Another Sunday, another episode of Rick and Morty. Our titular heroes return in Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender.
Maybe it’s just coming down from the series high that was Pickle Rick but Vindicators felt a little hollow. The episode opens with a literal call to action from the Vindicators to save the universe from the villainous Worldender.
Rick refuses to answer, forever planting his feet in the dirt, maintaining that he will save reality only when and if he feels like it, that’s when Morty invokes the right to choose one of every ten adventures, producing a punch card which Rick stamps with little fanfare.
The duo arrive on an intergalactic station and are greeted by a team of unlikely heroes who are a shallow skewering of the superhero genre that’s taken over Hollywood.
We’re given Supernova, the apparent leader of the Vindicators with the power of a collapsing star, CrocuBot who is exactly what he sounds like, Million Ants, also exactly what it sounds like, and Alan Rails with the ability to control a ghost train and a tragic dead-parents backstory. The crew is rounded out by Maximus Renegade Star-Soldier, a wise cracking Star Lord type and Rick’s opposite.
Morty sees the Vindicators as more than just superheroes, they are his personal heroes, and something that he sorely needs as his faith in Rick fades with every episode after his break out from prison.
Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender has all of the trappings of what makes Rick and Morty great, clever jokes and animated violence, but it lacks all but a little of the substance that usually elevates the show above shock humor for its own sake. It’s wearing Rick and Morty’s clothes but is really three dogs in mech suits beneath a lab coat.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some noteworthy moments. When Star-Soldier first arrives, he calls Morty by name, to Morty’s delight, and follows it up by saying “I never forget a kid.” Perhaps a not-so-subtle callback to the darker moments of the last time Morty chose an adventure and encountered King Jellybean in a seedy bathroom.
Perhaps the episode’s most memorable moment is toward the end, after Rick has defeated Worldender before the Vindicators ever get the chance and, in a drunken fit, puts them through a series of Saw-like puzzles in order to prove beyond any doubt that he doesn’t respect them.
Morty spends the episode solving the puzzles with little effort, he has Rick figured out, at one point lamenting that the point of a particular puzzle was that none of them are special. “That’s kind of always his point,” Morty says.
The final puzzle demands that the Vindicators place the only part of them that Rick values onto a pedestal. Morty believes it’s a cruel joke, that there is nothing they could place there that would save them because Rick doesn’t believe they have anything of value.
This is when we see that rare glimpse of emotion and humanity in Rick, he suggests, rather sheepishly (not remembering anything he’d created in the previous night’s blackout) that they put Morty on the pedestal. That perhaps, while he was drunk, he became sentimental and that Morty might be the one person within the Vindicators that he values.
Morty steps onto the dais and is treated to a macabre, theme-park ride ending with a video from Rick which appears to confirm his love for Morty, only to have the rug pulled out when it’s revealed he is talking about a throwaway character the Vindicators left behind at HQ.
Overall, Vindicators 3 sits somewhere at the bottom of the barrel, somewhere near Get Schwifty. While both episodes may have some meme-worthy moments, they’re mostly forgettable among the larger grouping of stellar outings the show has had.
If anything, the show serves to cement the theme that while Beth has doubled down on her adoration of her father, Morty and Summer are beginning to see the holes in his facade. Their relationships are eroding.
Maybe this means that sometime, before season three ends, Rick might have to face his most difficult challenge to date, his own flaws.