You'd think dedicating an entire episode of Rick and Morty to Jerry — one of animation's most feeble, dull and ultimately lame characters — would be a bad idea. You'd think that it'd be unremarkable, boring, not really worth watching. But, the trouble is, that's what you'd think. For all of us, no matter how unremarkable or outwardly ordinary, beyond thinking lies a place that is boundless, infinite and totally, totally remarkable. And in that respect, Jerry is no different.
'The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy' is an episode worthy of detailed deconstruction. On the surface, it appears to be a fairly straightforward story of father-in-law and son-in-law working through their relationship with a casual but ultimately life-affirming adventure, an adventure Morty orchestrated due to feeling fragile after his parent's divorce. As a protective measure in response to Jerry's suicidal nature, Rick takes him to an intergalactic world where death is impossible.
Then comes the catch. One of the beings who helps run the resort, Risotto Groupon, wants Rick dead. He tries to recruit Jerry to help with his plan of killing Rick on the Whirly Dirly ride, which has a weak spot in the immortality force field. Rick outmanoeuvres the attack, but later — while Rick's intelligence is greatly reduced by a "synaptic dampener" — Risotto tracks down him and Jerry during their journey home.
What happens next is unexpected, even by #RickAndMorty's standards. Jerry is shot with a bullet containing cosmic apotheosis that melts his perception into a multicolored, hallucinatory wormhole of astronomic proportions. But this was far from a gimmick. The cult Adult Swim show has a tendency to interweave serious reflection into the eccentric; as Jerry's trip peels back the layers of his psyche, what comes next is an accurate reflection of the mind-bending awe many experience on psychedelic drugs. So, what the f*ck just happened? DMT happened, that's what.
[Spoilers: Drugs are bad.]
DMT: The Spirit Molecule
The sequence is clearly inspired by the hallucinogenic effects of LSD and psilocybin (the chemical found in magic mushrooms), but most of all from N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or as its more commonly known, DMT. Traditionally ingested ritualistically by Amazonian tribes in the form of ayahuasca, DMT is revered for its deeply spiritual, mind-altering effects. Due to its spiritual significance and prevalence in nature (and the human body), it has been respectfully referred to as "the spirit molecule."
There are a two common traits of a DMT trip that unassuming, beige-living Jerry experiences after unwittingly consuming cosmic apotheosis — the loss of a sense of space and time and "ego death," the collapsing of the sense of separation between "I" and the "outside" world that occurs when a person taps into their "true self" and, consequently, has access to the vast, eternal nature of universal consciousness. As a result, the trip can be viewed as a symbolic rebirth, evidenced by Jerry's naked form at the beginning of his journey.
Much of the way Rick and Morty channels its view of the world is portrayed through philosophy (existentialism, nihilism, absurdism all run deep in the show) and science (quantum physics and string theory). Jerry's wormhole is the clearest attempt by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland to portray spirituality in the show, in contrast to previous themes of meaninglessness. There's no denying DMT is closely linked to finding true meaning in our existence; many who take the drug have divine visions of God; when Jerry has a similar vision, his "God" is Rick.
Rick As God And Themes Of Ancient Egypt
That striking shot alone could easily require a separate article to fully deconstruct. Rick sits in the center of the frame, with kaleidoscopic duplicates of himself to either side, inspired by the melding of geometric shapes and fractals common in the artwork of visionary artist and Buddhist, Alex Grey. Rick is placed in front of a pyramid, a structure thought of as a deeply mystical and divine, while above him an eye refers to both the Eye of Providence (an all-seeing eye of God) and the spiritual third eye, an invisible eye that can see beyond the physical realm.
The theme of ancient Egypt isn't only restricted to the pyramid structure. The two ram-headed creatures next to Rick represent one of the earliest known Egyptian deities, Khnum, who had a rams head and a human body. Significantly, there is a male and female version of this creature, who hold hands in unison. This represents the duality of being, or yin and yang in Taoism, also illustrated by the black and white pillars on either side, representing the universal dualism of light vs. dark. Jerry's return to nakedness in this frame suggests an acceptance of such dualism.
Transcending Time And Therianthropy
Next, Jerry's eyes are replaced by ticking clocks, while a clock he holds in his hand is replaced with an "all-seeing eye." This snapshot is followed by a time-lapse of the life cycle of an indigenous species. By experiencing this process, Jerry extends compassion and empathy to the species' struggle, beyond his "separate" ego. He's also enlightened to the timeless nature of consciousness and the inevitability of impermanence. This is confirmed by his shrill exclamation: "I'm time, I'm literally time!" By "literally" being time, Jerry is tapping into pure awareness and thus transcending time itself, letting go of the memory of the past and fantasy of the future, entering "the now" in all its blissful glory.
This growing awareness of what lies beyond the physical realm is highlighted in a later clip. Jerry is sat in the lotus position, a common meditative pose practised in ancient India. The multicoloured dots running through his body each represent one of the seven "chakras," aligned along the spine. Chakras, commonly referred to in tantric traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, are psychic energy centers that are said to exist beyond the physical body.
Before that, there's a homoerotic scene where Jerry and Rick wrestle on the ground and interchange between human and animal, aggression and playfulness. Pushing aside the bizarre undertones relating to Jerry's latent sexuality and soldiering on with far-reaching theory, this scene references what is known as therianthropy, the spiritual belief that humans have a soul or psyche that is part-human, part animal. Interestingly, Jerry sees Rick's spirit animal as a predator.
Crashing Back To (Un)Reality
In the final part of the trip, the spirits of Jerry, Rick and Risotto, now free from the shackles of the physical world, bind together in unison. When Jerry returns to normal consciousness, his strong connection with Risotto, Rick and the entire universe remains. Unfortunately, so does Rick's ruthless mentality. Just as Risotto is contemplating their shared ego-transcending trip, Rick shoots him, convinced his motivation to kill them would return. For Jerry, that probably triggered a devastating comedown.
For all the talk of ego death, universal consciousness, awaking and enlightenment, what's the significance? Although Rick claims cosmic apotheosis "wears off faster than salvia," if this drug is anything like Earth C-137 based DMT, Jerry will be forever changed. More and more doctors are treating mental health issues with psychedelics due to their brain-transforming properties, for good reason. Once suicidal and pitiful, thanks to his trip, Jerry has seen beyond Māyā, the Buddhist term for the illusion of reality.
This could unshackle Jerry's fixed personality traits and belief systems, of which Rick mercilessly exposes ("You act like prey but you're a predator, you use pity to lure in your victims, it's how you survive"). Jerry may take control of his destiny, change his worldview and reach his untapped potential. As a result, could this repair his marriage with Beth?
Quite possibly. Now he's dipped his toe into the limitless pool of the previously unknown and lifted the veil of being, nothing will be the same again.
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