×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The entire Rick and Morty story finally explained

It's hard to imagine a show as complex, vast, and emotionally raw as Adult Swim's Rick and Morty. Whether it's hearing stories about how smart and hysterical it is or odd stories about Szechuan sauce and catchphrases like "wubba lubba dub dub," there's a lot to jump on board with from the get-go. 

As a result, it may be tough for newcomers to get into Rick and Morty without bouncing clean off the fandom and subject matter. However, the series is incredibly smart and absolutely hysterical, and it doesn't look like the conversation around Rick and Morty is going away any time soon. In other words, it's worth wading through the complexities of this fantastic show to become a bona fide fan. 

Rick and Morty is incredibly loosely based on the relationship between Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown from the Back to the Future franchise. Having said that, after just three seasons, everything about the series has taken on a life of its own and ballooned into a beautiful, intricate and absurd mess. Although it specifically doesn't deal with time travel, it still finds a way to fracture its own timeline and keep audiences on their toes.

So to help newcomers and those who need a refresher, let's explain the world-hopping story of Rick and Morty. And of course, there are spoilers ahead.

Meet Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty is a show that includes a lot of crazy things like space, the multiverse, and action-packed adventures with medium-to-high stakes. However, at its core, the series is actually about a family. 

Let's start with Rick Sanchez, the smartest man in the universe. The series opens with Rick having just reunited with his adult daughter, Beth Smith. Because she's desperate for her dad's approval and traumatized by him leaving in the first place, Beth welcomes his dysfunction into the home she shares with her husband, Jerry, a perpetually down-on-his-luck beta male who is (to put it politely) nowhere close to Rick's level of super intelligence. 

Together, Beth and Jerry have two kids. Their eldest daughter, Summer, is in many ways the average American teenage girl. She's worried about fashion, her friends, and the various boys she likes at her school. However, what sets her apart from the rest of her peers is how utterly unfazed she needs to be by her parent's failing marriage and her grandpa's high-risk space adventures. 

Finally, that brings us to Morty, the youngest in the family and Rick's greatest ally in his maddening adventures. Prior to Rick's arrival, Morty was a troubled kid charting well below average at his school. A big reason why could have to do with his crippling crush on a girl named Jessica. After Rick showed up, though … none of that really changed, but Morty's life got very different.

Thinking with portals

The first episode of the series opens with Morty falling asleep at the breakfast table after a drunk Rick kept him up the night before with threats to restart humanity with a neutrino bomb. And things just get crazier from there.

Shockingly (note the sarcasm), Morty's parents worry that Rick's hijinx with their son are having unhealthy affects on him, particularly at school where they acknowledge he may be developing slower than his peers. However, an indifferent Rick takes Morty out of school that day for an adventure, introducing the audience to his famous portal gun. In short, Rick's greatest invention is a handheld device that allows him to travel anywhere in space. It can also travel between the infinite alternate dimensions that run throughout existence. So, while Rick can't travel in time, he can travel in different timelines. 

The show doesn't shy away from the impact that traveling multiple universes can have on even a super-genius' mind. It's revealed in episode one that it's hard for Rick to relate to other people, even his family, because he knows that the best and worst versions of himself exist in infinite realities. (As co-creator Dan Harmon once put it, Rick's fish actually are bigger.)

The adventure goes horribly, and it's pretty traumatic for Morty, who breaks his legs and is forced to murder Gromflomite officers (more on them later). When it's over, Rick explains to Beth and Jerry that traveling with him is the only way a mind like Morty's is going to catch up in school. However, that proves to be a lie, exposing Rick's selfishness for the first time.

The Cronenberg incident

Because it embraces the nihilism of interdimensional travel, most episodes of Rick and Morty deal with self-contained stakes. They can always step through one of Rick's portals and be back home in time for dinner. 

However, that doesn't mean all of their adventures go off without a hitch. In episode six, things go terribly awry when Morty's crush on Jessica becomes overwhelming. He asks his grandpa if there's anything he can create to make her like him. Although Rick thinks his grandson is being creepy, he acquiesces and presents Morty with a potion of sorts that will make her fall in love. However, there's a drawback in the event she has the flu. 

Coincidentally, Morty uses it on Jessica at the annual Flu Season Dance, and it causes her to spread an uncontrollable virus that makes people aggressively in love with Morty, regardless of gender, age, or status. So Rick makes two attempts to produce an airborne solution to the problem that not only makes it spread globally, but it mutates everyone into hideous monsters that Rick offhandedly labels "Cronenbergs." 

And this is where it gets complicated. To escape the issue, Rick transports Morty and himself to a nearly identical version of that timeline where a different Rick and Morty both die in a freak accident after the other-Rick successfully solves the Cronenberg problem. Together, our "heroes" bury their own corpses and rejoin this alternate version of Earth as if nothing ever happened.

As for the reality they left behind? Rick's advice is, "Don't think about it."

A dysfunctional dimension

Despite its mind-bending awfulness, the Cronenberg incident briefly saves the Smith household.

