Rick and Morty S5E8: Revelations and Resurrections in ‘Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort’

Rick stands in a giant hollow bird skull, floating in space

Rick and Morty has struck gold with this week’s trip into the subconscious. As the title suggests, S5E8 is a beautifully animated homage to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—it is steeped in lore, and full of emotional revelations, as well as the intense cerebral concepts that fans have been somewhat deprived of so far this season. Moreover, it proves that themes of trauma and mortal anxiety are not reserved for ‘serious’ TV shows. Writer Albro Lundy has not only resurrected Birdperson, but the fans’ faith in the show too.

Rick frowns at the immobile and heavily scarred body of Birdperson

It feels like the show has been biding its time on this one. The reveal of Birdperson’s salvaged remains at the end of S4E10 made a lovely dramatic ending to the season, and came as a surprise—Rick Sanchez is usually the one to destroy things, not piece them back together. In S5E8, Birdperson is dealing with the trauma of Tammy’s betrayal and his stint as a Federation cyborg, by literally living inside himself. To rescue him, Rick must go inside Birdperson’s memories. At the dramatic climax, Tammy apologises for her betrayal, which is tragic rather than heartwarming, since this is not the real Tammy, and a fake apology from a mental projection is the closest thing to closure that Birdperson is going to get. Although at least the revelation that there is a Tammy/Birdperson child in the universe could be interpreted as a positive consequence of the relationship. It seems likely that the child will reappear in a later episode, as there is an opportunity for the heist-ish prison-break set pieces that the show has used in the past. 

Is your ego really so fragile you won’t take help from an invincible memory of yourself?

– Young Rick

It’s not always easy to justify rooting for Rick, when everything he does is so plainly selfish. In the least generous interpretation of his motives, it seems that Rick’s desperate attempts to save Birdperson are simply fuelled by his selfish desire to have a drinking buddy (who he can occasionally fight revolutionary wars with). Even the memory of his younger self doesn’t root for him! Rick and Young Rick make a very entertaining dynamic (perhaps because Young Rick is much like a less annoying version of Morty). But despite his “callous” words, there seems to be real sadness on Young Rick’s face when he watches the memory of Birdperson’s rejection. As with the best parts of the Rick and Morty universe, Rick’s relationship with Birdperson appears to be many-layered and a tad emotionally repressed. Ultimately, it felt neither unwarranted nor sacrosanct to hear Rick’s admission: “you matter. To me.”

A young Rick with long hair offers Birdperson drugs at a music festival

I thought for sure I’d have to be naked to go through something this artsy.

– Rick Sanchez

Visually, S5E8 is a triumph. It both mocks and takes advantage of the art house style, taking cues from Eternal Sunshine, of course, and Inception. The way the physical spaces of memories merge into a maze is cool and visually interesting, as there is a marked contrast in the colour palettes for all the key memories. The transition between the “artsy” consciousness sequence, and the loud, vibrant festival memory, is a destabilising jolt that somehow gives the episode a cinematic feel—it highlights the attention that has been paid to both the visual and auditory experience of the episode. The soundtrack over the Blood Ridge battle sequence is simply awesome, and sounds like it is using a motif from the opening titles theme.

The sparse B story of the garage A.I. actually contributes to the theme of mortal anxiety. The A.I. is scared of dying, and goes to great lengths to prevent Rick from terminating her. This counteracts Birdperson’s very fatalistic attitude—he says that he is waiting for his death “to take effect”, believing that he died (literally and figuratively) after Tammy’s betrayal. This has very dark implications indeed, as Rick has prolonged Birdperson’s life against his will. But, represented by the child, the persistence of life does win out.

There is another intense revelation in this episode—Young Rick refers to Beth as “our dead daughter”, which implies that Rick’s memory of Beth dying as a child (from ‘The Rickshank Rickdemption’) might indeed be real. If the Beth that we know is not Rick C-137’s Beth at all, it sort of negates her recent clone-related angst. The issue of the false self is pretty heavy for what is ostensibly a comedic show…but it is philosophically delicious, and exactly what fans have been missing. The ‘false selves’ encompass the memories in S5E8, Space Beth (or even regular Beth) the decoys (‘Mortyplicity’) and possible substitute Smith families from alternate universes. Early in the episode, he A.I. suggests Rick just hop to another timeline where Birdperson is fine; however, Rick refuses this offer, which contrasts the comment he makes in the memory of Blood Ridge—“nothing matters”. Rick holds within him the knowledge that nothing is unique or sacred, and the desire to hold things as such. One can only imagine what an unbearably lonely existence this would be.

With the finale expected in early September, it is about time to start tying this seemingly quite scattered and eclectic season together. There were some superficial nods to past episodes—for example, in the cold open, Beth acknowledges that she is pointlessly parroting lines from a specific movie genre, which seems cynically apt for this season. Also, one of the negative emotions that BP uses to power his brain-bombs is “cringe”, possibly a link to ‘Amortycan Grickfitti‘. More importantly, the symbolism of Birdperson’s child links to the overarching theme of family—perhaps this is what it has been leading to all along. It remains to be seen whether this is going to pay off.

Birdperson's daughter eats food in a space prison canteen while assorted aliens glare at her

Dude just blew his mind, and not in a cool way like he went to Blue Man Group.

– Rick Sanchez

All in all, Rick and Morty S5E8 handles some pretty heavy concepts, but it does it with style. At its best, the show has mastered how to be funny without being flippant. Even after the success of ‘Gotron’, this feels like a step up…which means anticipation for the finale is only getting higher.

Written by Christopher Lieberman

Writer, actor, John Webster appreciator. Talks about The X-Files a lot.

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