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The ‘Rick & Morty’ Thanksgiving episode is just as insane as Thanksgiving itself
"Rick and Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular" should be a holiday tradition.
What the hell is Thanksgiving, anyway? What is it actually based on? When did the iconic staples of the day take such firm root in American culture? As kids, we’re told that the day has something to do with pilgrims and Native Americans. As adults, we learn that it had more to do with genocide. Pass the canned cranberry sauce, because that’s also a part of it. It’s an incredibly random holiday, so there’s no better show to revel in the lunacy than Rick and Morty.
In Season 5, the animated wonder released "Rick and Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular." It came out in July of 2021, nowhere close to November, which was weird in and of itself.
Even though the dark history of the holiday’s origins had been done on countless shows many times before (and will be done again), Rick and Morty used craziness (along with the requisite references to genocide) to make an even bigger impact. It might not be the most brilliant or game-changing episode of the series — it’s out for laughs more than anything else — but it still rules the roost. The reason why is that it does what Rick and Morty does best: it escalates everything well past the point of sanity. You could say the same of Thanksgiving.
It begins as any Thanksgiving episode should; Rick and Morty steal (and then destroy) the US Constitution. Rick has gotten in trouble with the US government before, but he’s not worried. He has the perfect way of getting out of hot water, and it comes down to… the tradition of the US President pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving.
Why did that become a thing? It doesn’t really matter. The West Wing goes out of its way to have President Bartlet state that the turkey pardoning is all for show, and that there’s no real pardon involved. Rick and Morty takes it seriously; this a real power that the President has.
Rick turns himself into a turkey so he can receive a pardon from the President. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again.
This is a show that changed lives when Rick turned himself into a pickle, so they can’t just do the pardoning gag and call it a holiday. They bring back Keith David as the President, and he’s determined to outplay Rick Sanchez.
Very few characters on this show can ever go up against Rick and survive, let alone give him a challenge. David’s President does, and the rivalry between him and Rick is what makes the episode soar. Justin Roiland and Keith David play off of each other fantastically, and helping everything is the fact that David is a national treasure himself. Banks should be closed on his birthday.
The pissing match between these two escalates quickly. A squad of soldiers gets turned into turkey commandos. An actual turkey turns into the US President. We learn the secret history of two warring space factions fighting against turkeys. And, references to both the Alien and Predator franchises abound.
It is the runner on the side that bastes this turkey right good, though. One of the soldiers who is turned into a turkey, whose name is Coop, is played by Timothy Olyphant. Every cliche you’ve ever seen in a movie about a soldier being called back to service is let loose in this storyline, and Olyphant plays it as straight as can be.
After the turkeys have been defeated and huge swaths of destruction have occurred, Coop returns to his family with major PTSD. He is very troubled with the time he spent as a turkey, and he is triggered by spilled blueberries in a supermarket. Making it worse? The government isn’t going to pay for any kind of treatment.
Why is this plotline in the episode? For the same reason that little marshmallows are usually put on more than one Thanksgiving dish. That reason is this: why the f*** not?
The turkeys and untouchable Americana of the holiday is ingrained and accepted. Even the “this holiday celebrates genocide” takes are as much a part of the day as yams are. Why not throw murderous turkeys and aliens into it? The closing beat about how the government treats veterans is the most scathing thing in the episode, and a half-spider FDR has already come and gone. Some people put raisins in stuffing, it’s all chaos.
Thanksgiving is ridiculous, and this episode matches and escalates that ridiculousness. If anything, the episode has a nicer ending than the holiday usually does. Rick and the President achieve understanding and mutual respect. The same can’t be said for millions of family dinners across the nation, where current events are discussed, alcohol is guzzled, uncles scream at college-age kids, and laden tables are always on the brink of getting flipped over in wishbone-addled rage.
This episode should be a staple of Thanksgiving. If “everyone pretends to enjoy the awful homemade cranberry dressing that Gladys brought and you’re gonna eat it no matter how much it sucks” has to be a staple, then "Rick and Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular" should get a shot. Give thanks and stay frosty, because murderous turkeys are gunning for you.
Stream The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Peacock.