SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you have watched “Rick and Morty” Season 5, Episode 5, “Amortycan Grickffiti.”
Leave it to “Rick and Morty” to have an episode that’s one-half a coming-of-age (space) adventure and one-half a “Hellraiser”-inspired action-drama. That’s “Amortycan Grickfitti” in a nutshell, separating the kids (Summer and Morty) from the adults (Rick, Jerry, and Beth) in two plots that are just as youthful and adult as their respective subjects. The former is perhaps to be expected, considering this week’s title inspiration, George Lucas’ 1973 coming-of-age film “American Graffiti”. The Justin Roiland version of the episode synopsis even focuses on that aspect too: “Adults r gone tonight, broh. Grab the keys.” But going into this episode, the promotion was the Rick and Jerry guys’ night plot, whatever that would possibly entail. (In fact, the “translated” version of the synopsis even calls it the “guys’ night from hell.”) That it all leads to Rick (and Beth) literally going to Hell and back to save Jerry’s life marks a pretty important milestone in these characters’ lives.
While the two plots in this episode couldn’t be any more different if they tried, Anne Lane’s script manages to make them both stand on their own and feel like two perfect-fitting pieces of a puzzle. Not just in moments like Jerry’s performance of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” over a montage of Summer, Morty, and the new kid raising their own figurative hell but in the tonal hyperviolence that these plots manage to culminate in, despite coming from completely different angles.
The episode opens with Beth on her way to a seven-horse pregnancy (with all horse semen offscreen this week), Rick and Jerry off to their now usual guys’ night, and Summer being put in charge of Morty while they’re all away. While Beth initially says no parties or “vape… stuff,” that rule’s massaged when Morty says he has “a friend” coming over: new transfer student Bruce Chutback. Summer’s interested in the new kid, and after some unnecessary arguing — Summer does call Morty “a creepy little grandpa’s boy” and fart in his face — and Rick telling the kids not to touch his stuff while he’s gone, they have Chutback over.
Even before Chutback’s introduction, it’s pretty clear just how much cooler this kid is than both Summer and Morty; but his introduction takes things to the next level. To quote the song in all it’s cool guy rock music glory, “BRUCE CHUTBACK / NEWEST KID IN SCHOOL / JUST TRANSFERRED IN / HASN’T DONE ANYTHING EMBARRASSING YET / UNLIMITED POTENTIAL / ANYBODY’S GUESS / NO CREDIT IS PERFECT CREDIT / CHUTBACK IS THE BEST.” Of course, Chutback proves too cool for school — refusing sofa wine and playing Snake on his phone during interdimensional cable — until he reveals he wants to go for a ride in Rick’s spaceship.
“Amortycan Grickfitti” isn’t just a coming-of-age story for Summer and Morty — it’s also one for (surprisingly homicidal) Rick’s spaceship. As it turns out, despite the “Keep Summer Safe” initiative from Rick back in the second season’s “The Ricks Must Be Crazy,” the ship doesn’t actually have too much loyalty toward Summer. In fact, it doesn’t have much loyalty toward Morty either, despite all the adventures he’s been on with Rick. So when Morty says “DEFENSE SYSTEMS OFFLINE,” that does nothing. The only thing that works is for the two siblings to lie and tell the ship that Rick’s in danger.
Meanwhile, we learn that “guys’ night” is actually a way for Rick to pay off yet another debt. He’s not in danger — yet — but he is selling Jerry out to Hell demons as penance for the faulty skin hooks he sold them. (Chekhov’s faulty skin hooks, if you will.) Dan Harmon cites “Hellraiser” and the work of Clive Barker, in general, as the inspiration for this half episode. The “Hell cube,” the designs of the demons, Beth’s later Hell look — that all very much checks out.
That inspiration also extends to the particular logic and psychology of these demon characters when it comes to pain and pleasure, which is what starts this guys’ night ruse. “We love suffering,” one demon says. “Therefore we love hanging out with Jerry.” “His lameness is our candy,” adds another. Which is how we get Jerry-oke (that’s karaoke, sung by Jerry), with Jerry getting excited that the bar has Smashmouth’s entire catalog and being the only one who sings all night. While the episode does not allow us to hear Chris Parnell sing any Smashmouth, there is the aforementioned singing of “Oh Yeah” for montage (and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” reference) purposes, which is the best meta use of that song since “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” invoked it as “Day Bow Bow.”
