Rick and Morty: The Philosophy of Szechuan Sauce – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Rick and Morty Seaon 3: The Philosophy of Szechuan Sauce. Join us as we dive in to Camus and Dostoevsky in order to gain deeper insight in to Rick’s journey for that teriyaki dipping sauce. That’s what this entire episode is about, Wisecrack- that Mulan Mcnugget Sauce. It’s our rosebud; our one armed man. It’s what drives us.
Written by: Alec Opperman and Jared Bauer
Directed & Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
Rick and Morty: The Philosophy of Szechuan Sauce – Wisecrack Edition
Wub-a-lub-a-dub-dub Wisecrack, Jared here. You’ve probably noticed the internet has blown up talking about the season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty: The Rickshank Redemption. But rather than focusing on the fact that Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon pulled off quite possibly the greatest anti-April Fool’s prank of all time, everyone can’t stop talking about that sweet Szechuan dipping sauce. Is the show doing something more profound than invoking a totally random promotional condiment from the Clinton era? Absolutely. And we’re here to break it down for you. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Philosophy of Szechuan Sauce.
We’ve talked about the existential themes in Rick and Morty before. Between Rick’s creations despairing over their existence a persistent resentment towards one’s creators and Morty’s unique life philosophy they’re not exactly hiding it. The show has also dabbled in a sort of relative to existentialism known as “Absurdism.” According to French philosopher Albert Camus, we live a cruel and absurd existence. Humans are cursed to seek meaning in a universe that will remain forever silent, and the image of a guy pushing a boulder up a mountain for all eternity is the perfect metaphor for the human condition. In the spirit of Camus, Rick and Morty paints an absurd, meaningless multi-verse. Rick, accordingly, has a long history of trivializing everything.
He doesn’t believe in things like love or tradition. Rick’s companionship with Morty is, allegedly, only a means for Rick to hide his genius brain waves from the government. In the Rickshank Redemption, we see similar themes: the arbitrariness of our social systems, mocking sentimentality, and the pointlessness of it all. That we live in a meaningless world is an idea held by both absurdism and existentialism, but the transition from the end of season 2 to the premiere of season 3 really solidifies Rick and Morty as an “absurd” work. It does so by dangling meaning and hope in front of us, and ripping it away. Something notable happens at the end of season 2. Rick takes a break from his sociopathic shenanigans to have an authentic, heartfelt moment at Birdperson’s wedding.
But the show undercuts it when we learn Tammy is a narc. What makes this part special is that Rick’s flirtation with being a normal, caring, person is undercut by an outside force, not his own cynicism. This is further explored at the end of the episode. After the family is forced into hiding from the Galactic Federation, Rick overhears the hardships he has created for his family. In a moment of seeming anguish, Rick turns himself into the federation, and will likely spend the rest of his days in prison. In sacrificing himself, The finale implies Rick is wrestling with something he’s never dealt with before: living with meaning. Given complete knowledge about the meaninglessness of love, life, etc, he chose to do right by his family regardless. The cliffhanger teases a possible shift in the show’s existential themes. This idea, of creating meaning in a meaningless world, is one championed by many existentialists, but firmly rejected by Camus.
This crossroads for the show parallels a beef Camus had with a particular thinker, one who regularly contributes to my angst boners – Fyodor Dostoevsky. Camus writes that authors, like Dostoevsky, often propose absurd worlds with characters who understand the frivolity of life, only to chicken out and retreat to the comfort of meaning- like religion n’ shit. Dostoevsky’s problem, for Camus, is that he offers a reply to the absurd – some form of meaning – whereas “an absurd work, on the contrary, does not provide a reply.” Existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre or Dostoevsky may realize the absurdity of existence, but their analysis fails by resorting to hope, or trying to create meaning. Camus said of them: “they deify what crushes them and find reason to hope in what impoverishes them.” At the end of season 2, we may have thought the the show would make a similar retreat into meaning and sentimentality, but with the release of The Rickshank Redemption, we now know this is not the case. Instead, it doubles down on the absurd. Not only was Rick’s imprisonment a ploy but the show replies to our prospect of a humanized Rick with a journey that will be darker than ever.
And if just to fuck with us even more, the comedy of this episode is not derived not from joking about life being meaningless like previous episodes, but rather, the jokes are largely derived from our ATTEMPT to draw meaning. For example, when Rick explores the memory of him creating the portal gun, we learn that Beth and Diane were brutally murdered – turning Rick from a family man to a deranged loner scientist – your typical tragic Walter White-style anti-hero origin story that would give meaning to his madness. This baits the audience to empathize with Rick – But the joke’s on you- it’s all a ruse.
So it’s not just that Rick and Morty evades meaning. The writers seem to get perverse joy in playing with our desire to search for hope and meaning, as if Camus was making his point in the style of an internet troll. In another instance, Rick saves Earth from the Brave New World-inspired Galactic Federation. We may be tempted to say that Rick for a greater good- to liberate earth from their alien oppressors. However Summer’s comment suggests that the new world order doesn’t sound too good either. In other moments, the idea that Rick cares about Morty and Summer is also toyed with. First, Rick seems to care, as he rushes to rescue Morty and Summer after learning they’re imprisoned by the council of Ricks. Rick then exhibits a casual disregard for Summer’s life in his stand-off with another Rick, but we learn it was all part of a well-crafted strategy.
Finally, the whole Rick-caring-theory disintegrates as he explains he only saved them so that Beth doesn’t kick him out of the house. Which finally brings us to the Szechaun Sauce. Rick isn’t motivated by family, or justice, or love, but only that Mulan mcnugget sauce. The show, undercutting even the most promising attempt to give Rick a sense of morality, doubles-down by suggesting that his entire series arc will be his quest for a forgotten promotional food item. But is this really what drives Rick? No. The only thing Rick’s love of Szechuan sauce means, is that it means nothing. The quest for Szechuan sauce isn’t creating meaning, it’s a reflection of the absurdity of being driven by, well, anything. Given the utter void of meaning in the world, why not dedicate yourself to an absurd quest for plum-flavored McNugget sauce? Why not spend 9 whole seasons doing it? Why not 97 years?
The quest for mcnugget sauce is meaningful only in that its a joke about meaninglessness. Camus say that any figure who understands and finds happiness in the pointless of it all is an “Absurd hero.” The absurd hero must not only be happy with life’s absurdity, but fully comprehend the cosmic indifference that surrounds him – he calls it “lucid indifference.” And this all seems a lot like Rick. A man who’s knowledge of the vast multiverse, where everything terrible and good can and has happened, defines his existence. A man who reduces our basic morals to genetic programming. A man who, in spite of being able to accomplish anything, only yearns for Szechuan sauce. There’s also one important difference between Camus’ absurd hero and Rick Sanchez: absurd heroes find happiness in the absurd. But as we know, Rick is in great pain.
Maybe Rick’s actual arc will not be to give more shits, or be nicer to his family, but actually to enjoy the absurdity of it all. So is the April fools joke the fact that they actually dropped the episode exactly when they said they would? Or is the real joke the prospect of Rick finding meaning- aka the Szechuanuahn sauce. Essentially- if you thought Rick’s self sacrifice was an indication of a belief in family, justice, or anything, for that matter. You’ve been had.