I just started watching Rick and Morty, and I must say that I adore it. Rick and Morty is the story of an elderly, eccentric, alcoholic scientist who moves in with his daughter and her family after years of being apart from them. Rick spends most of his time with his grandson Morty, who helps Rick out as they travel through space, alternate universes, and other crazy adventures.
I was recently rewatching Season 2 of Rick and Morty—in particular, I was watching the episode “Auto Erotic Assimilation”, where we meet the Hivemind being Unity, a former lover of Rick’s. In the episode, Unity appears to Rick in a variety of genders and while Rick seems to be primarily interested in Unity’s female avatars, he doesn’t seem averse to the male ones, who are also incorporated into their lovemaking in various ways. Furthermore, though Unity appears in a variety of forms to Rick, they seem to primarily be identified in the show as female.
First, let’s talk about Rick. I think one of the main things that fascinated me about this episode is how Rick, who was previously assumed straight, seems so into the Hivemind character Unity, who lives by possessing and assimilating various other races. Unity and Rick were former lovers who reconnect in the episode “Auto Erotic Assimilation” not long after Unity has possessed an entire population. Rick seems to not mind at all that Unity flirts with him in both male and female avatars; however, we only see Rick seem to act on his interest with female avatars, though Unity’s male avatars are occasionally incorporated in other ways. For example, Rick asked Unity to have every man that even remotely looked like his dad in a stadium to watch him have sex with all the redheaded avatars of Unity. Though he doesn’t specifically say that all the redheaded avatars should be female, all the ones we see in the episode seem to be. However, in every scene we see with Ricky and Unity having wild escapades, there are always male avatars present. There’s even one quick scene where Rick has his arms around both an attractive male and female version of Unity. This could make Rick bisexual, although maybe he is okay with having some sexual relations with Unity’s male avatars only because it’s still Unity. This leads me to ask: what is Unity’s gender and sexuality?
While Unity possesses and uses a variety of avatars, the character does seem to be presented as more female than male. One of the avatars in particular, a curvy redheaded woman who appeared to be the former president of the population Unity assimilated, seems to be the avatar Unity primarily uses. Furthermore, the voice actress for that particular avatar was Christina Hendricks, who is credited as the voice actress for Unity. Though Unity assimilates a variety of people, Unity’s physical body doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the being’s gender. Unity could identify as female, or mostly female, or genderfluid, or anything in between.
Unity is certainly coded more as female in the show largely by how both Rick, and another Hivemind, Beta-Seven, treat Unity. Beta-Seven is also a Hivemind, but all its avatars appear to be male Borg-ish people. Casting Beta-Seven primarily as male and having the character have a crush on Unity, but stuck in the friend-zone, while Unity sleeps with “bad boy” Rick, clearly codes Unity as the female character. Even Unity’s realizing that Rick was bad for her and leaving him a note explaining why they can’t be together has hetero-romantic cliche written all over it. However, I still find it interesting that despite being coded more as female, Unity still assimilates male-presenting beings, while Beta-Seven’s avatars at least all appear to be male. This coding at the very least implies more fluidity where Unity is concerned, but again physical appearances and sex do not equate gender, so Unity assimilating male-presenting beings could mean nothing as well.
On top of this, I also wonder what Unity’s sexuality would be. One would think as a Hivemind that both gender and sexuality would be viewed a bit more fluidly, but even here we have performative heteronormativity. While Rick seems to not care about Unity’s male avatars, which does make things less heteronormative, Rick still seems largely and solely engaged with Unity’s female avatars. Plus, adding to the fact that Beta-Seven appears to be all male, the constant coding of Unity as female means that even though we have a being who assimilated beings of multiple genders, most people can still write off everything in the episode as heterosexual, though a little weird.
While Rick and Morty is a fun goofy show, it’s also done its fair share of addressing some really serious issues. It doesn’t feel like too much to ask for the show to explore sexuality in an interesting way. Introducing a character like Unity, whose avatars have many genders, and Rick seeming to be okay with that, was the perfect opportunity to explore sexuality a bit more. Sadly, despite the episode being very good, the whole thing still seemed to be written with a very heteronormative mindset.