Why Does Rick Need Toxic Rick? – Rick and Morty Season 3 Episode 6 Breakdown

Are Rick and Morty’s detoxification part of a larger criticism of the self-help industry? Join us as we explore Morty’s descent into madness in Rest and Ricklaxation.

Written by: Alec Opperman & Jared Bauer
Edited by: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon

Why Does Rick Need Toxic Rick? – Rick and Morty Season 3 Episode 6 Breakdown

Hey Wisecrack! Flesh Jared again. Before we get into it, just a note: We didn’t do a quicktake last week because, well, while The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy was one of our favorite episodes of the season, we didn’t really have much to add to the discussion. But we’re back to take on Season 3 episode 6, where we’ll be looking at the toxic side of our favorite adventuring duo. I really love this episode for two reasons. First, they manage to address the kind of “character development” we crave in a way that is both satisfying and the exact opposite of what regular TV does. And second, they tap into some really interesting ideas about mental health. So fire your therapist and join me on this Quick Take of Rest and Ricklaxation.

A quick recap: Rick and Morty need a break from almost dying all the time and come to the realization that they’re burned out. So they vacation at an alien spa, and take a mental detox-ifier for a spin. While the duo feel cleansed and rejuvenated, they leave behind the parts they hate most about themselves. Morty continues to live his life without the sense of crippling self-doubt, becomes the most popular kid in school, and even lands a date with Jessica. Meanwhile, Rick seems like a normal human being. But this new reality is interrupted as the toxic versions of themselves manage to escape and turn the whole world, uh, weird.

One of the cleverest aspects of this episode is what I’m going to call “anti-character development.” As we’ve mentioned before, Dan Harmon is a strict adherent to his version of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” The relevant part here is that many story’s use protagonists confronting their “shadow,” a kind of dark reflection of themselves that they must overcome – Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In terms of character development, this overcoming usually means our hero has some new insight on life – like when a compassionate Logan sacrifices himself battling the murderous X-24 -overcoming his selfishness – or when Luke Skywalker spares Darth Vader – overcoming his temptation towards the Dark Side. This episode uses this structure, toxic Morty and toxic Rick are quite literal “shadow” versions of themselves. But instead of overcoming their toxic personality traits, this episode is a journey to reunite with their worst selves. Healthy-Morty is a smooth operator with lots of friends who ultimately needs to rediscover his self loathing, and Healthy-Rick is a thoughtful super-genius who needs to rediscover his narcissism and irrational care for Morty. If anything, the “regular” kind of character development, is pretty creepy.

But I also think this “anti character development” serves as a pretty smart commentary on mental health in our society. Rest and Ricklaxation asks: What does it mean to be mentally healthy? In many ways, this episode serves as an extended parody of certain “healthy” attitudes promoted by self-help gurus, popular media and the occasional “life purpose cheerleader – I swear, they exist in LA. In particular, this idea that we must strive to eliminate any thoughts that are unpleasant, or painful. #positivevibes #selfcare #blessed #sorrynotsorry. Now, there are a ton of Insta-llectuals who will tell you that being mentally healthy means uncritically loving yourself, saying yes to everything, counting your blessings, and believing in yourself no matter how stupid your passive income scheme is. However, Rick and Morty shows us that these ideals, fully embodied, will make you seem like a coked-out weirdo. I think one of the ideas the show is getting at is something sociologist William Davies has written about in his book “The Happiness Industry.” For our long-time fans, we actually talked about this book in our Inside Out video.

Davies writes about a concept he calls “compulsory happiness,” that in our modern world there exists a kind of alliance between corporations, managers and advertisers to promote a definition of mental health that ultimately serves the capitalist society that we live in; a kind of happiness that involves cheerfully accepting the status quo – something touched on by Rick before. This kind of happiness also requires constant self improvement for the sake of being a better consumer. We see Morty spouting platitudes that seem lifted from a Tony Robbins book, demanding that everyone around him partake in his new lifestyle. And, when confronted with real life problems, like a sentient part of himself being trapped in hell, his answer is “Trust me things are good. Taking that away from me… that wouldn’t be healthy.”

The problem with this is that many of the things the self-help industry wants you to erase, like self-doubt and sadness,,are pretty important. In the case of Morty, it can hold you back from becoming a full-on sociopath. And a sociopath he becomes. In a scene lifted from the Wolf of Wall Street, it looks like “healthy” Morty is at the top of his game as an unscrupulous stockbroker, with a new hot redhead to replace Jessica. Rick even compares him to another sociopathic Wall Street fat cat with too much self-esteem. So what about Rick? Rick realizes some of these less desirable parts of ourselves, despite the pain they cause, are essential to actually being healthy. Jessica even tells Morty, suggesting that Morty’s authentic, self-hating self, is truly his better self. But my only complaint with this episode: it doesn’t really make sense. We’re meant to believe that the undesirable parts of a person are purged from their being based on their own subjective definition of toxicity. Yet, “Healthy Rick” says this to morty: “I’m really proud to be your grandpa”, then later, claims that his attachment to Morty is irrational, therefore, toxic, and allows him to nonchalantly do this. So is his love for Morty toxic or healthy? Well for more thoughts on that, be sure to check out The Squanch, our very own Rick and Morty podcast. We’ve been breaking down every episode of Rick and Morty, and people seem to like it. For those of you missing a quicktake on the Whirly Dirly conspiracy, we’ve even got an episode on that. You can find a link in the description, or almost anywhere you get your podcasts, iTunes, Stitchr, Google Play, SoundCloud – to name a few. And don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, we might even read it on air. Thanks for watching guys. Peace!

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