The following contains spoilers for Rick and Morty season 4 episode 10.
Despite many of its fans’ pleas, Rick and Morty isn’t too keen on serialization. Rick himself winks at this in the season 4 finale when he remarks of a fallen foe “She died the way she lived: over-serialized.”
Still, creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon often resist the allures of serialized storytelling in favor of playing in their enormous sci-fi sandbox. Every now and then, however, they’ll throw fans a bone with a mythology-expanding installment. Such is the case with the Rick and Morty season 4 finale.
“Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri” features numerous callbacks to Rick and Morty’s past. Tammy Gueterman and her imperial army return to destroy Earth. Birdperson rises from the ashes as Phoenixperson – a mechanized monster intent on enacting Tammy’s bidding. Even Smtih family therapist Dr. Wong makes a brief appearance, allowing Susan Sarandon to make her return to the show. But the most important previous concept from Rick and Morty to pop back up in “Star Mort” is the cloning of Beth Smith.
The season 4 finale opens with Beth (Sarah Chalke) in space sporting a radical haircut and doing radical things like leading interstellar slave rebellions. This isn’t a flashforward to Beth’s ultimate future or an alternate universe where Beth is a badass (or more of a badass than usual). This is happening concurrently with the events of Rick and Morty’s fourth season. This is the real Beth…or so she thinks. The Beth back on Earth having breakfast with Jerri, Morty, Summer, and Rick is a clone…or so she thinks.
It is here that Rick and Morty reveals that Rick followed through on one of the most potent emotional conversations from the show’s history. Back in Rick and Morty season 3’s penultimate episode “The ABC’s of Beth,” Beth Smith was feeling low and dissatisfied to return home after an adventure in the imaginary Froopyland. More than that, she felt betrayed by her father for his use of Froopyland to distract her as a child rather than actually raising her. This leads to a truly unprecedented heart-to-heart between the pair.
As the daughter of the most intelligent and powerful being in the multiverse, Beth was understandably an intense and at-times scary kid. Like her father, Beth was born and raised with a sense of deep dissatisfaction. She’s lived with the knowledge that the universe is infinite, and now she lives with the sad realization that she hasn’t used her own intelligence to fully explore it. Rick advises her to take off and explore said universe but Beth knows she can’t do that. She has a family to take care of and horses to perform surgery on.
Rick, genius that he is, comes up with an elegant but complicated solution. If Beth wants to, Rick will make a clone of her with all of her memories implanted. The clone will stay at home and live out Beth Smith’s life on Earth with no knowledge that she’s a clone. This will free up Beth to embark on her galactic adventures. Pointedly, the end of the episode never shows the audience Beth’s ultimate decision. The season 4 finale does though.
A clone of Beth was indeed made. This much is inarguable based on the events of “Star Mort.” But neither Space Beth or Earth Beth know which of them is the “real” Beth…or if such a distinction even matters anymore. Not even Rick knows the circumstances of how the clone was created – for Rick has taken the memory out of his brain “Mindhole-Blower” style. It’s not until the end of the episode when Rick watches his own memory projected in the garage like a perverse home movie that we find out the truth.
Back on that fateful day, Beth told Rick that she wanted him to decide whether to make a clone of her or not. So much of her life has been dictated by the whims of her genius father – why should this be any different? Rick, unable to help himself from creating a cool space daughter, goes ahead with the cloning process. But as the new Beth gestates Rick makes the decision to remove the labels from each Beth and have the machines mix them up. Truly no one will ever know which Beth is the real one.
Why does Rick do this? Perhaps it’s his commentary on the nature of identity and how all any of us are are bags of meat filled with scattered memories. We have no souls, there is no fundamental difference between us and a clone of ourselves. But Rick’s own answer as to why he would do such a thing is far simpler: he’s a shitty father. He was hitting his flask hard during the process and likely thought this would be funny.
In the end, the Rick and Morty season 4 finale reveals while the show is usually so resistant to serialization. Because when you delve into the details of the Smith-Sanchez family’s lives, you uncover that this show is really about the damage brought down on one family living in the thrall of one terrible, terrible man.