Rick and Morty often gives us the impression the titular pair have had several adventures between episodes -- and these off-screen missions evidently aren't always pleasant. Because the show packed with detail, we often get verbal or visual callbacks that add credibility to the idea that the characters live in a persistent universe that lives on even when we aren't looking. In a series that often veers into the absurd and fantastical, this attention to continuity helps ground the world of the show and make it seem like a real place.
Let me show you what I mean. In the third season's "Vindicators 3," Rick goes on a bender and sets up a series of booby traps for himself and a team of not-Avengers to solve. It's not as hacky as the horror movie Saw, but it's really exactly like Saw. One of said traps is a neutrino bomb set to go off on a timer, which Morty volunteers to disarm. Rick, who doesn't remember setting up any of this, is taken off-guard by his grandson's confidence in bomb defusal.
This moment could stand on its own. The episode "Vindicators 3" is a sequel to an adventure we never saw in the first place. And, as we learn later, Rick and Morty themselves were left out of Vindicators 2. Just as their universe goes on without us watching, it also goes on without the "main characters." The episode has already set up the fact that the show's scope exceeds its relatively small episode count, so it makes sense to us that Morty has developed a skill for disarming neutrino bombs (and also resentment for his grandfather).
But the bit that makes this scene extra special is a layer of continuity that ties everything together. As it happens, we've already seen Rick haphazardly arm a neutrino bomb -- in the opening minutes of the very first episode.
The pilot's cold open ends after Rick crashes his ship and then passes out, letting Morty freak out for a few seconds over an impending neutrino bomb explosion for a few seconds before transitioning to the opening credits song. We assume that Morty somehow got out of that jam because the remaining 20 minutes of the episode (and the rest of the series) still occurred, but a few seasons later we see the longterm effects of funny cutaways: A bitter, resentful Morty.
Of course, Rick has plenty of his own continuity-tied character traits.
It's not hard to tell the difference between Rick and Morty's personalities. The story, dialogue and Justin Roiland's excellent voice acting do a lot of the heavy lifting in the characterization department. But there are plenty of visual cues that separate the dysfunctional duo. You can see it almost every time the two of them get into a vehicles -- Morty straps into a seatbelt, while Rick remains unrestrained.
It's a small detail, but one that's been consistent throughout the show's three seasons, no matter who's in the cockpit and who's driving.
This aspect of Rick's character is so uniform across the series that it makes you believe it's written on an internal document for the show somewhere. It's the kind of thing that, once you learn of it, you keep an eye out every episode.
The show doesn't slip up. When Rick does wear a seatbelt, it's for a reason.
In season three's "Rest and Ricklaxation," Rick is split into two distinct personalities. All of what Rick would be considered to be "toxic" aspects of himself are sent to a boogery hellworld, where the rottenness congeals into Toxic Rick. Meanwhile, Clean Rick and Clean Morty are left behind to have pleasant if slightly off-center adventures. Since the "toxic" parts of Rick are no longer present, Clean Rick puts on his seatbelt. This is a Rick that has something to live for, and has left his death wish behind.
Rick is only seen wearing a seatbelt in his normal state one time: Just after he transforms back from Pickle Rick.
This is significant because it takes place not long after Rick has a breakthrough in family therapy. Up until that moment, he had avoided the scheduled session by turning himself into a pickle (it really helps if you're caught up on the show). After facing his personal demons head-on, Rick becomes resigned to the idea that he should probably look after himself if he's going to look after his family. That being said, I wouldn't rule out future acts of transmogrification when it comes to ditching family outings.
This is one of the more well-known and most-cited instances of continuity in the fan community, but it's such a great example that it's hard not to include. Starting at the end of the first season, the Smith house is always seen with a large crack streaking across the front yard and into the driveway. This is a result of that time the house was briefly transported to another planet (or dimension) during a huge party.
Though the ground has somewhat settled since, the crack is still visible whenever we see a good shot of the driveway, into seasons two and three.
Fans have suggested that the presence of the driveway crack is assurance that we're not watching an episode from a different universe, but that might be hard to prove in a show that has taken great pains to show there are infinite universes.
This is more of a nice little background gag than a continuity detail, but it's such a nice little easter egg that we're going to cover it anyway. When Rick and Morty visit Blips and Chitz, most of our focus is on the traumatic lifetime experience that is the arcade game "Roy." But in the background before and after Morty's journey, you can see a familiar face.
Yep, that's a Mister Meseeks (look at me!), vanishing after a job well done. Presumably their simple task was to help that palm tree-looking alien do a bit better at that arcade game. An entire second episode devoted to Meseeks might be a bit too much to stomach, but a nice background reference is enough to know that they're still out there helping people that aren't Jerry.
When alien parasites infiltrate the Smith family home, everyone automatically assumes it was Rick who dragged them in after one of his many intergalactic escapades. But to be fair, it's sort of hard to tell up from down when your memory is being manipulated and you're questioning reality itself. The key incriminating evidence, however, comes in the first minute of the episode. When Rick kills the initial parasite, you can briefly see what seem to be little pink eggs on its body.
