The finale double bill has finally arrived, and in this first part the relationship that holds the show together has never been closer to falling apart. As the title (taken from the 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall) suggests, Rick and Morty S5E9 is about a breakup. The iconic duo face the prospect of estrangement, because after a season of episodes about the importance of family, Rick comes to a realisation—and it’s something that viewers have known all along. It’s that he treats Morty with as much respect as the garbage coming out of Morty’s hand.
The cold open begins with Morty visiting alien worlds and putting right the various disasters that Rick has caused. This sets up the theme of the episode, which is all about the consequences of Rick’s actions and the detrimental impact he has on people’s lives. Later in the episode there is a joke—presumably a nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds—where the crow aliens turn nearby crows against the human population. This is an example of how Rick constantly causes suffering in random and ridiculous ways.
“The adventure is: you’re fired.”
Garbage Goobler has a fascinating one-episode arc, and possibly the best post-credit scene of the season. This funny-looking creature is a Harvard-educated doctor who, as a result of Rick’s selfishness, has been reduced to the role of a sentient vacuum hoover…and understandably this has left him with a confused sense of identity. It leaves the viewer wondering how many other silly side characters are facing the same existential crisis. Arguably, Garbage Goobler—who cleans up Rick’s literal mess in the same way that Morty cleans up his metaphorical mess—is allegorical for how Rick has been treating Morty.
“I had the ultimate stash hole, and now I got a kid in my thigh”
The mark on the portal fluid canister is a visual representation of the restrictions Rick places on Morty’s independence. It is in S5E9 that Morty finally decides to break free, after a mishap with the portal fluid gives him a new perspective. The portal connection between psych-ward patient Nick (which even sounds like ‘Rick’) and Morty is a novel way to use the portals, which have become a conventional part of the show. It makes for some creative fight sequences, both when they are working together, and after they turn on each other. Escaping the psychiatric hospital, of course comes with a Terminator 2 reference (whether or not the portal-based combat is cooler than the T1000’s metal sword limbs remains to be seen).
The Morty/Nick storyline culminates in a very intense scene after Morty realises Nick has been hiding his dark side. Nick sticks a knife through the portal hole in Morty’s hand while he is driving, ultimately sending Morty hurtling through the windscreen and over the edge of a cliff. Nick and Morty face off beside a live railway line, and in a surprisingly courageous move by Morty, he uses a passing train to cut off his own hand. Of course, this is somewhat undercut (no pun intended) by the knowledge that Rick is more than capable of fixing the truncated limb, but Nick’s death—via portal paradox—is undeniably awesome. Perhaps it is odd to describe such a gruesome scene as ‘refreshing’, but it did make a nice change from the abundance of mindless gunfire in Season 5.
“We are gonna shove this crow sh*t down Morty’s throat!”
Meanwhile, Rick is learning to play nice with his new corvid sidekicks. Giving Rick an arc about empathy seems an alien concept, except that last episode was emotionally-driven enough to make it work in context. Rick vastly underestimates the average intelligence of the bird planet (in case we needed a reminder of his ego) but aside from advanced technology, the crows have levels of companionship and communication that Rick has been desperately lacking.
After realising how much of a terrible grandfather he has been, Rick apparently thinks that the right thing to do is just to leave Morty behind. We know that this is what Rick does best—when consequences start to catch up to him, he runs away and leaves someone else (almost always Morty) to deal with them. So although Morty believes that Rick has changed, he’s probably wrong. The music is melodramatic in a way that makes it unclear whether it is supposed to be comedic or genuinely poignant. Either way, seeing these two part ways is at least a little affecting, especially combined with the moment when Rick finally hands over his portal gun to Morty. It comes full circle from the beginning of the episode. Either Rick finally trusts Morty, or now that he has his crows he simply doesn’t care what Morty will do.
If Rick had met these crows in Season 1, would it have been a much different show? Or did Rick have to go through everything else—the cloning debacle, the loss of Bird Person, etc—in order to reach a mindset where a lesson about empathy would actually register with him?
In conclusion, the crow storyline itself is mediocre compared to what it represents. Recreating an aesthetic from pop culture—in this case The Dark Crystal—without really subverting or challenging it can get a little tired for anyone who isn’t a hardcore The Dark Crystal fan. Morty’s B-story is far more creative and compelling. On the whole, Rick and Morty S5E9 contains a few of the coolest individual moments and funniest gags of the season—particularly Nick’s death, and the joke where Jerry turns into a puddle. The character development in this episode is striking, but really, this is just the warm up for the finale, which takes this interrogation of the Rick and Morty dynamic to the next level…