Rick and Morty, the immensely popular Adult Swim cartoon, has yet to flesh out the backstory of Rick Sanchez, the egotistical, alcoholic, and exploitative grandfather to the long-suffering Morty Smith. In this first of our Rick & Morty Character Studies, let’s look at a few theories that could explain what makes Rick such a Rick.
Transcript provided by Youtube:
Rick Sanchez is a brilliant scientist, but also an egotistical, callous, envious man,
alcoholic, and exploitative grandfather to the long-suffering Morty Smith.
So why is Rick such a Rick?
[God, grandpa, you’re such a dick.]
[I’m sorry, Summer, your opinion means very little to me.]
Rick appears to fit the definition of a narcissist.
Let’s take a quick look at the criteria. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
a narcissist thinks he or she is special and can only be understood by other unique people
A narcissist Is entitled, expects everyone to comply with his wishes.
Takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends.
Lacks empathy: doesn’t appreciate the feelings and needs of others.
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him.
Exaggerates his own achievements and talents, expects to be recognized by others as superior.
And is “preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance etc.”
Rick is also an alcoholic.
Substance abuse is common in people with defined narcissistic traits, possibly because they
tend to overestimate their own resilience to these substances and believe that nothing
bad will happen if they abuse them.
Obviously we’re not doctors, but even if we were to “diagnose” Rick as a narcissist, or attribute some
of his behavior to his addiction, it doesn’t really tell us why his personality developed
So ultimately it’s an unsatisfying answer to the question of why Rick is so Rick-ish.
Rick feels he’s alone in the universe because he believes there is no one around him who
can match his genius.
There could be some truth to this idea, as other characters support it.
Yet, despite complaining that he has no mental peers, Rick chooses to spend most of his time
with his intellectually mediocre grandson, so Rick is constantly frustrated with Morty
for not keeping up with him.
He does reveal in one episode that Morty’s brainwaves help hide Rick’s genius, but
that doesn’t explain why Rick doesn’t seem to have a single friend who is anywhere near
the same intelligence ballpark.
There’s a case to be made that Rick actually prefers less intelligent companions so he
can feel superior.
From what we witness anyway, Rick’s loneliness has less to do with his smarts and more to do with
his abrasive personality and tendency to push people away.
This is reflected in Rick’s storyline with Unity, a creature that takes over a planet
and becomes completely autonomous to eliminate the need to interact with anyone else.
In the end, she suggests that this is precisely what Rick does by keeping his loved ones at
arm’s length and treating everything as a joke. But whether or not his brains are the root of the
problem, what is clear, is that Rick has deluded himself into believing that it’s because
of his intelligence that he can’t maintain lasting relationships.
In Rick’s mind, being antisocial is proof of intelligence, while being nice and open
After all he’s seen and experienced, Rick has learned that it’s a bad idea to trust
To be open-hearted is to be naive, is to get hurt.
At Bird Person’s wedding, he shows a rare moment of vulnerability:
But when Tammy turns out to be an undercover agent for the Galactic Federation, Rick suggests
that opening himself up to others was a mistake.
It’s even possible he’s tried letting himself be vulnerable and got burned before,
maybe many times, and that would explain why his guard is always up.
Rick struggles to make meaningful connections because human beings are essentially disposable
There are infinite versions of everyone he comes across, and anyone can be easily replaced.
Just six episodes into the series, Summer, Beth and Jerry literally are replaced when
Rick and Morty have to abandon the family they started out with.
This devastates Morty, but Rick doesn’t seem to see it as a big deal.
After all, how could Rick still see someone like Jerry as one of a kind knowing that there’s
a daycare center out there full of countless Jerrys exactly like him?
In fact, Rick and Morty don’t even know for sure that they take home the right Jerry
because Morty lost their ticket.
And in the opening credits of season three, Rick is seen casually shopping for a new Morty.
In a world where another Jerry or Morty can just be picked up like a piece of furniture, an individual
becomes fundamentally less significant..
At the root of Rick’s cynicism is an existential depression — caused by his awareness of these
infinite families, as well as infinite dimensions and alternate versions of himself.
Rick’s actions are those of a person who is plagued by meaninglessness, and doesn’t
place value on individual lives.
This is how he can justify making an entire sentient race for the sole purpose of powering
his car battery.
The psychologist Erich Fromm wrote that the problem of human existence lies in the fact
that we are mortal and self-aware — when you know that whatever you do, you’re going
to die, and so will everyone you love, it can be pretty hard to find meaning in life.
For Rick, this problem is infinitely worse — it’s not just that he’s going to die;
he’s also aware that there are billions of other Ricks just like him.
So even though he tries to assert his importance with the claim that he’s much smarter than
all the other Ricks, his life is still just a blip on the time-space continuum,
and he knows it.
This same awareness explains Rick’s penchant for breaking the fourth wall and speaking
directly to us, the audience.
A popular theory speculates that if Rick can wrap his genius brain around multiple dimensions
and time travel, he can easily conceive of the possibility that his whole universe is a simulation, or
even an animated TV show, so his “Rickness” could stem from knowing that we’re watching him
in this show. Knowing the events in your life are being written all to make an audience laugh, you’d
be acutely aware that the “characters” in your life are not only not “real,”
but also subject to the whims of a team of writers, a network and viewers.
Understanding all this would result in detachment, fear, and sense of futility.
The show has not yet revealed the full backstory of Rick and his wife, but it’s implied that
she did not approve of his science-fiction exploits and he abandoned her; when Beth scolds
Rick about being reckless with alien creatures, she says…
In season three, Rick explains that his wife died in an accident and that this is what
drove him to build his portal gun.
This is soon revealed to be a made-up story, but it could imply that Rick really did abandon
his original universe after some sort of tragedy, and this loss made him afraid of ever becoming
so emotionally invested in someone ever again.
That abandonment of the original universe may or may not have involved Evil Morty, who
is the subject of numerous fan theories about Rick’s past.
The Evil Morty Theory posits that, just as Rick is not interacting with his original
Summer, Beth and Jerry, he’s not going on adventures with his original Morty — that
Evil Morty is in fact Rick’s original Morty.
At one point we see Rick cry while looking at memories of him holding a baby Morty.
But Rick has been absent from the family for decades, so the baby Morty he is holding couldn’t
be the show’s Morty.
It’s suggested that Evil Morty was the one killing off all the Ricks, so we know that
Evil Morty holds contempt for Ricks of all kinds.
This could mean Rick abandoned Evil Morty, before hopping over to the dimension we see
at the start of the series.
According to this theory, Rick doesn’t want to get close to another Morty knowing that
something could happen to him just like something happened to the original Morty, for whom he
clearly had affection.
Regardless of the ultimate facts of the story, the character dynamics reflect the
fundamental challenge of finding meaning in relationships when we know that they
will eventually end.
When we try to imagine what it would be like to have infinite families in infinite universes,
to know that there are countless others out there (almost) just like us, to feel smarter
and more special than everyone but also know that nothing really matters, we can start
to wrap our heads around why Rick is such a Rick — and we might be, too, in his situation.
His “Rickness” is actually an understandable response from a person who’s lived through
what he has, and who’s a big enough genius to really grasp the existential implications
of those experiences.
Despite all this, Rick still has a deep need for some affection and meaning.
Because while he has has a much longer-than-average list of reasons not to care about anyone or
anything, he’s still human, and we can’t go on living with a total absence of purpose or love.
In our next video we’ll explore Rick’s character growth over the first three seasons
to ask the question, has Rick changed?
So subscribe to watch more!
This post was previously published on Youtube.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video