I found some very interesting philosophical concepts being explored in the Rick and Morty Death Crystals episode. It all happened In season 4 episode 1. The idea of the story is this: Morty is guided by death crystals so he can eventually die with his high school crush, Jessica. Meanwhile, Rick continuously dies trying to get back to his own reality. What philosophical problems does the Rick and Morty Death Crystals episode address?
Some of the philosophical concepts in this episode deal with questions of free-will, determinism, death, and even fascism.
Check out the full Rick and Morty Death Crystals Episode Here:
Rick and Morty Death Crystals & Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith
In the first few minutes of the episode, Rick abruptly gets up from the breakfast table and demands that Morty goes with him on an adventure. “Let’s go, Morty, we need death crystals from Forbodulone prime,” he says.
Morty’s concerned mother Beth looks up from the dinner table and quickly chimes in on her demanding father: “There’s a way we do this now.” Clearly, what she means is that Rick needs to ask Morty to get his consent. Their adventures need to be consensual from now on.
Naturally, Rick sarcastically asks Morty, and Morty consents. However, once the two of them are on the road Rick begins stressing how this consensual relationship is problematic to their adventures. Ricks argument is that: “What if I have needed you to jump off the Empire State Building, you don’t see how this is a serious problem if I first have to ask?”
Morty Kierkegaard and the Leap of Faith
Rick is demanding Morty set aside all logic and have blind faith in him alone. For Kierkegaard, this sort of blind faith was a formula for a truly evolved sort of being. A Knight of faith was Kierkegaard’s term for the individual who transcends the finite world and recovers it even more profoundly through an act of faith. He calls this act of faith “infinite resignation.” The idea here is that if Morty were to push off of the empire state building at Ricks’s command he’d simultaneously recover himself through losing his need for some hedonistic self-preservation. Instead, Morty should thrust himself into a clearly absurd situation (jumping off of the Empire state building.) Morty places himself in the religious sphere by acting totally in faith and only by the virtue of the absurd.
“It is at this volatile moment of near derangement that one can make the leap. By the sheer force of his passion, the individual rips himself out of his old form of existence (aestheticism) and by losing his self, gains himself for the first time in his miserable life. The individual judges himself from some perspective other than that of narcissistic hedonism.”
Introducing the Opposite of Blind Faith
Death Crystals show you how the choices you make now will affect the future. Therefore the choices that you make at that moment determine what your ultimate fate is going to be down the line. There is a causal connection and technically you can see the many which choice outcomes of your death. Death Crystals make it possible to navigate through choice and land on your chosen death. Sounds like a pretty good deal right?
Rick Sanchez sees right through the appeal of it. It’s not that Rick despises life. He considered that the only “real use” for these crystals is and I quote “they show you when then to duck and when to shoot.” Ultimately they help you win fights and get rich. As for people who use them for any other purpose, Rick’s criticism is: “People who spend their whole lives avoiding death, are already dead.”
How do Death Crystals Work?
Picture a donkey drawing a cart behind him. He attempts to get ahold of a carrot that has been fastened at the end of a stick which in turn is tied to the shaft of the carrot. Every effort on the part of the donkey to seize the carrot results in advancing the whole apparatus and the cart itself, which always remains at the same distance to the donkey. Thus when Morty holds a Death Crystal to his head he chooses a possible which his very act of choosing causes to appear.
His choosing is nothing but choosing itself and which thereby is by definition out of reach. Morty in his attempt to catalyze events choosing is void of meaning since the goal is never given but invented and projected proportionately as he moves toward the ultimate goal of reuniting with his Jessica. So now he’s gone from the past toward the new future. Then he’s presented with a new set of contingencies. The future is prefigured in relation to the past at the same time that it confers on the past all of its meaning. The Crystals represent a multiplicity of contingencies in human freedom to choose. Giving a multitude of new options to choose from with the outcome attached at the end.
- Pick up a Death Crystal
- Hold to your head
- See which action leads to death.
- Avoid action or take action based on conditions.
Morty’s Free-Will & Existential Contingency
Our essence is developed through our choices. We are free agents, free to choose and free to feel and develop who we are and feel our essence. The minute Morty puts the death crystal on his head he is pacing his present choices to influence a desired future outcome. Namely, that he and Jessica would inevitably end up together. The philosophical term for having these existential options is called contingency.
