Going into season 6, it seemed possible that Rick and Morty’s main Rick (from universe C-137) would pull another fast one on the audience. Though things seemed dire at the end of season 5, with Evil Morty blowing up the multiverse as we knew it and leaving the titular Rick and Morty in limbo as they tried to escape a destructing Council of Ricks, it wouldn’t be the first time Rick managed to come out on top. At the beginning of season 3 he destroyed the Galactic Federation’s whole system from inside their prison.
But the glimpse of Rick C-137’s backstory was much darker than we had seen up till now. C-137 Rick watched his wife get killed by another Rick, and — after some time spent trying to hunt him down, killing various Ricks, and generally getting messed up — eventually crash-landed himself into a timeline where a Rick had abandoned his grown-up daughter and settled in.
It’s understandable if you have some disbelief that this is the backstory on Rick and Morty’s Rick, or if he still had another trick up his sleeve in the season 6 opener. But co-creator Dan Harmon is here to remind us to chill the fuck out.
“There’s so much more to the story,” Harmon tells Polygon. “But I’m very comfortable saying I don’t like to be coy, and in instances where we are being ambiguous, we always say we’re being ambiguous.”
For comparison he cites season 3’s “The Rickshank Rickdemption” and what he dubs the “Shoney’s Revelation,” when Rick appeared to be trapped in a tragic memory to bait the Galactic Federation poking around in his brain. At the time Harmon says it was shown as potentially a fabrication, but one that Harmon himself liked as an actual backstory.
“I was happy [making it appear fake] because I myself felt that that was Rick’s backstory and I liked it. But I didn’t want to impose it, at that early stage in the show’s run,” Harmon says. “So having established at the top of season 6 what of that is accurate? I would never say to an audience, Or maybe not! I find that a little abusive to fans. I’m pretty comfortable saying that’s the truth. That’s how it was framed in the show; he showed Morty the truth, that’s what it was. And we can’t retcon that.”
Still, that’s not say there isn’t room to grow, or that the show plans on shying away from building that backstory out more. But Justin Roiland — who co-created the show with Harmon and voices Rick, Morty, and a smattering of other people in it — says the change is something that will hopefully impact the audience more than the characters themselves. With season 6 kicking off with a more confident Morty, a Rick who’s been brought down a peg without any portal fluid, and a new primary universe for the whole family, Rick’s actions resonate differently.
“Like, how will that change how the audience thinks of him now that they know the awful shit that happened to him is real?” Roiland says. “Does it make him more sympathetic? Well, maybe not. Because he’s still going to be the same guy — still going to be a fucking asshole.
“He’s learned all this shit [where] he put these walls up, because he lost something really dear to him. And then he learned it didn’t matter. […] But it’s still fucking dark to carry that. So it’ll be interesting to see the fans’ reaction more so than the character.”
With Rick and Morty coming fast and furious (10 episodes a year) for the foreseeable future, Harmon and Roiland say there’s more breathing room for them to focus on finding the perfect ratio of canonical storytelling and the wacky, one-off adventures that the show is known for. Rick’s backstory will be a part of that, but they’re not planning on pulling the rug out from under us anytime soon.
“There’s certainly a lot more to the story we only visually saw it all unfold,” Harmon concludes. “[But it] is basically a confirmation of the Shoney’s fake out, you know?”