In Adult Swim’s animated sci-fi comedy sensation, Rick and Morty, the titular character of Rick Sanchez is a master of the Universe. He’s an inter-dimensional traveler, scientist and high-functioning alcoholic whose intelligence is revered and cursed by everyone who knows of him.
In three seasons, we’ve seen Rick and his grandson, Morty, explore the most bizarre corners of the cosmos and leave a trail of destruction along the way. Fans of the show understand that Rick is somewhat of a nihilist. In Rick’s world, there is no place for gods or sentiment, nor for family or friends most of the time. Rick is a scientist; he understands that chaos dominates the Universe and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. So, when Rick and Morty go on their destructive path, their adventures are driven by them trying to either deal with, or escape, the situation. But never turn back the clock.
Can the smartest man in the Universe reverse time? Yeah, probably, but it’s likely that Rick simply refuses to. Rick’s apprehension to turn back time is what drives the narrative in Rick and Morty, and it’s a very smart move by the writers. Unlike Back to the Future, one of the show’s obvious inspirations, the show doesn’t bother with all the mind-bending, paradoxical problems that come with time travel. It’s too problematic. So it’s replaced in Rick and Morty with inter-dimensional travel. The characters can jump through a portal from one timeline to another; from a world they destroyed to an alternative world they can start afresh.
This creates an interesting character dynamic for both Rick and the more emotionally-driven Morty. Rick’s nihilism prevents him from really caring about jumping from one reality to another, but Morty incurs the damage as a price. It’s clear from many episodes that Morty has been dealt some psychological scars from his adventures with his grandpa. He’s repeatedly expressed apprehension to the missions he’s dragged along to and always tries to make Rick see the human side of his mayhem. Although these pleas go largely ignored by Rick, he does have a soft spot for his grandson.
It’s this relative affection for Morty where Rick’s character finds redemption throughout the series. Through all the berating and the verbal abuse, there are times when Rick and Morty are endearing towards one another. In episode 104, M Night. Shaym-Aliens!, they have a little goof around throwing crystals in the Zygerion ship. In episode 201, A Rickle In Time, the only episode to really muck around with the fourth dimension, shows Rick at one of his most contemplative when faced with imminent death. He saves Morty by sacrificing himself, and says…
Obviously, Rick prevails, but time is the only thing to have almost beaten Rick. When he tried to freeze it, he almost destroyed it completely. His aging process is an ongoing experiment that Rick couldn’t figure out in episode 207, Big Trouble in Little Sanchez, and he can’t “cure death” in episode 103, Anatomy Park. In most other instances, Rick always has a card up his sleeve, or simple he invents another card to change the game. But not here.
If there’s one thing that any good hero in any good story needs, it’s a decent villain. And any scientist needs a boundary to push. But Rick is a high-functioning alcoholic with enough worries. He’s also laughably bad at dealing with anything he can’t quite get a handle on, as shown in the latest episode from season 3, Pickle Rick.
Time is the villain that Rick refuses to acknowledge, so he shelves it. Literally.