multiversal sadness

The 15 Most Soul-Crushing Episodes of Rick and Morty

Photo: Adult Swim

Our companion list of the funniest episodes of Rick and Morty can be found here.

The sight of a wild-haired old man in a lab coat triggers some Back to the Future nostalgia for most of us. Adult Swim’s groundbreaking animated series Rick and Morty definitely leverages that fond association for its wacky sci-fi adventures, and while it’s mostly played for laughs, the show occasionally wields gravitas like a big soul-crushing hammer. With season seven having just kicked off on October 15, it’s only a matter of time before the series delivers another tearjerker.

In a vast, chaotic multiverse, everything is inherently meaningless when mad scientist Rick Sanchez can always portal himself into an alternate reality and stay there forever. Since its debut in 2013, Rick and Morty has paved the way for other hilarious and heartfelt adult animated series like BoJack Horseman and Big Mouth. It also played a huge role in bringing the multiverse into the Zeitgeist.

Some of its most successful writers went on to pen stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Loki, and She-Hulk. Similar to in Doctor Who, the core concept allows the shifting writers’ room the opportunity to experiment in a universe of infinite possibility, all led by co-creator Dan Harmon’s comedic expertise. It has earned a place in the cultural spotlight for being one of the funniest shows on television, but also because at its very best, the emotional depth is enough to destroy you.

So often, the show forces us to reconcile dark comedy with the quirks of sci-fi horror in weird ways. Whether it’s yet another one of Rick’s spiritual crises or just devastating plot developments, Rick and Morty at its best is equal parts comedic gold and soul-crushing brilliance.

Here’s a look back at the 15 most soul-crushing episodes in Rick and Morty history.


“A Rickconvenient Mort” (Season 5, Episode 3)

Some of the tired jokes are a bit too silly and repetitive in this one, but both core storylines really weigh on you. Morty falls in love with Planetina, a Captain Planet parody being exploited by her adult Tina-teers. After he kills them all in self-defense (and to protect Planetina from being sold), things go from bad to worse. Planetina learns what Captain Planet never did: It’s not just ecoterrorists that are destroying the planet. It’s regular people too.

She gets more and more violent to “protect the planet,” killing countless people in the process and alienating Morty. Divorced from the bubblegum pop veneer of Captain Planet, Rick and Morty contemplates how these dynamics would actually play out in the real world. Even if the Tina-teers meant well in their youth, moral decline was inevitable.


“Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri” (Season 4, Episode 10)

For the most part, the season-four finale is an action-packed adventure inspired by Star Wars that unfolds at a blistering pace, but the contemplative final minutes expose Rick at one of his lowest points ever. Rather than drown his sorrows, act out violently, or even attempt suicide, he contemplates the nature of his toxic behavior for a strong emotional beat — with an original song called “Don’t Look Back” by Kotomi and series composer Ryan Elder that absolutely slaps.

“Star Mort” introduces “Space Beth” to follow up on Rick’s  offer to his daughter the previous season: He cloned Beth so she could go off on adventures and also remain with the family, leaving him to pick which did what. But at the last minute, he shuffled the Beths, so neither Rick nor us will ever know the truth. We see all this in a memory that Rick erased. ““Holy shit, I’m a terrible father,” Rick admits to himself as the ethereal and wistful chillwave song plays. He finds solace in being “a pretty good friend” with the big reveal that Birdperson is still alive and Rick has plans to revive him fully. It becomes a touching moment of growth for the biggest jerk in the multiverse.


“Rixty Minutes” (Season 4, Episode 8)

This episode rather late in season one is where Rick and Morty really hit its stride. Morty and Rick watch silly TV shows and commercials from across the multiverse, including the horrific but hilarious “Strawberry Smiggles” cereal that combines Trix and Lucky Charms with murderous children.

The largely improvised programs are absurd and hysterical, but “Rixty Minutes” sneaks some real emotional damage in between the channel surfing. Beth and Jerry watch alternate reality versions of themselves via VR goggles, leading them both to lament the successes they could have had if they’d never gotten pregnant with Summer on prom night. Summer herself feels like she’s ruined her parents’ lives, and it’s Morty’s iconic but bleakly charming quote that helps her: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. We’re all going to die. Come watch TV.”


