Multiverse Stories: Willst They Soar or Suck?
Rick and Morty has come a long way. From its devil-may-care, nihilistic beginnings as Justin Roiland’s cynical lovechild through a depressive streak that emerged from Dan Harmon’s divorce—and later the upheaval that came due to Roiland’s departure—the show is a testament to art reflecting life.
What is most impressive about the series is perhaps the thing that makes it so beloved: it manages to keep its themes central, even as its creators’ emotions press and distort them; even as its writing deliberately subverts them. That’s difficult in a story about infinite realities. Yet Rick and Morty succeeds where other prolonged multiverse sagas have lost their mojo. (We’re looking at you, Marvel.)
Whether it’s paying off long-developed character arcs or snubbing culture’s demand for canonization and continuity, the series stays anchored in conversation with a few central ideas that allow it to keep its own pulse. Chief among these motifs is Rick’s portal gun, which has become the series’ most iconic symbol of power.
Rick and Morty has always been about intellectual power: what defines it; what it can accomplish for us; how it’s limited—that being the smartest person in the multiverse still wouldn’t offer us a sense of peace or a place where we belong. The portal gun is the pinnacle of that power—only two people across the infinite cosmos have ever invented it: Rick Prime, the series’ biggest overarching villain, and our version, Rick C-132.
In the mythos of the series, the portal gun offers freedom to traverse literally boundless versions of the world. There’s a reality with sentient chairs that sit on people. There’s a planet where people’s guts turn into spaghetti when they die. There’s a dimension where hamsters live in people’s butts. With a portal gun, you can be anywhere; live any version of life you want.
Possibility is touted as the highest form of power in Rick and Morty—and with that comes the Genie’s paradox of omnipotence vs. living space; the conflict in Ecclesiastes’s Solomon. The dark side to infinity is that if everything can be real, then nothing really matters.
These themes have been simmering since the series’ first episodes, but what makes Rick and Morty special is how every outlandish script; every behind-the-scenes unraveling winds up generating new, thought-provoking relationships between power, possibility, and pain.
How Much Infinity Is Too Much?
In the show’s earliest seasons, possibility-as-power is played straight. Rick C-132 drags an anxious, servile Morty through raucous alien house parties and drunken, universe-destroying experiments. Rick’s understanding of the limitless makes him capricious, even dangerous in his apathy. It soon becomes evident, though, that Rick is running from something, using infinity and alcohol to keep himself overstimulated to the point of numbness.
We eventually learn that Rick’s wife and young daughter were murdered because he once saw family as more important than omnipotence. After a futile revenge quest against his doppelgänger Rick Prime, Rick uses the portal gun—the thing that stole his life—to embrace the nihilism of an uncaring cosmos. It is a bitterly ironic escape.
In all of this, the portal gun represents freedom—to pursue a purpose, to hide, or simply to find the hardest-hitting mixed drink in the multiverse. The portal gun’s symbolism is evident long before the lore starts dropping. But as Rick’s backstory gradually gets revealed, his relationship with power takes on entirely new dimensions.
In Episode 5.10, “Rickmurai Jack,” we learn that Rick has partitioned off a segment of the multiverse called the Central Finite Curve. This smaller sliver of infinity contains only the realities where Rick is the smartest person in the universe. In part played for laughs, the absurdity of this highlights Rick’s narcissism. But this revelation also shows that, at some point in his journey, Rick found limitations more advantageous than being totally unrestrained.
For most of the series up to this point, The Central Finite Curve has allowed Rick to gather resources, build an empire, and create order out of a chaotic multiverse. With all his allies and enemies locked into worlds where some version of Rick holds all the cards, limiting the possibilities becomes an expression of intellectual power.
In the same episode, though, another character—a brilliant, scheming version of Morty whose story we have followed since season one—seeks to upend the social order and break free of the Central Finite Curve. He succeeds. For Evil Morty, breaking free of imposed limitations becomes an expression of intellectual dominance.
What’s more, when Evil Morty escapes the Curve, the ensuing deck shuffle puts Rick Prime directly in Rick’s line of sight. Rick is closer than ever to his goal, thanks expressly to this rebalancing. “Rickmurai Jack” shows that both the expansion and the contraction of possibility create paths forward for characters. Power, per Rick and Morty, is found in having options, but also in choosing a limited swath of reality to play in.
Balancing Options and Action in “Unmortricken”
As Rick’s, Rick Prime’s and Evil Morty’s storylines finally collide in season seven’s brilliantly conceived mid-season episode “Unmortricken,” the dynamic between possibility and limitation finally reaches maturity.
The episode opens with Evil Morty hurtling through a void filled with portal travelers. This space between worlds is chaos—explorers are destroyed by alternate versions of themselves and consumed by interdimensional monsters. A gorgeous parallax shot shows an endless sea of portals—icons of intelligence, power, and freedom—in a backdrop brimming with eldritch horrors. The message is clear: a multiverse without conditions or restraints is cacophony and madness.
Now free of Rick’s control, Evil Morty toes the line between chaos and order. His personal paradise sits on the very edge of the Central Finite Curve. He only enters infinity to gather resources for himself—in fact, an organ from an interdimensional monster powers a shield around his home. He has access to the limitless. He uses it. But he is protected from it.
