Look, it’s hard to top an episode as great as “Pickle Rick.” But “Vindicators 3: The Return of World-Ender” comes close.
Morty is helping Rick eliminate a wormlike alien species that is capable of sterilizing everything on the planet when a beacon begins to glow. They are being signaled by the Vindicators, “the first line in the defense against evil, the guarders of the unguarded.” True to character, Rick “refuses to answer a literal call to adventure” — and besides, sequel adventures are never as fun — but Morty invokes his right to choose every tenth adventure, a callback to season one’s iconic “Meeseeks and Destroy.”
On the Vindicators’ ship, Rick and Morty sit in on a briefing about the plan of the evil World-Ender, who is out to destroy the Tyrrania system. We’re introduced to the other Vindicators: Super Nova, Crocubot, Allen Rails the Ghost Train Summoner, Noob Noob the janitor, Vance Maximus: Renegade Star Soldier, and Million Ants. (Yes, he’s a guy made out of a million ants.)
Morty is disheartened to learn that the Vindicators are actually assembling for the third time, making this adventure not a sequel, but part three of a trilogy. An article about the second adventure reveals that the team did not invite Rick and Morty back the second time because of a conflict with Rick’s personality. Morty is genuinely humiliated that the Vindicators don’t like them, since the Vindicators are his heroes. Rick is clearly hurt that Morty doesn’t consider Rick his hero, and he portal guns out to get a drink.
The next morning, Morty wakes up to find Rick asleep and half-naked in the middle of the floor, having … well, how do I put this? He totally crapped himself in his sleep. Vance Maximus gives Morty a superhero uniform and a pep talk before they go to face their first battle, dragging a still-unconscious Rick along for the fight. They wake him up just in time for him to disable automated gun turrets, but Morty doesn’t want to talk to him.
The Vindicators find that World-Ender and his soldiers have already been killed. This means something more evil is already out there — and that something turns out to be a very drunk Rick Sanchez from the previous night. A video of drunk Rick welcomes the Vindicators to their “reckoning.” Drunk Rick apparently set up a Saw-esque game for the Vindicators to play in order to escape.
Vance confronts Rick about the fact that he’s talking about Drunk Rick like they aren’t the same person. He then starts to panic and tries to leave, but is immediately killed — horrifically killed — by one of Drunk Rick’s traps.
Morty solves one of the games, understanding that Drunk Rick is making a point out of the fact that none of the Vindicators are very special. (“That’s always his point,” Morty explains.) Crocubot attempts to solve another game by invoking the name of the planet Dorian 5, and is killed on the spot. Allen Rails reveals that Dorian 5 was a planet the Vindicators destroyed, and even though it was ostensibly to destroy a villain, Morty seems disappointed in his heroes.
More rifts begin to emerge within the team as Morty once again solves Drunk Rick’s puzzle. (The answer to this one was Israel, which he apparently likes to talk about when he’s drunk.) In the next room, Drunk Rick’s game is just hitting five three-pointers in five minutes. “Try to make it a point about how selfish you are or something. Also Hawaii.” A frustrated Morty goes to disarm the Neutrino bomb that Rick planted in the room, since apparently Drunk Rick makes Neutrino bombs like other drunk people make phone calls to their exes.
Allen and Super Nova argue after Allen realizes that Super Nova, his ex-wife, has been seeing Million Ants. Meanwhile, Rick and Morty argue about every relationship Rick destroys. Rick tells Morty that the Vindicators are no better than him, it’s just that “people want the people they like to be right.” Instead of proving Rick wrong, Million Ants kills Allen Rails in a death that Super Nova claims is on Rick’s hands.
In the next room, Drunk Rick’s game is that the team has to place the only thing Rick cares about from the Vindicators on the platform. Morty guesses that the answer is nothing, but then Rick guesses that the answer is Morty, whom he was afraid he was losing to the Vindicators. He really does care about his grandson in a tremendous way. The contraption takes Morty on something tantamount to a Disneyland dark ride. On the ride, Drunk Rick tells Morty how much he cares about him, how hard it’s been for him to express that, and how glad he is that he’s a part of the Vindicators … only the ride wasn’t for Morty. It was for Noob Noob.
Once Morty returns to the platform, Super Nova immediately turns on Rick and Morty, telling them they can’t leave. She is ready to choke them to death when Million Ants steps in, seemingly talking her out of it moments before she destroys him. The platform rises, dropping Super Nova, Rick, and Morty on the roof, where Drunk Rick arranged a party. Super Nova walks away as Morty, once again beaten down by an adventure, explains the principle that everyone is a superhero, which means no one needs a special Vindicators jacket.
Then Logic appears and raps about how great Noob Noob is.
Episodes like “Vindicators 3: The Return of World-Ender” are the bread and butter of Rick and Morty. As far as complicated sci-fi premises that unravel to reveal the harsh truths about Rick’s alcoholism, “Vindicators” can’t touch an episode like “A Rickle in Time.” Nevertheless, it does rub raw the show’s core relationship, and I was especially intrigued by how it played Morty as the beleaguered caretaker relative. It says a lot about Morty that he’s learned how to disarm his grandfather’s Neutrino bombs, but it says even more that he’s learned how to weather his drunk grandfather’s disregard for his family’s feelings or safety. This, I think, is the ticking Neutrino bomb at the core of the show. How long until Morty has cleaned up one too many messes?
Dispatches From the Multiverse
• “Yikes, things did feel less diverse in there.” The Vindicators universe kills off its characters of color in a similarly troubling way as Earth’s blockbusters.
• Rick’s epidermis is laced with a nano-fiber defense mesh. Also, remember how Morty can turn into a car?
• In the tag, Gear Head pretends to be a vindicator to pick up Gear coeds.
• RICK AND JERRY EPISODE NEXT WEEK! I. Can. Not. Wait.