Warning: Contains spoilers for the Rick and Morty season 5 finale.
The Rick and Morty season 5 finale finally explains Rick’s full origins and backstory, confirming some fan theories and revealing new details about his past. For years, fans have called for a more complete explanation of what happened to Rick’s wife, why he abandoned Beth, and why he eventually came back home. Rick and Morty season 5 has dropped big hints about the arc throughout, but the last episode, “Rickmurai Jack, finally puts all the remaining pieces in place.
Prior to Rick and Morty season 5, only bits and pieces of Rick C-137’s past were known. He fought for some time in the resistance movement against the Galactic Federation, alongside Birdperson and Squanchy. He abandoned his wife and daughter when he was younger and only returned years later. He has various allies and enemies across the cosmos and in many different dimensions, and he is viewed by other Rick’s as renegade, sometimes called the “Rickest Rick.” A scene of Rick’s wife, Diane, and a young Beth being murdered by another Rick is shown in the first episode of season 3, but Rick C-137 later claims that memory was entirely fabricated, leaving his actual origins shrouded in mystery.
Then as season 5 began to air, more details were revealed. Rick’s efforts to save Birdperson’s brain revealed that his wife really did die tragically, as did his young daughter, meaning that the Smith family Rick stays with in at the beginning of season 1 wasn’t actually his original family. Rick’s time in the resistance was also elaborated on, revealing that he abandoned the cause after becoming disillusioned with the frivolity of a conflict he never fully believed in. Now, in the season 5 finale, a ton more has been unveiled about Rick’s past. After Evil Morty creates a full scan of his brain, Rick C-137 gives Morty the device, allowing him and the audience to view a montage of Rick’s whole life up until the start of the show.
According to the memories produced by Evil Morty’s brain scan, the season 3 scene of Diane being murdered was actually true. While still a young scientist working on teleportation technology, Rick C-137 is approached by another more callous Rick and encouraged to develop his own trans-dimensional portal gun and join the other Ricks in travelling the universe. He declines, however, presumably for the same reason shown in season 3 – because he’s content in his family life. In retaliation, the other Rick bombs C-137’s house and kills Diane and Beth, sending the main Rick down a dark spiral that leads to him developing his own portal gun to hunt down the killer.
Why exactly the evil Rick kills Rick C-137’s Beth and Diane isn’t entirely clear. In the season 3 memory, he simply seems offended that Rick doesn’t want to leave his family to travel the multiverse. It isn’t explained why the killer Rick originally introduced himself to C-137 in the first place, or why he was so intent on making the main Rick create his own portal gun. Because the season 5 memory doesn’t have any dialogue, it’s also possible the season 3 scene was somewhat altered, and that the actual confrontation between the two Rick’s went down a little differently. Hopefully, those questions will be explored in future seasons of Rick and Morty.
After his family is murdered, Rick goes on a brutal vengeance quest to find the Rick responsible. He creates his own portal gun, devises a way to create a genetic ID of some sort for the killer, and starts hunting down Rick’s he thinks might be the one responsible. The montage shows him killing dozens, possible hundreds or even thousands of other Ricks, but none of them end up matching the Rick who murdered Beth and Diane. Eventually, Rick C-137’s rampage through the other Ricks of the multiverse draws their united ire. The other Ricks join forces and start sending teams after C-137 to kill him, but he continues to evade them and kills countless more in the process.
The Rick and Morty season 5 finale shows a clear decline in Rick C-137 over the course of his vengeance quest. He starts off passionate and determined to find the man who killed his family, but after repeated failures and red herrings, he starts to lose faith. He starts drinking, walks out on the few friends he’s made during his adventures (Birdperson, Squanchy and the rest of the resistance), and generally lets himself go. He keeps killing Ricks, but he doesn’t seem to have any real hope of finding the real killer in the end. All the violence and infinity of the cosmos defeat him in the end draining the drive that originally sent him on his mission and falling into a cycle of violent nihilism.
When they repeatedly fail to kill him, the other Ricks of the universe seem to offer C-137 a sort of peace treaty. The montage shows the members of the council of Ricks pitching him plans for the Citadel, which apparently ends up helping them build. It’s at this point, though, that things start to become less clear. The Rick and Morty season 5 finale doesn’t reveal how much Rick was involved in the creation of the Citadel or the modern Council. It also, for all its talk about the Central Finite Curve – the subset of dimensions in which Rick is the smartest person in the universe – doesn’t explain how that system was established, or by whom. Because Evil Morty has to scan Rick C-137’s brain to understand how to break the Central Finite Curve, it’s implied that he’s the one who came up with the idea. But why? Did he devise it to narrow down the places where his wife’s killer could be hiding? Or was he persuaded into creating it by the Council of Ricks? All that’s clear is that Rick C-137 was instrumental in creating the both the Citadel and the Central Finite Curve, but he never really cared about either. In time, he abandons the Citadel and the Council as well.
After years of failed vengeance, empty creations, and an even further descent into drinking and self-loathing, Rick finally hit rock bottom. He travelled to a universe where Beth and Diane survived, where their Rick had abandoned them, crashed his ship into the garage, and started living with the family. That’s the universe where Morty is from – the universe that was destroyed by the Cronenberg disaster in season 1 and subsequently abandoned. Maybe the Rick of that universe was killed by Rick C-137. Or maybe he just picked a random dimension to crash in.
The most powerful revelation about Rick in the Rick and Morty season 5 finale is how returning to a Beth and finding Morty ultimately saved him. The show’s early seasons are littered with hints that Rick frequently considers killing himself, and he even tries to once or twice. But he eventually finds enough motivation to keep going through his relationship with the family he himself was robbed of. He often seems callous because he’s seen so many Ricks, and Beths, and everything else, and because no other version of his family will ever be the same as his. But maybe, after all they go through together in the Rick and Morty season 5 finale, the two characters can help each other develop a slightly more positive and less abusive relationship as the show moves forward.