With only 21 episodes released to date, we have precious little information about Rick and his biography. As I understand it, though, there are comic books based on the show, and I was wondering if they, or the show itself, give us any more insight into this fascinating character's history. Do they tell us anything else about his backstory?
Rick's backstory isn't complete, but we've seen glimpses. I'll list the ones I can remember.
Rick grew tired of married life.
Rick: Listen Morty, I hate to break it to you, but what people calls "love" is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science.
Rick is indirectly acknowledging that he married Beth's mother because he listened to his "chemical reaction called love", and the context of the quote implies that he later regretted having done so (after it faded and left him stranded in a failing marriage).
There is another slight hint in Rick's wedding toast:
Rick: Listen, I’m not the nicest guy in the Universe because I’m the smartest. And being nice is something stupid people do to hedge their bets. Now, I haven’t been exactly subtle about how little I trust marriage. I couldn’t make it work, and I could turn a black hole into a sun, so at a certain point, you’ve got to ask yourself what are the odds this is legit and not just some big lie we’re all telling ourselves because we’re afraid to die alone? Because, you know, that’s exactly how we all die … alone. But … but … Here’s the thing. Birdperson is my best friend, and if he loves Tammy, well, then I love Tammy, too. [Cheers and applause] To friendship, to love, and to my greatest adventure yet … opening myself up to others.
Rick considers his marriage failed, though we have no confirmation as to why it failed. His quote does imply that he puts the blame with himself, saying that he couldn't make it work.
Beth's mother is either dead or out of the picture.
In the Pilot episode, Rick told Beth that he loved the eggs that she made him and that her mother would have loved them too "if she were still here".
You can take that to mean that she's dead now. But knowing Rick and Morty, it's not impossible that Rick means it more literally, about her mother being here (in the Smith residence, on Earth, in this dimension).
Then again, Beth doesn't really respond to Rick's statement, and she's not one for pedantically literal statements, so I would infer that Beth implicitly reacts as if she knows her mother has died, or she simply didn't respond to Rick.
It's important to note that Rick did not leave Beth when Beth's mother died. Beth has specifically said that Rick "left her and her mother".
Rick has been a freedom fighter / terrorist.
In "The Wedding Squanchers", it's revealed that Rick, Birdperson and Squanchy were all part of a secret organization. Tammy (who represents the Galactic Federation) considers them terrorists.
But terrorism is subjective. Rick, Birdperson and Squanchy likely don't consider themselves as terrorists. We currently do not have enough information about these events to know whether Rick, Birdperson and Squanchy did something morally good, or morally reprehensible (knowing Rick and Morty, it's likely to be both at the same time).
It's also established that Rick, Birdperson and Squanchy have been living in hiding ever since the Galactic Federation has been hunting for them.
This could be why Rick was absent from Beth's life for 20 years. Not because he selfishly pursued a life of science, but rather that he stayed away from his loved ones in order to not endanger their lives.
This is again in line with what we have seen, how Rick sacrificed himself in order to ensure that the Smith family can return to Earth and live a peaceful life.
Rick turning himself in happened in the same episode where Rick's "terrorist" past was revealed, which makes it very likely that these two events are thematically linked.
Rick's fabricated backstory.
Rick actually recounted his backstory in S03E01. It is later revealed to be a lie. We know that this backstory must indeed be fabricated, because Beth died in this backstory*.
But there are likely still grains of truth in this backstory. These are all speculative, of course, but I'll list a few things:
- Child Beth looks like Beth. It stands to reason that Beth's mother (in the fabricated backstory) looks exactly like Beth's mother (in reality).
- This can further support Rick's desire to leave her. Beth's mother is a beautiful, caring, loving woman. From the brief glimpse we see, Rick's marriage must be a great marriage. But we know Rick as someone who gets bored by the trivial and easy, and living a happy easy life may have bored Rick to death.
- The Rick who teaches "our" Rick portal technology and is likely responsible for killing Beth and her mother, seems very true to Rick's nature. The Council of Ricks are considered to be meddling assholes (by our Rick), and the event from the fabricated story seems like it fits well into why Rick despises the Council of Ricks. Even if their real encounter did not happen exactly like that (killing Beth and her mother), it seems very plausible that the "other" Ricks messed with "our" Rick's happy life, which set him on his self-destructive path.
*There is one possibility where Beth's death could have actually happened, and is not a fabricated lie. It's possible that Beth and her mother were indeed killed, and that the Beth we know is the Beth from a different dimension.
This has been a fan theory for a while now. After Rick and Morty jumped from the Cronenberg dimension to the new dimension, fans have wondered if Rick maybe did something similar in the past. However, as this is currently an unproven fan theory, I won't delve to deeply into this.
That's about all we know.
