‘Rick and Morty’ Season 3: Highlights from the ‘Pickle Rick’ Commentary

Both inside and out, the Rick and Morty Season 3 Blu-ray is dominated by Pickle Rick. The slipcover is his pickle face, complete with unibrow and those little butthole eyes. An image of Rick’s fight with the rats wraps around the plastic Blu-ray case. The title screen features Pickle Rick with his wrist-mounted, rapid-firing utility blade gauntlets, pointed out toward the audience. Even more than the infamous Szechuan sauce rant, Pickle Rick is the season’s defining idea, backed by an episode capturing both the impulsive inventiveness and rigorous execution of Rick and Morty at its best. Now, thanks to commentary tracks on the Season 3 Blu-ray we have new insights into how “Pickle Rick” came together.

“This is the famous Pickle Rick episode,” Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon says, opening one of the commentary tracks. “Did we know it would be the fucking defining episode of Season 3? I don’t know.”

“Yeah, we absolutely did,” Jessica Gao, the episode’s writer, replies.

Pickle Rick’s Origin

The idea for Pickle Rick came out of a last-minute, frustrated brainstorming session in the Rick and Morty writers room, just moments before the team left for Thanksgiving break. “Anddddd Rick turns into a pickle! Okay, let’s all go on break,” Gao says, describing the moment Harmon blurted out the concept behind “Pickle Rick.”

Away on vacation, Harmon began to fixate on the idea. “I got really excited about, yes, let’s commit to that for real,”  Harmon says on the commentary track. “Why would Rick, the smartest man in the universe, turn himself into a pickle? The answer has nothing to do with exterior things and everything to do with interior things, which is why this is such a good episode.”

In the final version of “Pickle Rick,” Rick turns himself into a pickle to get out of family therapy, then finds himself in trouble after the neighbor’s cat knocks him into a sewer drain. After building a mech suit out of cockroach and rat parts, Rick escapes the sewer and finds himself in a vaguely Central American embassy loaded with sleazy eurotrash criminals meant to evoke the countless drug-running baddies in 80s action movies, the type of guys Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Lundgren would chew through with a machine gun. After defeating the Die Hard castoffs, Rick, much worse for wear, shows up at the therapist’s office to claim the serum he needs to turn back into a human. Instead, he gets a dressing down from Dr. Wong (Susan Sarandon), who denies Rick the comfort of believing his self-destructive behavior exemplifies scientific thinking.

“Pickle Rick” Development

The original premise was much different, with Pickle Rick emerging from the sewers into a rat-infested restaurant and facing off against what Gao described as “black-ops exterminators.” Arriving at the episode’s final form proved tricky, involving rewrite after rewrite. Gao describes working late into the night with Harmon. “I texted someone ‘He just fell asleep typing, what do I do?’”

Harmon compared the episode’s intricate construction to the Breaking Bad episode “4 Days Out,” in which Walt and Jesse are stuck in the desert thanks to a dead battery in their trailer. “Everything had to be meticulous, in an internal logic sense,” he says. “Can this Doctor Who character, if he’s deprived of everything but two sticks, can he make fire?”

Episode director Anthony Chun describes some of the visual influences throughout the commentary, particularly Pixar’s Ratatouille and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. As for Rick’s big fight against the sewer rats, “We basically typed in the script, it’s Oldboy,” Harmon says.

“Pickle Rick” Themes

Harmon always intended the episode to be about Rick’s alcoholism. “You chose to be a drunk, crazy person, you put yourself in these situations and then you clap yourself on the back for surviving them,” Harmon says. “But how much of a medal do you deserve?”

“Are you talking about things that are happening with you?” Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, who also voices Rick and Morty, asks Harmon.

“Only for the last 45 years,” he replies.

“To me, the big thing I love about this episode is that even though being pickled is such an obvious, on-the-nose metaphor for alcoholism, drinking is never mentioned in this episode,” Harmon says. “It’s the only episode in which drinking is not mentioned. In fact, I noticed it after a while and took out any references to drinking.”

But while Rick’s substance abuse was always built into the “Pickle Rick” subtext, Chun developed a wildly different read. “It’s his penis, the pickle, trying to find his body throughout the episode. He basically castrates himself at the very outset,” Chun says. “You’re playing with the tropes of masculinity.”

“Holy fucking shit,” Harmon replies.

“Take it to Reddit,” Roiland says.

Pickle Rick vs. Dr. Wong

After an Oldboy fight against sewer rats and an action team-up with Danny Trejo (playing a generic badass named Jaguar), “Pickle Rick” ends with a surprisingly down-to-earth confrontation, between Pickle Rick and family therapist Dr. Wong.

“What we need is for someone who is a grounded, normal, functioning human being to tell Rick, ‘Yeah, you’re smarter than me, but you are a tragic figure,” Gao said, describing the rationale for the scene. “Because this isn’t a celebration of Rick’s intellect.”

“Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon did this by phone,” Harmon said. “She fucking ripped through this shit in three takes, one for safety. Like, a monologue. I couldn’t believe Janet from Rocky Horror Picture Show was on this phone line.”

Cautionary Rickkkkkk!

In the final scene of “Pickle Rick,” Dr. Wong urges Rick to attend therapy. “You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse,” she tells him, describing ongoing therapy as boring, but crucial, mental maintenance. “It’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work.”

Rick doesn’t take the advice, but Dr. Wong’s monologue nevertheless leaves him without a retort. He has been revealed to himself, and, in the process, Dr. Wong reveals his weakness to the Rick and Morty audience, pushing back against the hero worship the character tends to inspire. It’s a subtle realignment, but the Blu-ray commentary makes clear it was an important point for the writers.

“I think Rick is wrong about half the time,” Harmon says, comparing him to Archie Bunker of All in the Family. “If you wish that you were Rick all the time, I think you have work to do. I don’t want to spoil the cartoon for you.”

“If you were, you would be fucked, you should be in therapy,” Roiland adds.

Rick and Morty Season 3 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. 70 more episodes of Rick and Morty have been ordered, but a premiere date for Season 4 has yet to be announced.

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