Rick & Morty wears its villainy on its sleeve. Rick is clearly the villain of the piece, though his dry wit, ability to rationalize and his sense of tragedy keeps a great deal of the audience on his side despite the writers consistently holding Rick responsible for his actions. However, what the series explored since very early on is the idea that Rick isn’t the only antagonist of the series, but that Morty is as well, and that he may even be a greater threat than any Rick.

Moral and philosophical concepts are given strange treatment and definition in Rick & Morty as it is. Bird Person has revealed that he and Rick committed atrocities in the name of freedom.

This is, of course, an honest assessment of war, but further ingrains a murkier, gray set of moral values to an already complicated world.

That Rick has access to infinitely branching multiverses also confuses things. He has traded in his own universe for another when things become too complicated or he manages to screw something up so badly even he can’t fix it. Rick and Morty have access to infinite versions of the families.

The original Beth, Jerry, and Summer we met have been left in a post-apocalyptic universe.We’ve seen Jerrys killed and traded and left in daycare, only to go home with the wrong Rick and Morty. However, with an infinity of Beths, Jerrys, and Summers, are any of them really gone? We’ve seen Rick kill off entire planets, but there are other universes where he hasn’t.

If a planet explodes and nobody notices, did it really happen? Rick is numb to loss because his portal gun allows access to an endless number of stilling-living friends and family.

Mortyfied

Of course, loss is something that is felt on a personal level. I could tell you that my father died, and you can feel a certain level of empathy or compassion, but it doesn’t quite hit home as when tragedy comes to visit you personally.

Funerals are more for the living then the dead—the dead are past caring. Death’s importance can only be measured by the effect it has on the living. And that’s where Morty comes in. Morty’s role in the series shifts between audience surrogate, victim and accomplice. Slowly, we’ve seen that the adventures he’s gone on and the things that have been done to him because of Rick have taken their toll on him.

He still has a sense of traditional morality, of course, but there are cracks beginning to show daylight.

Morty’s kill-spree in “Look Who’s Purging Now” was proven not to be caused by the drugged candy bar, though he and Rick were not privy to the reveal themselves. In “The Rickshank Redemption,” Morty shoots Rick, believing it would kill him in order to save Summer, unaware that the gun was set to stun. Morty kills Fart in "Mortynight Run" to prevent an interdimensional invasion. In "Rickmancing the Stone," Morty aids a dead man in a vendetta to kill the people who killed him and his family. In "The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy," Morty threatened Summer’s boyfriend with a Cronenberg-esque mutilation; it’s suggested he carried out said threat, but it’s not seen onscreen.

If put into those terms, the Citadel of Ricks is an important support system for Mortys to be monitored and “nurtured” in a way to keep them at least mildly docile and unaware of their potential for harm. It would explain why the Citadel places “orphaned” Mortys with other Ricks, why others are kept on the Citadel under the watchful eye of the Academy where they can learn to be better Mortys and why the Ricks are so hesitant for a Morty to use their portal guns; tracking a potentially dangerous Morty through an infinity of universes would be next to impossible.

Most importantly—and most famously—the series has established there’s a Machiavellian Evil Morty operating an agenda that involves taking power away from the Ricks. While not an indictment of all Mortys, especially since infinite universes provide infinite possibilities (there’s even a Rick that likes Jerry for Pete’s sake), there are baseline traits that all versions of these characters possess (Morty’s “Aww, geez” and Jerry’s affection for Midnight Run for instance), which is partially how Rick seamlessly moves from one Smith family to another.

Morty underlines this in 'Rixty Minutes'

Morty: “On one of our adventures, Rick and I basically destroyed the whole world, so we bailed on that reality and we came to this one because in this one, the world wasn't destroyed and in this one, we were dead. So we came here, and we buried ourselves and we took their place. And every morning, Summer, I eat breakfast twenty yards away from my own rotting corpse.”

Summer: “So you're not my brother?”

Morty: “I'm better than your brother. I'm a version of your brother you can trust when he says ‘Don't run.’ Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV.”

The moral philosophy of 'Rick & Morty'

That sameness also plays into the idea of how little death matters. Rick can have the same conversation with Beth about her childhood with complete certainty of events despite this Beth not being the Beth he started out with.

Moreover, he even says he can replace her with a clone if she wanted to leave and explore the universe and nobody would know the difference. Perception of reality feeds into the moral philosophy of Rick & Morty as much as the smallness of life itself against the vastness of the universe does. It doesn’t matter if Beth left her family because the ripple of one life means nothing to the universe. But it means something to her.

Rick is aware of this sameness and, as vicious as he can be to Morty, is concerned about his innocence and self-confidence. That is, he needs to make sure that Morty doesn’t get too big for his britches. We’ve seen Morty’s negative traits take the form of an American Psycho/Wolf of Wall Street-esque character "Rest and Ricklaxation" and we’ve twice now seen the callous Evil Morty torture Mortys and kills Ricks across the multiverse before manipulating a legal election to become the new leader of the Citadel.

