|Rick and Morty episode|
Rick as a pickle after escaping from the sewers.
|Episode no.||Season 3|
|Directed by||Anthony Chun|
|Written by||Jessica Gao|
|Original air date||August 6, 2017|
|Running time||23 minutes|
"Pickle Rick" is the third episode of the third season of the Adult Swim animated television series Rick and Morty. Written by Jessica Gao and directed by Anthony Chun, the episode premiered on August 6, 2017. In "Pickle Rick", the eccentric scientist Rick Sanchez turns himself into a pickle just as he and his family are scheduled to attend a therapy session. The episode separately follows Rick's adventures as a pickle and the rest of the family's trip to therapy.
The episode parodies action films and was inspired by Breaking Bad episode "4 Days Out". In a continuation of the season's storyline of Beth and Jerry's divorce, "Pickle Rick" explores Beth's unhealthy relationship with Rick, who disregards the importance of family. It was watched by 2.3 million viewers when it first aired on Adult Swim, having been a highly anticipated episode for the show's fanbase. The episode received positive reviews, particularly praising the animation and design of Pickle Rick and his fight scenes, as well as the performance of guest actors Danny Trejo (as Jaguar) and Susan Sarandon (as Dr. Wong). It won the 2018 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, which was the first Emmy Award won by Rick and Morty.
As Beth, Morty, and Summer prepare for family counseling, Rick informs Morty that he cannot go, having turned himself into a pickle. He denies that he timed the experiment to avoid the counseling session, but the family notices a telltale mechanism rigged to drop a syringe in him soon after they leave. Beth takes the syringe, leaving Rick alone on his workbench.
Rick is knocked off the bench and then washed into the sewer during a rain shower. Despite having no movable limbs other than his tongue, he sets up a lab in the sewer and builds himself a powered exoskeleton from rat corpses. He then uses a jetpack to escape the sewer into a secure compound, where he kills several guards. The compound's administrator sends a prisoner named Jaguar to fight Rick, but Rick persuades Jaguar to join him, and they escape together in the administrator's helicopter after rigging the compound to explode, killing the administrator.
Meanwhile the counseling therapist, Dr. Wong, tells Beth that her suspicions about the syringe point to a dynamic between her and Rick that is tearing the family apart. As the group are saying I-messages, Rick enters to get the syringe that will change him back to human form. Dr. Wong uses the occasion to make Beth and Rick speak openly about their grievances. Rick says that he sees no value in therapy because he wants to change the world, not feel comfortable about it. Dr. Wong reminds him that when offered a choice to change the family's strained relationships, he instead risked death as a pickle, and the session ends.
On the way home, Rick apologizes to Beth for lying, then uses the syringe to turn back into a human. Morty and Summer express interest in further therapy but Rick and Beth ignore them, instead discussing plans to go out drinking.
In a post-credits scene, the villain Concerto is preparing to kill Rick and Morty in his gigantic piano, but Jaguar saves them just in time. Rick tells Morty, "that is why you don't go to therapy."
The episode differs from previous season three episodes in that it is entirely set on Earth. However, like the previous two episodes in the season, "Pickle Rick" covers Beth and Jerry's divorce. This marks a change for the show, which previously had little continuity of storylines. Jenny Jaffe of Vulture describes the episode as an instance of how Rick and Morty "likes to back itself into corners with the world's dumbest ideas and execute them in the absolute smartest ways." Jesse Schedeen of IGN notes that this is the show "at its most violent", containing "a level of blood and gore" to match the season 2 episode "Look Who's Purging Now". Greene concurs, saying the episode "reached some new levels of grotesquery" even compared to the violence of Rick's car while protecting Summer in "The Ricks Must Be Crazy". A Nerdist article connects the scene where Rick controls the movement of the cockroach by poking its brain with his tongue to a 2015 study "Central-Complex Control of Movement in the Freely Walking Cockroach", published in Current Biology, where researchers were able to stimulate neurons of a cockroach in order to control its movement.
Jack Shepherd of The Independent says that the episode parodies 1980s action films in the storyline with Russian mobsters and their English leader, while Schedeen believes that it parodies "hyper-violent action films" and the John Wick film series. Joe Matar of Den of Geek! writes that the episode emulates Die Hard, which Harmon has done previously in the Community episode "Modern Warfare". Scheeden refers to the building in the episode as a "Russian embassy", while Shepherd calls it an "unnamed, high-secure facility filled with Russian mobsters" and Steve Greene of IndieWire describes it as apparently a "shadowy Eastern European financial consortium." Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club writes, "I don't think the country of the embassy is ever specifically established, which is part of the joke," though notes that the bodyguards are "European."
Writer Ryan Ridley has said that the episode is "not a spoof of anything in particular," though it does reference 127 Hours and Gravity. Series creator Dan Harmon has stated that the episode is largely inspired by Breaking Bad episode "4 Days Out", where Walter White is "up against primal forces" and has to "fall back on his basic science knowledge to keep them alive."
Jaffe writes that "Summer and Morty seem much more affected" by the therapist's concerns than Beth and Rick. Matar agrees, stating that "Morty and Summer both hope they'll get to go back to therapy, but Beth and Rick have chosen to act above it all." Zach Blumenfeld of Paste writes about the car scene that "the eyes of Morty and Summer [lock] into a thousand-yard stare as their mom and grandpa totally ignore the kids' needs."
