappropriate show that we’ve ever talked about here on PBW. If you haven’t yet seen Rick and Morty, I’m warning you now that there is violence, offensive language and lots of gross sexual depravity. This is not a cute show about a boy and his grandpa.

If you have seen it, I don’t have to tell you that, despite its graphic vulgarity, the show is brilliant. You’re probably dying for the new episodes to start this summer, wondering if the April Fools Day episode was canon (because there’s a rumor that it’s not,) and wishing that there were more than two seasons to re-watch while we wait.

I love this show, and I think it’s a lot smarter than people give it credit for. And, as with everything I love, I have to pull it apart and see how it works. As I did this, I realized that the main reason this show works, for me at least, is the character of Rick himself. So, instead of picking apart the whole show, I just want to talk about Rick. Because he’s a fascinating character and the sort that you don’t often see as main characters in shows.

He’s a horrible person.

Rick is not a hero. He’s not even an antihero most of the time. He’s selfish, offensive and interested only rick post 2in his own happiness. In fact, it could be said that Rick is often a bad guy. He created and enslaved a whole race just to be his car battery. He coldly sells weapons to assassins and kills without mercy or remorse. He has actively stated that the only reason he takes his grandson with him anywhere is because he works as sort of a shield, keeping people from detecting Rick. The only person he seems to genuinely care about, most of the time, is his daughter, Morty’s mother Beth.

This does not make him an admirable person. I know that some people would tell you that there’s a part of everyone who would love to be Rick; acting without a conscience, without fear of repercussions. Forgive my presumptions, but I think that’s bullshit. Maybe I’m just naive, but I think most people wouldn’t want to cause harm to most people. I can certainly think of people who don’t have that moral compass, and I can think of people I personally wouldn’t mind causing harm to. But to say that people like characters like Rick because we’d like to emulate him I think is completely wrong.

I like watching Rick because he is different than me. I’d like to write a character like that for the same reason. I enjoy new experiences, things that are foreign and different than my every day. I enjoy stories in which I don’t know what’s going to happen next. If a character is like me, I have a pretty good idea of what she’s going to do. While I’ll connect more with a character like that, I won’t be as compelled by a character like that.

His past, of which we know so very little.

The unknown is a lot of why this character works, actually. If you’ve watched all of season one and two, you know that we don’t know a lot about Rick’s past. We don’t know why he wasn’t in Beth’s life until recently. We don’t know why he’s living with her family (though I think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that he’s got to have Morty around to shield him.) We don’t know a lot of why the large governmental agency wants to arrest him. And we’re just now starting to get hints about some great galactic war he was in. Hell, we don’t even know who Beth’s mom is. (I’ve heard a theory that it might be Unity. I don’t know if I agree, but I think it’s an interesting idea. I think that Beth would have some sort of powers if that were true.)

The fact that this blog post has been full of fan theories should tell you what sort of reaction this causes in fans. It’s that same 1+1 analogy again. I want to solve the mystery; I want to know what’s happening! I want to know the juicy, probably really sad reason he left his wife and daughter. I want to know, if the April Fools Day episode was canon, why did Rick leave his wife and daughter?

Sometimes a story is defined by what we don’t know, or what we want to know, just as much as what we do know. In fact, not knowing the ending is a large part of why we keep reading or watching. Because if we already know the end, where’s the fun?

His interactions with Morty.

I mentioned earlier that Rick seems to only care about his daughter, Beth, but that’s not entirely true. It just so happens that she’s the only one he seems to have outward affection for. But we do see, occasionally, his attachment to his grandchildren. Especially Morty.

rick post 3It’s been clearly established that Rick has to have Morty around to shield him. We also know that there is an infinite number of Ricks throughout different alternate universes, with infinite Ricks and Mortys. There’s a memorable, and chilling episode in which this is discovered at length. Ricks don’t care about Mortys. But it’s made clear, in that same episode, that Rick not only cares about Morty but holds fond memories of him as a baby. While he manages to hide it most of the time, from himself as much as anyone, he really does care about his grandson. This is the speck of humanity that Rick needs to be a redeemable character, in my opinion. We can argue that he’s only kind to his daughter to have a place to live. While he is brilliant and doesn’t seem to have any trouble making money, he might find it easier to mooch off of his daughter and son in law.

It’s only with Morty that we see Rick be selfless. Not even both of the kids, though I suspect he would die to protect Summer as he nearly died to protect Morty. And it’s this shred of humanity, that redeems Rick and makes him a complex, dynamic character.

If you’re a fan of Rick and Morty, I suggest watching the episodes from season one and two again, as a writer. Pick apart Rick, see what makes his character work as well as it does.

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