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‘Rick And Morty’ Season Five, Episode Eight Is A Character Study Of Rick And His Younger Self


In a season that has often felt disconnected and episodic, the latest episode of “Rick and Morty” — “Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort” — is the deep dive into the show’s arcana that fans have been demanding. Rick’s solo adventure within the mind of his mostly dead best friend provided backstory and introspection amid a fast-moving plot that left viewers with some new answers and plenty of new questions.

The episode begins with the family leaving Rick alone for the day. In some fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, he suggests that this opens the door to a “Pickle Rick” type adventure, a reference to season three’s Emmy award-winning episode. But that’s not exactly what happens. Instead, Rick opens one of the hidden panels in the family garage to reveal the barely living body of his best friend, Birdperson, who in a series of events too long to detail here, has come to reside there.

Rick wants to restore Birdperson to health but finds that his consciousness has withdrawn within itself, leaving the mad scientist no choice but to turn himself into pure thought and inject himself into Birdperson’s brain. Obviously.

Once there, he travels through a physical manifestation of Birdperson’s damaged brain, sorting through memories come to life until he finds the real bird-man hiding within. Among the memories he finds is of the time that he and Birdperson first met at an intergalactic music festival. This also leads Rick to encounter living memories of his younger self, most prominently a 35-year-old Rick who offers a glimpse of what the main character was like half a lifetime ago.

Young Rick quickly realizes he is not an actual living being, only the memory of one, and agrees to accompany real-life Rick on his quest. All the while, Young Rick pumps Old Rick for details on how his life turned out. The biggest canonical bombshell gets dropped here: when Old Rick mentions Morty, Young Rick quickly concludes that he is “one of those creeps who moves in with abandoned adult Beths.” There are a lot of fan theories on whether the Smith family and the Rick featured in the show all come from the same universe. Old Rick tells his younger self that “it’s more complicated than that,” but Young Rick makes it very clear that at age 35, Rick’s family was dead.

What happened in between now and then is still unknown, but the exchange confirms that Rick slipped between alternate universes at least once in pursuit of his family. Understanding this is not essential to enjoying the episode, but it does at some depth to the story. Young Rick understands that there are different ways Rick’s story can unfold but living with Beth and still being a spacefaring adventurer don’t seem to be compatible, in his mind. Sharing the devotion to family and the love of adventure may be unique to this particular Rick, or at least unusual in the multiverse. It could explain his conflict with the Citadel of Ricks, another topic on which the writers have been silent this season.

Also discovered in this episode is the profundity of Rick’s friendship with Birdperson. We knew already that they were good friends who had been comrades in arms. Now seeing that friendship develop and seeing the struggles they shared in war, we see why Rick — normally indifferent to other people — is trying so hard to save Birdperson and bring him back to life.

Rick does find him, but Birdperson is not exactly in danger, as he sees it. He wants to die, and this is how he is doing it. Rick is appalled, and also annoyed at the thought of losing a friend he thought he could save. “You’re down here bailing on the rest of us,” Rick says, “because you don’t want to process your grief and shame like a normal person by drinking and mistreating strangers.”

To change his mind, Rick reveals to Birdperson that he has a child he did not know about and that he should live to be a father to her. This is true, but as Birdperson astutely observes, Rick didn’t tell him that until it benefitted Rick to do so, more of the kind of selfishness and dishonesty that strained their friendship in the first place. Dishonesty aside, the choice of that piece of information to change his friend’s mind shows once again the growing importance of family to the once individualistic and unconnected scientist.

They survive the collapsing avian mind palace and the adventure comes to an end with Birdperson restored to consciousness. Young Rick also survives, somehow, as a sentient memory transferred to Old Rick’s brain. Old Rick is surprisingly comfortable with it, and the episode ends as he offers to bring Young Rick to life. Maybe an interaction with a less jaded, more hopeful version of himself will remind Rick of his old dreams and spirit, or at least make him more aware of the course his life has taken.