Jaffe comments that "Beth doesn't want to believe that Rick would purposefully avoid something so important to her." Shepherd writes that "Beth has unresolved abandonment issues, and that mental agony is causing her some serious inner stress that comes out in snarky attacks on everyone around her." Jess Joho of Mashable opines that Beth has a father or Electra complex, saying that the episode "takes Freudian symbolism [...] into the literal" and the choice of a pickle is a "literal phallic symbol". Blumenfeld believes that "the conversation between Beth and her father shows more clearly than ever that they are blood relatives with a seemingly hereditary penchant for self-destructive narcissism" and notes that Jerry's "wet-blanket but well-meaning personality" had a "stabilizing effect" on Beth and the family.
Shepherd opines that Rick turning up to therapy shows that he "cares for the family". Handlen writes that "the very fact that Rick is still living with any version of his family would suggest that on some level he does recognize a basic need for those relationships" and that he avoids therapy because "he's smart enough to know that Dr. Wong [...] is right." Schedeen says, "Sarandon's [Dr. Wong's] monologue about Rick's habit of disregarding anything in his life that feels like work really cut to the core of his selfish, narcissistic behavior". Rick has a "rare [moment] of clarity", but Beth will forgive anything he does "so long as she has her father in her life." Joho says that in his diatribe against therapy, "Rick finally shows his true colors to everyone in the room". He calls Dr. Wong's speech a "succinct [takedown] of toxic masculinity".
Harmon says in an interview with Fast Company that he believes the episode's concept was first pitched by a writer asking, "What if we started the episode this way, with [Rick] turning himself into a pickle?" The reason for this would be that "he'd want to prove himself", and the therapy plot was used to "keep addressing the divorce story of the season."
Character designer Kendra Melton says that "there's probably at least 100 versions of that rat suit". Maximus Pauson, also a character designer, states that the one used in the final episode was one that "emphasized the pickle-ness". Dan Harmon notes that initial designs for the rats were "too adorable" considering that Rick murders many of them, with Melton corroborating that "we arched the back a lot more, put some boils on him, got rid of some fur". According to Harmon, the writers gave more detailed instructions to animators than for most episodes, in particular "about the process of hacking the cockroach to give Rick mobility."
"Pickle Rick" is one of Harmon's favorite episodes of the season. During the writing process, he was undergoing a divorce and had entered therapy, which influenced his work; he says of the speech Dr. Wong gives to Rick, "I don't know if I could've written that two years ago [...] I would've made sure Rick got the final word".
At the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, a rough cut animation of "Pickle Rick" was released, featuring him in the sewer attacking rats. As the second season of the show ended with Rick jailed, this led some fans to believe that this was how he would escape, leading to confusion when the third-season premiere was released on April 1, 2017, and showed Rick escaping in a very different way. Three weeks prior to the episode's airing, free "Pickle Rick" T-shirts and other merchandise were given away at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con.
Zach Blumenfeld of Paste calls the episode "arguably the most eagerly anticipated Rick and Morty episode ever" due to the large amount of episode content released by Adult Swim before it premiered. Green calls the Pickle Rick concept "season 3's most anticipated wrinkle." In June 2017, Polygon published an article entitled "Pickle Rick is already everyone's favorite character from Rick and Morty's third season", citing actions of fans such as creating Twitter and Tumblr accounts for the character. Julia Alexander, the writer of the article, comments that the show has "found a dedicated fan base because of the absurdity it bases its comedy in."
Jesse Schedeen of IGN gave the episode a rating of 8.7 out of 10, summarising that "this wacky odyssey captured Rick and Morty at its most entertaining". Schedeen praises Danny Trejo's guest appearance, calling the fight scene between Jaguar and Rick "just sublime". Zach Blumenfeld of Paste rates the episode 8.2 out of 10, commending the animators' work. Blumenfeld criticizes Rick's conversation with Jaguar, feeling that "Harmon and Roiland are struggling to express themselves elegantly on the matter", and has the same issue with the therapy session scenes, but he compliments the ending for "packing a strong emotional punch".
Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gives the episode an A in a positive review, writing that "Dr. Wong helping people with their coprophagia is a very good joke". Steve Greene of IndieWire grades the episode as a B+, complimenting "the series' increasingly sharp details" such as giving Pickle Rick a black eye and the sound design of his mustard salve. Greene praises guest stars Sarandon and Trejo, but criticizes that "there's a certain thread of magic that gets lost when the Rick/Morty dynamic gets removed from the heart of an episode".
Jack Shepherd of The Independent gives the episode a highly positive review, calling it an "excellent, non-stop, blood-soaked adventure". Shepherd calls the choice of a pickle "both hilarious and very, very Rick" and notes Jaguar's line "This ends when one of us dies, and I've never died before" as a highlight for the episode. Jenny Jaffe of Vulture also gives a complimentary review, summarising it as a "Freudian acid trip" and "surreal and self-aware", comparing it to the BoJack Horseman episode "Fish Out of Water". Joe Matar of Den of Geek! said "Pickle Rick" was a "super-engaging episode with a charmingly stupid concept" and "a killer action episode", complimenting the animation, particularly the "slice-and-dice goriness" of the rat scenes. Matar criticized the episode's homage to Die Hard.
Scott Russell of Paste ranks the episode third out of ten in a list of season 3 Rick and Morty episodes. Russell calls it "one of the single most entertaining Rick and Morty episodes to date", writing that it "lays essential groundwork for season three's progression"; "doesn't lack for incredibly animated, uber-bloody and powerfully funny action sequences"; and "boasts what may be season three's strongest B-plot".
In September 2018, "Pickle Rick" won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. It is the first Emmy for the show.
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