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The Real-Life Tragedy Behind The Season 4 Plane Crash Scene


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A Rick and Morty episode features a dark joke involving Morty surviving a plane crash — which is a clever reference to a historic tragedy.

Rick and Morty season 4 won an emmy with “The Vat of Acid Episode,” which contained an Easter egg referencing a real-world tragedy. The Dan Harmon animated series is known for its dark humor and sharp wit, and “The Vat of Acid Episode” contains the best of both. Written by Jeff Loveness and Albro Lundy, the episode centers on a key premise: what if one could create “save points” in real life? As Morty experiments with the new technology, the audience is treated to an extended montage of the teen’s shenanigans. One of the more outlandish events in the narrative involves Morty being in a plane crash, which references a famous tragedy that occurred in 1972 — right down to the flight number.

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Morty falls in love following a chance encounter during the montage in Rick and Morty‘s “The Vat of Acid Episode.” The sequence implies that Morty has not used his technology throughout the relationship, suggesting just how precious the experience has been — but things turn dire when he and his girlfriend find themselves stranded in mountains. Starving and distraught, Morty hikes away from the crash site and locates his backpack. He considers undoing his relationship by using his “save point” technology to restart his life to before he and his girlfriend met; however, instead he risks it all and uses his remaining energy to call 911. The group is saved — only for Jerry to accidentally activate the technology during a family celebration for Morty’s recovery. It’s a dark punchline to an extended joke.

Related: Rick & Morty Theory: Rick & Morty Have Seen Their Own Show

While the Rick and Morty sequence is humorous (and worth the extensive buildup), it’s also a clever nod to a real-life event — as well as a movie that was inspired by the true story. The events depicted are based on the Andes flight disaster, in which Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into a mountain en route to Santiago, Chile. The event is famous, not only for the lives lost, but also because it’s an inspirational story of unbelievable determination in the face of harrowing odds.

How Rick and Morty References The Andes Flight Disaster

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On October 13, 1972, a chartered flight from Montevideo, Uruguay crashed, due to pilot error, into the Andes mountains, a remote region in Argentina. Rescue efforts were attempted, but due to various reasons (low visibility, the remote nature of the mountains, uncertainty regarding the plane’s location geographically before it crashed, etc.), the wreckage could not be located, and after eight days, rescue efforts were canceled. Several of the 45 passengers onboard the plane, including the pilot, died in the impact, and several more died in the following weeks. Stranded in an extremely inhospitable environment with very little food, water, or even clothing, 16 of the passengers miraculously survived — thanks largely to the efforts of two brave young men: Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, who hiked for 10 days through horrific conditions in order to find help. The story is largely remembered for the survivors’ perseverance and courage in the face of impossible odds, but it is also, infamously, remembered as a high-profile case of cannibalism.

The dark joke in Rick and Morty follows the basic elements of the Andes flight disaster story (as depicted in the 1993 movie Alive, which the reference could be to as well). A plane, with flight number 571, crashes into a mountain, and the tail portion of the fuselage is separated from the rest, just like the real Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. Morty and his girlfriend are shown with the other survivors trying to scavenge what they can from the plane, huddling for warmth, and eventually turning to cannibalism. A determined Morty makes a plan to hike to the tail, where he locates his backpack and is able to call for help. Various story beats match up with the real events: the flight number, the way the plane crashed, the attempts to eat items before resorting to cannibalism (Morty tries to eat a boot), and the decision to send out a hiker for help. There are differences, obviously — like Morty fighting off wolves — but enough elements are there for those familiar with the story to recognize the origins.

How “The Vat of Acid Episode”  Sets Up Rick and Morty Season 5

“The Vat of Acid Episode” is treated as a standalone adventure, but there are hints that it could set up events in Rick and Morty season 5. The dark joke following Morty’s survival is, predictably, that he is accidentally sent back to his save point, then ruins any chances of him resuming the relationship he tried so hard to maintain. After locating his backpack, Morty is faced with a choice: use his technology and return, safely, to the events before his relationship, or use his remaining strength to call for help. He chooses the latter, which means continuing to endure the situation and face a painful recovery following a possible (not guaranteed) rescue, rather than simply using the device to return to a better moment in his life. The choice is meaningful and obviously implies the depth of his devotion to his unnamed girlfriend — and it sets up the dark twist of that sacrifice having been all for nothing due to Jerry’s idiocy, and Morty’s desperation in the moment. Upon realizing he’s been sent back, Morty approaches the girl aggressively, ruining that first chance meeting, then accidentally setting a new save point as she maces him in the eyes.

There’s a second, more subtle, twist later in the episode when Rick “fixes” Morty’s mistake by combining all of the save points into one reality, which then forces Morty to face the consequences of his actions. In the closing moments of the episode, the girlfriend (unbeknownst to Morty) is seen looking for Morty, but then leaves heartbroken when she believes he has killed himself in a “vat of acid” (hence the episode’s title). Like the earlier sequence, the moment is played for laughs and is treated as inconsequential at the time; however, it does set up the possibility of Morty running into her in the future. There’s no reason to believe they won’t cross paths again. If Morty does pursue a relationship with Jessica, as the Rick and Morty season 5 promo suggests, this other girl could factor into the story, forcing him to make a choice between the girl he loved and lost, and the girl he’s always wanted.

Next: Rick and Morty Season 4 Episode 6’s 30+ Easter Eggs Explained

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Updated: November 10, 2020 — 12:30 am

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