Rick and Morty might be one of the most unexpectedly intellectual shows on television. The animated series, about the galaxy-hopping adventures of nihilistic mad scientist Rick and his grandson Morty, has a simple aesthetic—including uncomplicated character design and coloring—that nonetheless is used to create visually complicated scenes in which absurdism functions as commentary. An episode about mass mind control considers the fallibility of free will, for instance, while in another McDonald’s dipping sauce becomes a metaphor for Rick’s motivations. All of the strange visuals, plots, and ideas converge to create a unique portrayal of brokenness.
Most narratives involve brokenness to some extent; conflict is essential to a good story. Rick and Morty goes one step further. The brokenness in the show encompasses more than individuals or even society; it’s recognized as an undeniable part of reality itself.
Take, for example, “The Ricks Must Be Crazy.” In this episode, we learn that Rick has created a miniature universe in order to power his futuristic car battery. Rick instructs the microverse’s population to use stepping machines to generate power for their cities, not telling them that he steals the majority of power for himself. The inhabitants gleefully comply, not knowing that Rick created them to be more or less slaves.
Although the microverse inhabitants are flawed creatures that cannot free themselves from Rick, the ultimate flaw is that their reality is structured in a way that enforces slavery. Even if all the inhabitants figured out Rick’s deception, they would be unable to do anything about it. If Rick’s car stops working, then he can just destroy their world and create another. Reality, not only humanity, is inherently unfair for the microverse inhabitants.
Another example is found in the episode called “Morty’s Mind Blowers.” Rick, unsatisfied with Morty’s inability to create a level shelf, turns a section of the floor into what he calls “true level.” Morty steps on the section of floor and immediately experiences unparalleled bliss. The feeling of being on a truly level surface is so overwhelming that Morty cannot go back to standing anywhere else. When Morty leaves the true level surface, he freaks out and yells, “Everything is crooked!” Rick eventually erases Morty’s memory of true level in order to preserve his grandson’s sanity.
People usually assume the ground they stand on is flat, possibly close to being truly level. Rick and Morty instead says, “Everything is crooked.” We are just too used to the crookedness to notice. Just as Morty initially cannot comprehend the joys of standing on a truly level surface, people cannot begin to picture a perfect world due to their existence in a broken reality.
It’s honest and true to acknowledge reality’s brokenness.
Rick and Morty’s portrayal of brokenness is not dissimilar from the biblical narrative. In the story of the Fall, God did not only curse Adam and Eve. He cursed the ground itself, implying that Adam and Eve’s decision to sin had repercussions on the nonhuman world. When God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, he was doing more than acknowledging their sinfulness. Much like Morty leaving the wonders of true level, Adam and Eve had to move from a land in perfect unity with God to one that was broken.
While Rick and Morty’s portrayal of a corrupt universe surprisingly aligns with Christianity in some ways, it should be noted that the show’s answer to corruption is much different. Rick and Morty rejects religion as an answer to the universe’s brokenness, frequently displaying religion as inadequate at best and corrupt at worst. In one episode, Rick even humiliates Satan with relative ease through only science and intellect.
Rick and Morty’s answer to brokenness can be boiled down to Rick’s catchphrase for whenever Morty sees something disturbing: “Don’t think about it.” While most characters in Rick and Morty are too dumb to ponder the nature of reality, Rick follows his own advice through a nonstop stream of alcohol and misadventures. As long as Rick is preoccupied, he is distracted from what he views as a cold, meaningless existence.
Christianity, however, embraces the broken nature of reality not through denial or distractions, but by remembering that it is part of God’s story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Unlike Rick, Christians meet reality’s brokenness by bringing redemption where we can, all while anticipating the new creation that God has promised. In this way we resist Rick’s surrender to cold, empty “reality.”
This isn’t to say that Rick and Morty has no value for Christians. The show points out how the Fall impacts the fabric of reality itself and how, without God, the only response humanity could truly utter is, “Don’t think about it.” It’s honest and true to acknowledge reality’s brokenness and our inability to fix things. Sometimes that acknowledgment comes in the form of laughing at a mad scientist who likes to yell, “Wubba lubba dub dub!”