Leave it to Morty Smith to destroy almost every cornerstone of American history with a single shot from an overpowered laser gun on Rick and Morty.
Season 5’s sixth episode is "Rick & Morty's Thanksploitation Spectacular," a hilarious holiday special three months too early that feels like a direct follow-up to the best parts of the Season 3 finale, “The Rickchurian Mortydate.” After Morty accidentally destroys the Constitution, Liberty Bell, Lincoln Memorial, and Statue of Liberty, it awakens a giant robot assassin from the French.
Somehow, that’s the least of anybody’s concerns as Rick and the President of the United States square off once again, transforming into turkeys and teaming up to combat a humanoid turkey mutant uprising — all with the help of some ancient aliens, of course. How else would Rick and Morty celebrate Thanksgiving?
After Morty commits these atrocities in the cold open on Thanksgiving, Keith David’s hilarious President turns hostile against Rick. But Rick has a plan: He becomes a turkey every year and tricks the President into pardoning him, a gambit that’s funny enough as a throwaway joke but brilliantly executed in this episode. Not only do Morty and Rick become turkeys, but an entire squad of elite American soldiers becomes turkeys as well to try and capture them. And just like how POTUS became tiny in “The Rickchurian Mortydate” to spite Rick, he does the same here.
An essential part of all this is that everyone gets their DNA backed up to a computer, and they have to swallow a tracking chip. The comedy of errors escalates when a Rick-POTUS turkey fight leads to a regular turkey swallowing the President’s tracker. We can’t be surprised when that turkey is turned back into a human, and it quickly devises a way to human-ify other regular turkeys while giving them superhuman strength and endurance.
In addition to parodying heist films, namely National Treasure, in a more effective way than Season 4’s bombastic "One Crew Over the Crewcoo's Mort,” this episode also feels like a holiday-themed riff on some fun ideas from “Pickle Rick” and “Lawnmower Dog.” You get Rick transforming into something silly, and you also get a surprising evolution as a regular animal gains sentience, using it to pay humanity back for its mistakes. Turkeys have every right to hate humans, right? Wouldn’t you, for all the fowl things we’ve done to these birds?
It’s one of the many clever pieces of meta-commentary at play in this episode.
There’s an on-the-nose subplot of an American soldier from middle America voiced by Timothy Olyphant. He has a pregnant wife. He loves country music and jukeboxes. He loves a particular kind of truck — also hot dogs. It’s a hyper-specific and pretty harsh caricature of an ignorant stereotype, one that feels scary after the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Thankfully, the Rick and Morty writers are not content to merely punch down.
You see, the turkey-POTUS monstrosity sells New York to France and uses the money to pay the members of congress more. They, in turn, agree to do whatever their new President says, including build up an army of humanoid turkey soldiers in the hopes of doing the same to every turkey.
An America in which the political elite are corrupt enough to deliberately sabotage American society to preserve their own wealth is horrifying. It is also rooted in reality. At the very least, this is the obvious (and brilliant) commentary Rick and Morty is making here. (“Countries are job placement programs for politicians who invented them!” Rick says at one point.)
As the episode evolves over time, the twists and turns reinforce a pretty brilliant deconstruction of America’s ego. POTUS takes Rick and Morty to the Crypt of the New World under the Lincoln Memorial where members of two alien races are in hibernation. Turkey dinosaurs once dominated America, until these warring alien races crash-landed here. They united to fight the turkeysaurs together, and they help turn the tide in the present-day battle. The aliens also look like pilgrims and Native Americans, respectively, which is just on-the-nose enough. By now, the writers earned it.
At every turn, this episode reminds us that so much of American society was founded on exploitation and genocide. As Summer reminds us midway through, that’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving to millennials, the generation that’s anecdotally Rick and Morty’s core audience.
If this episode has a flaw, it’s that it comes too soon after “Rickdependence Spray” where POTUS appeared briefly to defend America from Morty’s sperm monsters. Something about the continuity feels just a touch off. Regardless, any excuse to have Keith David back on Rick and Morty is worth it. I could listen to his irreverent and loud-mouthed President explain ridiculous national secrets all day. FDR became a mutant spider creature who feeds on all of the turkeys who weren’t pardoned on Thanksgiving?
Now we have this excellent episode to rewatch every Thanksgiving to remind us what the holiday is really about.
Rick and Morty Season 5 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11 p.m. Eastern.