In ‘Unmortricken,’ ‘Rick and Morty’ Maxes Out Its ‘Canonical Credit Card’ — But Dan Harmon Isn’t Concerned
In last night’s series-shaking Rick and Morty episode “Unmortricken,” Dan Harmon and his writers uncorked the conclusion to one of the show’s oldest conflicts, leaving many fans wondering, “Where could the show possibly go from here?” Meanwhile, Harmon’s just happy that the question is finally about a Rick and Morty episode and not a Rick and Morty newsbreak.
Universe-sized spoilers ahead for Rick and Morty fans who missed last night’s episode, which was inarguably the most canon-changing entry of the past two seasons — and arguably the biggest bombshell since Morty first buried himself in the backyard. Co-written by former Rick and Morty writers’ assistants Albro Lundy and James Siciliano who have since stepped into executive producer roles on the show, “Unmortricken” showed the surprise final battle in an overarching conflict first teased in the Season 3 premiere “The Rickshank Rickdemption” (the same episode that started the infamous “Szechuan Sauce” fiasco). Six years later, the longest-running plot thread has been put to rest, and, for the first time in Rick and Morty history, the show seems to have more answers than questions.
None of that concerns Harmon, who spoke to Variety about last night’s episode, admitting that he was once “allergic to serialized, canonical stuff” before his writers pushed the show into plot-heavy territory as they toppled the power structure of the universe he so carefully planned. “This show, the least of its concerns is wearing out its canonical credit card,” Harmon stated, presumably while doing his daily search through his voice actor’s DMs.
To quickly recap, “Unmortricken” gave us the unexpected and untimely end of the series’ most long-lasting and looming antagonist, the “real deal” himself, Rick Prime. The episode starts with a quick backstory on “Evil Morty” that showed how he turned the tables on his own Rick before enacting the many phases of the master plan that culminated in the destruction of the Citadel at the Season 5 finale. Then, we jump to the present day, when the hyper-intelligent villain-turned-anti-hero spends his days scouring the “horrors of the infinite” outside the central finite curve before Rick C-137’s latest scheme to find his arch-nemesis disrupts Evil Morty’s solitude and serenity.
Evil Morty and our Rick begrudgingly team up to escape one of Rick Prime’s traps before finding the final puzzle piece leading to his lair. There, Rick Prime threatens to canonically kill every dimension’s version of any main character with the “Omega Device” in the same way he killed off every version of Rick's Wife Diane, and, in an explosive, expansive battle that nearly ends Rick C-137, Evil Morty outsmarts Rick Prime, steals the schematics for the Omega Device, and leaves the villain, trapped and tortured, for Rick C-137 to finish off with his bare fists.
As Rick and Morty showrunner Scott Marder noted, this surprise mid-season main character kill-off would have been even more awesome if Succession hadn’t beaten them to the punch. “When Succession did it I was like, ‘Ah, damn! Animation takes so long!’” Marder joked to Variety. “(‘Unmortricken’) would have been a series finale on a lot of shows, and I liked that it was just an episode in the middle of one of our seasons. We move at a really crazy pace.”
Harmon, on the other hand, views last night’s episode as not just the conclusion of an in-universe conflict many years in the making, but also the culmination of personal, professional, and behind-the-scenes drama that shows how much he and his brainchild have had to grow through adversity. “I think now it can be said that there’s been so much turbulence going on behind the scenes,” Harmon understated, explaining how last season (the final one to feature disgraced former star and co-creator Justin Roiland) forced to Harmon re-evaluate his own relationship with Rick and Morty. “Season 6 kind of represented me (unplugging) those wires from my heart and my obsessive brain. I had to look at the show as a job.”
As for fan’s fears that the elimination of the show’s biggest baddie may spell doom for the Adult Swim flagship franchise, Harmon was much less apocalyptic, saying, “If the show was going to be destroyed, it would have been destroyed by any of the other Godzilla-sized problems that have happened to it, including pandemics, writers’ strikes, and other things.” Emphasis on other things.
At the end of “Unmortricken,” we find our central finite protagonist, Rick C-137, back at home with his surrogate family, silently wondering where his life will go post-Rick Prime as Mazzy Star’s “Look On Down From The Bridge” plays him out to credits. Longtime fans will recall this closing number was first used in a very similar conclusion in the Season 1 episode “Rick Potion #9,” which saw Morty grapple with the reality that his old life, universe and family was lost to him forever. Now, a similarly untethered Rick struggles with that same feeling of floating away from what was once his whole life: Rick Prime.
“I think there’s still a conclusion to a story here,” Harmon said of this unique place where Rick finally achieved his life’s work, only to find that his life continues on, “because the narcissist will tell you that destroying yourself, it doesn’t solve a problem.” Killing off a narcissist might not solve Rick’s problems, but firing one sure straightened out one of Harmon’s.