Emily McNeiece ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the season 3 finale of Rick and Morty and the season 4 finale of BoJack Horseman.
This past Sunday, Rick and Morty premiered its highly-anticipated season finale, and on the surface, it was a success. The episode is a self-referential joyride, showing off an elaborate Rick (Justin Roiland) vs. the U.S. President (Keith David) fight scene, Beth’s (Sarah Chalke) continuing existential crisis, and even an entire scene of Minecraft references. At the end the family sits around the table, Jerry (Chris Parnell) reinstated, and Beth notes that from now on the show will “be like season one, only more streamlined.”
As funny as Rick and Morty’s meta-jokes are, this ending does raise the question: why? What was the point of this season? The show seems to say, in its usual fashion, that “The point was that none of this matters.” Here though, Rick and Morty’s usual loveable nihilism seems to rings false. The viewer starts to feel like Rick does: if the characters are continuously freed from the consequences of their actions, what’s the point of watching them to see if they’ll grow and change? This season, Rick and Morty focused on the search for meaning in the universe and more specifically, in family. However, in the end, the question was never fully answered nor explored. What would the season have looked like if it had? Enter: BoJack Horseman.
BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty are entirely different shows. While BoJack is a more realistic comedic drama, Rick and Morty opts for violent sci-fi comedy. But this season, the two shared an eerily similar theme: the meaning of family in our lives. And more specifically, how our families define us. While Beth discovers that she can’t escape her father’s influence, BoJack (Will Arnett) discovers that he can’t escape his childhood.
The central plot of season 4 follows BoJack’s attempts to find the unknown mother of a daughter he didn’t know he had, all while living with Beatrice (Wendie Malick), his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. Everything culminates in the season’s penultimate episode, where, in a disjointed series of flashbacks, Beatrice’s past is explored. In an animation style that constantly blurs and scribbles out the faces Beatrice can no longer remember, the show reveals that her family situation is what led her to being such an emotionally abusive mother. In the present, BoJack fails to understand her, holding a well-justified grudge over her for her past behavior. It’s a messy situation, and it presents a strong message: we can escape neither our pasts nor the damage they’ve done to us.
Yet in the end, BoJack says that even so, people still can change. In the last episode, BoJack puts everything aside to find his daughter Hollyhock’s (Aparna Nancherla) true mother. After searching from registry to registry for her birth certificate, he finally finds it, discovering that his father, Butterscotch (also voice by Arnett), is her true father. In the final phone call between BoJack and Hollyhock before her departure, the audience expects the season to end in its usual way: fed up with BoJack’s previous mistakes, Hollyhock cutting off all contact. Instead, she accepts him, saying that although she doesn’t need another father, that she’s “always wanted a brother.” The season ends with a smile from BoJack, and for the first time in the entire series, he looks truly happy.
Now, as I said before, BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty are very different shows. Rick and Morty isn’t striving to hit the same emotional notes a drama like BoJack is, and I can understand that. Yet again and again, Rick and Morty presents philosophical arguments without ever truly resolving them. In the penultimate episode of season 3, when Beth comes to the realization family life is no longer enough for her, Rick states that “smart people get a chance to climb on top and take reality for a ride but it’ll never stop trying to throw you. And eventually it will. There’s no other way off.” This opens an interesting debate, one that’s been at the forefront of the entire series: when someone has seen every possible outcome in the universe, does anything still matter? From time to time, the series has hinted that the thing that matters might in fact be family. But unlike BoJack Horseman, in which the titular character’s journey has finally enabled him to grasp the edges of happiness, Rick and Morty’s characters have yet to go through any substantial change. Progress on the theme was undoubtedly missing from season 3’s finale. Knowing the show’s clever wit and innovative ideas however, I’m sure it’s not far on the horizon.