Okay, it was probably easy to guess what the second Rick and Morty list would be. Morty Smith is almost designed to be a commentary on himself. He’ll never be the most popular character, and while Rick and Morty function as a unit, it’s Rick that brings people to the show. But Morty is much more interesting and three-dimensional than he initially seems, and his aw-shucks (pardon; “Aw geez”) demeanor and upright morality belie something much more sinister – a quality more typically associated with Rick. So, here are my Top 5 Morty Episodes of Rick and Morty, the ones I think best examine Morty’s complexities. Again, these episodes are listed in chronological order to chart Morty’s development throughout the show. If you missed the first list, you can read it at the link below:
“I was just trying to do right.”
There are several episodes that explore the pitfalls of Morty’s unwillingness to set aside his morality, and while they’re all excellent, “Look Who’s Purging Now” is my favorite – partly because it’s the most consequential and partly because it’s super violent and fun. (Sue me, I’m an easy mark.) Rick and Morty land their spaceship on a random planet to pick up more washer fluid after a space bug splatters on their windshield (sidebar: getting people into this show is either really easy or really hard depending on how they react to a plot point like that) and find themselves on a world where the setup of the movie The Purge is acted out in real life. That is, once a year, everyone goes on a violent killing spree to get their savage instincts out of their system; as a result, the planet is (otherwise) free of crime. Of course, Rick wants to observe this while Morty is horrified, lecturing Rick about how awful he is to take delight in that kind of barbarism.
The lecture reaches its zenith when Morty sees a frightened girl surrounded by bloodthirsty villagers and insists they rescue her, which they do… and then she turns on them at the first opportunity, shooting Rick and stealing their spaceship, leaving Rick and Morty stranded in the middle of what is essentially a bloody riot. In order to survive, Rick and Morty must participate in the purge, killing and stealing their way through the nightmare they’re caught in while hunting down the girl they once tried to save. A whole lot of people die as Morty eventually lets loose what Rick calls his “repressed rage,” beginning with pushing someone down the stairs and ending with him donning a mech suit and gunning down the purging populace at Rick’s side.
Why this episode over “Mortynight Run” or “Rattlestar Ricklactica”? Because this one brings out the worst in Morty; he evolves from judgmental observer to white knight to reluctant participant to violent purger throughout “Look Who’s Purging Now.” When they’re trapped in an abandoned cabin, and the hordes come for them, Rick asks Morty to throw him a weapon, and Morty throws him… a spoon. Rick points out that there was a pile of silverware available, and Morty chose the one thing that couldn’t kill anyone (though, of course, Rick finds a way). This is because, even though he’s now in mortal danger, Morty still can’t bring himself to kill. It isn’t until a peaceful old man asks him to leave his home that Morty gets homicidal, killing a guy who just wanted a friendly ear rather than be cast out into the purge. And it only gets worse from there. Then, when he goes into action, he gets so swept up in the violence that he kills people needlessly, even those trying to hide.
What makes this so fascinating is that Morty is generally seen as the moral counter to Rick’s selfish nihilism. But “Look Who’s Purging Now” argues that Morty’s philosophy is actually more dangerous than Rick’s – or it can be, at least. Once Morty lets loose, he can’t stop, getting so swept up in the violence that he kills people needlessly, even those who never meant him any harm. Rick ultimately has to subdue Morty to quell his bloodlust, keeping him unconscious as he and the girl who stole their ship team up to annihilate the wealthy powerbrokers who organize the purge. Because Rick gives in to his baser instincts, he’s able to keep a clearer head, to compartmentalize the violence. But Morty represses his anger, and as a result, once he lets it out, it consumes him. And when the purge society is toppled, the planet’s denizens end up reinstating the purge because it’s all they know, so Morty accomplished nothing by getting involved aside from killing a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have died.
“You’re gonna be a lot happier if you focus on the moment rather than how you’re gonna die.”
Morty’s adolescent naïveté about love causes him to do a lot of dumb things, and he never seems to learn from his mistakes. An earlier one will be explored in the next article, but in “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,” his tenuous grip on the morality he flaunts in front of Rick is exposed big time through his desperation to have a fairytale love story with his high school crush, Jessica. On another planet, Rick and Morty procure some Death Crystals, gems that allow those who touch them to see how they’ll die. Because, as Rick puts it, “your future stems from your present,” your death is constantly changing, dependent on zillions of tiny choices you make and would think nothing of without the crystals. Rick demonstrates this in a shootout with a group of space pirates trying to shanghai their score, seeing certain death from the gunfight in his future until the pirates run out of ammo and have to reload, clearing the way for Rick to kill them. Morty pockets one of the Death Crystals while Rick isn’t looking and eventually sees himself dying as an old man with Jessica by his side.
