Rick and Morty Finale Explained: The Fate of the Smiths and Why President Obama Would Be Perfect on Season 3
There was hilarity and heartbreak all around in the squanchy Season 2 finale of Rick and Morty. Just as Rick was starting to get in touch with his feelings about his best friend’s wedding, intergalactic authorities stormed the reception to take down Bird Person and set the Smith family out on the lam. Series co-creator Dan Harmon seemed more broken up about Tammy’s undercover identity than Bird Person’s downfall. “It’s a heartbreaker, because I love the Tammy character.”
We talked with Harmon and co-creator Justin Roiland about how their plans for the finale changed, their favorite moments from Season 2, and what might be coming up in Season 3.
What was the writing process for the finale like?
Harmon: You know about the anti-vaccination moral?
Roiland: [Laughs] Yup. I mean, it’s all about anti-vaccination, you know, don’t vaccinate your kids. That’s kind of the moral. The whole season kind of ties up neatly.
Things are more uncertain than usual for the Smiths. Do you have a plan for where to take the story in Season 3?
Roiland: Our intention was to not do a cliffhanger. We were going to do a two-part episode at the end of the season, so episodes 9 and 10 were going to be A and B of a larger story, but we ended up going ahead and breaking the stories up. So we’re ending the season on a cliffhanger, and we will have bills to pay when we start writing Season 3. But we did talk and think a lot in Season 2 about a lot of different ways to bring things back from where we end the season.
Harmon: It ends without a pie in the face. It ends with a needle drop and some serious narrative business that needs to be dealt with. We didn’t think it was good craftsmanship to end a season like that, which is why we wanted to have that be the penultimate episode and actually pay it off in the final episode.
How did the Purge episode end up as episode 9 instead of the two-parter?
Harmon: We were like “How do we write the rest of the story? How do we write this finale episode?” We were exhausted from writing the previous nine, and were past deadline, Community was now a thing again, and so at like three in the morning one night in the writers’ room, we just went nuts. I think it was Justin’s idea, I can’t remember whose idea it was. Two days earlier I was proposing it, but the hang-up was that [Ryan] Ridley really thought that the idea of doing a Purge episode was hack. It’s not a Purge homage, it’s about the fact that this is a cool sci-fi trope like cloning or teleportation or telekinesis; the idea of a society that has ritualistically codified the quenching of their thirst for violence. So anyway, at like three in the morning I just opened my laptop and was like, “Yeah f--k- it, let’s just do that episode.” It was a great moment because I typed the first three quarters of that episode in about 20 minutes. Story breaking is important structural work. It should be calculated when you’re trying to figure out why something is a story, but it doesn’t have to be clever and it doesn’t have to blow your mind, because you craft a simple story and then you focus all your energy on having fun. I’m trying to learn that lesson at 42. Season 3 will be evidence that I learned it.
Will the wait for Season 3 be as long as it was between the first two?
Roiland: We’re trying to do everything we can from a production standpoint to expedite the process. There is a joke at the end of the finale, where Mr. Poopybutthole comes back for a little scene and that’s pretty much what he says, “A year and a half or longer.” We’re definitely making fun of the fact that it took so long between Season 1 and Season 2. But I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get at least the first half of Season 3 out the door quicker. The network would be happy with us if we did that, I know that much.
Speaking of Mr. Poopybutthole, how has the fan response been to that character?
Roiland: That character is pretty great. It’s funny to see people online having these serious conversations about just theory, because there’s a lot of theories about him as a character. Is he real? Is he fake? There are all these people fighting with each other online about it. And they’re in the middle of these really well-thought, articulate paragraphs, but there are the words “Poopybutthole” just sprinkled like chocolate chips.
What have been your personal favorite moments from Season 2?
Harmon: My favorite moment by far is the nano-doctor in the hospital episode. One of my favorite things about it is that it’s not my joke. It’s Dan Guterman’s joke. I just love it. And I had nothing to do with it, which means that I’ve done better than write well in my life. I’ve written well enough that now better writers are hanging out, and there’s just something really exhilarating about that.
Roiland: I think the Tiny Rick stuff is amazing. I had a lot of fun doing that voice record. There’s a lot of fun just being boisterous Rick, Tiny Rick. But I also love the Plumbus segment, because I had no idea what that would look like. We recorded it and did a little polish in the edit and then turned it over to the board artists. The first time I saw the thumbnails for that sequence, I was just like, “Oh my God. I don’t have any notes. This is perfect.” It’s played straight like an actual How It’s Made segment, but visually, you have no idea what’s going on, but it just works. No one knows what a Plumbus is or what it does, and there’s a Plumbus t-shirt now. They’re going to maybe make Plumbuses!
