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Warning! The following contains spoilers for the Rick and Morty episode "Never Ricking Morty." Read at your own risk!
Rick and Morty made its triumphant return to television recently, really exploding out of the gate (or train station, as it were) with one of its most ambitious episodes to date. "Never Ricking Morty" found the heroes on a Rick-obsessed train, yet neither Rick or Morty could remember why they were there.
The episode took lots of left turns and made plenty of references to the show's past, but to what end? While it hasn't been explicitly confirmed by the show's creators behind the scenes, this episode made it pretty damned clear that the creative team is largely finished with being beholden to previous episodes' storylines and reveals, so fans shouldn't expect many of them to be revisited in the show's future. Let's dig into the episode, what it meant, and why Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon may have broken canon to give audiences something entirely different moving foward.
What Happened In "Never Ricking Morty"
As previously hinted at, a disguised Rick and Morty were traveling on a train that they didn't remember boarding, and Rick soon discovered thy were on a "anthology story train" that traveled in circles. To escape, the duo had to traverse the speeding vehicle via each of its completely random train cars, all without falling prey to the various storytelling traps.
The two were in constant danger throughout the episode (in which Morty educated fans about "cum gutters") and he and Rick nearly failed in their quest to escape the Story Lord. The narrative-centered villain harvested the duo for their marketability and plot lines, and it appeared the two might be trapped within this new reality forever.
That is, until Rick and Morty prayed to Jesus Christ himself to save them in their darkest hour. The hilarious out-of-character moment physically broke the machine that was controlling them, and Rick and Morty attempted their escape. Only when Rick got to the control console, he realized it was completely fake, and it was then revealed the train was actually a toy that Morty bought for Rick. The duo had a weird meta conversation about merchandising, and then the train's Jesus derailed the toy and it broke.
Yeah, I Watched The Episode, But What Did It Mean?
The train itself is a representation of Dan Harmon's signature story circle he uses in script-writing, which is a modified version of The Hero's Journey. Rick's plan to escape the train meant progressing through each stage of Harmon's creative process, eventually breaking it apart so that they could escape.
I can't say for sure who the Story Lord represents in this adventure, but it might very well be a stand-in for Adult Swim itself. The character is only concerned with keeping the duo marketable, and ensuring they revisit all the characters and plot threads from the show's past in order to keep fans happy. This is part of why Rick and Morty has been successful so far, and in order to keep this train literally rolling, Rick and Morty need to stay on that familiar path. In Adult Swim execs' eyes, now would likely be the worst time for the show to try something different, considering that monumental renewal order.
The scene that brought back all manner of previously established characters for a massive battle looked like straight-up fan fiction, and it's fitting in that regard that Evil Morty was at the head of it. The fandom has run itself ragged coming up with ways for Evil Morty's arc to be resolved ever since he took control of the Citadel of Ricks. I think this scene represents the idealized fan outcome, and the train's derailment at the end is a sign that such a culminating and conclusive resolution will never actually happen.
Then there's the bit at the end, which features an unhinged rant from "real world" Rick that it's all about pimping merch. Rick has always been about making that money, but in this case I think his comments may be an open acknowledgement by the show's creative team that they too are wishing for Rick and Morty to be as successful as possible. With that said, they're perhaps not so consumed by success and fan attention that they're content with adhering to the complicated and chaotic canon that has been set up across 3+ seasons.
But Wait, That Wasn't Even The REAL Rick And Morty, Right?
The Rick and Morty in the train clearly aren't the same Rick and Morty that were hanging out in the living room, which has led some fans to dismiss the entire message as non-canonical. That would be an easier argument to support had Rick and Morty never relayed that message before, but audiences saw the "real" Rick and Morty give a very similar speech in the Season 4 premiere.
In "Edge Of Tomorty," Rick and Morty ran through a large chunk of the premise of "Never Ricking Morty" though one quick conversation at the end. That discussion presumably laid out exactly what the series intends to do going forward, before Summer absolutely ruined everything by being gross.
The overall gist is that Rick and Morty may still hearken back to prior plots and characters, but the creative team is going to do what it wants without being so strictly guided by canon. Keep in mind that Adult Swim's renewal was for 70 episodes, which is a lot for a densely animated show like this. In its first seasons, the more serialized Rick and Morty was seemingly on the cancellation bubble regardless of its perceived success. Perhaps the idea of tying every story element together was more plausible when Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland thought the output would be more limited, but the renewal gives the show a lot more ground to spread its absurdity-embracing wings.
Ultimately, I think this is for the best. Based on the past few seasons of Rick and Morty, the last thing fans should want to do is rain pressure down on Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland to jigsaw-piece together the ridiculous world that they've created. They've earned the ability to write what they enjoy, canonical or otherwise, without having to face fans who populate comment sections with gripes that an episode didn't feature Mr. Poopybutthole in a highly specific way, or didn't give Evil Morty his day of reckoning.
Rick and Morty airs new episodes on Adult Swim Sundays at 11:30 p.m. ET. Let us know in the comments whether you agree with me or not, and stay with CinemaBlend for more on the series, and for more on what's happening in the world of television and movies.