“Big Trouble in Little Sanchez” (Season 2, Episode 7)

One of the rare episodes with an A-plot as good as its B-plot, “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez” is fondly remembered as the “Tiny Rick” episode. Rick de-ages himself to quickly foil a vampire mystery at Summer and Morty’s high school but then becomes the most popular kid in school, all while singing songs where he’s literally crying for help. As Summer correctly diagnoses, his young brain “shoved the bad thoughts into the back and put a wall around them.”

Meanwhile, Beth and Jerry go to intergalactic couples’ therapy where their perceptions of each other are rendered as artificial biological life. Beth sees Jerry as a meek slug, and Jerry sees Beth as a powerful and dangerous alien monster. The codependent nature of their relationship and the Mythologs created by it prove disastrous. In both of these plots, however, only through radically accepting the whole of one’s self — and of one’s partner — can true growth happen.

At face value, it’s all very funny, but the psychological and philosophical implications of these dynamics really weigh on you. Do we get numb as we get older? Or is growing up about embracing the good and bad parts of our identity to become whole? And couldn’t we say the same about our closest relationships?


“Morty’s Mind Blowers” (Season 3, Episode 8)

If the Tiny Rick episode is about accepting our trauma, then “Morty’s Mind Blowers” is about using sci-fi hijinks to hide from it. This anthological episode replaced the “Interdimensional Cable” anthologies in season three, instead offering glimpses at a series of troubling memories that Rick erased from Morty’s mind. It makes for great comedy that also makes a disturbing point about how Rick treats Morty. He removed hundreds of memories without Morty’s consent and often for selfish reasons. Does Rick even see Morty as a person? Or just a pawn?

There are silly memories only there for the laughs, but taken as a whole they paint a darker and far more sinister picture of the multiversal chaos that exists. Was Rick doing Morty a favor by wiping his memories? Does he really know better? Who are we if we don’t remember our mistakes?


“Analyze Piss” (Season 6, Episode 8)

Some of the funnest Rick and Morty episodes happen when the writers go all-in on a ridiculous gimmick, but seldom do these sorts of stories offer any amount of character growth.

Frustrated by the litany of b-grade supervillains harassing him, Rick finally tries therapy and takes the high road to ignore them. It’s a huge moment of personal growth that’s uncomfortable to watch, mainly because there’s piss everywhere. Jerry becomes an intergalactic superhero after defending his home from a villain called Pissmaster, Rick sympathizes with the urine-soaked alien and tracks him down only to find that he’s committed suicide, leaving behind a concerned daughter. The scene where a panicked Rick tries desperately to revive Pissmaster after he’s cut his wrists in the tub makes you, and Rick, think about how many characters he’s wronged over the years who wound up in Pissmaster’s sopping wet shoes.

Rick dedicates his life to repairing Pissmaster’s image, including a noble sacrifice that sees him take the high road over Jerry. We’ve never been more proud of grandpa Rick.


“Mort Dinner Rick Andre” (Season 5, Episode 1)

Morty finally gets a shot with Jessica in the season-five premiere, but it’s foiled by sci-fi hijinks related to a dinner party Rick hosts for his nemesis Mr. Nimbus, king of the oceans. The best part of this episode is undoubtedly the “Narnia-like Dimension” where time moves much faster. Rick uses it to age wine, but once Morty commits a few blunders inside, its residents see him as some sort of bumbling doomsday villain.

Similar to “Analyze Piss,” this one forces us to reckon with the consequences of Morty’s reckless actions in a big way. Hoovy, a kindly dog/cow alien living in a medieval house, helps Morty carry some wine back, but decades have passed when he returns a moment later. His pregnant wife? Dead. His son? He welcomes Hoovy back with a knife in the gut. With his dying breath, Hoovy pins the blame on Morty. Thus begins a vicious cycle of Hoovy’s descendents not believing the myth of Morty, and Morty inevitably returning to wreak havoc.

The emotional beats of inherited trauma land hard, especially when Hoovy’s grandkids swear a blood oath and build an entire civilization around defending against Morty. The horniness of one teenaged boy caused a ripple effect across eons. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?


“The Ricklantis Mixup” (Season 3, Episode 7)

“The Ricklantis Mixup” remains one of the all-time greatest episodes in series history for a lot of reasons, but the bleak way it humanizes the silly alt-reality Ricks and Mortys is downright depressing, painting the picture of a formerly vibrant society in decline. While the titular duo go to Atlantis for horny fun, we see a series of overlapping vignettes that take place in the Citadel populated by Ricks and Mortys from around the multiverse. Conspiracies overlap amidst civil unrest, and we’re exposed to the sinister underbelly of a dystopian society in decline where ruthless consumerism is eroding what little culture is left.

