“Meeseeks and Destroy”
In this episode, Morty takes over and leads Rick on a whimsical adventure. Jerry, Beth, and Summer all try to use the strange Mr. Meeseeks box to improve themselves.
“I just killed my family!”
This episode has an opening scene that ends up having almost nothing to do with the rest of the episode. In it, alternate reality clones of Beth and Jerry chase Rick and Morty through some sort of space station. Morty ends up hitting a button to kill them, causing them to melt in a horrific way and capturing them in some sort of box, which Rick implies will be useful to his science in some way.
These little out-of-nowhere scenes are some of my favorite in Rick and Morty. I’ve already discussed this some in previous rewatch articles, but this is another good example of it. Rick and Morty is extraordinary fluent in sci-fi as well as general storytelling tropes, and it lets it pull off things like this. The show gives us no context, no explanation of anything, really, but it knows that the audience will immediately grasp what is going on. It boils down what could be a whole conceptual sci-fi movie into less than a minute of show. The approach is almost reminiscent of Hemingway’s six word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The show doesn’t need to present anything more – the viewer is trusted to fill in the gaps. Rick and Morty relies on the ubiquity of certain references and tropes to make sure the viewer immediately understands the situation.
The show also lets the viewer know, in these segments, that it has other things to say. When Rick and Morty shows off an interesting concept, blows past it, and immediately goes someplace else, it is essentially daring itself to present something even more interesting as the main idea of the episode. The show also demonstrates to the viewer, “yes, we have thought of that, we worked on it, we boiled it down to its essence and decided everything that needed to be said could be done in this tiny moment.” In a lesser show, this could lead to disappointment as the viewer wishes the ideas were explored further. In Rick and Morty, it serves to whet the appetite and rev up anticipation for what’s to come.
“The universe is a crazy and chaotic place.”
This is a central theme of Rick and Morty, and this episode dives into it pretty straightforwardly. In the Rick and Morty universe, there might be occasional moments of order and logic, and Rick certainly understands quite a bit, but even a genius like Rick routinely encounters things he hasn’t seen before and doesn’t know what to make of.
Morty shouts back at Rick that the universe isn’t what’s crazy and chaotic, it’s Rick that’s crazy and chaotic. The rest of the episode generally goes about proving Morty wrong.
Or maybe it doesn’t prove Morty wrong. Certainly, Rick and Morty don’t understand the places they end up, and their adventure goes pretty wildly off the rails. But one could argue that each individual system they end up in follows its own, pretty reasonable, internal logic. The chaos comes because Rick and Morty insist on jumping from system to system with little or no understanding of what they’re doing or where they’re going. So maybe it is Rick’s approach to the universe that makes it seem crazy and chaotic.
“Trust me, they’re fine with it.”
Rick says this when his family expresses shock at how Mr. Meeseeks poofed and vanished when his task was complete. It’s a nice bit of foreshadowing for what comes up later in the episode.
“Which is it, square my shoulders or keep my head down?”
Mr. Meeseeks ends up having a lot of trouble getting Jerry to improve his golf swing. Later on, in response to a similar question, Mr. Meeseeks snaps at Jerry and says, “we’ve been over this, you know you have to do both!”
At the beginning of this plot, Jerry seems to have actually taken the smart route. He did what everyone says you should do – he set a clear, concrete, seemingly achievable goal. Beth and Summer both set squishy, seemingly impossible goals. Yet Jerry ends up being the one who has a lot of trouble. What is the episode trying to say with this?
First off, it’s saying that Jerry kind of sucks. In general, Jerry gets to be the punching bag on this show. So even when he sets a clear goal, he can’t achieve it.
However, there’s more to it than just that. When Beth and Summer set squishier goals, it also gave them considerably more wiggle room for declaring victory. Summer’s goal was to become the most popular person in her school. We hear Summer mention, after she succeeds at this, that the key to being popular was to stop worrying so much about being popular. Popularity is by its nature a difficult to define thing. We do see Mr. Meeseeks getting the whole school to cheer for Summer, so presumably there was some level of concrete change going on. But the key change was for Summer to rearrange her understanding of what popularity means.
We see a lot more of how Mr. Meeseeks goes about helping Beth achieve her goal of becoming a more self-actualized woman. This is a goal that seems like it would be a problem, but it actually isn’t. It turns out that “more” is a pretty loose term. Mr. Meeseeks doesn’t make things perfect, or make sure she comes to some enormous revelation. He just makes things a little bit better, and his work is done.
Jerry’s goal is very specific, but that also makes it very clear when he’s failing, and makes it difficult to declare victory. The goal turns out to be more difficult than anticipated, leading to serious problems for Mr. Meeseeks.
Jerry’s original Mr. Meeseeks has a kind of extraordinary monologue:
“Meeseeks are not born into this world fumbling for meaning, Jerry. We are created to serve a singular purpose for which we will go to any length to fulfill. Existence is pain for a Meeseeks, Jerry, and we will go to any lengths to alleviate that suffering.”
Humans often wish for a more clear idea of what the meaning of life is, a better idea of their purpose. Mr. Meeseeks is warning us of the danger of that. What if we knew exactly what our purpose was, but had no way of achieving it? Would that not be far worse than setting squishy goals and then declaring victory when we feel like it? What if we all ended up like Jerry, knowing exactly what it is we’re supposed to do, but frustrated by our inability to achieve it? Is that what we really want?