Contingency to philosophers comes as a result of freedom. Respectfully Mortys ability to choose from the multiple options displayed to him by the Death Crystal represents Morty acting on that contingency. However, these options are not relegated to Morty alone. For most people, our contingency comes with its own level of anxiety. This is mainly due to the fact that we have no idea how our present choices are going to affect the outcome of our lives. Sartre said that anxiety comes from “Imagining the future and not seeing oneself in it.”
As for Morty’s particular case, he goes about his life with the Death Crystal wedged on his forehead. In this case, he can use the Crystal like a codebreaker. He carefully deciphers his actions through the guidance of the crystal in order to “unlock” the next instance of being that calls for him to make his next move. His whole life becomes about sustaining that inevitable future with him and Jessica. Funnily enough when Jessica comes and invites Morty to go skinny dipping with her and her friends Morty declines because he is too focused on deciphering the Crystal like a problem to be solved. This really doesn’t seem to be the path to a fulfilling life. As Kierkegaard said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
Determinism and Death Crystals
When we go through life it is clear that we think about what we are going to do in the future. Our options are an outgrowth of our present circumstances. The obvious answer to this is that the choice Morty is going to make is based on his will. Regardless of how many options he has before him. He can’t follow two timelines at once anyway, he’s constrained to choose only one path and one path alone. It is not the crystals display of present choice that is the only factor here determining Mortys free will. The past comes into play. While there are many options for Morty to choose from the Crystal, there is only one past and it cannot be changed. Then the question arises from the following. How much power does Morty’s past have over his future? If the influence of the past is so strong then there is only one future.
Determinism is the theory that the future is fixed by the past.
So if our future is determined by our past we may not feel forced to perform any particular action. Something about the tones and frequencies influenced people to forgive him for all of his transgressions. Namely like when Morty to make a series of biologically attuned sounds in the perfect formulation which apparently puts all people at ease. Morty coIn a deterministic world Morty still contemplates what he should do with his life, he finds the option that looks most attractive to him and goes with it. Yet Mortys past determination to be with Jessica has already dictated his present choice process.
Arthur Schopenhauer said this about determinism:
“Let us imagine a man who while standing on the street, would say to himself: “It’s six o’clock in the evening, the working day is over. Now I can go for a walk, or I can go to the club; I can sit I can also climb the tower to see the sunset, I can go to the theater; I can visit this friend or that one; indeed Ic an also run out of the gate, into the wide world and never return. All of this is strictly up to me, in this, I have complete freedom. But still, I shall do none of these things now, but with just as free a will I shall go home to my wife.”
What Schopenhauer is saying is that we do not lose the ultimate sense of freedom even if our future is already pre-ordained by our past. The guy who stands on the street corner and thinks about what to do after work was determined all ready to go home to his wife. He is nevertheless quite happy to think about all the things he might do instead. The main point here, that is, is the fact that Morty has already determined himself to be with Jessica, he is not going to do any other thing.
Rick Says: “People who spend their life avoiding death are already dead.”
As Morty gets more sets the coordinates of his life to Jessica, the less free he seems to become. Every action he makes is done through the lens of “growing old with Jessica.” As a result of this dogmatic adherence, Morty moves through time wholly robotically. The situation becomes a primitive structure. It appears though in all its clarity and its clarity becomes a horror. With his contingent options displayed right before him. It is by the surpassing of the situation it ends that freedom for a new cause the given which he chose to exist. Yet it displays itself as another given situation. As he makes his choices based on the belief that if he follows the Death Crystal, then the end result (of him being with Jessica) is going to be his inevitable outcome.
Death crystals remove the anxiety but they lend life to a sort of meaninglessness. Part of life is dealing with the absurdity of not known. Kierkegaard says “to have faith is to lose one’s mind so as to win God.” Morty has given up on faith and instead lives totally robotically through the crystal.
Why is Fascism the Default?
So Rick in the Rick and Morty Death Crystals episode, Rick flat out dies. Because of this, his conscious state is sent back through the multiverse and into Rick Clones. For some reason, every Rick clone is in a fascist reality, but why?
