SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you have watched “Rick and Morty” Season 5, Episode 8, “Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort.”
After giant incest babies, turkey transformations, and massacres in the name of saving the planet, this week’s “Rick and Morty” finally gets back into the overarching swing of things. (To be fair, the giant incest baby did end up being part of a larger story.) “Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort” — clearly a riff on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the type of Charlie Kaufman bull****” that Rick explicitly wants to avoid during his adventure — follows Rick as he risks his life to bring Birdperson back to his own. No more Phoenixperson, no more brainwashing, no more disassembled body in Rick’s garage — the true blue Birdperson who is Rick’s best friend.
An episode that teases a “Pickle Rick” redux, “Rick and Morty” is actually a bookend to the first season finale, “Ricksy Business,” the episode that introduced Birdperson (and Squanchy and Gearhead) and also kicked off the Birdperson/Tammy relationship. This episode even has a “Risky Business”-type premise set-up, with Beth’s dialogue having her play the role of the parent who’s going out of town at the beginning of a movie. While the Smiths are off on a mild-mannered cruise adventure, Rick Sanchez instead takes an adventure of the mind. And in the process, he ends up teaming up with a younger version of himself.
Young, Memory Rick is ultimately not impressed with present day Rick.
While there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Birdperson’s subconscious, in general, the big bombshell in this episode is that being a clone should actually be the least of Beth’s worries. That’s because, as Memory Rick tells present day Rick, Beth is dead. “You’re one of those creeps who moves in with abandoned adult Beths,” Memory Rick notes. As present day Rick attempts to call things “more complicated than that,” Memory Rick elaborates as to why it’s so creepy: “You live with a version of our dead daughter.”
Earlier in the episode, Memory Rick and Birdperson find themselves on a revenge mission against other Ricks who say that “killing us won’t bring her back.” In that moment, the natural assumption is that they’re talking about Beth’s mother, but the next context of Beth actually being dead changes all of that.
Present day Rick also describes Morty as their “hypothetical grandson” right before the Beth bombshell. And while Morty is off to the sidelines this episode — save for the cold open, he truly is spotless — presumably enjoying cruise life, the Rick/Birdperson strolls down memory lane also fill in a bit of the blanks when it comes to the Rick/Morty relationship. Morty is the one who will go on adventures with Rick — and can be forced to do so — at all times, while Birdperson pushed back on that after they fought the Galactic Federation in the Battle of Blood Ridge.
In some ways, Morty is a Birdperson replacement to Rick, one who, even when he protests, still ultimately goes along with his grandfather’s plans. Unlike Birdperson, Morty doesn’t have the power and agency to truly be done with Rick if needed. Morty is the one who won’t go away, simply because Rick won’t allow him to.
While Rick demanded “100 years” of Rick and Morty adventures when the series began, Birdperson is the one he actually wanted to fill that role. And not even necessarily just as a friend and partner in crime.
Rick acknowledges just before he goes on the adventure into Birdperson’s mind that if he wanted to, he could simply hop timelines to find a version of his friend that suits him best. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he does everything he can to get the real deal… only to ultimately Rick things up in the process. With information that Tammy secretly had Birdperson’s child — and that the child must be being kept by the Federation — Rick doesn’t reveal that until he himself is in a position where he’s in mortal danger. (Because if you die in your friend’s brain, you die in real life, of course.)
Once he and Birdperson return to the land of the living, Birdperson calls Rick out for that, and Rick can’t and doesn’t attempt to defend his actions. Because yes, he did so much just to save his friend, but in true Rick fashion, he also let his selfishness get in the way once again.
In one of Birdperson’s memories, we see that after the Battle of Blood Ridge, Rick messed things up by trying to sell a life of adventure with Birdperson in nihilistic terms. Much like with last week’s Gotron situation, Rick wanted to hop from world to world to collect them all. “All” in this case being Battles of Blood Ridge.
In fact, Rick described them as, “All equally real. All equally unreal,” with nothing truly mattering. Birdperson didn’t understand why Rick helped him then, but Rick’s reasoning was that he respected Birdperson and wanted him to know that he could do the same. “Even though ‘nothing matters,’” Birdperson asked?
While Rick did admit in the moment that Birdperson mattered to him, Birdperson was less than swayed by Rick’s worldview. A worldview that is ultimately as hopeless as Birdperson’s throughout the episode, as he’s simply waiting to truly die and then actively trying to end things. But ultimately, Birdperson didn’t give up and found a way to process things. He’d been trying to process the fact that he fell in love with Tammy, someone who betrayed him and worked for the very entity he’d spent his whole life fighting.
While he has no way to know for certain that Tammy ever actually loved him, the adventure does end with the subconscious version of Tammy saying that she did. Maybe that’s enough. It’s at least enough for Birdperson. It at least matters to Birdperson.
And that’s all he needs to now be off to learn how to be a father.