It's very easy to miss, but these eggs were visible seconds earlier, just before the parasite's presence was revealed. Check out Rick here dumping some green rocks into a trash can:
Notice that the green rocks seem to share the same pink egg-like nodules that were coming out of the back of the parasite. This is not a coincidence. It's not even the first time we've seen the pink eggs -- that would be two episodes earlier, when Rick loads the green rocks into his ship.
In case you needed this triple-confirmed, the connection was outright stated by the show's creator/belcher Justin Roiland.
Kind of a brilliant parasite when you think about it -- not only does it prey on the memories of those around it, but the eggs are hidden in valuable rocks that greedy pricks like Rick can't help but pilfer. And they would have gotten away with it too, if the family didn't have vivid memories of how much they can't stand each other.
Coming back to "Vindicators 3," we didn't cover one of the best parts of that episode's continuity. In the opening scene, Morty demands that Rick answer the call for adventure by pulling out a crusty punch card. The ticket's relative age and amount of stamps suggest the same kind of untold history the show evokes so well.
But like the neutrino bomb, this punchcard has origins in an earlier episode. Two seasons beforehand, Morty won a bet that earned him the right to that punch card.
This is a pretty easy one to catch on a rewatch, but it's nice to see evidence that Rick isn't going back on his deal. And uh, that he made some neat stampers shaped like Morty's face.
Winks and nods to famous movies and television shows are part and parcel with Rick and Morty. Sometimes we see overt references, like the Voltron drone robot in season three, and other episodes are full-fledged parodies of films like The Purge and Inception. But the way this show handles Gravity Falls easter eggs is on a different level. There are so many hints and details to the beloved Disney cartoon that it almost constitutes a bona-fide crossover.
For instance, in the season three premiere, two Mortys that look like Gravity Falls siblings Dipper and Mabel appear in the background at the Citadel of Ricks. Seconds earlier, we see another Morty that appears to be holding Journal 3, an important artifact in GF lore. It's tough to see here, but the wear and tear on both books is identical.
That wasn't the first episode to reference Gravity Falls, however. Back in season two, the nefarious Bill Cipher appears for a brief moment on a computer screen:
The amount of Gravity Falls easter eggs will make you reconsider something that say, might just be run-of-the-mill graffitti depicting the Illuminati symbol.
Then again, since Bill Cipher already showed up complete with top hat, it's hard to see that symbol as anything else other than a reference to Gravity Falls.
Less ambiguous is the appearance of 8-Ball, another villain in the Gravity Falls universe. A familiar gooey booger corpse(?) can be seen briefly in the toxic universe, complete with the pool ball eyes that are its namesake.
Sealing the deal is a moment that actually begins in an honest-to-god Gravity Falls episode. Grunkle Stan loses a coffee cup, a pen and a notebook when it's sucked into a portal...
...only for those same items to pop out of another portal in a Rick and Morty episode.
Those GIFs go quick, so here's a better look:
That's the same question mark mug alright; the notepad and pen are obscured, but they're still there. Sorta makes you wonder if Rick Sanchez and Grunkle Stan ever run into each other on occasion. Either that, or Stan is a Rick from another dimens-- you know what, let's save the fan theories for another time.
The garage is almost exclusively Rick's domain, but for a brief period, Jerry retook it and made the space his own. In the season three premiere we see what a Jerry garage looks like, and it's... predictable and boring, just like Jerry. But when Summer starts rummaging through the cupboards looking for Rick's secret stash, we see what appear to be Jerry's most treasured keepsakes.
One of them looks like a picture of Doofus Rick from season one, the only version of Rick that Jerry has ever gotten along with.
Then there's a jar of what might be applesauce, which is probably a reference to the torch Jerry still holds for his marketing slogan that went so well in the simulation (inside another simulation).
And then there's the model of the Titanic, which we know Jerry loves thanks to the subplot in the first season finale.
Taken separately these are all sweet keepsakes for memories that Jerry cherishes... but it's sort of disconcerting at the same time. Yes, these all represent Jerry at his happiest, but each of these memories ends in disaster. Doofus Rick leaves Jerry forever, the Hungry for Apples campaign pitch goes so badly in real life that Jerry gets fired, and the trip on the fake Titanic ends with Jerry being sexually assaulted. If those are the best memories Jerry can come up with, well, that does sound a lot like Jerry.
The wait between seasons of Rick and Morty is excruciating for fans, but at least Mr. Poopybutthole was up front with us about the gap. At the end of the second season, Mr. P estimated that the next season would debut in about a year and a half. Sure enough, when the surprise premiere of season three hit, it had been 1 year, 5 months and 28 days since the last new episode -- only two days off. Not bad for a guy named after a feculent anus.
Other episodes might have heavier drama, but season two's "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" could be the darkest chapter of the series. The fact that Rick has been using an entire microverse to fuel his ship is bad enough, but he destroys an entire reality when he smashes a miniverse (which itself contained a teenyverse) simply to stick it to his rival.
As it so happens, in the following season Toxic Rick ends up doing the exact same thing in his war with Clean Rick. Look closely and you can see the world-toxifier used to gooify the planet is in fact powered by two microverses (the casing on the side gives it away).
Toxic Rick totally would use a microverse for his dastardly plans, but it's Regular Rick who leaves the batteries on the tower. When we see the microverses again in the post-credits stinger, the batteries seem to be completely dead.
Plenty of anti-heroes have racked up a few kills, but not many can say they count their murders in the universes.