Season three of Rick and Morty has changed up the formula a bit, dealing primarily with the fallout of Beth and Jerry’s divorce, and the repercussions it’s had for the rest of the family, from Summer and Morty getting their blood-lust on or Rick turning himself into a pickle to avoid family therapy. This makes the fourth episode, “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender,” feel like a bottle episode in that it’s just Rick and Morty going on an adventure like in the old days, only without any subplots or side stories. (Beth and Summer only make a brief appearance at the end of the episode.)
Of course, since this was a Morty-dictated adventure (he has a punch card now!) obviously things were destined to go awry — or, more awry than usual, since their adventures rarely end of a smooth note. After answering a literal call to adventure, Rick and Morty come to the aide of the Vindicators, an Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy-esque team of aliens and mutants who assemble to save the galaxy from peril. If the Vindicators were the stars of a successful, top-grossing movie franchise, this episode would have been the third film. It’s only the second involving Rick and Morty, however, due to “personality conflicts” that left them out of a previous installment.
Morty is naturally in awe of the wholesome-seeming superheroes — including the leader, a female alien named Supernova (Gillian Jacobs); Million Ants and Crocubot, who are exactly what their names would have you think; Alan Rails (Lance Reddick, The Wire), a guy who has the power of summoning ghost trains; and Vance Maximus, Renegade Star Soldier (Christian Slater), the token “life of the party” alpha male — while Rick regards them with a mix of skepticism, contempt, and jealously. As Supernova explains, the perfectly named clichéd villain “Worldender” has returned to wreak havoc, and after having lost a few team members on their second mission, they’ve begrudgingly allowed Rick and Morty back into the fold.
When the team arrives at Worldender’s hideout however, they find that he and all of his minions have already been taken out by Rick himself during a blackout binge drinking session in which he set up an elaborate Saw-themed series of booby traps designed to show the true colors of the Vindicators. This is confirmed when Morty asks point blank, “Rick, is this a Saw thing? Are you seriously Saw-ing the Vindicators?” and Rick responds,”Morty I’m a drunk, not a hack,” a moment before his past, drunken self appears on screen to declare, “You break the rules. Lose the game or try to leave, you will die. Like in … Saw.” The team quickly learns that Rick’s game is indeed a real threat when Vance Maximus gets literally sawed in half trying to escape (R.I.P. Vance Maximus).
Despite the fact that Rick’s game is flawed in that it puts himself in mortal danger, it does accomplish what it sets out to, which is to disillusion Morty on the Vindicators. After learning that the team destroyed an entire planet to kill a shape-shifter, the remaining members eventually turn on one another. And because poor Morty’s torment never ends, just when he thinks the whole thing was an elaborate way of Rick showing that deep down, he really does care for his grandson — which would have redeemed the entire exercise — it turns out to be a love letter to “Noob Noob,” the alien who initially laughed at Rick’s jokes, but was also relegated to staying behind from the mission at the last minute to clean up his drunken diarrhea. And then, drunken Rick being drunken Rick, he also threw himself a party to celebrate having defeated Worldender (featuring the rapper Logic as himself).
The episode is quintessential for what we’ve come to expect of Rick and Morty. No one learns anything, has an emotional breakthrough, or defining moment, cutting loose with a party instead. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
* Takeaway: Sometimes referencing the geopolitical complexities of Israel is not the same as going to an anti-Semitic place. Good to know!
* One of the big laughs of the episode involved Vance Maximus’ rocket boots morbidly shooting around the lower half of his body after he dies trying to escape.
* Gearhead is back! “So, you girls in gear-college … ?”
* We’re now two Jerry-less episode in the hole, although it looks like he returns with a vengeance in the previews for next week’s “Rick and Jerry” adventure episode, “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy.”
* Before the episode aired, Justin Roiland and some of the crew talked up the introduction of Worldender in a short featurette. Welcome Worldender, and goodbye Worldender.