His peace is broken, though, when Rick C-132 begins “fracking” the Central Finite Curve for versions of Rick Prime. The resulting quakes (Space-quakes? Void tremors? Shivers of the quantum foam?) disrupt Evil Morty’s shields, letting a creature break through and wreck his leisurely day by the pool.
Begrudgingly, Evil Morty realizes that helping Rick defeat Rick Prime is the quickest way to be left alone. The resulting team-up involves a death match, psychological warfare, and a cyborg showdown that cements as one of the best fight sequences in the show’s history.
Throughout the episode, there are several explorations of expanding and contracting possibilities. It’s Evil Morty who suggests that Rick try “filtering for probability stasis”—which means Steven-Hawking-knows-what—but it limits the dimensions Rick has to plumb for Prime variants. As a result, Rick is finally able to reach his adversary.
Later, Prime reveals a weapon called the Omega Device, which can erase someone across all realities at once. Although Prime’s methods are darker, he keeps control much like Rick C-132 has with the Curve: by cutting his opponents off from their options.
Even in the post-credits sequence, a side character who has lost her spouse wanders the multiverse just like Rick did—until she finds happiness with a kindred spirit.
Each of these ideas explores how the power to change our fate is about finding new options, but also about narrowing them down. Characters vie for control, stability, and freedom by opening themselves and others to new experiences—or by removing potential experiences from the equation. But more than that, in “Unmortricken” we begin to see that it is the oscillation between expanding and contracting possibilities that, like a heartbeat or a piston engine, drives character journeys forward.
The Many-Worlds Theory of Human Development
A foundational concept in neuroscience is that the brain is highly “plastic”—meaning our cells can shift and stretch to make new connections. But our nervous systems also tend to stick with paths that work.
This ability to streamline sometimes makes it difficult for us to shake old habits and coping mechanisms. Sometimes breaking free of routine helps us recognize the multiverse of options at our disposal.
If we’re stuck in a professional rut, we can go to a career fair for an industry we’ve always thought might be fun to work in. If we want to expand our social circles, we can join a new Meetup interest group or head to our local comics store on Magic: The Gathering night. We can take a new class on theology or history to explore our place in the human story.
It’s always possible to recapture some of the creativity we’ve sacrificed to efficiency. Having new experiences gives us back some neuroplasticity. But in a world of endless consumerism, do options also stifle our ability to choose? We have targeted ads vying for our attention; an endless stream of movies, shows, and short-form content; massive conglomerates churning out multimedia franchises that soak up resources in Hollywood and the publishing industry; and hundreds of thousands of amateur artists, photographers, and comedians trying to beat out social media algorithms so they can connect to us as an audience.
How do we choose where to spend our time? How do we know what’s most nurturing for us?
Even in relationships, we’re swimming in an ocean of multitudes. I’ve met dozens of incredible people in coffee shops, through friend circles and interest groups, and on dating apps. But I sometimes find myself wondering—with all the people I’ve known, appreciated, swiped through, spent time with, and even loved, does anyone stand out anymore? Can I feel deeply fulfilled by a friendship or wrapped up in a partnership the way I used to when the world was smaller?
Possibility feels paralyzing to me sometimes. But so does narrowing the playing field. I’ve dated people for months who, in retrospect, felt safe but not deeply fulfilling. And I’ve dated people for years who I couldn’t commit to because there were too many possible futures that didn’t feel safe. I’ve come up with measured approaches to nailing down my theology, my politics, or my approach to building friendships. But if my frameworks don’t evolve as my life does, I risk mental stagnation and ineffectiveness.
If you think of time as a resource, it starts to become clear that life is either deep or wide. We can devote ourselves to better understanding the many alternate realities that might emerge from our decisions, or we can become experts on a select few. The more options we consider, the better we understand the playing field. But trying to process them all is too chaotic to be fulfilling.Whether in art or life, rhythm is everything. The more we study the cyclical nature of growth, the more story-like our lives start to feel, and the more resonant our storytelling becomes.
What’s true for character development in multiverse stories is true for us, too: It’s the dynamic that matters most. Our stories move forward through rhythms that emerge when we open up all the options—and then commit to a particular path.
There is an uncomfortable, sometimes violent interplay between the vast, branching root structures of possibility and the deep-boring taproot of decisive, limiting choice. (This is more than a metaphor—you can imagine this visually in the brain as neurons branch in search of new epiphanies or coil toward consensus.) Yet this dance—the expansion and contraction of possibility—leads to our growth as organisms and members of social ecosystems.
The possibility dynamic in Rick and Morty parallels our need for healthy cycles between broadening our perspectives and letting ourselves embrace a set of beliefs, a playing field, or a path forward. That movement, which feels a little like breathing, lets us develop a healthy, almost meditative relationship with change.
Whether in art or life, rhythm is everything. The more we study the cyclical nature of growth, the more story-like our lives start to feel, and the more resonant our storytelling becomes. That doesn’t necessarily make it easier to reside in the tension. But it can give us some solace when we’re trying to turn the page on a new chapter in life.
As Rick and Morty’s creators have experienced personal seasons of recalibrating, the stories have felt the shockwaves. But as a result, fans can grapple with their own journeys through a series that understands one of the most fundamental aspects of human development: If, as Morty famously says, “nobody exists on purpose,” it is still true that we forge purpose in our perspectives.