The philosophy of Pickle Rick

I saw the Pickle Rick episode of Rick & Morty last night, and all I can say is…that was pure raw genius. Short synopsis: Mad scientist Rick turns himself into a pickle to get out of a therapy appointment, and then has to construct an exoskeleton out of cockroach and rat parts save himself after falling into a sewer.

Yeah, you’re saying that sounds nuts.

Stick with it, though. It’s amazing. After this elaborate series of improbable events, Rick does finally end up with the therapist and there’s this wonderful dialogue (taken from Film Crit Hulk, which really gets into this episode):

Therapist: “Rick, why did you lie to your daughter?”

Rick: “So I wouldn’t have to come here.”

Therapist: “Why didn’t you want to come here?”

Rick: “Because I don’t respect therapy. Because I’m a scientist. Because I invent, transform, create, and destroy for a living. And when I don’t like something about the world, I change it. And I don’t think going to a rented office in a strip mall to listen to some agent of averageness explain which words mean which feelings has ever helped anyone do anything. I think it’s helped a lot of people get comfortable and stop panicking, which is a state of mind we value in the animals we eat, but not something I want for myself. I’m not a cow. I’m a pickle – when I feel like it – So… you asked.”

Therapist: “Rick. The only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family, is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness. You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse. And I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it is your mind within your control. You chose to come here, you chose to talk, to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe. And yet, you are dripping with rat’s blood and feces. Your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand. I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy. The same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is – it’s NOT an adventure – There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just… work. And the bottom line is some people are okay going to work and some people, well, some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.”

That last bit — after 20 minutes of unbelievable adventure and violence and exotic super-science — suddenly grounds the whole story in mundane reality and speaks of a far deeper truth than is possible with a talking pickle.

It would be good to use this cartoon in a discussion of bioethics, except that I fear students might be more distracted by the hyper-violence that comes before. But man, I know a lot of people who would nod enthusiastically to everything Rick says, and would spit on everything the therapist said…when the therapist is the one to bring some real insight.

Maintain, everyone.


  1. Siobhan says

    I can’t imagine how being as maladjusted as Rick could possibly be seen as a virtue. Being a belligerent jackass to everyone around you and continuously putting them in danger they did not sign up for is assholery, not genius.

  2. remyporter says

    I think Film Crit Hulk does miss a beat, when he replies to the people who think “Rick should be punished so we know he’s bad”.

    It was actually in a Reddit thread, where someone was sharing an excerpt from Demon Haunted World that criticized Beavis and Butthead as celebrating stupidity. People pointed out that Beavis and Butthead was actually pretty clever satire, and was actually a very intelligent show, and someone countered: but stupid people don’t get that. If Beavis and Butthead could see their own show, they’d go, “Those guys are cool.”

    I think there are a lot of Rick & Morty fans who, while they get Rick isn’t heroic (because you have to have the brain of a nematode to miss THAT), they don’t see that he’s absolutely horrible. They see the szechuan sauce, but not the abuse in everything Rick does.

  3. says

    I mentally high fived the therapist after that part. In fact the entry therapy season very good, even with the poop jokes.
    How the therapist cut to the heart of the issue with out getting site tracked by Beth was amazing.

  4. laurian says

    Rick is right about talk talk therapy because Rick is a God. Beyond Good and Evil and all that rot.

    I was impressed by the choice to wind down a gorefest with a brainy chatfest.

  5. Dark Jaguar says

    I think I need the context of the rest of the episode (or the series, never watched it) to really “get” what the therapist is going on about. Is this a speech about how your brain is like a tool and you need basic upkeep to keep it healthy? I guess I would say both of them seem pretty disagreeable to me. Is what the therapist does actually helpful? The therapist didn’t actually address that. I’ve never been to a therapist, mainly because I’ve gotten the impression from around the skeptosphere that most of them out there are unlicensed quacks, but if I did I would want real advice on how to change my life. If that’s not what they do and they function more as a sounding board, I am extremely fortunate that I have close friends and family to help me with that already.

  6. Alverant says

    DJ Most of the series is on YouTube if you look. The posters do some tricks to hide it from the take-down bots. Rick is a manipulative person who would pretty much do anything to get his way. He’s the basic cause of his daughter getting divorced at the start of season 3 because her husband, Jerry, finally convinced her what a horrible person Rick is. Most of the episodes do have the subtext of asking deep questions (like all good sci-fi) most of which deal with the nature of self, reality, and free will.

    In a way it’s like Lovecraftian cosmic horror but instead of the racist subtext, there’s poop jokes and instead of Cthulu, there’s Rick.

  7. Alverant says

    Forgot to add, on YouTube there’s a channel called Wisecrack that done some “philosophy of Rick & Morty” videos including the episode PZ mentioned. There are other “philosophy of X” videos for those interested and a “Thug Notes” series where classic (and not so classic) works of literature are summarized and analyzed by a tough-looking guy using street slang (to show that no matter who you are or when you lived people everywhere wind up dealing with the same set of problems).

  8. says

    I watched the episode and it appears to fall in the category of fiction that simultaneously critiques and glorifies toxic masculinity. I don’t regret watching it, but I think it’s not really my thing.

  9. says

    Which is exactly why I wouldn’t use it as instructive material in teaching basic ethics — the long battle scene with the rats and Jaguar are over-the-top to contrast with the therapist’s message, but I wouldn’t guarantee that someone would see past the bloody fight scenes.

  10. says

    I stopped watching the show when they made a few jokes using the echos ((())) the alt-right uses to mark people they suspect of being Jewish. I’m sure satire but no not in this climate. The chance of failure is way to high

  11. busterggi says

    “Yeah, you’re saying that sounds nuts.”

