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In season 3, Rick and Morty is still one of TV’s most inventive shows

This season is off to a devastating, furious start.

Rick and Morty, forever and forever, a hundred years Rick and Morty, etc and so on
Cartoon Network

Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for July 29 through August 5 is “Rickmancing the Stone,” the second episode of the third season of Cartoon Network’s Rick and Morty.

Rick and Morty, Cartoon Network’s bizarro animated series about a brilliant madman traveling through infinite dimensions at a burp’s notice, is both disdainful of TV convention and committed to exploiting it for its own ends. No matter what kind of surreal space nightmare Rick (creator Justin Roiland) and his grandson Morty (also Roiland) stumble into, the chances are good that the show will at least briefly indulge our expectations before blowing them up into gory pieces.

The show has always been deeply, proudly weird, especially when it throws its characters into chaotic alien worlds and barbs its jokes with poison tips. But when Rick and Morty is at its best — as it is in “Rickmancing the Stone — it’s because it combines that crackling disdain and imagination with something even more daring: humanity.

Ugh, I know, barf. If Rick were a real live person, he would undoubtedly zap to my side at this point and vaporize me for the crime of being maudlin, because why express a real human feeling when you could just be awesome and not give a shit about anyone or anything?

As the show constantly reveals, however, Rick isn’t totally the careless vagabond he says he is, nor are his family members as simple as he makes them out to be. Okay, yes, they can all be cruel and small, putting their own interests before literally everyone else’s. But perversely — Rick and Morty’s adverb of choice — that pettiness makes the moments when the show allows them to show a sliver of vulnerability that much more effective.

Rick and Morty is funny, meta, and quick — and quietly devastating

In “Rickmancing the Stone,” the family is dealing — or more accurately, trying desperately not to deal — with the fallout from Rick’s daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke) shrugging her way into a divorce from Jerry (Chris Parnell), who’s such a sad sack that he spends most of this episode furtively looking around while the wind breathes, “Loser,in his general direction.

The divorce, which the show suddenly revealed at the end of the season three premiere, has neurotic hand-wringer Morty concerned — but he can’t exactly pretend he’s surprised. Beth, being the daughter of the universe’s most prized and feared mad genius, has only occasionally seemed to find Jerry’s thorough blandness attractive in any way.

In order to escape the reality of their parents’ divorce, Morty and his older sister Summer (Spencer Grammer) launch themselves face first into yet another adventure with Rick in a dystopian hellscape, which basically turns out to be the bloody, ruthless, dusty deserts of Mad Max, plus a bonus green glowy thing Rick recognizes as a particularly powerful source of energy.

Summer takes to this world almost alarmingly fast (more on that later), while spindly Morty takes some time to get used to a place in which brawn rules all and the most awesome thing you can do is rip someone’s head clean off their body. He does eventually warm up to it, thanks to Rick giving him a quick and dirty arm transplant that lends Morty one brawny bicep that can take on anyone and anything — but as he learns soon enough, that bicep has its own tragic backstory, and a whole lot of unfinished business.

This is the kind of weirdo twist in which Rick and Morty specializes. The show can deliver some true, deeply personal narrative gut punches smack dab in the middle of an otherwise bizarre, graphic, or deranged story. Where Morty’s storyline is at first about him reluctantly kicking ass with a scientifically enhanced arm, it quickly becomes about him facing up to his own pain over his parents’ divorce. Of course, he’s still learning this lesson from a disembodied arm that wants nothing more than to drown those who have wronged him in their soaking tubs, but I would expect nothing more from Rick and Morty’s commitment to finding depth in the most unexpected places.

And that, as it turns out, is an excellent segue into talking about the Rick and Morty character I love most, and the one who makes “Rickmancing the Stone” as good as it is.

If season three of Rick and Morty is going to give Summer more airtime, it can only be great

Summer is the show’s sneak MVP
Cartoon Network

Morty’s older sister Summer began as an archetypical bratty teen, more attached to her friends and phone than anything else. While Rick and Morty traveled throughout dimensions and had one depraved adventure after another, Summer tended to sit at home and be collateral damage when the time called for it.

But over two seasons and the promising beginning of this third one, she’s become one of the show’s strongest players. This is in part due to Grammer’s gung-ho performance, which has expanded Summer’s initial bored monotone into something far more freewheeling and manic. But Summer’s evolution has also happened as the show has become more willing to let her get just as weird and messed up as the rest of her family — and sometimes even smarter.

In “Rickmancing the Stone,” Summer evades any and all true feelings about her parents’ divorce by embracing this gory new post-apocalyptic lifestyle. Channeling her pent-up frustration into this new reality, she whips around the desert in roaring cars, coolly picks off weak humans crawling around the hellscape, and hooks up with a mustachioed “Death Stalker” bounty hunter (Joel McHale). Even Rick, who makes a point not to be impressed by anyone but himself, admits that his granddaughter is kicking some serious ass.

Eventually, however, Summer is sorely disappointed when this world reveals itself to be just as petty and boring as her life in an Earth suburb. Her Death Stalker boyfriend turns out to be a rambling bore, and even stops wanting to go out and hunt people. Meanwhile, their neighbors brag about their pregnancy and deliver passive-aggressive reminders that Summer really needs to take her scrap metal out to the curb once in a while.

But even then, Summer’s cold fury manages to erupt in a hilarious way. When her slack Death Stalker meets her request for him to stop watching TV with, “Jesus, when did you become a monster?”, Summer loses her cool so hard that her spiked hair starts to curl. “I was a monster when you met me!” she shrieks, clutching a bag of rotting groceries. “We were monsters together!”

It’s a great moment for Grammer’s delivery alone, but it’s also a reminder that Summer brings something to the table that neither Rick nor Morty ever really has. She has a real, boiling rage that can emit so much heat that it practically vibrates off the screen. In the middle of the show’s intergalactic, interdimensional strangeness, Summer has become a welcome bolt of apoplectic lightning.

The first two seasons of Rick and Morty are currently available to stream on Hulu. New episodes are available to stream on AdultSwim.com.