On October 7th, 2017, just over two months after The Doctor Falls, police were called to several McDonald’s locations following a disastrous promotion in which the fast food restaurant brought back an obscure McNuggets dipping sauce, “Szechuan sauce,” that had briefly been released nearly twenty years earlier to tie-in with the release of Disney’s Mulan. The limited amount of sauce released to select McDonald’s was wildly insufficient for the crowds that arrived, which consisted of hundreds of people lining up for hours only to discover that restaurants had as few as twenty sauce packets. The result was bedlam—young men (the crowds were almost exclusively male) hurling obscenities and venting their frustration on minimum wage workers. On Twitter, people seriously suggested class action lawsuits and claimed that any workers who had a bad day deserved it because of the company’s bad actions.
The key bit of context needed to understand this madness is why McDonald’s was bringing back an ancient dipping sauce that Eater described as having “the color and consistency of strawberry jelly” and tasting “mainly like corn syrup with maybe a tiny bit of Worcestershire thrown in.” The answer is that several months earlier, when the third season premiere of Rick and Morty dropped unannounced on April 1st (so two weeks before The Pilot), the episode had culminated in a monologue in which Rick Sanchez, one of the two title characters, declares that his only real motivation in life is to eat that sauce again.
Well. Sort of. The more accurate description of what happens is that Rick stands above his grandson (Morty, the other eponymous character) as he cowers, whimpers, and sobs, angrily telling him that he deliberately broke up his parents’ marriage out of spite and to become “the de facto patriarch of your family and your universe” before threatening him if he ever tells anyone about this conversation and revealing his end goal of Szechuan sauce. It’s a genuinely distressing scene, in ways that are difficult to quite get a handle on. The distress is clearly intentional—the scene makes an active point of focusing on Morty’s fear and anguish, and on making the horror of what Rick is saying clear. But it’s also clear that the scene is meant to be funny, complete with Rick making a fourth-wall breaking claim that he’ll get the sauce “if it takes nine seasons.”
This tension is not so much common for the show as the nominal point. If you assert that Rick and Morty is a bad television show on Twitter, you will quickly be assured by somebody that the show is in fact a critique of Rick’s nihilism. This is an interesting claim. Certainly the claim that Rick and Morty is a highly intelligent show that is routinely misunderstood is common enough that a chunk of copypasta beginning “to be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty” became a meme. And as the Szechuan sauce scene demonstrates, the show is open about the fact that Rick is a terrible person.…