As mentioned, Rick and Morty is nothing if not a show about a family. However, this family has a lot of problems with deep-seated roots in Beth and Jerry's marriage, and everything is thrust out into the open in episode eight after Rick gets frustrated at The Bachelor and upgrades the family cable box with wacky channels from every possible dimension. While that leads to funny commercials for movies like "Two Brothers," it also gives them a glimpse into a world in which Jerry is as famous as Tom Hanks. So while Rick and Morty sit on the couch and watch trashy TV, the rest of the family decides to watch what alternate, seemingly happier versions of themselves are doing. 

It becomes clear that Jerry and Beth have lived their personal dreams in a world where they never got pregnant with Summer. While her parents wonder if their continued marriage is a good thing for anyone involved, Summer prepares to run away from home, having seen what her existence does to them. However, Morty stops her by sharing the fact that he's her brother from a different reality. He's able to convince her that her existence, like everything else, is neither a burden nor an asset — it all means nothing. Meanwhile, Beth and Jerry see themselves get back together in their otherwise happy alternate timeline and agree to stay married. With that, everyone watches trash TV.

Why every Rick needs a Morty

In each alternate reality, Rick Sanchez is usually the smartest man in the universe. And in episode ten, it's explained that enough Ricks found themselves across the multiverse and developed a dimension-spanning society made up entirely of Ricks from other universes and their Mortys. Together, they live on a floating space citadel. However, the Rick that viewers follow in the show (Rick from universe C-137) hates the idea of joining a group and would prefer being his own unique version of himself.

The Council of Ricks is introduced when it's revealed that a Rick from another dimension has framed C-137 Rick for the murder of 27 alternate dimension Ricks. C-137 is arrested by the Council for the crimes and subsequently escapes. That's where Morty learns that Rick's genius gives off a very distinct brainwave pattern that makes it easy for his various enemies to track him. But one way to stop that from happening is to stand near someone with, as Rick puts it, "complimentary brainwaves" that he calls "Morty waves." This reveals that traveling with Morty is a selfish necessity for Rick.

Soon after, the super-genius finds an evil version of himself has framed him and been using Rick-less Mortys as torture-fueled camouflage for terrorist activity. C-137 Morty stages a Morty rebellion, and Evil Rick is killed. However, the Council learns that Evil Rick's Evil Morty was controlling the situation the whole time. Unfortunately, C-137 Rick and Morty aren't privy to that information, and the episode ends with Evil Morty vanishing into the crowd at the Citadel.

Rick's greatest enemy

Rick's greatest enemy is the Galactic Federation. Run predominantly by a bug-like alien race known as the Gromflomites, the Federation is comprised of more than 6,000 Earth-like planets. 

The Federation is a beacon of order, civilization, and stability within the universe. Obviously, these principles are grating to someone like Rick, who quickly becomes a known rebel, along with his friends, Birdperson and Squanchy. In the season two finale, Birdperson invites the Smiths to his wedding to Summer's friend, Tammy. There, he reveals that he and Rick fought many battles against the Federation and committed many "atrocities" for which they're wanted. And that's when the Federation launches an attack orchestrated by Tammy, a deep cover Federation operative who kills Birdperson in the ensuing battle. (It would later be revealed that Birdperson was reborn as some kind of cyborg.)

Now that his family have joined him as a galactic fugitive, Earth is no longer safe. When the Smiths go into hiding, Rick learns just how much of a burden he's been to his relatives. Under the guise of going out for ice cream, Rick call his location in to the Federation on the condition that his family be allowed to go free. The Smiths are picked up from their hiding place and return to Earth, which is thriving under Federation rule.

Meanwhile, Rick is seen being locked away in the bowels of the Gromflomites' most secure prison, with nothing but time working against him as they try to unlock his secrets.

The fall of the Federation

Season three opens with Rick inside a Gromflomite simulation generator as they attempt to trick him into giving up the secret to interdimensional travel. The machine is designed to use Rick's memories against him and allows the Gromflomites to trigger thoughts about how he invented his portal gun. Instead of falling for their trick, Rick flexes his genius and fabricates an origin story in place of an actual memory, thus hacking the machine and allowing him to switch bodies with his alien interrogator. 

Meanwhile, Morty and Summer are picked up by the Council of Ricks after finding a Rick-less, Federation-controlled Earth too much to bear. Summer then digs up the body of Rick from the Cronenberg debacle and uses his portal gun, which the Council flags. When they explain that their Rick had been arrested by the Federation, the Council dispatches soldiers to assassinate Rick C-137 once and for all. 

They succeed, but Rick has already switched bodies. He then switches into one of the assassin Ricks and uses him to infiltrate the Citadel. He teleports the city into the same space as the Federation prison, launching a massive battle between his two greatest enemies. He then reunites with Morty and Summer before executing the last and final part of a plan that began when he turned himself in after the wedding. Rick hacks into the Federation mainframe and reduces the value of its currency to zero. Chaos ensues, and the Federation falls within minutes. Defeated, they leave Earth, and Rick is able to return home safely.

