Yar, there be spoilers ahead. Sail forth with caution.
Rick and Morty is a hit. It’s been renewed for a third season, they’ve got voices in Dota 2 and a successful mobile game, and it’s arguably one of the best adult animated shows on TV right now. I’m enamored with the show’s originality, sharp humor, and subversion of not only sci fi, but modern comedy. The only aspect that makes me really uneasy is Rick. Surprisingly, my issue stems not from his burps, weird drool/puke thing on his mouth, or occasional casual misogyny. Rick makes me uncomfortable because he’s a constant living monument to attempting to embrace the meaninglessness of his life and it not going well.
When I was in high school, I started having nights where I’d sit up in bed being absolutely terrified about dying. Not imagining all the ways I could die every day, but trying to imagine being dead and failing. Coping with your mortality and the cosmic unimportance of your short time on earth is pretty heavy stuff, especially for someone who can’t drive yet. Eventually the time I spent scared of not living got shorter and the nights I was aware that my brain is probably not capable of imagining death grew further and further apart. I’m still not over it entirely. Even as recently as two months ago I was doing breathing exercises at 3AM because nobody needs this shit on a Tuesday night.
Rick Sanchez is an atheist who doesn’t have a “planetary mindset.” Intellectually, he doesn’t value life, understands his place in the universe as without meaning, and has seen firsthand exactly how large the multiverse is. He travels through different timelines effortlessly, kills tons of aliens at the drop of a hat, and generally doesn’t give a SINGLE FUCK.
But there are still times in which Rick shows a more human side. He cries over footage of his memories with Morty, turns himself in to police so his family has a shot at a better life, and even makes the choice to sacrifice himself to save Morty. In the episode with Unity, Rick attempts because he’s heartbroken that Unity dumped him. This is a man who’s buried his own corpse from an alternate timeline so he could assume that identity and keep living and he’s still shattered over a girl/boy/species/parasite.
He clearly has feelings.
What do we get when we put together the two largest aspects of Rick’s personality — his intellectual self and his, often suppressed, feeling self? A man who simultaneously understands how fragile and unimportant life is to the universe and values the life of those around him. A living contradiction whose brain is constantly fighting its chemical instincts. He’s a fucking mess. A selfish, alcoholic nihilist whose actions are constantly disrupting the lives of those around him.
And that’s what makes me uncomfortable. In their reality, Rick is the smartest man on Earth, a dangerous galactic criminal capable of almost anything and even he can’t reconcile the fragility of life. It makes for an interesting, dynamic character, but one that resurfaces my unresolved feelings about my place in spacetime.The dichotomy of believing our time ultimately doesn’t mean much, but having your emotions tell you otherwise is difficult to reconcile and you’re not helping Rick.