The ending to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? leaves a whole mess of unanswered questions. Will Rick leave his job bounty hunting? What's up with the electric toad? Iran takes her coffee black, seriously?
Some of these questions can be answered with a little digging, some will forever remain mysteries, and some are just matters of personal taste. No cream or sugar, really?
Rick and Toad Are Friends
When we last saw Rick, he was racing home in his hovercar to show Iran the toad he found in the wasteland formerly known as north Oregon. When he gets home, he's excited to show her the toad, like kid on Christmas excited. Then Iran picks up the toad, fiddles with it, and finds the hidden control panel. The frog is electric. Boo!
At first Rick is disappointed, and Iran wonders if maybe she shouldn't have told him. But Rick says he's glad to know, saying:
"The spider Mercer gave the chickenhead, Isidore; it probably was artificial, too. But it doesn't matter. The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are." (22.30)
Gee, only this morning Rick was ashamed about owning an electric sheep—and now he's stoked about owning an electric frog. Electric life may not be exactly human life, but Rick accepts it as life in its own way. For Rick, this tiny toad seals the deal. He recognizes the life in the body electric and he can't unsee it.
A second layer to the irony is that Rick doesn't feel he's earned this long-deserved peace; instead, he chooses to dial for it, desiring the feelings artificially programmed into him. Unlike the end of Star Wars, our hero doesn't receive a medal while grand orchestra music swells and everyone tells him what a wonderful job he's done. For Rick, the question of what he has accomplished is still a conflict. After all, didn't Mercer say that Rick's task was wrong but he should do it anyway? How do you find peace in a message like that?
After he falls asleep on the bed, Iran realizes there is "[n]o need to turn on the mood organ" (22.48). Iran recognizes Rick has found some form of inner peace, whereas Rick does not. This leads to another of those open-ended ending questions: If Rick doesn't recognize his long-deserved peace, then has he really achieved it? We don't see what happens after Rick wakes up, so we have to decide for ourselves whether this sleepy time harmony is fleeting or not.
Whether that means he'll find a new job or keep on hunting bounties is left open, but the Rick who callously tallied his paycheck based on the number of "retirings" he could perform in a day is gone.
After the discovery of the toad, Iran admits she's happy that Rick has returned and asks him if he won't go to bed and dial on the Penfield mood organ. She suggests dialing the 670 setting, long-deserved peace (22.45).
There's a bit of an ironic twist here on the classical quest ending. In the classic ending, the hero returns from his vanquishes the evil of the land, returns home from his trials, and gets the girl as a prize, and then settles into an era of peace with his kingdom. Think classic stories, such as The Odyssey or Beowulf, or more modern takes such as The Lord of the Rings.
Of course, Rick didn't really vanquish any evil. Instead, he killed slaves who escaped from their masters to seek out a better, or perhaps just freer, life. Sure they were androids, but we're not exactly talking Mechagodzilla types here. Polokov and Roy might be considered "evil," they certainly weren't the poster boys of care and compassion, but the word evil might be a stretch even for them.
A second layer to the irony is that the peace doesn't come naturally to Rick. He doesn't feel he's earned it; instead, he decides to dial for it and have the feeling artificially programmed into him. Also, the world isn't really any better a place for Rick's exploits. It's still a radioactive duct-filled cemetery, arguably worse off with the likes of Luba Luft missing from it.
With that said, Rick does, at least, get the girl. Or in this case, he and his wife make-up for the fight they had earlier with Rick saying he understands her feelings regarding his "crude cop hands" and Iran saying she doesn't feel that way anymore (22.36). Hey, one out of three isn't too bad.
That Hallmark Moment
After Rick falls asleep, Iran stays for a bit to make sure he doesn't have night terrors. Then she leaves and calls an electric animal shop to order flies for the frog. She tells the saleswoman, "I want it to work perfectly. My husband is devoted to it" (22.58).
Here again we see Rick's change of heart regarding electric life, and also Iran's acknowledgement of that change. More importantly, the frog stands as a symbol for mending the isolation between Rick and Iran. When Iran was feeling depressed earlier, Rick felt totally isolated:
No support, he informed himself. Most androids I've known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife. She has nothing to give me. (8.89)
Iran's willingness to support the toad shows her reconnection with Rick. Empathic to his suffering, Iran has decided to help him carry the burden of his day. Despite all the questions, the murder, the lies, the corruption, and the ultimate sense of impending death left by the novel's unanswered questions, we'd have to say that still makes for a pretty happy ending—for Iran and Rick at any rate. The androids, eh, not so much.