Morty spends the rest of “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” trying to ensure that this future happens, going to ridiculous lengths like walking in zigzags and stumbling through conversations looking for the perfect word to lead him to Jessica’s final embrace. But he’s blind to the fact that, in living for the future, he’s abandoning happiness in his present. He won’t talk to Jessica because it changes his death; he even passes up an opportunity to go skinny-dipping with her and a bunch of other girls because of the Death Crystal. But the allure of being with Jessica in the future has so consumed him that he doesn’t see how he’s wasting his life by trying to manipulate it. Morty’s morality is in play again, as he often chides Rick for living in the moment and giving no thought to the consequences; here, Morty takes the opposite extreme and causes himself a lot of trouble.
But Morty’s obsession with achieving his preferred death doesn’t just hurt him. Immediately after taking the Death Crystal, he insists on driving the spaceship, but his every movement is erratic since the tiniest shift in any direction causes a new future. The result is Morty crashing the ship and impaling Rick on a jagged rock, killing him. Rick being Rick, he has a contingency plan for his death by having Morty create a clone of him into which his consciousness can be transferred. But when Morty prepares to make the clone, his future changes, so he decides to leave Rick dead so he can be with Jessica. Even when he agrees to bring Rick back, he enters the incorrect code to the clone chamber based on which button presses will lead to his preferred death. Instead, he opens the lab’s weapons lockers and arms himself, using Rick’s sci-fi armaments against bullies, the police, and the military, only surrendering when the Death Crystal shows him it will bring him to Jessica. (How he escapes paying for this in court is hilarious.) To drive the point home, Morty ultimately becomes a literal monster in service of his desired future until the finally-resurrected Rick removes the Death Crystal and frees him from his obsession.
Amusingly, this is intended as a mission statement for the show. Morty’s laser focus on the future is clearly destructive, but as Rick points out, “I was living in the moment all day and it kept getting me killed by Nazis” (which is true; long story, involves interdimensional bug clones). The solution they come up with is to “split the diff” and find a balance between planning for the future and enjoying the present. In the series’ terms, this means having a mix of arc-heavy episodes and standalone adventures. But it still works as an examination of Morty’s character, and this zen-like understanding only comes after he’s killed people and almost doomed his grandfather, proving again that Morty is not the paragon of virtue he thinks he is.
“I don’t deserve this! I was just having fun!”
As we’ve learned, giving Morty any kind of power is dangerous – perhaps even more dangerous than giving it to Rick. Rick is selfish and ruthless, but in his way, he’s responsible and understands that his actions have consequences (even if he doesn’t always care about them). Morty is unpredictable, partly because he’s a teenager ruled by his hormones, and despite all his talk about doing the right thing, he goes wild when given a taste of power. “The Vat of Acid Episode” brilliantly shows this by having Rick give Morty a seemingly magical do-over device that Morty likens to saving your place in a video game. It looks like a TV remote, and it creates points in time to which Morty can rewind, getting a chance to do things differently. It’s a wonderful science fiction concept, as so many of the show’s trappings are, and it’s something Morty takes full advantage of as he tries to prove that his ideas are as good as Rick’s – particularly the titular vat of acid, which Morty thinks is a stupid solution to a problem.
Morty starts by pantsing his teacher, Mr. Goldenfold, in class and rewinding time to before he made the decision, then graduates to things like trying out numerous pickup lines on Jessica, fixing his botched order at a restaurant, sampling ice cream, testing out different video game strategies, and many other mundane things a teenager would do. Mixed in are violent crime sprees and getting the cops to shoot at him. But the show-stopper is when Morty meets a girl at a coffee house and, in a dialogue-free three-minute sequence, falls in love and experiences a real relationship. This isn’t his fantasy crush on Jessica; it’s an honest, difficult, slowly built romance with both happiness and pain, where the two drift apart before a harrowing disaster brings them back together. Every time Morty is tempted to hit the button and turn back time, he doesn’t; he’s learning that the ridiculous do-over device is robbing him of leading a full life and growing as a person. It’s a beautiful storyline that ends in tragedy (and maybe Jerry’s best moment ever), but Morty has finally grown up.
Of course, Rick doesn’t leave it there; he set a trap for his cocky grandson, withholding the fact that Morty was creating alternate realities – and alternate versions of himself – every time he hit the reset button, with the other Morties being destroyed. Now, Morty’s responsible for all the death and misery he thought he’d negated, his fun and games becoming a horror show he visited on many new worlds. Rick’s offered solution is to merge all of the worlds Morty created into one, making all of the actions Morty’s and his doppelgangers having never existed, with the only escape from the consequences of the many crimes he’s committed being the very plan of Rick’s he originally criticized: the vat of acid. While this shows off Rick’s pettiness and incessant need to be right (and recognized as being right), it’s a huge development for Morty – or, rather, it should be. But, as we’ll see, Morty learns nothing from this because he never learns anything from his many missteps.
“Truly, nobody cares about your dick, Morty.”
