We are, each of us, our own little solar systems. There's an age-old saying that tells us "no man is an island," but a better one might tell us that no man is a free-floating star. Instead, we all depend on the planets, suns, and stars that float around with us in our little universes. When those celestial bodies make their way into our solar systems, our immediate sphere of influence, things tend to change, for better or for worse.
On its surface, Rick and Morty has obviously always been about whacky sci-fi adventures, but deep at its core, Rick and Morty has been more interested in exploring the ways in which the members of Rick's family need each other, and the ways in which those needs manifest themselves. Last season ended on an unexpected note, with Rick finally showing not just how much he loves his family members, but that he understands the ways in which his presence impacts them, throwing each of their little plants off their careful axes. Rick's decision at the end of season two was one of the very first of its kind for him, in that it was one of apparently total altruism
"The Rickshank Redemption," though, shows us that Rick's choice went a little further than simply removing himself from his family's immediate orbit. In typical Rick and Morty fashion, no concept is introduced without taking it as far as it can possibly go, which means that Rick didn't turn himself in simply so he could make his family safer, he did it so that he could set about dismantling the entire Galactic Federation from the inside. Rick's made-up origin story (something to which Nathan Fillion's Federation bureaucrat should have probably been tipped off by Rick's total lack of urgency and willingness to fuck around with McDonald's since-discontinued Szechuan sauce) is a brilliant little narrative turn, especially after the mystery that has shrouded Rick's beginnings. The audience is more or less left to guess at exactly how much of Rick's fake memory was based on a real one, but who knows? Just like Rick's babbling about how many seasons it'll take for him to find his precious Szechuan sauce again, Rick and Morty's favorite gags always involve removing bricks from its fourth wall.
As Rick is working on breaking out of Federation prison, the rest of his family is dealing with life on Federation-controlled earth. Jerry is loving it, having received promotion after promotion without even knowing what it is he does. Beth is miserable, her work having been made obsolete by Federation technology. Summer and Morty are coping in their own ways, with the former missing her grandpa and a normal life in equal measures, while the latter enjoys an existence with considerably less peril. Summer has always been jealous of Morty's adventuring with Rick, but what Morty points out is that she's fundamentally unaware of the cost that comes along with proximity to Rick. Beth remains furious with him for abandoning her yet again, and when Summer gets her hands on a portal gun with the intention of rescuing Rick, Morty intervenes and shows her how Rick once literally broke the entire world.
The interesting thing is that regardless of how they feel, neither of them get to make any actual choice in terms of their relationship with Rick; he impacts their life whether they want him to or not. See, the Council of Ricks — having detected Summer's rogue use of his portal gun — steps in to find and kill Rick C-137. Summer tells them his location, which leads to Seal Team Ricks interrupting Rick's near escape from the Federation prison, bringing him back to the Citadel of Ricks along with Summer and Morty.
As Summer and Morty stand trial before the Council, Rick sets about teleporting the entire Citadel into the same place as the Federation prison, and total chaos ensues. It's the kind of full-screen insanity that Rick and Morty does best, with multiple permutations of both Rick and Morty getting killed left and right until everything culminates in a standoff, and Morty makes the relatively shocking decision to kill Rick and save Summer. Nevermind the fact that Rick had counted on this the entire time; Morty was under the impression that he was actually murdering his grandfather. To Morty, Rick is as self-centered as it gets. Rick's sacrifice is lost on Morty, instead reading as abandonment, and it's the last one in a long line of abandonments Rick has committed against people Morty loves.
Morty is stuck between being able to see how much everyone else in his family needs Rick and being painfully aware of how repeatedly Rick hurts them. For the first time in the series, he makes a definitive decision to rid himself of Rick...but once again, is denied the chance to decide whether or not he gets to keep Rick in his life. Shooting Rick was always part of the plan, even though Morty didn't know it.
It can't be easy to be related to the smartest mann in the galaxy, a point that "The Rickshank Redemption" drives home repeatedly. In fact, the episode ends the way the series basically begins: with an unhinged Rick babbling on about the adventures he and Morty will be going on, while Morty weekly protests in the background. Rick's towering presence — his gravitational pull — is just too much for anyone to escape.
Oh, and also...
• "You're doing this bit while your brain melts." I love when Dan Harmon waves at his fans. Any time I hear something like "doing a bit" or "white guilt" or "milquetoast" or any other Harmon staple, I smile a real big one.
• "He seems to have manifested some sort of butt."
• I am pretty desperately praying that Jerry is not written out of the show this season. Chris Parnell is a golden god.