A family fractured

After defeating his enemies, Rick's return to Earth is anything but triumphant. It was made clear in episode one that coming back to his daughter's life caused strain on her tense family dynamic. However, in the first episode of season three, it becomes apparent that Beth and Jerry's marriage has been troubled for quite some time. 

Rick toppling the Federation actually has an extremely negative impact on Jerry, who was thriving under a government that valued thoughtlessness. He realizes that things have gotten much worse for him now that Rick has replaced him as the family patriarch. Furious, Jerry makes the tactical mistake of making Beth choose between her father and him. In short, they openly discuss divorce logistics for the first time.

Beth's abandonment issues win out over any love and affection she had for Jerry, and the season three premiere episode ends with them informing Summer and Morty that Jerry is moving out of the house. Having just defeated the Gromflomoties and the Council, an arrogant Rick confesses to Morty that this was his grand plan all along. Jerry and the Federation wanted him gone, so he made them both go away. The remainder of the seasons sees the kids dealing with the divorce in their own unique ways. Meanwhile, Jerry tries his best to not let his depression get the better of him, including a messy rebound with an alien huntress that he met on an interdimensional dating app that Rick suggested.

The only one who continues to struggle with the change is Beth, who can't seem to find her place in her now fully broken family.

Evil Morty returns

After Rick returned to Earth, he promptly put the battle between the Federation and the Council behind him. As he and C-137 Morty go off on an unseen adventure, season three, episode seven takes place entirely in the Citadel. 

Reminiscent of The Wire, the episode deals with the class and wealth divide among the various Ricks and Mortys that live there. It's revealed that some versions of Rick wind up doing menial tasks to keep the Citadel running. Meanwhile, some Mortys take a dark turn toward crime while others thrive without Ricks to guide them.

In a shocking twist, it's revealed that Evil Morty has spent the time since his last appearance consolidating his power during the rebuilding of the Citadel after the Gromflomite battle. He's adopted a working class hero persona that's given him enough popularity among the Citadel's population to run for president. 

Although his candidacy is first considered a joke due to the fact that he's a Morty, Evil Morty manages to give an impassioned speech about the class divide in the Citadel and becomes the first democratically elected Morty president. However, when it's revealed that a shadow government exists within the Council, Evil Morty promptly dispatches all of the Ricks that threaten his power. In short, after being foiled by Rick and Morty from Earth C-137, Evil Morty's next move is to morph the Council of Ricks into a dictatorship and establish himself as its figurehead.

Rick's power struggles

While all that was happening with Evil Morty, Rick was dealing with a more domestic issue.

In the final episode of season three, his propensity to see past traditional labels and power dynamics puts Rick right in the crosshairs of the president of the United States. Always one for an adventure, Rick routinely takes calls from the "most powerful" man in the world because he feels like Morty is enamored with the idea of helping his country. However, when even Morty realizes that they've basically become the president's intergalactic exterminators, they simply bail on a mission from the commander-in-chief in favor of playing Minecraft.

This raises serious questions about the limits to Rick's "power." Can he live in a world that he will neither govern nor be governed by? It may sound like a deep question, but Rick and Morty is nothing if not a series of deep questions delivered by way of fart jokes. 

Anyway, the president is desperate to prove that he doesn't need Rick and Morty, but he keeps coming up short and becomes increasingly erratic as he constantly loses to Rick. Things devolve into a literal fist fight with POTUS that ends in a draw when Rick has family issues arise. Realizing that staying with his C-137 family on Earth means he can't be a threat to national security, Rick tricks the president into thinking things are good between them.

However, the question of whether Rick's limitless potential will make him a villain to Earth one day remains to be seen.

Rick surrenders his place in the family

Meanwhile, season three sees Beth struggling now that she doesn't have her marriage to blame for her unhappiness. Although she has some breakthroughs, such as realizing she's more a paternal figure to her kids than a maternal one, she's still at the end of her rope.

To help, Rick offers her the chance to travel the galaxy on her own terms, while a clone version of herself stays behind to take care of the family. Unfortunately, this doesn't help with her identity crisis as now she has no clue if she's physically herself or a clone.

Ironically, in trying to get Jerry out of his daughter's life, Rick pushes her right back to him as he's the only one that can help her understand if she's really herself. Jerry uses the opportunity to talk about the first time that he told her he loved her. Realizing that his unconditional love is part of who she is, she takes him back and endeavors to rebuild her family, without the manipulative influence of Rick. 

The only way to do that, however, is to go into hiding. Unfortunately, none of the Smiths are smart enough to hide from Rick, who arrives at their hideout ready to straight-up murder Jerry. However, Beth puts her foot down with her father for the first time. The episode ends with the often god-like Rick trying to explain that Beth's feelings are meaningless in a limitless multiverse, but (in an ominously out-of-character move) he relents and yields his position as the patriarch in order to stay with his family.