Dual Breakdown: Rick and Morty Season 3 Episode 4: Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender

In a lesser series, having an unstoppable nihilist as a protagonist would probably end up making the show monotonous, but in Rick and Morty it's presented a unique opportunity. Rick's super genius has become his own worse enemy and each episode in this season is another crack in his façade. They are slowly peeling away each of his layers and at some point we will make it to his core--it's anyone's guess what we will find in his center however.

This episode has Rick and Morty teaming up with The Vindicators, a team of superheroes that protects the galaxy. They are an amalgamation of tropes from various comic book films taking notes mostly from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, Rick takes immense joy in pointing out how cliché they are any time he can and he also takes pot-shots at the comic book fandom, calling them insipid and easily amused. The Vindicators have interchangeable traits and are fighting a generic villain called, you guessed it, Worldender. The entire story is a satire on how over-saturated comic book films have become in popular culture.

Back in the '80s comic books were going through something similar with superheroes becoming predicable and stale. In 1987 Alan Moore changed the face of comics forever with his post-modern masterpiece Watchmen, which deconstructed the superhero concept and added realism and cynicism to the lexicon. Since superhero films are still mining older material for stories they too are suffering the same fate of banality. Rick and Morty takes this idea and runs with it, giving The Vindicators the "Alan Moore Treatment"--simultaneously skewering the modern comic book culture and showcasing how much of an insufferable asshole Rick is. 

Ironically, Rick looks down on Morty for idolizing the The Vindicators but as we discover during the course of the episode, Rick also requires and enjoys that type of validation from other people. He is secretly insecure (like most megalomaniacs). Morty seems to be realizing this with more clarity as the season progresses. All in all, this is another fantastic character study on Rick's motivations and how they are affecting everyone else around him.

--Michelle Kisner

I’m just going to come right out and say it: Noob Noob is my new favorite character.

Vindicators 3: The Return of World Ender is, at the surface, an episode of Rick and Morty that pits Rick against himself-as-blackout-drunk, proving what we already know in that Rick is a formidable foe to anyone who might oppose him – even himself. I don’t have as much background on all of the references and parodies made to superheroes and superhero films as Michelle does, but one thing I know really well is Morty’s character – and this is as much a Morty episode as it is a pot-shot at blockbuster summer movie plots and character tropes. It’s as much about the eroding relationship between Rick and Morty as it is about the concept of heroism – and, as it turns out, personal heroism. So I’m going to concentrate my analysis on Morty as a character, rather than focusing on the Vindicators.

Morty’s grown in a lot of ways since the beginning of the series, but he’s still a kid, and he still wants to have someone to look up to, to admire, and to emulate. And while Summer appears to be falling into her grandfather’s staggering footsteps, Morty’s been growing apart from Rick since mid-season two. The wide-eyed idealism that tried to persist, even as Morty ate breakfast twenty feet from his own rotting corpse, has been picked at since Mortynight Run, forging doubt in the inherent goodness in people and starting to build the barrier between Morty and his family. Whether or not Rick sees the full extent of Morty’s disgust and wariness is debatable, but by the end of Vindicators 3, he’s at least been made fully aware that Morty doesn’t idolize him, or even much respect him. Morty’s a budding existentialist – really, he has been since he witnessed his own death – but he still tries to find merit in the concept of heroism as something to strive for, something that matters. And so, when Rick shreds the idea of that merit to ribbons, he further loses Morty.

So, with Rick’s blackout-drunken elaborate plot to expose the Vindicators for the vicious, amoral, self-centered group they are succeeding in not only proving Rick right about them, but in completely destroying them, Morty loses his heroes and much of what lingering faith remained in Rick. He’s almost blasé about defusing neutrino bombs, decoding the babble of Rick’s drunken rants, and he’s utterly deadpan when he solves the puzzles. There’s a spark of hope, just barely, when Morty believes he may be uncovering a sentimental attachment in Rick – and, of course, it’s dashed almost the second it’s suggested.

It’s said that if you want to know a sober man’s truth, that one should get him drunk – and at his most honest, Rick’s bitterness toward the Vindicators, and his grandson’s idealization of their characters, really does read as jealousy. But Rick’s emotional constipation is so total that, even at his most vulnerable, he denies that he has any real feelings for Morty at all. This denial pushes so hard at Morty that it’s beginning to turn him into a completely different person, a boy who is losing faith in one of the most basic blocks of his self-esteem. If Rick should disappear again from Morty’s life at this juncture, there’s no way life could go back to what it was for him. 

--Dana Culling