This review contains spoilers.
3.9 The ABCs Of Beth
“Overstuffed” is not typically a positive adjective to attach to something. However, Rick And Morty is a series with episodes (especially this season) that feel overstuffed, but, against all odds, make sense and are possible to follow.
The ABCs Of Beth continues that overstuffed feeling, but, sadly, loses the plot a little in the process. It’s unfortunate because this series has been so good about gradually fleshing out all its characters beyond Rick and Morty and this was Beth’s time to shine. Up until this season, we were mostly familiar with her in relation to Jerry, which meant most of her screentime was devoted to tedious screaming arguments.
This episode tries, through an adventure with Rick, to deepen Beth’s character. It kind of works, but it feels skeletal, like we got the bones of who Beth is without the meat. Beth reaches the epiphany that her father isn’t a great person and that she shouldn’t want to be like him; however, she can’t help but be like him, so she might as well own it.
Sadly, what leads her to this revelation isn’t fully explored. The key moment is Rick revealing all the weird crap that Beth asked him to invent for her when she was a child, each item more sociopathic than the last. Rick says she was a “scary fucking kid, man,” but that seems like an understatement. Little Beth raised every “your kid might be a serial killer” red flag and then some. This is supposed to make sense because Rick also views life as dispensable, but that’s because he’s got a complete understanding of the multiverse. He’s a sociopath, but he kind of justifies it.
In contrast, we assume Beth did not know the full scope of the multiverse when she was a child, which just makes her a full-on psycho, murderous and calculating from an early age. Also, we’re just plain used to Rick being batshit crazy. Beth has been a terrible mother at times, stubborn to the point of it being detrimental to her children’s well-being, but otherwise she’s typically presented as a far more ‘normal’ person. That she’s actually a straight-up psycho is a big info bomb to drop and expect us to accept.
Another trait Beth shares with her father is an inability to own up to wrongdoing. This makes sense, but it also means she never admits she was a crazy murder child, so we’re never totally sure how much of it is true (though she is revealed to be a crazy murder adult, so it all seems likely). Maybe this uncertainty is deliberate as it jibes with the Blade Runner-esque ending where we never learn if Beth is now a clone or not. However, that open-endedness is well-executed and is the coolest aspect of the plot, whereas the “Beth is a psycho killer” thing hangs confusingly over the rest of the episode.
The problem is we just don’t know enough about Beth for this new information to add to the character in a way that makes sense. When she declares “I’m out of excuses to not be who I am” it’s an abrupt breakthrough because we’ve mostly only checked in on Beth briefly throughout this season (I guess that horse hooves sculpture was meant to foreshadow her dark side). She’s recently divorced so she’s obviously going through some stuff, but we have less of an idea of what that stuff is than we do for Jerry, whose pathetic existence has been more clearly on display.
This ‘Beth origin story’ probably needed more time devoted to it to really work, but half the episode goes to Jerry. His storyline about dating a telepathic warrior alien is not bad, though it feels more incidental than Beth’s. Jerry’s kids force him to stand up for himself at the end, which we could call a moment of growth, but it’s brushed aside with a heavily lampshaded deus ex machina. Plus, we’ve seen Jerry ‘grow’ before and it’s rare that it sticks.
There are some great jokes, like when Jerry’s girlfriend wants to celebrate a successful hunt with another hunt, “for tomorrow, we hunt.” I love how Rick unceremoniously ducks out of his adventure with Beth, citing one of the qualities of a successful adventure is, “clearly, Morty.” And I feel for Summer saying, “Bitch, my generation gets traumatised for breakfast.”
I also must mention that this was the most uncomfortable I’ve yet been watching a Rick And Morty episode, which is, well, certainly impressive. Tommy (Thomas Middleditch) and his imaginary world of things he has sex with and then devours the offspring of is…uh, I mean, do I need to elaborate beyond that? I did laugh at the humping portion of his play, though.
The ABCs Of Beth is an overstuffed episode, which is something Rick and Morty usually handles well, but it was messy this time around. Beth is a serial killer, a guy has sex with imaginary creatures and eats their babies, and then there’s a montage set to a song called “I Got a Doo-Doo in My Butt.” This was probably the worst episode of the season and it was still pretty funny. Plus, it managed to gross me out, so congrats all around to the cast and crew!