The whole vibe evokes Robert Altman’s naturalistic cinematic style as we get several slices of life, each more defeatist than the last. The Citadel and Council of Ricks were previously little more than a silly punchline that leaned into the show’s emphasis on multiversal sci-fi, but these stories humanize the many Ricks and Mortys by exposing the dehumanizing conditions they suffer through. And for what? So Evil Morty can gain control of it all. It’s one of the most important episodes ever in terms of worldbuilding, but the world we see so expertly constructed is ultimatelya depressing dystopia.


“Rick: A Mort Well Lived” (Season 6, Episode 2)

A video game in which you live out a man’s entire life is probably one of the best concepts Rick and Morty has ever delivered, first appearing in season two’s “Mortynight Run.” But this episode takes full advantage of the idea’s real potential by giving it significant emotional weight.

Morty is playing the game Roy: A Life Well Lived in Blips and Chitz when alien terrorists attack the arcade, trapping him inside and splitting his consciousness across the many NPCs. Rick enters the game as Roy (the player character) and embarks on a decades-long attempt to convince the world’s population to leave, leaving Summer to “do a Die Hard” to defeat the terrorists. Summer’s B-plot is simple but amusing. The main story follows an NPC called Marta in a heart-wrenching tale with gravitas as she goes from a “Grandsonism” convert to the most powerful spiritual leader in the world.

Holy wars between various factions plunge the world into violence, dramatizing the more typical conflict between a jaded and abusive Rick and a grandon seeking love and approval. Morty just wants Rick to show some love, but Rick can’t be vulnerable long enough to give in. Subtle details add a lot of nuance and depth to it all, like when Marta’s daughter chooses to defy her mother and go to the real world even if nobody’s sure she’d actually survive. (In other words, does the progeny of an NPC have a soul?) And the final note of Rick hooking the game up to an external battery so Marta can stay behind and live out her days is a rare instance of his generosity.


“Rick Potion #9” (Season 1, Episode 6)

Before “Rick Potion #9,” Rick and Morty was a crass sci-fi show full of fun hijinks, but here’s when things get really serious. It also establishes one of the most important sci-fi mechanics in the show’s history: Not every character stays in their home universe.

The love potion Rick makes for Morty to woo Jessica mutates with the flu virus, causing everyone that doesn’t share DNA with him to transform into Cronenberged monsters that destroy the world. Rick has no choice but to take them into an alternate timeline where he and Morty die in a gruesome explosion, so they bury those bodies in the backyard and assume their role. The song “Look On Down from the Bridge” by Mazzy Star does a lot of the heavy lifting when Morty realizes he may never see his real family ever again. Though Rick and Morty would continue to mine this universe-ditching for humor in the future, “Rick Potion #9” is an early and potent example of the show respecting the gravity of its stakes even as it presented a multiverse where, in theory, there shouldn’t be any stakes.


“Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort” (Season 5, Episode 8)

Birdperson hid his conscious mind within his unconscious mind, so Rick’s only hope for reviving his near-dead best friend is to go on a chaotic trip through memory lane and team up with a “idealistic hipster douche” version of himself called Memory Rick. We learn a lot of hard truths in this episode, including why Birdperson hesitates to go on living.

Rick loved Birdperson as his partner in crime in a way we’ve never seen before. While he does love his grandson, Rick sure as hell does not respect Morty. But Rick manipulated Birdperson into helping him combat the Citadel for selfish reasons. Rick lost his wife and daughter Beth in his original reality (migrating into one where Beth lived and started a family was how the show kicked off to begin with).

Fighting the Galactic Federation was always Birdperson’s goal (not Rick’s), and it culminated in the Battle of Blood Ridge in all its spectacular violence. Rick stuck by his side because it was an awesome adventure, and Birdperson left Rick’s side because he has enough integrity to reject Rick’s “infinite universe of meaninglessness” philosophy.

Rick’s camaraderie with Birdperson was one of the few admirable facets of him as a character, but to learn the truth of it all, that it was a utilitarian friendship with little substance to it, makes for one of the show’s more crushing revelations.


“The Wedding Squanchers” (Season 2, Episode 10)

This remains the most devastating season finale in Rick and Morty history. Birdperson’s wedding to Tammy gets foiled by the reveal that she’s an agent of the Galactic Federation, the governmental body run by Gromflomites who view Rick, Birdperson, and even Squanchy as dangerous criminals.