    No, I recently converted to Rick & Morty, Adventure Time and Gumball so nothing sounds nuts any more.

  12. Alverant says

    @PZ #9
    If you want fodder for an ethics class without a lot of gore may I suggest “The Ricks Must be Crazy”. There’s less blood and gore (there’s still some of course) with asking some thought-provoking questions. Most of them will be something like, “What did Rick do wrong in this scene?”

  13. NYC atheist says

    @10 Mike Smith
    I’ve watched every episode, but can’t remember that happening. However, I often am drinking while watching, so there’s a chance I missed something. When did this happen?

  14. says


    It’s on the official Twitter account the last I checked this morning.

    The Twitter handled is currently Rick (((and Morty))). It’s not an act of solidarity because (((Rick and Morty))) would do that. I’m not sure if there’s commentary by the creator’s on this or not but again I’m personally not willing to support playing with fire like that in this climate.

  15. NYC atheist says

    I see that now, thank you. The creator of the show’s twitter is triple parentheses as well, and much of the crew beside him. I think it is a solidarity thing. And for what it’s worth, the Smith family celebrates Christmas and the only reference to Judaism on the show is Rick saying Morty’s name sounds Jewish, implying that he isn’t.

  16. F.O. says

    * Therapist A
    Dismisses me with a hand gesture, says he will see me again in two weeks time because that’s how he does things.
    I was fucking suicidal, he didn’t give a fuck. And OBTW, please pay 450$ for 30 minutes of his sweat.

    * Therapist B
    Spends the session telling me how great a womaniser he is, and that “there is something between me and my happiness”.
    300$ for such wisdom.

    * Therapist C
    After 16 sessions, where he belittled my intelligence, he suggests me that I should maybe go to a church and find God.

    Therapists D, E, F and G where less expensive and insulting, but equally irrelevant. Only Therapist H ever mentioned, in passing, my condition (anhedonia) and suggested meds.

    After 20 years, I started reading online, experimenting with meds (helped by my doctor) and eventually found one that allows me to have a normal life (plus CBT, plus introspection, physical exercise, fixing externalities, none of which were ever mentioned by any of those, maybe CBT…)
    NONE of the things ever told me by any of those (certified, legitimate) practitioners ever helped me.

    Did I earn the right to despise the profession?

  17. nomadiq says

    @5 you don’t know how fortunate you are that you have friends and family you can use as a sounding board for your problems – or especially to feel like it’s your right and to have the confidence to do so. Not everybody feels this way. Some people had that opportunity beaten out of them by physical and/or emotional abuse. These people need the confidentiality and in many senses the anonymity of talking to a therapist about it. In these circumstances a therapist doesn’t provide ‘real advice’ – whatever the fuck you think that means – they provide a space for a client to come to an understanding of what they feel and why they feel it. I’m glad you feel like you can do that with friends and family, that you were given the freedom to feel that’s ok, probably every fucking second of your life. I’m happy for you like I’m happy for someone who spends their end of year bonus on something nice for themselves.

    Here is some free ‘real advice’ for you. Learn a thing or two about therapy before you judge. The skeptosphere is made up of many people who have never really encountered ‘a problem’ in their life. Debating creationists and flat-earthers is not ‘drama’ or ’emotionally exhausting’ it even really a problem. It’s mundane. Tawdry. Writing books, getting a PhD is a cake-walk. Failing an exam, missing out on a dream job? *yawn* What the fuck would a typical skeptic know about dealing with emotional gridlock? About as much as a typical person. And as for unlicensed quacks, caveat emptor, check the credentials of who you choose to see. My therapist has a PhD from a top state school. My physician got her medical degree from a good state school. Neither are quacks. Both are supportive and professional. Neither have filled my head with psycho-mumbo-jumbo or SSRIs.

    It doesn’t surprise me one little bit you didn’t get the message of the therapist in the story and I know what you say you say out of ignorance. Maybe I should be more forgiving. But you need to know you spent your post punching down in an arrogant and derogatory way. I won’t apologize for punching back up.

  18. The Mellow Monkey says

    Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is – it’s NOT an adventure – There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just… work.

    This is very much along the lines of what my therapist told me. Ultimately, her job was not to fix me or sit there talking to me for hours. We checked in with one another and she made sure I had the tools I needed to do my own “repairing, maintaining, and cleaning.” Very similar to seeing a physical therapist, who would want to see how I was doing but virtually all of the exercises were things I was going to be doing on my own. Without a trained professional, it would have been a lot harder for me to identify the places I actually needed to be doing that work. Some people are okay without that help and I don’t contradict their personal experiences, but I wasn’t one of them.

    It’s important to remember that the reason that evidence-based tools like CBT exist for people to use sans therapists today is because of decades of work by therapists. They’re prone to all the biases that everyone else in society is and it can take a lot of effort to find one worth a damn (just finding one who could grasp my gender was hard enough), but it’s a valuable, important field.

  19. emergence says

    About that echo thing, that episode where Rick fucks with the devil has him and Summer beating up a neo-Nazi in the credit sequence. I don’t think the show’s creators are racists.

  20. digitalcanary says

    Interesting comparison of therapy to teeth brushing: now that I’m (currently) through the worst of my anxieties, I refer to periodic check in sessions and daily routine of self-care as “mental floss” …

  21. woozy says

    the Smith family celebrates Christmas and the only reference to Judaism on the show is Rick saying Morty’s name sounds Jewish, implying that he isn’t.

    In Rick Potion #9 there is as announcement over the school’s P.A. system so the “Flu Season Dance” which “… is about awareness, not celebration. You don’t bring dead babies to passover.”