Reddit user BarnyardCruz points out an interesting detail about this episode. “Rattlestar Ricklactica” is only the second episode of the series to take place at Christmas, with the first being Season 1’s “Anatomy Park.” That would seem to suggest that roughly a year has passed between Season 1, Episode 3 and Season 4, Episode 5.
This could be Roiland and Harmon’s subtle way of addressing questions about the show’s timeline and just how the passage of time works in this universe. None of the main characters seem to have visibly aged over the course of four seasons, apart from Morty’s voice arguably sounding a little deeper than it did back in Season 1. At times Rick and Morty seems to operate like The Simpsons, where the characters never age no matter how many episodes pass. But on the other hand, Rick and Morty includes enough callbacks to previous episodes to remind us that the show follows an actual, constantly evolving continuity.
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With that in mind, pinning down the entire series to a yearlong timeframe seems to make sense. It allows Morty and Summer to age and evolve slightly while still maintaining their status quo as high school students. It’s enough time for Jerry and Beth’s divorce and reconciliation to play out. And it’s enough time for Mr. Poopybutthole to recover from being shot by Beth.
How well does this theory hold up in the context of past episodes? It depends. Season 3’s “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” revealed Rick has been living in his daughter’s house for roughly two years. Presumably, he didn’t immediately springboard into dragging his grandson on his interdimensional adventures, so the one year theory fits. But another Season 3 episode, “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender,” complicates matters a bit. It hints that multiple summers have passed since Rick and Morty’s original team-up with the Vindicators. And that’s to say nothing of weirder episodes like Season 2’s “A Rickle in Time,” where Rick, Morty and Summer were frozen in time for six months, or Season 1’s “Rick Potion #9,” where Rick and Morty permanently bailed on their original universe in favor of one with fewer Cronenbergs.
The moral of the story is that it’s probably pointless to read too much into the series’ timeline. Rick and Morty is a show that only references past continuity when it feels the urge. It’s not a series that follows any set rules. Still, it’s possible that “Rattlestar Ricklactica” is intended to shed light on a confusing sci-fi universe and remind us that time continues to march on, albeit slowly.For more on Season 4, check out our review for “Rattlestar Ricklactica,” see our hands-on experience with the new Dungeons & Dragons set and find out what Episode 2 tells us about Jerry’s sad little mind.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.