A Tale of Two Mortys

“Ricklaxation” provides an important look into Morty’s personality and Rick’s effect on it. This episode finds Rick and Morty at a spa that removes their negative personality traits. Rick becomes considerate, but Morty’s confidence gets out of control. Their negative traits become sentient, showing a domineering Rick manipulating and forcing the diminutive and self-hating Morty into complacency and loyalty. Without Morty’s in-born self-hate that is fostered by his genius grandfather constantly reminding him of his inadequacies, within three weeks Morty found success and power on Wall Street despite being only fourteen years old. This Morty also estranged himself from his family, callously walking out on them (ironically, not likely all that different from what Rick had done twenty years before).

This Morty is not only confident and capable but also untethered by sentimentality or emotion. Rather, he’s sociopathic.

It’s clear Evil Morty has an ax to grind—a resentment of other Mortys because they reflect his own self-hatred; a resentment of Ricks because of something one must have done to him. Our Rick is even impressed by the Wall of Mortys that Evil Morty created. It draws power from inflicting torturous pain on the poor kids, and Rick mentions that it’s an inefficient way of drawing power. Evil Morty, as we’ve seen, is smart enough to know this, but the real point of it is clear: it’s more about inflicting pain.

In Rick’s own worldview, it does not matter. The universe is too large, but in the case of a dangerous, errant Morty, Rick does care since it hits close to home.

This highlights not only Rick’s flawed philosophy but also shows that there are things Rick does care about. He cares about Morty enough to kill Jellybean who tried to sexually assault the boy. He cares about freedom enough to fight against the Galactic Federation. He cares enough about the universe to want to protect it from both the Federation and Morty if need be. It’s his ability to care that separates him from Evil Morty in the first place.

In "Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind,” Evil Morty’s debut episode, Rick alludes to this as a warning to his Morty: “A cocky Morty can lead to some big problems. It can be a really bad thing for everybody. I'll explain when you're older.” It’s posited that the problems Rick referred to had to do with an earlier incident involving Evil Morty.

A popular fan theory even suggests that Evil Morty is our Rick’s original Morty. Rick is seen abandoning a Morty in the opening credits and has memories of a baby Morty even though he only returned to our Smith family recently after a twenty-year disappearance. It would also explain why our Rick—the Rick of C-137—was framed in the first place.

Rick knows that Mortys have the potential to be a problem, and is noticeably uncomfortable in “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” with how much Morty has come to understand Rick and especially when Morty was able to diffuse one of Rick’s neutrino bombs. Likewise, Rick’s desire to get his Morty back in “Ricklaxation” has as much to do with his affection for Morty as it does his desire to stop the remorseless and power-hungry Morty before he became too dangerous.

But, of course, this could all be incorrect. Maybe Evil Morty isn’t really evil after all—or at least not entirely evil. Regardless of their reasoning, Ricks generally treat Mortys like garbage; there’s literally a secondary market with coupons for Ricks to get another Morty in case theirs dies. He created a codex of all of the Ricks in the known multiverse and was able to calculate their evil. He killed several evil Ricks and collected their Mortys. Admittedly, the torture-for-energy thing doesn’t help his the not-evil argument, but it is likely a necessary part of his plan to draw the Citadel’s attention. It should also be pointed out that the tortures the Mortys suffered would have no long-lasting physical effects, and god knows Mortys are used to psychological damage anyway.

The way that Evil Morty uses Mortys is nearly identical to the way the Ricks do, which wears his moral high ground down to a stump. This would confirm more of the gray morality the show trades in while also confirming that Rick and Morty, while the series focus, are both villainous characters with minor flourishes of goodness. In “Tales from the Citadel," Evil Morty fires his Morty campaign manager for not believing in him.

Whatever Evil Morty’s plan is, it’s clear that he needs help and that other Mortys are his focus. Those that won’t work with him, don’t believe in him or don’t have the similar drive he does are useless to him. By the end of the episode, not only had Evil Morty taken power, but he had the corrupt Ricks who acted as something of a shadow government behind the Council of Ricks all killed off. Between Evil Morty’s rise to power and the destruction of the old guard, Evil Morty’s ascension is a win for the treatment of Mortys. Whether intentional or not, Mortys will have better lives because of him.

It’s still unclear what the motives of Rick, Morty, and Evil Morty will lead to by the time the story arc and the series wrap up. A safe position to take is that once our questions are answered, each character will be better defined, but their place in the world—as well as who they truly are—will not be particularly changed. Rick will not suddenly become a saint, and Evil Morty has more going on than something evil. The characters will evolve but within reason, harkening back to that theme of variations on sameness that the Citadel of Ricks so greatly demonstrates.

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