Summer Smith is the best possible companion for her portal-traveling grandfather, Rick Sanchez, on Adult Swim's Rick and Morty. It’s not even a close race, despite Rick’s own mathematical proof that Summer and Morty are equals in his eyes. As the third season draws to a close, the evidence is more compelling than ever. Summer's role has enlarged as the family dynamic has shifted, showing her to be ever-more competent both emotionally and scientifically. Her calm acceptance and responsibility in episodes like "Morty's Mindblowers" should be clear to even the most fervent naysayers and believers in the One True Morty. Still, there will those who refuse to see Summer's primacy, so let's go through the whole thing, shall we?
Morty is a terrible companion.
Morty whines constantly. "Oh geez, Rick" is practically his catchphrase. He engages with moral complexity with a narrow focus on his own reality and self-centered desires. When offered the power to go anywhere and do anything, Morty asks his grandfather to make him a love potion to entrap his crush, Jessica. When shown an intergalactic pawn shop, Morty picks out only a sinister silicone sexbot. The entire multiverse presents Morty with wonder and beauty and terror, and all he can see is his parents’ marriage and his own libido. He’s a constant liability to Rick, slow to escape and quick to give up.
Morty is Jerry’s son, and he ultimately proves that as the third season begins. He’s needy and emotionally manipulative. When the family is barely functional, under the rule of the galactic government, his mother a drunken mess, his father a self-congratulating oaf, his sister a desperate shell of a human being, Morty is at peace. He accepts his lot in life and tries to convince Summer to accept hers. He flourishes in the misery of others. He tries to employ “ghoulish overkill” to remind her that the only grandfather who won’t let her down is the one buried in their backyard. Morty is wrapped up in his own mediocrity. Summer grabs a shovel.
Summer has successfully adapted to more worlds and realities than anyone else on the show, while also being more like Rick and more attuned to his wellness.
The season three opener is when Summer proves who she is. She’s been quietly gaining points with Rick, being a co-host for his amazing house party and saving him from Tiny Rick when Morty might have let him die. However, season three Summer is the one who realizes that Rick is the only part of their family worth saving. She digs up his portal gun and does what he would do: uses it to make change. Here again, Morty attempts to go for the pain: showing Summer the Cronenberg world to prove to her that Rick doesn’t care about them. Summer ignores this, knowing that the multiplicity of universes means that all things can be true all the time. That’s because Summer gets it.
Summer has understood this better than Morty since the first season. In “Rixty Minutes,” Morty explains to Summer than he had to bury his own dead body and learn to live with it. It was a powerful moment, and it helped Morty adjust. However, it doesn’t make him a fit companion. It merely molds him into a slightly more compliant one. Summer realizes in this episode how rare and unlikely her own existence is. Rick is fond of saying he has infinite grandkids, but Mortys are just a little more infinite than Summers. Summer turns the dial on her own interdimensional viewfinder over and over to discover that in most realities, her parents got an abortion and she was never born.
Unlike Morty, Summer is free. Her knowledge that she only exists by chance is different from her brother’s. She puts this to use immediately, adapting to circumstances like working for the Devil and then beating the hell out of him with Rick’s help and steroids.
Summer ultimately has the capacity to be an independent adventurer, whereas Morty has almost none.
In the third season, we see more clearly than ever that Summer has become the most like Rick. She fully embraces the apocalypse, both on a personal and worldwide scale. She’s ready for her parents’ marriage to be over just like she’s ready to shoot her Immortan Joe analog in the face and claim victory. She sees through the sham of civilization and the futility of remaking her life in the image of her mother’s. She is becoming ever more like Rick.
It’s not a coincidence that Summer is emerging now, since the writer’s room of Rick and Morty has only recently come to include some women.
The question of gender dogs the heels of this contest, but it doesn't determine the winner. Rick asserts early that it’s dangerous to travel as a woman, and every woman watching both resents that fact and knows that he’s right.
However, while this difficulty is immediately made clear to Summer when Gazorpians snatch her and attempt death by gangrape, Morty is not immune to sexual violence, either. In season one’s “Meeseeks and Destroy,” Morty has to fight off pedophile King Jellybean. Morty is scarred by this experience, turned away from the desire to continue adventuring because of it. Summer, either because of her conditioning as a young woman or her own personality, takes attempted rape pretty much in the same stride that she takes everything else.
Purists will point out that Rick proves to his grandchildren in “A Rickle in Time” that they’re both pieces of shit. All this does is prove that as companions, they’re equal to him. They come to him as raw genetic material, his descendants, and he manages to prove that he loves them both.
But only one proves that she loves him back. Only one rises to the occasion, over and over, to become an adventurer herself. Summer Smith is the companion Rick Sanchez deserves. Her sniveling little brother would be happier daydreaming his mediocre life away in a high school classroom where he can see his crush. Summer cannot go back to a small life, now that she knows how big the universe really is. She is the one who chooses a life without limits.
Summer has a secret life.
And here’s the kicker: at the end of “Raising Gazorpazorp,” the Smith family is up a spaceship. Having been gifted a sleek, pink counterpart to Rick’s trashy spacecar by the female rulers of Gazorpazorp in order to get home, Rick and Summer get back to earth with a shiny new vehicle. Rick doesn’t scrap it for parts. He doesn’t offer it to Morty. He tells Summer she can keep it.
For the past two seasons, Summer has had her very own spaceship. She has become fearless and daring, in the image of her grandfather. She knows how to use a portal gun and what it means to have this kind of freedom. It is entirely possible (and totally my headcanon) that she’s been using it to have adventures of her own, and explore the world and the galaxy on her own terms. Say what you want about Morty, but we can be sure that he’s not doing that. There will never be an "Adventures of Morty" show. Summer is the dark horse, here. As Rick is saying more and more these days: Summer for the win!