'Rick and Morty' Season 4 Episode 8: For once, the show gives a valuable lesson and it's just living in the present
The knowledge of what the future holds would enslave us to a rigid path where the cost of the desired fate would be our free will
Spoilers for 'Rick and Morty' Season 4 Episode 8 'The Vat of Acid Episode'
The beauty of ‘Rick and Morty’, usually, is that there is no larger lesson to learn. The truth that the universe is too random and chaotic to make sense of, and that humans are too insignificant to make any difference, suffices most of the time. Despite its best efforts, even in 'The Vat of Acid Episode', the Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland animated sci-fi comedy series managed to teach a lesson. And it wasn’t the one Rick was trying to teach Morty.
It was partly what Morty realized: Life cannot be led without consequences, and consequences that shape us. A video game-style save button that would allow us to respawn from the last “saved” point would free us from consequences of our actions, thereby taking away from any meaning that life can hold even within the bounds of a reality where all our actions, in the grand scheme of things, are random.
There is a subplot of sorts in the story where Morty falls in love with this woman. Or rather, they both fall in love with each other. There are ups and downs in the relationship. But Morty never feels the need to go back and start over. They survive a plane crash. They survive starvation. They survive frostbite. And yet, Morty’s happy existence is foiled by Jerry, when he accidentally presses the button on the remote, and Morty is sent back to the moment where he first saw her. He is, of course, cursed with the memory of the life they had led. And in a moment of panic, he approaches her, scares her, and gets pepper-sprayed. It is also at this exact moment that Morty accidentally “saves”.
Ultimately, he’s doomed to an existence where this life that he had led, would never be his ever again. Not in his dimension at least. And that’s where the valuable lesson of Season 4 Episode 8, ‘The Vat of Acid Episode’, lies. It’s that there is happiness in ignorance of what lies ahead. This is not the first time that ‘Rick and Morty’ has chosen to make this particular moral available to its viewers. In ‘Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat’, the first episode of Season 4, Morty, armed with a “death crystal”, moved towards the surest path to him and his crush Jessica being old and happy together. But the path cost him his sanity and humanity.
It's a poignant lesson. The knowledge of what the future holds (if such a thing were real outside the world of 'Rick and Morty') would either enslave us to a rigid path where the cost of the desired fate would be our free will, or it would lead us to make choices — especially in an attempt to conserve said future — that would ultimately erase that fate, precisely through our free will. Whether you choose free will or determinism as your philosophy of choice, knowledge of the future is likely to doom you.
Maybe it’s just a perception that the show creators want to stick: That they don’t want to impart any lessons with this show. But it would seem that at least with this one particular lesson — you can’t live your life happily, knowing what the future holds — is the one they’re willing to make an exception for. Maybe.
'Rick and Morty' Season 4 airs Sundays at 11.30 pm EST on Adult Swim.