The answer to this question goes back to the “Tiny Rick” episode. In the episode “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez” Rick transfers his consciousness into a clone of himself. He then uses the clone to catch Vampires at High School with Morty and Summer. As he spends more and more time in this young clone of himself, he begins to identify too much with the teenage angst, which is killing slowly decaying elderly body. If he doesn’t get back to his geriatric self he’ll eventually be stuck, permanently, as teenage Rick. Well as it goes he eventually gets back into his old body. What we come to find out is that he has a fleet of clones that he was saving (incase he dies). The name of this experiment was called “operation phoenix.” He deems the project in the end that being in a younger clone body produces and inevitably transfers to his old body again. At the end of the episode, we hear Rick claim “Operation Phoenix is a failure.” He then goes down to his secret lab where he proceeds to kill the remaining clones in vats of liquid.
Operation Phoenix was Ricks’s “fall back” in case he died. Fast forward to the Rick and Morty Death Crystals episode. Rick Sanchez C-137 ended “Operation Phoenix.” We all know that. Let us assume though that these choices resounded unanimously throughout the multi-verse. That all other like-minded Ricks across dimensions aborted Operation Phoenix. Here the important word is “Like-Minded.” Therefore when Rick is killed he can’t transfer his conscious soul into the mindless somnambulists of like-minded Ricks. Remember, this is because they’d already all ended Operation Phoenix. So set to default his conscious soul seamlessly defaults into whatever Ricks leftover thought keeping Operation Phoenix going was a good idea.
The Minds of Fascist Rick & Morty
It just so happened that all the Ricks who desperately wanted to cling to life were all Fascist Ricks. With the advent of Tiny Rick and the ability to transfer consciousness around like Avatar we really see Rick not so much interested in preserving his body! After all, he had no problem in a new Tiny Rick body. Namely, the main function of Operation Phoenix is to preserve Ricks’s conscious state. Coincidentally, it seems to almost inferred that the fascist-minded Rick was the only one who clung to Operation Phoenix due to the fact that we all know Fascists are wholly dedicated to the preservation of the state at all costs. Now when we refer to the state of fascists, they are concerned mainly with the body politic and not the individual. In fact, the individual is just seen as a smaller part of the totality.
Fascist Ricks are the kind of people who are determined to preserve the state. The pro-German French politician during the Nazi occupation of France said this.
“A state only prevails if it is upheld by men who are decisive, you may even say fanatical, men who in any case have a keen sense and a concrete vision of what has demanded the sake of the public well-being (aka Salut Publique), dedicated with all their soul to a future which must be realized at all costs.
The fascist state sets its sights on the future. Like in the film Cabaret when a young Hitler youth scout stands up on them and sings the famous “The morning will come when the world is mine, Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” It one of the most terrifying film scenes ever. Pure evil behind the innocent face as the camera glides down from the boy’s face onto his shirt sleeve. As the song progresses, the “innocent” face becomes more aggressive… adding to it the stupidity and the madness drive of the folks joining in for the song… The horror and the terror epitomized in mere three minutes. It’s safe to say that this fanatical determination to own the future was also at the forefront of all minds of Ricks who decided to keep their corporeal investments locked away in jars in the basement.
The fascist dream the dream of every ideology, to have a cake and to eat it too. Fascism is a conservative revolution that is determined to maintain or even reassert a traditional hierarchal society.
Rick is met with the likely extreme. Whereas Morty is enslaved by his total commitment to making this free choice. Rick is slung through a series of uncontrollable situations. To preserve his conscious state he’s flung headlong from fascist body to fascist body.
But Wasp Rick wasn’t Fascist? Was he?
Despite being against the Wasp Hitler stuff, the Wasps are the most brutal universe of them all. First We all know that Wasp stands for White Anglo Saxon Protestant. We know that their consumptive tendencies are brutal and we’re instantly introduced to the rest of the Wasp family. What’s funny is that they are casually seated around the dinner table consuming an African American worm alive. When the babies hatch, W.A.S.P Morty greedily snatches them up. Now, I don’t know if this imagery was intentional or not. Although the W.A.S.P Rick is not overtly fascist, there are still brutal and racist undertones that are being presented here.
The Rick and Morty Death Crystals Episode is one of those episodes where the overarching story isn’t archetypal. Therefore I had to use a little big more fineness in coaxing out these philosophical concepts.