Bovine rhodopsin photointermediates formed in two-dimensional (2D) rhodopsin crystal suspensions were studied by measuring the time-dependent absorbance changes produced after excitation with 7 ns laser pulses at 15, 25, and 35 degrees C. The crystalline environment favored the Meta I(480) photointermediate, with its formation from Lumi beginning faster than it does in rhodopsin membrane suspensions at 35 degrees C and its decay to a 380 nm absorbing species being less complete than it is in the native membrane at all temperatures. Measurements performed at pH 5.5 in 2D crystals showed that the 380 nm absorbing product of Meta I(480) decay did not display the anomalous pH dependence characteristic of classical Meta II in the native disk membrane. Crystal suspensions bleached at 35 degrees C and quenched to 19 degrees C showed that a rapid equilibrium existed on the approximately 1 s time scale, which suggests that the unprotonated predecessor of Meta II in the native membrane environment (sometimes called MII(a)) forms in 2D rhodopsin crystals but that the non-Schiff base proton uptake completing classical Meta II formation is blocked there. Thus, the 380 nm absorbance arises from an on-pathway intermediate in GPCR activation and does not result from early Schiff base hydrolysis. Kinetic modeling of the time-resolved absorbance data of the 2D crystals was generally consistent with such a mechanism, but details of kinetic spectral changes and the fact that the residuals of exponential fits were not as good as are obtained for rhodopsin in the native membrane suggested the photoexcited samples were heterogeneous. Variable fractional bleach due to the random orientation of linearly dichroic crystals relative to the linearly polarized laser was explored as a cause of heterogeneity but was found unlikely to fully account for it. The fact that the 380 nm product of photoexcitation of rhodopsin 2D crystals is on the physiological pathway of receptor activation suggests that determination of its structure would be of interest.