Rick’s nemesis, Mr. Nimbus, may have gotten all the attention, but the best part of the season 5 premiere is Morty’s inadvertent shaping of an entire civilization because he wants to score with a girl. In anticipation of Mr. Nimbus’ visit, Rick throws a few cases of wine into another dimension where time moves faster, meaning they’ll age quickly. But when Jessica comes over and asks for some, Morty is all too happy to oblige. Unfortunately, every time he procures a bottle, something happens to it, and he has to go back for more, making Jessica wonder what’s going on with him. But the bigger problem is that every time Morty returns to the other dimension, his actions cause that world’s society to change, with each visit creating more trouble until he’s seen as a sort of Devil-like figure that the populace shapes itself around defeating.
Watching the society change is fascinating and one of the best sci-fi storylines Rick and Morty has ever done. Morty’s interference grows each time, from causing a small-scale (yet murderous) family dispute to a Medieval kingdom preparing for Morty’s return to a religious order that warns of his influence to a Tron-like future that seeks to hop dimensions and kill Morty before he comes for them once again. It’s hard not to feel bad for these people who never hurt anyone and see their whole world reshaped and destroyed because Morty wants to impress Jessica. The only sin that began their millennia-long ordeal was a kindly farmer trying to help Morty carry the wine back to his world and encourage his pursuit of Jessica.
On the other hand, Morty isn’t sympathetic at all. At first, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but once he gains an understanding of the harm his actions are causing these people, he decides he doesn’t care and brings a bunch of Rick’s weapons with him, killing them left and right to get another bottle of wine. Once more, we see that Morty has learned nothing from his adventures with Rick. He’s seen what his interference with other societies can cause, but he does it anyway. He’s experienced what letting his crush on Jessica override his better judgment results in, but he keeps making mistakes because he wants his date with her to go well. And he’s gotten a taste of the bloodlust he doesn’t want to admit he has, but he gives in to it all the same, killing in the name of his hormones. Morty is not the good guy here, and he doesn’t even pretend to learn anything this time, even when Jessica blows him off after she gets trapped in his escapades and is forever changed because of it. (“Fuck off; I’m a time god!”) If “Mort Dinner Rick Andre” proves anything, it’s that Morty is at least as terrifying as Rick.
“I’ll always be your grandpa, Morty. I’m just kinda obsessed with crows now.”
This time, Morty is more victim than villain, as he sees the extent of Rick’s selfish nature and the toll it takes on those who think they’re important to him. After traveling to different worlds and cleaning up the messes Rick made in them, Morty spills some of the green fluid from Rick’s portal gun onto his hand and creates a portal in his palm – with someone else speaking to him from the other side. Morty soon learns that the man on the other end of the portal is Nick, a nutcase who followed Rick home from a bar and tampered with the portal gun, resulting in a portal forming on his leg and Rick catapulting him to Australia.
Morty is in the same boat as Nick in another way, too – after another argument, Rick abandons Morty as his sidekick, instead choosing to team up with a pair of crows. So Morty teams up with Nick in an effort to prove that he needs Rick just as little as Rick needs him. He finds Nick in an insane asylum and helps him escape, the two working in tandem by using their body portals to defeat the guards. Then, they decide to become a team, going on their own adventures without Rick’s toxic influence. This is a fun new look for Morty, who has been so dependent on Rick for the rest of the series; here, he’s striking out on his own, forming a new partnership, and charting a course that he’s chosen.
But while Rick is having a ball with his crows, Morty soon realizes that Nick was in the nuthouse for a reason: he’s completely insane and just as dangerous as Rick. When Morty finally understands that he has to stop Nick, it’s as sad as it is triumphant; Morty has nothing without Rick, and Rick consistently brings out the worst in Morty. Rick has also come to that realization, and he abandons Morty for the crows, leaving the lonely boy alone. As much as Morty is capable of great evil, he’s also a kid who needs a friend, and Rick was the only one he had, with his potential replacement ending up being a dud.
Is that right, though? Those earlier episodes indicate that Morty’s bad actions come from himself, not from Rick’s outside influence, and I think “Forgetting Sarick Mortshall” makes that point, too. Look at Morty’s reaction to Jerry accidentally turning himself into a puddle; he just leaves him there, prioritizing his own fun over saving his dad. But he also does some good, like stopping Nick from killing unarmed people when he tries to procure more fluid for the portal gun. Rick and Morty project Morty’s propensity for evil onto Rick (and given Rick’s, to put it mildly, severely flawed character, that’s understandable), but the truth is that Morty is responsible for his own actions – and, by extension, so are we all. Maybe he’ll understand that one day.
Thanks for reading, especially if you came back after my Top 5 Rick Episodes. Let me know what you think in the comments, good or bad. Tomorrow will be the final list; hopefully, it’ll put you in the mood for a new season of Rick and Morty (as if we need any help).