To the surprise of Rick and Morty fans everywhere, the highly anticipated “Pickle Rick” reveal of episode 3 wasn’t just a fun and ridiculous new sci-fi gag, it was a psychological reckoning.
In fact, the running theme of Season 3 could best be described as Daddy (or Grandaddy) Issues. Taking a page out of South Park‘s recent experiments into serialized storytelling, the creators are unraveling the Smith family’s deep psychological scars week by week.
In this one, Beth’s escalating father complex is on blast. A therapist (voiced by Susan Sarandon) forces her to see the pickle-shaped monster at the center of all her family’s problems.
The greatest achievement of “Pickle Rick” is how it takes Freudian symbolism out of the figurative and into the literal. Grandpa Rick has conveniently chosen the exact moment of their scheduled family therapy session to experiment with turning himself into a literal phallic symbol.
You can almost hear Freud rolling over in his grave to say, “I told you so.”
“Morty, stop digging for hidden layers and just be impressed,” Rick commands when his grandson questions his choice in such a vessel and investment of his time and intelligence. “Im a pickle!
When the Smith family is forced to go to therapy sans Rick, the absentee pickled patriarch finds himself in one of the most macho solo adventures ever. The Die Hard-like action plot shows masculine bravado coursing through Rick’s vinegar veins.
Despite being a limbless vegetable, he appears no less psychotic or dangerous. Even a vegetating Rick can create a DIY mech suit of mass destruction with dead vermin limbs.
Pickle Rick proceeds to wage the same psychological warfare on his sewer rat and Russian enemies that he uses on his own family. Understandably, as his daughter, Beth dodges any form of theraputic #realtalk.
Particularly, she can’t stand the therapist probing into the meaning behind Rick choosing to turn himself into a literal goddamn pickle in order to avoid her and their emotional issues.
“Does grandpa turn himself into a pickle a lot?” Sarandon asks, her words carrying more weight than they should. Or, more to the point, “Why do we think Grandpa turned himself into a pickle?”
The kids seem poised to tell the therapist the truth: that their grandfather is a sociopathic liar of a tyrannical patriarch who’d legitimately rather not be human than have to deal with their familial issues.
But Beth ain’t buyin’ any of this pickle-focused psychoanalysis BS.
“Obviously, Morty and Summer are seizing on your arbitrary pickle obsession as an end to run around what was supposed to be their therapy.
But the therapist won’t let her get off that easy, insisting that this pickle incident is the perfect encapsulation of her family’s dysfunction. “Your relationship to your father has a very specific dynamic,” she explains calmly.
Proving Sarandon right, the “intelligent pickle man” (as the Russian bad guys come to call Rick) is indiscriminately murdering everyone in his way. Just like he did with Jerry, the family’s previous patriarch, and just like he promised he’d do to Rick if he ever got in his way.
Back in therapy, Sarandon finally manages to get the whole Smith family to talk about their feelings (albeit awkwardly). But just as she’s congratulating them on this progress, the pickled patriarch barges through the door to demolish it all again.
What ensues is the most harrowing battle Pickle Rick has ever faced: the fight to undermine all the silly ideas this therapist has put in his daughter and grandchildrens’ heads about healthy relationships.
When Sarandon confronts Rick about why he felt the need to lie to Beth with this entire, elaborate pickle scheme to avoid therapy, Rick finally shows his true colors to everyone in the room.
As a scientist, he doesn’t respect the two-bit circus that is Sarandon’s pesudo-profession of “understanding” “feelings.” As a (pickled) man of science, he refuses to be like all the other complacent sheep caring about shit like happiness or emotions.
Because, “I invent, transform, and create for a living and when I dont like something about the world, I change it.” He is above therapy. Since, “Im not a cow. Im a pickle. **Burp** When I feel like it.”
Without ever losing a hint of her inscrutable smile, the therapist launches into one of the most succinct takedowns of toxic masculinity I’ve ever heard.
“Rick, the only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying you family, is that everyone in your family you included uses intelligence to justify sickness.”
Despite Rick’s seemingly endless amount of knowledge, she continues, the one thing he can’t seem to wrap his big brain around is the simple concept of personal responsibility for his actions.
“You chose to come here, you chose to talk in a way to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your own universe. And yet here you are, dripping in rat blood and feces your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand.
At the end of they day, the kind of effort it takes to maintain healthy, productive relationships isn’t at all like a Die Hard-esque sci-fi adventure. There is no glory in therapy.
“Its just work. And the bottom line is that some people are OK going to work. And some people well some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.
In the car, on the way back home, Beth returns into full doting daughter mode, beaming at her tiny phallic-looking father, still in a homemade rat corpse suit. They bond over what a “weird breed” of people therapists are.
Waving away the therapist’s decimation of their daddy/daughter dynamic, Rick invites Beth to go grab some drinks after dropping off the kids. Beth glows from his approval and attention.
Meanwhile, in the backseat, both her kids are looking between them, desperate. They ask when they’re going back to therapy. But Beth doesn’t hear them. Or chooses not to.
She’s too busy planning a date with the daddy who manipulated her into divorcing her husband.
Yeah Beth,”arbitrary pickle fixation” is one way of putting it. But I think Freud actually called it an Electra Complex.