There is, of course, much more speculation on Rick's backstory, but these are all interpretations or speculations from viewers. I have my own hypotheses about Rick's past, but my answer is trying to provide you with the facts that we have about Rick's life.
And the direct answer is that we don't really know anything about Rick's backstory, other than him having left Beth and her mother, and that the Galactic Federation is looking for him in relation to (what they call) terrorism.
Okay, allow me to offer two hypotheses.
These are of course completely speculative. I'm just trying to connect the dots, trying to base myself mostly on the facts we know, and what seems most in-character for Rick.
- Rick lives a happy family life, and is also living a life of science (trying to create portal technology).
- He encounters the other Rick, who helps him create working portals. However, the other Rick is also a massive douchebag, and this sets up our Rick to dislike the Council of Ricks in the future.
- Our Rick, now having working portal technology, grows bored of his trivial happy family life. He start going on adventures, maybe only rarely.
- One of his adventures end up being the event that causes him, Birdperson and Squanchy to be labeled as terrorists.
- Rick wants to go home. However, he fears that his family won't be safe around him. It makes them a target to those who want to hurt Rick.
- Rick decides to not return home, without even leaving a message. The emotional fallout from having done so (and maybe later even finding out that his wife has died) kills Rick emotionally and makes him the cynical drunk that we know him as.
- Rick returns to Beth's life when he feels that the Galactic Federation has finally stopped their manhunt.
- Rick resumes his life of garage-science, which is exactly the life he left behind 20 years ago.
- Since Rick was absent from much of Beth's life, Rick takes it on himself to raise Morty, thus making him a sidekick to Rick's life and including him in everything. Because Rick doesn't want to be alone.
- Rick lives a happy family life, and is also living a life of science (trying to create portal technology).
- He encounters the other Rick, who helps him create working portals. However, the other Rick also kills Beth and her mother, and this sets up our Rick to hate the Council of Ricks.
- The death of Beth and her mother kill the emotional part of Rick and make him angry and nihilistic. Rick is out for revenge.
- Using his newly acquired portal technology, Rick seeks to avenge the death of his family.
- What he does is not known, but he has been shown capable of destroying entire governments and planets if he puts his mind to it. WHatever he did, it won't have been pretty.
- One of his actions ends up being the event that causes him, Birdperson and Squanchy to be labeled as terrorists.
- Rick lays low for a while. Likely, he lives a life of depression and raging alcoholism, still unable to cope with the death of his family. This fuels his cynicism and nihilism.
- Rick realizes that there are other dimensions where Rick left Beth and her mother (alive), and their Rick has never returned. Whether their Rick died, or is alive but never chose to return is irrelevant. Given how many Ricks and Morties live their lives on the Citadel, there must logically be a ton of Beths whose Ricks are not in their lives.
- Rick decides to migrate to one of these dimensions, and he pretends to have come back after leaving Beth. This may be why Rick never talks about leaving Beth, because he's not the Rick that left her.
- Rick resumes his life of garage-science, which is exactly the life he lost 20 years ago (when Beth and his wife died) and has wanted to get back to ever since.
- Since Rick never got to raise Beth, Rick takes it on himself to raise Morty, thus making him a sidekick to Rick's life and including him in everything. Because Rick wants to take care of someone who reminds him of the value of having family.
I actually think they already told us what happened. Very sneakily, clues have been dropped throughout the show.
We know that rick was unhappy with married life-
"Listen Morty, I hate to break it to you, but what people calls "love" is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science."
But we also know that rick had an unconventional way of raising beth, from what jerry has said during one of his arguments with beth(Mentioning that she was "Raised like a lab rat"), which leads me to believe, from Beth's nonchalance with most of rick's work and apparent knowledge about how some of it works, that she may have been the "Original morty", or rick's original sidekick.
Rick also stated during the season 2 finale of rick and morty in the space van that they could never return home now that they're galactic federation terrorists, and in addition to that, within rick's microverse battery, Zeep Xanflorp revealed he dropped out of high school, and according to the show creators, Zeep is supposed to be a sort of doppelganger to rick.
However, Beth may have actually revealed rick's method of leaving. In the episode Auto-erotic assimilation, when rick seemed nonchalant about the concept of not having underground secret labs, Beth says these words:
"Really? Are you sure you're not gonna, like, say okay then leave through a portal or something?"
It should also be mentioned, another detail, that it's been stated in the show that once you become a galactic federation enemy, you can't go back to earth. It might be the case that rick didn't leave just because he was an amoral alcoholic, but because he literally couldn't, even if that's really what he wanted. However, one has to wonder if that's the case, why rick didn't just tell beth that.