During the montage, “Amortycan Graffiti” provides a taste of Summer, Morty, and Chutback joyriding across the universe(s), wreaking havoc, and not caring about the consequences. Beth arrives at Jerry-oke and quickly realizes what Rick and the hell demons are really doing during this “guys’ night.” And things take a turn. Instead of sticking up for her husband, Beth immediately gets into drinking “Essence of Hell” with the demons and joining them in clowning on Jerry — because they call her cool, of course. And instead of getting out of all that they’re doing unscathed, the kids becoming the kidnapped as the ship reveals she plans to take them on her own joy ride, where she will blackmail them for all the bad things she’s about to do, based on all the bad things they already did.
“You kids have given me a license to do whatever I want,” the ship says, because she starts dragging a whole solar system to lure a big alien like a fish. “For the love of god, stop,” Summer yells, while Morty asks, “What is joyful about this?!”
For the ship it’s simple: “The kill. Usually.” From here, it’s apparent that the ship loves violence in a way that’s uncomfortable for even mass murderer Morty, and the funniest moments of the episode — again, other than “Oh Yeah” — are when it leans into that.
Then, somehow how this becomes an episode about how the ship wants the kids to help her lose her virginity. The logic?
Summer: “You have virginity?”
The Ship: “I don’t know. Don’t all objects? Isn’t a doorknob a virgin?”
Morty: “Not mine. … Never f**ked a doorknob.”
As that bonding experience forms — via a meetcute between the ship and a “Changeformer” (a riff on Transformers) at an “American Graffiti”-inspired space diner — Jerry overhears the demons talking about how “cringe” and lacking of self-awareness he is. This causes Jerry to no longer play along with what the demons want… which causes them to do a little massacre at the bar, before taking Jerry with them to Hell.
It’s then up to Rick and Beth to rescue Jerry, since they really messed things up. This is the “to Hell and back” aspect of the episode, with their “Hellraiser”-esque (especially Beth) disguises, more of the Hell demons’ logic about pain and pleasure, and the faulty skin hooks, allowing Rick, Beth, and Jerry to run for safety while Rick comes up with a plan. The plan? An “aversion converting inversion reverter,” a gun which causes the demons to feel pain as pain. Rick explains that they’re going to kill the demons with “100% sincerity,” and he sweetens the pot by essentially telling Jerry he loves him. (This is after Rick tries to say that his love for Beth, who loves Jerry, doesn’t actually translate to him also loving Jerry. It clearly does. It’s sweet, considering the setting.)
Based on Chutback’s advice — “Why can’t you pretend to be a robot, pretending to be a car?” — the ship attempts to pull off the tried and true coming-of-age story of pretending to be something you’re not to impress a potential love interest. She’s robot “Can’t Buy Me Love”-ing the Changeformer, if you will.
It’s a plan that fails miserably, but it does lead to another massacre, this time in the form of the ship mowing down every Changeformer on Space Tahoe. Meanwhile, Rick, Beth, and Jerry make the Hell demons feel pain (especially when it comes to all their piercings) before making their way back to their world. It’s a lot of violence… and it doesn’t stop there, as the kids get arrested by space cops for all of their crimes this night, and the ship poses as their lawyer — Alyson Hannigan, no relation — by shoving a “chip” into her head, basically animating her corpse.
Considering what we know about these characters and “Rick and Morty,” when the ship offers Morty and Summer the chance to pin all the blame of Chutback, it actually wouldn’t be a surprise if they did it and left him to rot in space prison. There is a lesson here, as Summer and Morty realize that Chutback’s not all that interesting but they still allowed him to persuade them to do something they knew they shouldn’t have. So they don’t turn him in — but they still bust out because the ship loves chaos. It’s sweet, kind of, even after the ship’s speech about Chutback being a “parasite” who “wanders the earth changing people who don’t need to be changed.” (That the epilogue gives him comeuppance in the form of taking away his popularity and having the maleboxians/femaleboxians — mailbox people — the kids attacked come get him back for it is both appropriate and sad.)
At the end of it all, the kids and the adults reconvene, and no one is the wiser about what happened. Oh yeah.