“Rick & Morty” is a show about an alcoholic genius (Rick) who drags around his well-meaning idiot grandson (Morty) around the multiverse on various quests. We learn that Rick is reportedly the smartest man in existence, and that he is wanted for various crimes committed against the galactic government. “They think they run the galaxy, I disagree,” grunts Rick in Season 2 Episode 10. When he is finally arrested and placed in space-prison, a fellow inmate asks “What are you in for?” to which Rick replies “Everything.”
What makes Rick so appealing is how his intelligence gives him a golden ticket to do whatever the fuck he wants. He manages to get drunk, party, and go on seemingly self-serving adventures just because he understands that life is meaningless and short. We get the sense that Rick is very unhappy (he says he doesn’t believe in love, he attempts to kill himself at the end of Season 2 Episode 3), but he uses sensual pleasures (alcohol, sex, and ice cream) to distract himself from the heavy truths that weigh over him. We have to assume that this is the best possible scenario for Rick to exist because, well, he’s a genius.
The show suggests that if we truly become smart and all-knowing, it will create tremendous unhappiness within us. Ultimate knowledge, rather than solving problems, creates more of them. This happens to a degree at which Rick realizes that the fight is pointless and that the only thing he can really control is how good of a time he can have in his short window of life.
Rick’s extremely cynical standpoint is seductive. When I read the news and educate myself in politics, there are times where I believe that I am merely a cog in the unstoppable forces of history. Once we zoom out and examine our planet, our solar system, and our universe, our immediate choices matter less and less and less. This perspective (which Rick has experienced first-hand) frees us in a sense. These infinite possibilities tell us that, in the end, we don’t have a reason to be afraid of very much, because of how insignificant our problems are.
Then, we have Morty, the idiot whose scope of understanding is completely narrow. As the show progresses, we see him become less naive (often his efforts to do good end with him committing more evil than he intended), which gives us insight as to why Rick is such an asshole. The world is so complex that is is nearly impossible to do the right thing on a grand scale. Our immediate needs and surroundings end up being the most important anyway, because our friends, our hungers, and our wants end up being the universe that matters most.
This is why Rick often will sacrifice himself for his family (he saves Morty in Season 2 Episode 1, he turns himself in to the Galactic Federation in order to protect his loved ones from torture). Morty repeatedly claims that Rick cares about no one. However, Rick’s actions tell us that he does care about his family. This isn’t a huge shock, but we see that infinite intelligence (at least in this show) may take away our ability to care, but it will not take it away completely. Rick still holds the capacity to love his family, even if he will never admit it.
The takeaway is that even as we gain intelligence and cynicism, it may appear to take away from our immediate fears, but it in a sense doesn’t change them very much. Perhaps this grand perceptive across timelines gives Rick clarity as to what really matters. True, Rick doesn’t give a fuck about most things, but we see that he is willing to sacrifice his own well-being for his loved ones on more than one occasion. He finds this balance in his cognitive gifts, and acts accordingly.