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VINDICATORS 3 Proves This Season of RICK AND MORTY Is About Us

After Morty and Summer had a chance to get out their divorce-fueled angst, and Beth botched a chance to heal with her family (she wanted to get drunk with Rick instead), “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” was a sedate episode that turned the spotlight on us. Loyal fans. The biggest enablers.

The episode in which Rick’s .10 blood alcohol level faced off against Justice League rejects took a broadly cynical view to narrowly defined heroism. A dig at the homogeneous mob of superheroes at our fingertips? Sure. But the jab underneath the parody was a diarrhea-slathered version of the old warning never to meet your heroes.

The cocky Captain America-lite, floating star system woman, sentient ant colony, robo-croc, and ghost of John Henry all had deep personal flaws and conflicts they needed to purge from their systems (including the destruction of an entire planet, which they felt necessary because Rick wasn’t there to save them). Realistically, they were all versions of Rick. The only thing that distinguished them was generic comic book spandex and uniform vests that identified them as “the good guys.” They even treated Noob-Noob like a total Morty.

The episode tears down classic hero archetypes and doesn’t bother replacing them with anything. Whatever the philosophical leanings of the Vindicators or Rick, nihilism prevails over any moral construct. That means it’s not really about heroes or villains at all. Rick saves the universe on the reg because, like he says, he has the ability to do anything, but only whenever he wants. There is no noble underpinning, but the universe gets to go on existing. With Rick going full Jigsaw, this episode is the most explicit example yet of him sliding back and forth between the Hero and Villain distinctions while trashing the too-easily labeled saviors.

The downward spiral of moral relativism continues forever if you let it, and slaughtering heroes once again leads back to Morty, who is our conscience (at least for this installment). Like the other episodes this season, it grabs a megaphone to ask its characters (and us) why they stand by Rick. If you wondered why Beth ignored her children’s plaintive remarks about therapy and wanted to get hammered with her dad at the end of “Pickle Rick,” this episode asks why you’re being a Beth about watching Rick and Morty. With everything you’ve seen him do, and the way he treats other people, why do we still cheer for him?

What’s most impressive about the episode beyond the shift from wacky comedy to giggling despair is all the attention to detail. Every element comes back into play. The first big wedge between Morty and Rick is the discovery that the Vindicators went on an adventure without them because they hate Rick. It turns out they asked him back because they committed genocide when his intellect wasn’t there to help. Noob-Noob (who totally gets it) laughs at two of Rick’s jokes, which becomes the underpinning for his booze-swimming mind to find something happy in the world. It becomes a hurtful punchline, but it also allows Rick to say what he really feels to Morty in the safe space of logic and sarcasm.

Of course, the best tiny detail is Rick’s slipshod third test where he punts and asks them to shoot three-pointers (aloha!) “and try to make it a lesson about [themselves], like how selfish they are.” And Hawaii. It’s a lazy, drunken move that Jigsaw would slap his forehead at, but then Supernova, Alan Rails, and Million Ants actually make it a lesson about themselves and how selfish they are. Rick wins again.

Rick’s promise was that this would be the darkest season yet, and it’s living up to that threat with each episode. “Vindicators 3” went ahead and made Rick the literal bad guy with full horror villain credentials, and we’re still in his corner. Why? Maybe because he throws a hell of a party. And probably because we don’t have to live with him. By the end of this season, Morty may not want to live with him either.

I get the feeling that Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, and this season’s writers will use each episode to test our affection for Rick in increasingly intense ways. This is just the beginning.

Want to know how Ricky And Morty trolled us all with Pickle Rick? Click here.

Curious which version of Rick is the most deadly Rick? Click here to find out.

Images: Adult Swim

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