Yes, that's right; my first post in over six months is going to be about Rick and Morty, and not even directly about Rick and Morty—more about Rick and Morty fans. DON'T WORRY; I might have a post about Davidson (actually about my attempt to remember the argument of a paper that might not exist) up in the next two months. Maybe just be happy it isn't a terrible joke.
So (by the way there are R&M spoilers here; to my mind it isn't a show to which the concept is remotely applicable but who knows who lurks in my wide and varied readership; I sure don't), here's the situation: at the end of the second season, Rick, overhearing his family, including Morty, talking about his unreliability and tendency to let people down or abandon them because he only really cares about himself, turns himself in. Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" plays, because of course it does. No one in his family knows that he's overheard them or that he's turning himself in; he does it by himself, and with an extremely morose, disaffected-to-despairing affect. (He even credits Jerry with turning him in—that is, he doesn't tell the authorities "here I am, come and get me"; he tells them, pretending to be Jerry, "You can find Rick at such-and-such a place".) Persons writing about this at the time seemed to take it pretty straight—Rick really is doing something on their behalf, he actually is distraught, the emotional state we're free to read in him, as he does all this stuff with no one looking on (and therefore for no one's benefit) is really his.
Then, in the season 3 premiere, he says a lot of stuff about how it was his plan all along to go to the prison so he could break out of it and destroy the empire and also conveniently get rid of Jerry, and he's never cared for anyone but himself (and a long-gone McDonald's condiment), and a whole bunch of stuff that is not easily reconciled with the end of the second season (it's also asserted by one of the characters who has no evident reason to know that he did in fact turn himself in, but whatever). Oddly, people writing about this at the time it came out behaved exactly as credulously with respect to it as they had, previously, with respect to the end of the second season: if that's what Rick says now, it must be true, and must have been true, all along, meaning he must have been faking it back at the end of the second season.
And yet … why should anyone think that? Isn't there not one possibility, but at least three?
- Rick was putting on some kind of sob story show for no one in particular, for some reason, in season two, but is being straight with Morty in season three.
- Rick's emotional state as we discerned it in season two was genuine, and he's unwilling or unable to admit to any actual feelings for his family in season three. (Not implausible! Though it does have its own interpretive difficulties with respect to the premiere!)
- The show actually has no interest in giving coherence to Rick's character, and will play on the self-loathing-but-does-care string when that serves its purposes (as it's done several times), and the unapologetic-nihilist string when that does (as it's done several times), without particularly caring to make them fit together, much less into any sort of arc.
I think that the third is overwhelmingly the most likely option, but I can understand why someone who has to write about it on the regular might refrain from embracing it, and I can also understand why you might think that as a matter of interpretive principle something like that ought to be the option of last resort. But why not at least give air time to the second option?