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Family Dysfunction and a Mega Genius

August 14, 2017

Remember television? I'd bet my plumbus you do. But it got stupid and then it got even stupider and lots of people quit watching for reasons of self care. Now a TV program is saving television as a medium, a show that says more about family, gender roles, mental health and technology than 1,000 pop-psychology paperbacks pedicting the future. If you’re already in the coveted 18 to 24 age demographic, you already watch “Rick and Morty.”


“Morty, stop digging for hidden layers and just be impressed! I’m a pickle,” said Pickle Rick.


“I’m just trying to figure out why you’d do this. Why anyone would do this,” squeaked Morty.


“The reason any one would do this, if they could, which they can’t, would be because they could, which they can’t.” This was the impenetrable logic kicking off episode three, season three of “Rick and Morty.” Rick’s curt explanations were prompted by his grandson, Morty’s whining questions. First, Morty wondered if being a pickle was the setup for some sort of magic trick. “I don’t do magic, Morty. I do science. One takes brains, the other takes dark eyeliner.”


It’s a funny line that encapsulates Rick’s surging hubris. More than that, it reminds viewers just how rigid the wacky old man’s views on gender, intelligence and science actually are. Rick, the manly patriarch of the family uses his sizeable intellect to “do science.” He scoffs at anything that’s not based in scientific discovery such as magic—inspiring amazement and wonder are pointless, as all emotions are to Rick. Twisting the knife, Rick emasculates magicians by feminizing them with allegations of eyeliner. The obvious implication is real men do solitary, brainy work while lesser, effeminate men put on a performance wearing makeup in order to gain applause. Of course, Pickle Rick’s first demand of Morty was for his grandson to act impressed.  


We soon find out that there actually is a hidden layer to Pickle Rick. The family was mandated in go into counseling by Morty’s school. (Morty was wetting his desk in history while sister, Summer, got caught huffing high fire ceramic glaze.) By pure coincidence, Rick transformed into a pickle right at the time they were supposed to leave for their therapy session. The family therapist realizes Rick is absent for the family’s first visit and she makes her inquiry. She asks who in the room believes Rick turned himself into a pickle to avoid therapy. Summer and Morty do.


“Obviously Morty and Summer are seizing on your arbitrary pickle obsession as an end run around what was supposed to be their therapy,” says Morty’s mother. Like many parents, she fixates on the actions of her kids, as if their deviant behaviors are wholly independent of the family system and the toxic environment fostered by the adults themselves. We know from her previous forrays into marriage counseling on another episode, the mother is seen as a giant insect monster, and a codependent one at that.


“This pickle incident is a better path than any other to the heart of your family’s dysfunction,” drones the therapist. “I think it’s possible that you and your father have a very specific dynamic. I don’t think it’s one that rewards emotion or vulnerability. I think it may punish them. I think it’s possible that dynamic eroded your marriage and it’s infecting your kids with a tendency to misdirect their feelings.”


Mic drop.


In the real world a therapist will never say these things because they want referrals and, more importantly, repeat clients. Dropping heavy knowledge in a short time frame only makes dysfunctional people even more hostile and defensive. In deed, when the mother hears the truth about her family her response is, "fuck you!"


It’s a therapeutic paradox, the people who need to hear these messages the most are the least willing to listen to them. And conversely, the therapist with the insights to cut through a client’s self-serving bullshit cannot do so in any economical manner because clients pay to be coddled not confronted with their own maladaptive behvaiors and distorted thinking. Thank god for cartoon therapy! Pickle Rick!


When Pickle Rick finally does show his green face near the end of the therapy session (after many extended battles as self-made pickle mutant wearing a beat-to-shit rat suit) he’s asked why he avoided the session.


“Because I don’t respect therapy. Because I’m a scientist. Because I invent, transform, create and destroy for a living. And when I don’t like something about the world I change it. And I don’t think going to a rented office in a strip mall to listen to some agent of averageness explain which words mean which feelings has ever helped anyone do anything.”


Of course, the therapist has a lengthy monologue in her back pocket for Rick, calling out the hypocrisy of his mega genius by observing he's decaying and literally dripping with blood and rat feces. She points out that Rick values his own genius over every other single thing in the multiverse and then pretends to be the victim of his own intellect. She concludes that stable, supportive relationships take work. Mental health takes work. It’s not an exciting adventure. It’s mundane like brushing your teeth or wiping your ass. Some people are willing to put in the work and some people are not. But everyone has that choice.


In the end Rick and his daughter ignore the kids' requests to return next week and everything that's said in therapy and decide to drop the kids off so they can go tie one on at some dive.


True to life. Pickle Rick!



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