SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains spoilers from “That’s Amorte,” the fourth episode of “Rick and Morty” Season 7.
The Smiths of “Rick and Morty” are no ordinary family; they’re a band of interdimensional travelers that includes a mad scientist, a potential clone and two parents of a giant incest baby that the United States government launched into space. So it stands to reason that a family ritual as normal and wholesome as Spaghetti Night would spiral into a story of mass suicide, systemic exploitation and the ethics of cannibalism.
Let’s rewind: “That’s Amorte,” the fourth episode of the Adult Swim sitcom’s highly anticipated seventh season, begins with Rick serving the family a platter’s worth of delicious pasta. To his horror, Rick’s 14-year-old grandson Morty discovers the spaghetti comes from corpses — specifically, a planet where people who kill themselves turn into a pile of noodles post-mortem, a quirk Rick helpfully demonstrates with a tour of a morgue. When a guilt-ridden Morty goes public with this information, he accidentally creates a horrific system of incentivized self-harm to fuel a now-booming spaghetti trade. (One bridge gets decked out with giant colanders to catch the edible remains of anyone who jumps.) Various schemes fall flat; cloning turns into a “speed run of ‘Never Let Me Go,’” while inanimate flesh blobs engineered to stab themselves just don’t taste as good. Only watching a man’s life flash before his eyes on live TV puts an end to the madness, leaving the Smiths to enjoy some Salisbury steaks while vowing to never ask for details on their dinner again.
“That’s Amorte” has all the nihilist absurdity of a classic “Rick and Morty” plot, even though the show is now working without co-creator and former lead voice actor Justin Roiland. (The episode was written before Roiland was fired from the show in January, but features his replacements Ian Cardoni and Harry Belden in the title roles.) But it’s also rooted in the show’s underlying emotional tension: the inability of a misanthropic genius like Rick to connect, or even honestly communicate, with his own family.
“Spaghetti is the family meal,” says Heather Anne Campbell, the co-executive producer on “Rick and Morty” who pitched and wrote “That’s Amorte.” “When you’re growing up and your mom makes something, it’s going to be spaghetti. So the idea that Rick has been obfuscating the truth of where his spaghetti is coming from in an artificial attempt to create this familial experience felt pretty on the nose.”
Campbell had previously written “Final DeSmithation,” a Season 6 episode that hinges on a fortune cookie from Panda Express. (“I think the room has become accustomed to a lot of my pitches being food based, because I think about food a lot in the room,” Campbell explains.) When she proposed the suicide spaghetti concept for “That’s Amorte,” it was an easy sell. “Those are my favorite types of ideas — the ones that feel like only your show could do them,” says showrunner Scott Marder.
The idea of food that results from suffering naturally invokes real world debates over animal rights. (The spineless spaghetti monsters are basically the intergalactic version of Impossible meat.) But Campbell was more interested in even broader questions of the collateral damage we ignore in the name of convenience.
“There’s so many different ways in which we are barricaded from the truth of everything that we enjoy, and I think that the puzzle of being alive is how to reconcile that,” Campbell says. “When a wolf eats a rabbit the wolf’s not, like, worried about it. It is a very specific experience to being human, to being conscious of something in a way that nothing else in the animal kingdom seems to have to digest.” It’s a psychological quirk “Rick and Morty,” for lack of a better term, makes a meal of.
While the core concept stayed intact from first to final draft, “That’s Amorte” went through many different iterations on its way to air. There were versions where the audience actually saw people leaping off buildings and turning into spaghetti, or where Rick was the one who had the crisis of conscience, or where Morty became a spaghetti dealer in the vein of Walter White. Underlying it all was the tonal balancing act of making comedy about large-scale, self-inflicted, profit-driven death.
“No matter how nihilistic we get it, I like to keep things therapeutically nihilistic so that you’re confronting the idea that life is meaningless, but falling just short of what I call ‘punishing empathy,’” says “Rick and Morty” co-creator Dan Harmon. (While Marder has run the writers’ room since Season 4, Harmon maintains an active presence.) As a cartoon, “Rick and Morty” could lean into the bleak humor of the spaghetti concept rather than confront its human impact head-on. “I mean, is it horribly, darkly funny that humans are the species that are able to terminate their own life? Yeah. And is it even more darkly absurd that we have to have rules and laws depending on which society we’re in about whether you’re allowed to do that, and whether that makes you a good person or a bad person? These things are all fodder for a very dark cosmic mirth.” Harmon attributes some of the series’ success to exactly this “willingness to go into the void.”
One aspect of “That’s Amorte” that never changed was the episode’s emotional climax. Rick promises he can synthesize the spaghetti, removing the need for more suffering. He just needs one last, willing participant: Fred, a terminally ill man whose final reflections are, for some science-y reason, shown on a live broadcast of Rick’s experiment. Accompanied by a cover of “Live Forever” by Oasis, an entire, specific life plays out in under two minutes. Fred wants to become an architect, but fails out of school — only to find a second calling later in life by making building blocks for children. Fred breaks up with his high school sweetheart and reconnects with her as an adult — only after she marries and has a family. The wordless montage is all the more real for how it defies a neat and simple trajectory.
“What was most important to me about that sequence is that when we see those montages of people’s lives in movies, they always follow a very standard arc,” Campbell says. “Interested in a thing, gets a job at the thing, makes the thing. And life is not not at all like that. It is a huge number of detours and disappointments that make your life; it’s not a direct path. It’s like a river with a bunch of branches.”
“That’s Amorte” is, in part, about the deals we make with ourselves to justify our compromised choices. (Is it okay to eat a person if they give you their explicit permission? What if the government creates a structure to incentivize that choice, like filtering the sun so a whole planet has fluorescent lighting?) It’s also an extremely silly hypothetical buoyed by marinara sauce. “That’s such a nice, permissive playground for writers to work with,” Campbell says. “I think I literally pitched it in frustration initially. We were stuck and I was like, ‘Guys, this show can be anything! Rick gets spaghetti! It’s from dead bodies! Let’s go!’”