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Rick & Morty: Why Episode 8 Redeems The Disappointing Season 5

WARNING: The following contains SPOILERS for Rick and Morty season 5, episode 4 "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort."

Overall, Rick and Morty season 5 has been uneven, but episode 5 "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort" redeems it, offering an insightful and poignant story that reveals the history between Rick and his dear friend Birdperson. The season has been a mixed bag, with several highs and lows. Many critics applauded the earnest and touching storyline of Morty's relationship with Planetina, and the development of Rick's ship's personality (turning the AI into the new, worst, member of the Smith family). Other plots — like the introduction of Morty's mutant sperm — were less well-received.

In many ways, "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort" continues the problems of earlier stories in Rick and Morty season 5. While the title is clearly a take on the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and there are certain thematic similarities), the episode's premise shares many similarities with the Inception parody episode "Lawnmower Dog," from season 1, and there's a certain amount of familiar territory being retread in "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort." In general, season 5 has felt more derivative than previous outings; however, the approach to the material in episode 8 feels fresh, offering new angles on established ideas in the Rick and Morty universe, and offering to further develop one of the titular leads.

Related: Rick & Morty: Why The Smith Family Has A New Member (Naruto Explained)

Rick's backstory gets expanded via his trip into Birdperson's memories, which depict how the two became friends — as well as how Rick became so jaded. The post-credits scene in Rick and Morty season 5, episode 8 suggests that Birdperson will be back eventually, if not soon — although it remains to be seen what the latest character developments mean for Rick Sanchez. "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort" stands out from the rest of season 5 because it offered such a memorable, and meaningful, story, but also because of how weak some of the other episodes this season have been.

There has been no shortage of pop culture references in Rick and Morty season 5. As the season approaches its end, certain themes are clear: family, friendship, and even forgiveness. Yet, such ideas were mainly delivered through parody — with mixed results. The gender-bent Captain Planet homage Planetina was a highlight of the season, arguably despite the nostalgia-infused '90s references. What made the episode work was the Smith family dynamic, particularly Morty and Beth, and Rick and Summer. At the episode's end, the characters seemed to be in a different place than when the episode began: the teenagers were both a bit wiser and Beth had made a positive step forward for developing a healthier relationship with her son.

Yet, there were also stories that worked less well: Rick and Morty season 5 has two Independence Day episodes, and while the celebratory parodies of the action genre are exciting and amusing, the critical and audience receptions for these were mixed. Critics complained that the episodes were stupid or unnecessarily gross, and for many, the jokes didn't land. Other outings, like the Mr. Nimbus story in the premiere or the Hellraiser spoof in episode 5, were fine, but not great — and were weighed down by the heavy-handed references. Between uneven storytelling, constant (and often forced) pop-culture riffs, and a lack of the pure wacky, absurd creativity that defines the series, Rick and Morty season 5 often felt lesser than the installments that came before.

The penultimate episode of Rick and Morty season 5 isn't just one of the best — it also redeems the entire season by retroactively casting previous adventures in a different light. Many of the earlier episodes dived into the other characters, exploring their motivations and what makes them unique. Rick often took the backseat, allowing the other characters' stories to be the focus. The presence of the eldest family member was felt throughout but was definitely muted. There were hints about what was going on with Rick: his attachment to the alien Daphne in episode 3, his willingness to apologize to Jerry in episode 5, and his rapid, downward spiral after completing his Gotron set in episode 6. Something has been off with Grandpa Rick all season, which comes to a head in his solo adventure.

Related: Rick & Morty Repeats Community's Goodfellas Riff

Rick and Morty season 5, episode 8 sent the rest of the Smith family off on a cruise, focusing fully on Rick as he revisits his past in his efforts to revive his long-time friend Birdperson. It's rare for the series to have a singular episode featuring just one main character like this, but it works well: Rick encounters a memory of his idealistic past self, and the two team-up to find the "real" Birdperson, traumatized by Tammy's betrayal, hiding in his memories, with the hope of bringing him out of his coma. In doing so, Rick is forced to confront not only his past self, but also various influential moments in his life — both good and bad. The infamous Battle of Blood Ridge (which Rick describes as his "Vietnam"), which was first introduced in season 2, is shown, and the result was genuinely unexpected.

"Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort" drops an emotional bomb for Rick Sanchez: the episode reveals the real reason why the Battle of Blood Ridge was so painful for Rick wasn't that he lost — in fact, it was an epic victory for him and the other resistance fighters. Rather, Rick made himself vulnerable to Birdperson, revealing his true feelings to his comrade at arms, only to be rejected. To Birdperson, their fight was about resisting The Galactic Federation, but Rick had ulterior motives. The scientist tries to tell Birdperson that nothing matters, showing him the portal gun and offering to explore the world together. This has the opposite effect as intended, however, because Birdperson's integrity is so strong. The two part ways, and the episode hints that their friendship is never quite the same afterward.

It's unclear in "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort" exactly why Rick was so hurt by the rejection after the Battle of Blood Ridge, although there are many hints that he was in love with his friend and was heartbroken by the rejection. Much of their past together is still a mystery, but there have been clues. The episode confirms that they met at a music festival and formed a band with Squanchy. Eventually, they became freedom fighters together, and their victory at the Battle of Blood Ridge made them enemies of the Galactic Federation and highly wanted terrorists. Based on how they met, the episode hints that Rick only ever got involved in fighting the Federation because of Birdperson.

Rick's behavior suggests that he wanted more than just friendship from Birdperson, and even before the Rick and Morty season 5, there were hints at deeper, possibly romantic feelings. Rick, who loves to party, was uncharacteristically hostile toward his friend in the season 2 episode "The Wedding Squanchers," and Rick shared a romantic song with Birdperson in "Never Ricking Morty." The former originally seemed to be the product of Rick's cynicism resulting from the breakdown of his own marriage, but retrospectively, could be explained by jealousy. The latter wasn't canon, but it does support the theory that Rick harbors unrequited feelings for his friend.

Rick and Morty season 5, episode 8 introduces an interesting layer to one of the show's titular characters, and in doing so, makes up for the less lore-heavy episodes of the season. Rick and Morty has an infamously confusing continuity, and the seasons are typically comprised of mainly one-off adventures, with perhaps a couple of stories that build up the show's own mythology. Other than the Planetina episode, there haven't been many stories in season 5 that furthered any overarching themes or ideas. "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort" does so much for Rick's character, however, that it makes up for the rest. Between "A Rickconvenient Mort" and "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort," there's enough character growth that season 5 doesn't feel inconsequential compared to the rest — that is, assuming the finale ends Rick and Morty season 5 with a bang.

Next: Rick & Morty: Why Episode 4 Is Secretly Season 5's Most Clever Episode

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