Rick and Morty have done a Thanksgiving special before – sort of. Back in 2017 they unceremoniously dropped a short film online entitled The Poop In My Pants, which brought fans up to speed on the backstory – and recuperation – of Mr. Poopybutthole. It was sweet and syrupy – everything you associate with Thanksgiving… sans US society’s rampant cognitive dissonance about the national holiday’s bloody origins.
This standard-length Rick and Morty Thanksgiving special – bloody, visceral, and sardonically damning of the holiday – sugar-coats little. We begin with Rick and Morty on the hunt for a treasure map, hidden beneath the United States Constitution, in a US facility. This they accidentally destroy, releasing a kaiju-like French-built robot, entombed within the Statue of Liberty in the process. Understandably The President is pretty pissed off about this and a stand-off at the Smith household ensues. Then the narrative relocates to The White House, the location of the President’s traditional Thanksgiving turkey pardon.
A clever, obstinately convoluted scene-setting segment follows, which can crudely be summarised as both President and Rick deciding to turn themselves (and on The President’s side, a cluster of US marines too) into turkeys, the aim being to stop Rick from reaping further havoc/receiving a presidential pardon, respectively. The kicker is that the tracking chip ingested by The President at the start of said mission, with the intention of identifying The President as The Leader Of The Free World masquerading as a turkey, and not an actual turkey, is subsequently swallowed by an actual turkey <deep breath> who, when retracted from the turning-everyone-into-a-turkey mission, is fused with The President’s DNA, creating a glassy-eyed, humanoid turkey that is neither President nor turkey. Still with us? Good.
Turkey Rick and Morty – and a load of actual turkeys – are expelled to an underground chamber beneath the White House, where they meet a polio vaccine-mutated Franklin Roosevelt, who has subsequently become a large human-spider hybrid. This has no real consequence on the rest of the episode and Rick subsequently incinerates Spider FDR alive, but holy shit is this episode trying – and mostly succeeding – in doing a lot of stuff. Anyway, we have a problem. An actual turkey is now The President of The United States of America.
Turns out that, despite selling off states and creating turkey-human hybrid super-soldiers, the American voting population actually prefers The Turkey President to the (now human) actual President. Rick, Morty and The (actual) President convene over Thanksgiving dinner at the Smith residence. They decide to put aside their differences for the good of stopping The Turkey President. The (actual) President then rallies his marines (actual ones and not turkey ones), and they hatch a plan to break into ‘The Crypt of the New World’, situated under the Lincoln Memorial. I’ll admit it, I’m looking forward to this bit of this week’s recap being finished because I’m starting to get an awful headache.
At the crypt, pictographs on the walls reveal that Americans have been fighting turkey dinosaurs for centuries. It transpires that sometime in the 15th century, a group of aliens crash-landed on Earth and fought off the turkeys – some of them live on, entombed but now freed – in the aforementioned crypt. The alien species take two forms; one resembles pilgrims, the other Native Americans. They massacre The Turkey President’s turkey guards, and The President squares off against his turkey doppelganger, first on land, then in space. Have we mentioned that the Washington Monument is actually a spaceship?
In space, The President defeats the Turkey President, who blows himself up in a final salvo. As The President sends the aliens back into the crypt to hibernate, Morty laments that he doesn’t know how to feel about America, knowing now that it was built on the labour of aliens. The President tells him to feel thankful. As we said… no punches.
This episode might be the best of the season so far – certainly the best marriage of the show wanting to say something and being entertaining too. There’s been no shortage of Keith David’s The President this season, and ‘Rick & Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular’ does a much tidier job of taking a ridiculous conceit and really running with it than ‘Rickdependence Spray’ did two episodes ago. The segments with the backwater U.S. marine – especially the country-rock accompanied coda – shoving down his apple pie, saying goodbye to his pregnant wife, and pledging to do his duty for “UMERICUH”, is the most unpatriotically patriotic the show has been to date. There’s a great joke about healthcare in there too.
Speaking of backwater US marines – why… if it isn’t ’90s icon (more recently of Fargo and The Mandalorian) Timothy Olyphant!
Pop culture parodies
OK, there’s a lot, so buckle up. There are a few nods to Nicolas Cage this week; first in the show’s overarching homage to Cage’s National Treasure series, then when Jerry watches a Charlie Kaufman-directed reboot of The Wizard of Oz that sees the Scarecrow parodying Cage in 2002’s Charlie Kaufman-penned brainbuster Adaptation. And there’s a whiff of Face/Off’ throughout.
The French robot is surely a nod to the work of late stop motion genius Ray Harryhausen, while [spoiler!] the destroyed Abe Lincoln statue recalls an iconic scene midway through Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s an ‘unlicenced’ AT-AT from The Empire Strikes Back in there. A reference to 2018’s Annihilation. David Blaine. The scary cubic lasers from the first Resident Evil movie. The Hurt Locker. American Sniper. Doctor Who. A bit of 1986’s Little Shop Of Horrors. And there’ll be more, but seriously, my head is really hurting now.
Did you know?
To my knowledge – and I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong – this is the first Rick and Morty episode title that isn’t a pun riffing on a pop culture reference!