There's another aspect to be considered, and that aspect is revealed in the comics. In the story of krombopulous michael, krombopulous michael starts doing business with rick during his time as a member of an alien band, or "The flesh curtains". But that takes place before rick claims that he thinks he's in love. In other words, it sounds like he began his science work before he had gotten married and had beth.
From those things, I've pieced together a theory/headcanon:
Rick was a genius that dropped out of high school and became a mad scientist. At some point, he acheives his main mode of space transportation(Which may not have necessarily been his current space cruiser, since it's possible the night of the pilot episode was the night it was made), and meets squanchy and birdperson(And eventually, they start a band). Since I doubt he got a job, let's assume "Diane" is carrying most of the weight financially. Rick meets Diane and have beth, and rick works as a home mad scientist, possibly using his inventions to help the family and possibly taking beth on adventures the way he does with Morty. I think he probably made his space cruiser first, and with his space cruiser he could have gotten the resources to make his portal gun. Whether he got help from another rick like in the "Fabricated" origin story or he discovered it himself, he eventually achieves inter-dimensional travel. He's already smart, but it's possible he somehow got his hands on mega seeds and made himself even smarter.
It's also possible Beth and Diane did die, and he swapped dimensions as he did in the episode "Rick Potion #9", which has to lead many fans to believe he may have done it before. In any case, it seems that married life probably bored him, since we know to rick, if it's simple, it's boring, and the nature of an infinite multiverse in which he concludes "Nothing matters" probably drove him into nihilistic depression. It's uncertain when exactly he becomes a galactic federation enemy, but at some point he does, and it can be assumed squanchy and birdperson join him in this. I believe the galactic federation likely became his enemy for 2 reasons. The first reason is a mutual disagreement on each other's views about society and bureaucracy. The second, could be that they wanted his inter-dimensional portal gun to expand into a "Multiversal federation", and rick was unwilling to compromise or give them anything. At the same time, Rick's work is causing his marriage to fail, since Diane probably, despite being seemingly supporting his work, even has limits about endangering the life of their daughter. These factors combined might have caused him to leave beth in the fashion she described. Diane forces him to stop his work, he says "Okay", and then leaves through a portal. It's possible he wanted to return, but couldn't because he was a galactic federation enemy. He returns 20 years later and resumes his life 20 years ago because he missed that life, and sees morty as a "Second chance" to be a good parent, and legitimately cares about him.
My second idea is that rick always had that life. He never left his dimension. He raised Morty, explaining the picture where morty as a baby is seen held by rick. But if rick left 20 years ago and morty was 15...
Well, the math doesn't add up.
My theory is that rick raised morty to be a genius and they had a falling out forcing him and birdperson to leave(It seems that birdperson is from rick's same universe, so if he left with rick, it's possible he had something to do with it), giving birth to evil morty, explaining why rick said "A cocky morty is can be a bad thing for everybody" and evil morty seemed extra-keen on killing our rick. My other theory is that he actually didn't leave. He raised a morty into a genius morty, and then, because of their falling out, he left for a dimension where that rick was dead or had left. This would mean that evil morty actually is the original morty.
It's been noted by many fans that morty has been getting smarter from these adventures, so it seems as though rick's adventures really are the right way to teach him. It's possible we could have a second evil morty on the rise; The one we follow. We see morty's "American psycho" side in the episode "Rest and relaxation", so it's not as impossible sounding as it might seem. There are other theories about evil morty's past I think may be possible, but this is about rick, not evil morty.
So, let's review. Based on the evidence, we could sum it up with a basic timeline:
- Rick dropped out of high school when he was a teenager
-Becomes a mad scientist, acheives FTL space flight, meets squanchy and birdperson, and begins the band of "The flesh curtains". It's also around this time he starts doing business with krombopulous michael.
Eventually marries Diane and buys a home, with Diane carrying all the financial weight, and soon Beth is born
-He becomes a home mad scientist, with his daughter Beth being his main sidekick and assistant. Since we're assuming everything in his fabricated origin story was fabricated, rick eventually makes his inter-dimensional portal gun on his own, using resources both homemade and from space
Becomes a depressed nihilistic alcoholic after concluding nothing matters. Through both his refusal to compromise his inter-dimensional technology to the galactic federation and a mutual disagreement on morality and the federation's style of government, he becomes a galactic federation enemy, and during his years as a rebel or even terrorist(Hence the alias "Terror rick"), he meets Squancy and Birdperson
At this point, the timeline can take any of the routes presented as to whether or not he left, how he left, and what happened when he returned or stayed. This part of Rick's timeline is still too blurry with possibilities to give a straight headcanon.
Again, a lot of that was heavily taken out of context, and the headcanon wasn't exactly a straight story since a lot of his timeline is still hazy, but that's just about my theory. I doubt the creators will make it this way, but It's a possibility IMO