In a new feature, Tom Goldthwait is going to be rewatching Rick and Morty and writing about each episode. Each week, he will focus on a new episode and write one or more posts. Sometimes the posts will focus on the content of the episode, but other times the episode will be a chance to launch into a discussion on something else of interest.
The opening sequence to Season 1, Episode 1 is one of my favorite sequences of all time. I remember when I first saw it (I’ll admit I was slightly intoxicated at the time), I had a literal jaw-drop reaction.
Let’s run through the scene and see what crazy shit this scene introduces
- It opens with a drunk old man dragging a teenage Morty out of his bed in his underwear.
- It immediately cuts to Rick drunkenly flying some sort of flying saucer type vessel.
- Rick announces a plan to kill off the human race and let Morty and his high school crush repopulate the planet. (Referencing the classic sci-fi Adam and Eve plot)
- Rick interprets Morty’s misgivings as him being worried that Rick will steal his woman. Rick reassures Morty that he has no interest in that.
- “I’m not that kinda guy, Morty… she’s all for you, Morty.”
- Morty tries to say that isn’t actually his issue with Rick’s plan. Rick responds, “you’re right, she’s probably nothing but trouble anyways.”
- Morty jumps on Rick and attempts to wrestle the controls away from him. Morty finally manages to convince Rick to land the craft.
- Rick lands in the middle of the desert and falls out of the craft. Laying on the ground, surrounded by bottles that fell out alongside him, he says, “it was all a test Morty… an elaborate test to make you more assertive.” (Referencing the secret test plot device)
- “Sure, why not?” *BELCH*
- A computerized voice says, “Neutrino bomb armed.” This is followed by rapidly accelerating beeps.
- Cut to opening credits with no explanation or resolution.
Within the first two minutes, this sequence introduces us to a lot of themes that drive the show. We’re introduced to the core conflict between the show’s main characters: Morty’s sense of morality against Rick’s amoral, hedonistic genius. There are multiple riffs that reference and satirize common sci-fi storytelling techniques, letting us know it’s a self-aware show set in a world full of campy sci-fi tropes. We see that the show is going to be fast and messy – it expects you to keep up with its rapid-fire pace and to not always expect a clear resolution.
The opening sequence was also darkly shocking in a way I rarely see. Many works of fiction strive to be dark, shocking, or both. They fill their worlds with grit and grime or brutally murder characters without a second thought. What makes Rick and Morty’s opener so effective is the way it is built with stark contrasts. The animation is lighthearted, almost whimsical, and the banter is genuinely funny. This makes the darkness come out in a way that feels a lot more real, a lot more human than it might otherwise. Listening to goofy drunk grandpa talk about his half-baked plan to blow up the human race is a more powerful statement of nihilism than any villain speech I’ve ever heard in a movie. When he abandons the plan so easily, the amorality of the whole thing adds to the shock. Rick doesn’t hate the human race – he just doesn’t care. He’ll kill us all on a whim.
The opening sequence is hilarious. It sets up the show. It manages to, in one two minute sequence, tell a rich, thematic story with several layers and references to digest. And then the show happily abandons it for a new, entirely unrelated story. After seeing that sequence the first time, I knew it was time buckle up and hold on for one of the craziest, deepest, most fucked-up shows of our time.