Amid dimension-hopping mayhem, the biggest theme of Rick and Morty Season 3 has been the exploration into the deepest, darkest, squanchiest depths of the minds of the show's characters. The process of uncovering the psyche of the Sanchezs and the Smiths is, of course, portrayed with a trademark twist — like Rick turning himself into a pickle to get out of therapy. Or Jerry experiencing a life-changing, psychedelic trip to find his true self.
In "The ABC's of Beth," such analytical attention turns to the relationship between Rick and Beth, with said twist flamboyantly on display. Rather than sitting down and having a lengthy discussion provoked by sentimental inebriation, the pair are forced to work through the mechanics of their relationship when they visit Froopy Land, a seemingly pleasant and safe world Rick created for Beth when she was a child.
But there's a problem — Tommy, Beth's childhood friend, has been trapped there for years, left to roam the wilderness across the years Beth was convinced Froopy Land was a figment of her imagination. When Rick proves its existence, Beth joins him to search for Tommy. Disturbingly, it turns he has turned into Rick and Morty's churlish version of Jumanji's Alan Parish, mating with indigenous species and transforming into a baby-eating, playwriting demigod.
Exploring Rick And Beth's Relationship... And Froopy Land
Despite the colourful sideshow, the essence remains the dynamic between Rick and Beth. In revisiting her childhood, Beth stirs up deep-rooted emotions that reveal some serious resentment toward her genius father. She sees him as unloving and neglectful. During a moment of madness, she massacres Tommy and his Froopy offspring, which leads to the realization she is like Rick, after all. "Am I evil?" she asks. Rick responds: "Worse. You're smart."
In a literal and metaphorical rebuilding process, Rick and Beth create a clone of Tommy, using his severed finger as the source of his DNA. In doing so (in an admittedly bizarre way) they right the wrongs caused by the ripples of Tommy's sudden disappearance. The clone is reunited with his family. His father, accused of his murder, is spared from lethal injection with moments to spare.
This leads on to the most interesting exchange between the pair to date; in a contorted expression of love, Rick offers Beth a get-out-of-jail-free card. The opportunity to leave her life behind, to be free of her family, her responsibilities and her addiction to ABC's The Bachelor. Rick's solution is creating a clone of Beth. An exact copy of her in every way, planted with her memories and emotional recollection, capable of looking after the family. When Beth asks Rick why he'd do this, he responds:
"Maybe you matter so little that I like you. Maybe it makes you matter. Maybe I love you. Maybe something about your mother. Don't jump a gift shark in the mouth."
Rick also gives her the option of returning, at any point, with practically zero consequences. The "bonus" Rick adds is that, regardless of Beth's choice, she'll be more relaxed in the knowledge she has exercised free choice — a decision all the more significant when considering Beth's struggle with the sense of being trapped by her family, insinuated since the beginning of the show.
Beth makes up her mind, telling Rick she knows what she wants to do. Yet we don't witness her final decision. As the family sit down to eat pizza, there's an important question that remains unanswered...
Has Beth Been Replaced By A Clone?
The conclusion is deliberately ambiguous, it could be interpreted either way. On one hand, Rick appears to be testing his new "invention," casting a curious eye on her, making sure she fits the criteria of exact copy. She seems calmer, openly telling Rick she loves him in the manner Rick promised the clone would do. But all of these qualities also link to Rick's "bonus," explained by Beth's choice to stay.
My instinctive reaction is that Beth, faced with the option of deserting her family — whom she cares deeply for, despite their dysfunctional relationship — decided to stick with her reality. By processing events she spent years in therapy trying to unpick, she's opened the door to living fully, hence her expression of love towards Rick. She acknowledges that, although maladjusted, Rick did provide her with love.
Taking this further, there's even a chance that Rick isn't capable of creating such a clone, and that he was bluffing. Why would he do this? He clearly knows and understands Beth, despite Beth's belief Rick neglected her (highlighted by him finishing her sentence following her realization). Perhaps he knew that if faced with leaving her life behind, she'd choose to stay with the family and a newfound zest for life.
Either way, there's a reason Mike McMahan, the writer of this Rick and Morty episode, chose not to reveal Beth's decision. Like Rick, Beth has become enlightened to the paradox of truth, the truth that she is equally meaningful and meaningless. She can be replaced without anyone noticing. But choosing to stick with the family, safe in this knowledge, provides her with her personal liberation — the liberation Rick refers to when offering her the bonus.
One more thing to consider: There's also a discreet "Easter Egg" added to the episode that adds a deeper level of understanding to Beth's choice. On the family fridge, there's a photograph of Rick with Mr. Poopybutthole. That means, as per his cameo in last week's episode, this is confirmation that "The ABC's of Beth" is set in the Mr. Poopybutthole universe.
The fact that this Rick, and this Beth, aren't necessarily the same Rick and Beth we've been following in previous episodes puts the viewer in Beth's shoes. On the one hand, any affection viewers feel for specific Ricks or specific Beths is pointless, on the other, it isn't. As "Tales from the Citadel" illustrates, each dimensions character has their own distinct identity, infinite realities aside.
Why is this significant? Clone or not, Beth will walk and talk the same, across all dimensions. Safe with the knowledge of how easy it is for Rick and Morty to switch between dimensions, like Beth, we have to decide. Is it meaningless becoming invested in the outcome of Beth's choice? Or is it meaningful? I know what option I choose. Do you?
Did Beth choose to stick with the family? Or was she replaced by a clone?