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Throughout Rick and Morty‘s run, one of its underlying themes has been Beth’s daddy and abandonment issues. It has played a bigger role in the third season and finally comes to a head with the Beth focused episode “The ABC’s of Beth.”
After seeing a story on the news about a man being executed for murdering one of Beth’s childhood friends, she remembers her imaginary world Froopyland. Rick reveals that Froopyland land was real and that Beth lost her friend, Tommy, in it, so the pair set out to find him in the brightly colored world.
At the same time Morty and Summer visit their dad’s for the weekend and meet his new alien girlfriend who has telekinetic powers and a love for hunting.
Ever since the first episode, Beth has been overwhelmed by her father coming back, shedding tears when Rick says she cooks like her mother, and it has built from there. Beth defended her father’s actions in “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” refused to abandon her father in “The Wedding Squanchers,” chose her father over her husband in “The Rickshank Rickdemption,” and she even gave him the benefit of the doubt in “Pickle Rick.” Yet Beth has never played a major role in Rick and Morty’s adventures and “The ABC’s of Beth” marks the first time she joins her father on a trip to another world.
Beth’s character has been explored in various episodes: she is shown to have alcohol dependency issues and longed for more in her life. In “Meeseeks and Destroy” she was prepared to leave her family so it would make her a more complete woman and in “Rixty Minutes” it was revealed she would have fulfilled her dreams if she never had Summer and settled with Jerry – although in that reality Beth led a lonely life. She is torn between following her dreams and desires and doing right by her family. There is even a fan theory that Rick traveled back in time so he can abandon Beth leading to her teenage pregnancy, although Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have stated that they will be no time travel in the series.
Season 3 has been building on Beth’s character: in “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” Beth’s stubbornness was in full force when she refuses to ask Rick for help regarding one of his machines mutating Summer. As Morty says, “Like father like God damn daughter!” This is expanded on in “The ABC’s of Beth” as Rick describes Beth as a “scary fucking child” who wanted an unusual collections of toys (a joke that classic era Simpsons would have done) and he created Froopyland to protect the other kids in the neighborhood: yet not out of benevolence for the other kids. Beth’s argument is she was trying, crying out for attention. It’s the old nature vs. nurture debate.
Beth does come to the realization that she shares a lot of her father’s characteristics and this leads to the big emotional moment of the episode when Beth asks her father if she’s really evil. This scene has a similar emotional impact to the “Nobody exists on purpose” speech in “Rixty Minutes” when Morty reveals to Summer he buried an alternative version of himself. Rick’s speech to Beth combines the nihilistic themes that the show is famous for and its emotional heart – it is much more sincere than the rest of the season, which has satirized the emotional moments. Fans will debate what decision Beth takes at the end of the episode.
When the episode moves to Froopyland it truly becomes dark and bizarre – it contrasts the bright, colorful and childish version of an imaginary world and combines it with an incestuous cannibal cult. It’s what the show does – takes our ideals of good and twists them – and the world of Froopyland is comparable to Rick and Morty’s adventure in “Meeseeks and Destroy” where their simple adventure in a fantasy land ends with Morty nearly getting raped by King Jellybean.
When the promotional clips for the episode were released, fans predicted there would be a lot of Adventure Time references. I haven’t watched Adventure Time so I can’t fairly judge, but I can compare the episode to Woodland Critters in South Park, combining child-friendly characters and imaginary with a big dose of ultra-violence and sex. King Tommy reminded me of the firefighter in the American Dad episode “National Treasure 4: Baby Branny: She’s Doing Well: The Hole Story”: both were trapped in isolation and when they are found they have overgrown beards and the remains of their clothing covering their private areas.
Jerry is becoming the Meg Griffin of the show, the punching bag, a man so weak that even his kids disrespect him. Although Jerry’s is more deserving of his treatment because of his willingness to sell out his kids when his relationship with the alien priestess goes bad. Jerry wanted to prove he isn’t a racist by dating Keara the warrior-priestess: he even states she has a sexy body like Cheetara. Keara has speed powers and, considering her profession, it had to be a reference to the 2011 reboot of ThunderCats.
A wider theme of the episode is Beth and Jerry wanting to prove there are good people despite their actions proving the opposite. Jerry has stated that he is a good person a number of times in the series: he was torn about giving up his genitalia to save a galactic peace figure in “Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate” and fought Risotto Groupon in “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” when Rick was drugged up. Both characters have major hang-ups: Beth’s have already been stated and Jerry still longs to be with Beth – the only woman he has ever loved.
In the previous episode, Rick spoke to the audience and toyed with fans by hinting that he knows he is a cartoon character. In my review of the episode I stated that the showrunners will disprove the fan theory and it turns out they did it sooner than I expected, with the episode having three moments where the characters knew about plot conventions in their stories.
“The ABC’s of Beth” is the most emotional episode of Rick and Morty‘s third season and with only one episode to go it will most likely hold that status. “The ABC’s of Beth” does not quite match the emotional heights other episodes like “Rixty Minutes” and “Auto Erotic Assimilation” but it is great the show is finally exploring the Beth and Rick relationship and actually uses Sarah Chalke as a voice actress.