Adult Swim

Since the pilot of Rick and Morty aired nearly six years ago, the show has become a cult phenomenon, responsible for at least one condiment-inspired crisis, and around 100,000 ill-advised tattoos.

Rick tattoo Pictured: A good decisionTattoo Life

As of May of last year, the series had become such a cultural force that Adult Swim ordered an astounding 70 new episodes, likely to add up to seven seasons of premium Sanchez-Smith goodness. This would put the series total at just over 100 episodes, which is the traditional threshold for a show to enter syndication—meaning a different episode can rerun every weeknight for 20 straight weeks, making it a valuable property for networks to snatch up.

But will any of that conventional TV wisdom even apply by the time these ordered episodes are delivered? More importantly, will those tattoos hold up for the entire run, or will they stretch and fade and have to be lasered off or covered up with characters from whatever show replaces Rick and Morty as the go-to-source for high-IQ pop-culture references? Considering the pace at which episodes have been produced in past seasons, we are looking at at least another decade and change of the familiar high-concept sci-fi shenanigans…or are we?

Rick and Morty Season 4 Opening Sequence | adult swim

The first episode of season four contains some hints about what the show's future is likely to hold, and it may not be what fans have come to expect. The first clues come from the show's new opening sequence. Each year, Rick and Morty's eerie Theremin theme plays over a new set of frenetic snapshot-scenes sampled from the season. Season four's intro includes five such snapshots that we can comb for clues: Morty as two different horrifying monsters—(1) a mutant tentacle-head sprouting smaller heads, and (2) a kraken-like sea-giant a la Clash of the Titans—(3) a ripped dude with a chin-strap beard beating the sh*t out of Rick, and two scenes of battle within the Smith household—(4) Rick fighting a two-headed goose, and (5) a tiny cyborg creature fighting a bunch of evil snakes.

Also, none of them feature Jerry, so they're definitely about to kill of JerryAdult Swim

The Clash of the Titans scene includes the nostril-headed aliens from "The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy" and, if I had to guess, I would say that the chin-strap dude—who is wearing two magic-looking rings—may be a send-up of Thanos. Other than that, these snapshots don't tell us much. The series is built on violent confrontation with strange creatures, and Morty is pretty much constantly being transformed into some monstrous shape or another. But when coupled with the episode's conclusion, we may gain some insight. After an eventful day of Morty becoming a monomaniacal, future-focused monster, and Rick randomly battling Nazis, they land on "split the diff" as the moral—both planning for the future and living in the moment—and set off their latest 100-years riff while Summer insults them in the background.

The whole 100-years bit dates back to the pilot, but now that the show has been all-but guaranteed to run into the 2030s, the joke feels a little on the nose, so the writers took the opportunity to establish the ethos for the show going into the distant future. In Morty's words: "Sometimes we'll do classic stuff, other times we'll do whatever. 100 years, Rick and Morty. Not sticking to one path, trying different things making sure to keep out of a rut. Doing stuff; sometimes not doing stuff. Going it alone or together. Making sure we keep our eyes on the prize, but also, sometimes just relaxing."

Rick and Morty Forever 100 Years | Rick and Morty | Adult Swim

The writers clearly want to avoid the trap that so many long-running series fall into—always pushing things a little further, until it just becomes a parody of itself. So they're announcing a plan to take a more flexible approach to the kind of stories they're going to tell. With that in mind, maybe we can look to the snapshot scenes of the goose and the little cyborg guy as indicative of the show's potentially broader direction. Neither of these scenes are really suggestive of the kind of over-the-top action that this premiere episode—and the series in general—tend to focus on. Sure, they're both violent, but it's a tamer, more domestic violence. Rather than making the explosions bigger, the aliens weirder, and the plotting Rick-and-Mortier, the show seems to be saying that it will spend a bit more time at home, focusing on the Smith family, making room for episodes to be driven by the classic sitcom family drama, with Rick and Morty's irreverent banter, and maybe just a sprinkling of sci-fi craziness.

Rick and Morty domestic scenes Adult Swim

Of course, the other interpretation is that the writers have no idea how they're going to produce so many more episodes, and are trying not to get hung up on any long-term vision. So, with only four more episodes currently scheduled, and another 65 more floating in the ether, speculation may be a bit premature. Of course, the real question is how many of those 65 episodes will end up being shadow-puppet theater that takes place in Dan Harmon's bunker beneath the irradiated waste of 2030s LA. I'm betting 20, but I've always been an optimist.