This review contains spoilers.
3.4 Vindicators 3 – The Return Of Worldender
Rick And Morty Season 3, wisely and perhaps unavoidably, has been leaning hard into the conceit that Rick can—but doesn’t have to—do anything. Considering this was quickly established in the show’s first season, it’s impressive they’ve continued to wring adventures out of a series with an unstoppable nihilist as a protagonist. A show with less confident writing would be at a loss for conflict, dead in the water, and, admittedly, even Rick And Morty flailed a little in season two.
However, season three chose to capitalise on the conflict that there is no real conflict by having Rick destroy the Galactic Federation and the Citadel of Ricks in one fell swoop. There’s truly next to nothing out there to antagonise Rick now, so the antagonist has become, more starkly than ever before, Rick himself.
Vindicators 3 – The Return Of Worldender is a true expression of this concept. When Rick and Morty join up with a superhero team, the Vindicators, to defeat the villain Worldender, Rick, finding the whole thing stupid, gets drunk and kills Worldender himself, and then forces the Vindicators to tackle a Saw-style series of deadly, lesson-teaching trials. In his drunken state, Rick has left his portal gun behind, so he’s trapped too, forced to endure his own trials along with everyone else, making Rick literally his own worst enemy.
It’s a brilliant concept for a plot: Rick is too drunk to remember setting any of this up, so the trials are as much a surprise to him as everyone else (but less of a surprise to Morty, who’s used to all of Rick’s crap by now). It’s also hilarious that Rick went to the trouble of doing all this, but, as he got progressively drunker, lost interest in the follow-through, so one of the trials is just that the Vindicators must sink five free throws in five minutes. And the final trial doesn’t even function properly.
The plot remains unpredictable and satisfying throughout. Worldender, even though his name is in the episode title, dies without getting any lines (which makes this video Adult Swim uploaded just before the episode aired all the funnier). We’re also tricked into thinking Rick’s going to turn everything around with a surprisingly sweet ending, but then the rug is pulled out from us on that front, too. Plus, we get a surprise potential new recurring villain in Supernova (which makes me very happy because she’s voiced by a Community alum, the wonderful Gillian Jacobs).
This is also the funniest episode of the season thus far. Clever one-liners just come tumbling out of characters’ mouths one after another. Rick gets most of them, constantly burning the Vindicators (“So, your origin is what, you fell into a vat of redundancy?”). These get even funnier when paired with (everyone’s new favorite character) Noob Noob saying “God damn!” Rick’s videotaped drunken, sloppy explanations of all his Saw trials are also consistently hilarious. Another highlight is Supernova’s briefing that begins “Worldender is back and this time he’s out to end more than worlds.” I also love when Morty sums up basically the whole show: “You managed to destroy just about everything today: the villains, the heroes, the lines between them, my childhood.”
I have one nerdy nitpick, which is that, although I find Alan Rails and his superpower funny, it’s one of those times, as with Something Ricked This Way Comes, where the series has incorporated supernatural elements which I feel don’t quite jive with the show’s usual approach that all its fantastical elements are the product of science. I know Alan Rails is just a one-off joke, but it effectively makes it so that ghosts are now part of the Rick And Morty multiverse, which adds a dimension that doesn’t fit with everything else we know.
This feels like a classic episode from the show’s first season, with the core duo of Rick and Morty on an adventure together, but with the addition of all they’ve experienced together in the past straining their relationship. It’s a brilliant plot, logically positioning Rick as the antagonist to himself and everyone else. And it’s consistently funny throughout. Also, Noob Noob.