Harmon: That was truly the best part of that episode. That was one of my favorite things in the world. I can’t believe it’s possible to nail a show’s own pacing and its feel so well that they can literally just be doing it about gibberish, and it’s still neat! It’s still interesting! I thought I liked watching How It’s Made because I didn’t know how they made pantyhose and now I’m seeing pantyhose get made. But it doesn’t matter. It can be a Plumbus. It’s still amazing to watch with the hypnotic music, and the narrator is just like self-assured almost kind of smug, clinical. It’s such an amazing cultural thing that doesn’t exist anywhere else and to do it with just non-sense is so funny.
Why did Octopus Man sound a little different from the other interdimensional cable sketches?
Roiland: That was the last thing I recorded, and I was really drunk. I mean, I was wasted. I think I crossed a line in sobriety.
Harmon: I’m so glad a journalist said that, because I always felt that way. When I watch the Octopus Man part, I get sad.
Harmon: Justin’s genius is linked to his sociopathy, whatever the word is, and it’s definitely on full display there. Just hearing him laugh. It’s because of the visuals, too. It’s just a combination where it’s like, oh no, I hate Octopus Man. It’s terrible. It’s such a dark tunnel to go through. It’s the one moment where you became Eli Roth.
Roiland: [laughs] I was just so drunk, and somebody pitched Octopus Man. I just recited what they told me. “Okay, he’s a marine biologist who got bit by an octopus. Okay. Record. I got this.” Then I’m just laughing at how dumb it was.
Do animators ever have trouble keeping up with the recordings for the interdimensional cable episodes?
Roiland: Sometimes. There’s stuff that will take me like two minutes to do, and I don’t even realize. I’m just f--king around. And then it’ll take them literally months to draw [Laughs]. And I’m like, “Hey, don’t look at me. It’s not 100% my fault. He could have boarded it simpler if he’d wanted to.” That’s part of the fun of that episode, the sort of splash between the board team, the artists, everyone gets to be really creative in those sketches. And we want to continue doing those. [Mike] McMahan said it really well, he said, “Okay, so if Season 2 was the sleepy, depressed installment of interdimensional cable,” because if you listen to my voice across all the sketches, it’s like the same tone, “then let’s make Season 3 the really fun, everyone’s-in-there version.” Yes. I’m in. I’m 100% in.
Will there definitely be more interdimensional cable in Season 3?
Roiland: Maybe. Maybe. It’s a nightmare episode. Every season it’s been the most pain-in-the-ass episode. But I think we forget about that right around the perfect time to forget. Right when we’re getting up to that episode, we’re like, “Oh yeah, this is fun.”
Any favorite guest stars? Any you might invite back for the next season?
Roiland: Obviously Stephen Colbert was a highlight. He was fantastic and just gave 110% and was easy to direct and just had fun with it. And, I feel like the episode turned out amazing. Just his voice, everything about what he brought to that character. It’s an interesting character that exists now. There’s stuff that we can maybe do with the guy in the future potentially. And Andy Daly as Krombopulos Michael. That guy is just amazing.
Do you have any regrets about having Morty kill Krombopulos Michael?
Roiland: You know, we luckily have a show with infinite realities and whatever. I mean, we could do backstory if we want. I’m not saying that character is going to come back for sure, but it is definitely one of my favorite characters from the second season, and I think a big part of that is Andy Daly.
Who is on your wish list for Season 3 guest stars?
Roiland: Barack Obama, we’re going for. We have some connections.
Harmon: [Laughs] That would be awesome. I bet that’s something you could do. He’ll be out there doing little cameos. He’s probably already been on The Simpsons, right?
Roiland: Yeah, he loves that kind of stuff. He’s into it.
Harmon: I’m going to miss him so much, just because he’s the first president in my lifetime that, when he spoke, I didn’t get embarrassed. I would love to write for him. That would be amazing. He’s a historically gifted orator. I wish we would just elect presidents based on that and then not expect things to change unless we change them. Let’s just vote for the guy that makes us feel like we can be proud of ourselves, and then let’s also know that there’s no s--- he can do except speak well. Then let’s do something.
Roiland: Well, we’ve got, what’s his name? You’re fired guy, Donald Trump. Where were we? I feel like we just fell down a hole. There’s a long list of people I would love to have on the show and they range from the Barack Obama/David Bowie level, which is like, okay, good luck, all the way to the very attainable. But I always sort of wait until we’ve outlined something and we have characters in mind that fit a certain type before I even think about plugging someone in.