The following contains spoilers for Rick and Morty season 4 episode 6.
Welp! Hope you enjoyed the Rick and Morty series finale. We had a good run with our two eponymous buds. But Rick and Morty season 4 episode 6 “Never Ricking Morty” presents the very final moment of the show. And it’s the one we all expected.
Near the end of the episode, Rick C-137 and his grandson Morty C-137 face down all of their most powerful foes. Assembled are thousands upon thousands of Ricks, several hundred more Morty Jrs., dozens of Mr. Meseeks, one Darth Sidious-ified Mr. Poopybutthole, and Evil Morty leading it all. Surely this is the culmination of the complicated canon that co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have been building all of these years. Surely this is the end of Rick and Morty.
Ah…hold on. One sec. I’m receiving information in my earpiece that there are actually four episodes of Rick and Morty left his season. And then there are…oh jeez, 60 more episodes after that. So the Rick and Morty season 4 midseason premiere is clearly not the show’s swan song. How is it then, that the episode presents what appears to be Rick and Morty’s final moment? The answer lies in the wildly ambitious structure of the episode itself.
Rick and Morty has always been a meta show, but no episode of the series has been more meta and, quite frankly, more insane than “Never Ricking Morty.” This episode isn’t just about meta contextual commentary on plot – the meta contextual commentary on the plot is the plot. I know that makes absolutely no sense so let me try to explain.
There are several layers to the action on “Never Ricking Morty.” The first layer is “the real world,” which we don’t actually get to see until episode’s end. This is the dimension where Morty has purchased a Story Train for his grandfather from the Citadel of Ricks. The heavily intoxicated Rick is so touched by his grandson participating in capitalism that he sloppily asks for a kiss.
The vast majority of the events of “Never Ricking Morty” therefore take place inside the Citadel of Ricks Story Train. While it is a children’s toy (and will supposedly be available for purchase soon at www.story-train.com), the Story Train is really an excuse for Roiland and Harmon to play with the audience’s expectations as to what a satisfying story really is. Think about how many times the general direction of the plot changes up. At first it seems like the episode will feature an anthology format exclusively as new characters on the train reminisce with one another about the times they almost took “The Man in the White Coat” down.
But then the anthology format is abandoned when Rick and Morty enter the train and become aware of what’s happening. Rick uses his knowledge of Dan Harmon’s story circle to try to accelerate himself and Morty to the end of the story. He knows that no journey can come without difficulty or sacrifice so he and Morty have to leave the confines of the train to make it to the front of it – Snowpiercer style.
“If it’s too easy to get there, we’ll never get there,” Rick says.
Once Rick and Morty make it to the front of the train, they finally confront the supervillain behind this strict adherence to plot rules. It’s Story Lord of course (played by Paul Giamatti)! Story Lord craves good narrative and he knows the best place to find it is inside Rick and Morty’s brains. So Story Lord hooks the pair up to his story-extracting machine (name pending) to extract the best bits of their future adventures.
“What’s wrong, Rick? Don’t you want to see how your story ends?” Story Lord says while firing the machine up.
And that’s how we get a privileged look into Rick and Morty’s future. We see Summer finally heading off to college (seems like she’s been 17 forever, Morty observes), Abradolf Lincler’s return, Snowball the mechadog, Summer battling her nemesis Tammy Gueterman, Rick battling his old friend Birdperson, and of course the final confronation between Rick, Morty, and the forces of Evil Morty.
“He’s taking the good stuff, Morty!” Rick cries.
“Is any of this canon?” Morty asks.
“It could have been!”
That “it could have been” may strike fear into the hearts of Rick and Morty fans who are invested in the show’s complicated sci-fi mythology one day bearing fruit. It’s always been clear that there is a slight disconnect between the show’s creators and some of its fans as to how much of the overarching narrative of the series matters. Recall the mild fan outcry when Rick and Morty season 3 concluded with a rather conventional (if still good) episode rather than the culmination of Evil Morty’s machinations bearing fruit.
With Rick saying “it could have been!” Harmon and Roiland seem to be confessing that they will never get around to crafting the epic, anime-style series finale that some fans crave. Yes, Rick v. Birdperson, Summer v. Tammy, and Morty v. Evil Morty all would have been cool, but Story Lord stole it. Sorry!
The good news, however, is that all the events of “Never Ricking Morty” take place within the confines of the Story Train. Does this mean that Story Lord’s efforts to rob Rick and Morty’s future canon are isolated only to that story train and not outside in the real world?
Guess we’ll find out 64 episodes from now!