When the dust settles on an epic battle, Squanchy and Birdperson are presumed dead, Earth is under Galactic Federation control, and Rick has no choice but to turn himself in to protect his family. Just as Rick leaves the family’s safe haven on a Tiny Planet under the guise that he’s getting ice cream, the mournful riffs of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails begin. We see a bleary-eyed Rick drinking while staring at a picture of his presumed-dead friends, and then he’s taken into custody.

The bleak ending left no satisfying resolution in sight until the surprise airing of the season-three premiere on April Fool’s Day 2017, which only made the devastation feel that much more potent in the nearly two years following the first airing of the episode.


“Auto Erotic Assimilation” (Season 2, Episode 3)

Rick binges on sex and drugs to rekindle a relationship with the hive mind Unity, which forces us and Rick to reckon with his most self-destructive and toxic behaviors. Why does it take a hang glider, a crotchless Uncle Sam costume, and a stadium full of naked redheads to sate Rick’s most impulsive desires? Somehow, he is too much for an entire hive mind to keep up with, and she abandons him with a note about how they’re both just trying to fill an endless void within themselves. While their mutual attraction may border on something that resembles love, it devolves into self-destructive and deranged if left unchecked.

What voids do we all carry within ourselves? How do we numb ourselves from that pain? In the infinite multiverse, Rick is a super-genius god capable of pretty much anything. Yet so often he spends his time doing dumb things with his family, putting them all in harm’s way just to get off on the power trip of surviving. Unity’s rejection sends him spiraling, and he shows a surprising amount of tenderness to a blob creature in the garage that he pets before euthanizing. Then, only because he’s drunk and passes out, he narrowly avoids killing himself with the same device.

“Do You Feel It?” by Chaos Chaos plays all the while, conveying a murky sense of longing for connection while being repulsed by the idea of being vulnerable.


“The Old Man and the Seat” (Season 4, Episode 2)

The humble question at the center of this story asks why Rick is such a shy pooper that he engineered a peaceful toilet on a remote planet just so he could relieve himself. The answer could have easily been yet another weird idiosyncrasy for laughs, but instead we get a meditation on how grief sends us spiraling through the cosmos, grasping for any measure of control in a chaotic, meaningless universe.

Rick finds an unlikely friend in an alien called Tony who pooped in his toilet after losing his wife to cancer. Rather than destroy the man who violated his most sacred space, Rick sympathizes with him, investing a lot of time and energy into nurturing the only new friendship we’ve ever seen him foster. When Tony dies, all Rick can do is submit himself to the hilariously abusive trap he set on his toilet under the assumption that Tony would return to relieve himself once again.

“The King of Shit” indeed.


“The Vat of Acid Episode” (Season 4, Episode 8)

The Emmy-winning season-four episode has Rick do one of the dumbest things in show history, but it’s comedic gold. When some kind of shady deal goes south, Rick pulls Morty into a fake vat of acid to make it look like they died. Morty gets so frustrated that he demands Rick make a save-point device so he can reload a previously saved checkpoint.

Predictably pervy Groundhog Day shenanigans ensue, but the brilliant bit of this episode starts when Morty uses the save-point device to woo a cute girl with glasses at a cafe. A stunning four-minute sequence with no dialogue unfolds, chronicling their relationship with a kind of tenderness that evokes the opening of Pixar’s Up.

Their first date, first kiss, and first fight are given equal importance in a romance that’s unabashedly real. He surprises her with a vacation to Alaska only for the plane to go down. According to an “Inside the Episode” video, when the episode’s script came up a few minutes short, director Jacob Hair wrote a sequence inspired by the 1974 novel Alive by Piers Paul Read about the survivors of a plane crash who resorted to cannibalism.

Spurred by his love for his girlfriend, Morty finds the will to make the frosty trek to the rest of the wreckage to call for help. You think for a split second that in this terrible, meaningless universe, Morty might have earned his one shot at true happiness without any of his grandfather’s wacky gadgets … But then Jerry presses the reset button on the remote at their welcome home party.

We’ve seen Morty become more capable of handling himself in combat over the years, but he hasn’t really matured in meaningful ways. The kid remains a horny, girl-crazy dork who never learns from his mistakes. Yet in a few wordless minutes, he gets a shot at a normal life and demonstrates so much courage. For it to be essentially erased from reality in the end is brutal and heartless. Is nothing sacred in the multiverse?

The 15 Most Soul-Crushing Episodes of Rick and Morty