The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) delivering an outrageously sweeping opening monologue in the style of a panicking high-school essay introduction has become a welcome familiarity over the series’ first season. Arthur (Griffin Newman) having weird sexual experiences with a robot boat voiced by Alan Tudyk, in the opening scene of the delightfully titled “My Dinner With Android,” isn’t as familiar, but may be even more welcome.
This takes place because Arthur and The Tick have been crashing with Overkill (Scott Speiser) in the wake of the mothman’s escape from The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley). There’s a lot of conspiratorial behavior going on—these heroes are in the dark about the master evil plan and it’s inspiring, if anything, too much caution. A boring amount of caution. Luckily, the writers know this, too, and boot Arthur and The Tick out after that odd shower experience. Their attempts to warn Superian (Brendan Hines) of The Terror’s plans must continue from Arthur’s old apartment.
The Terror’s plans are nebulous as he returns to the soda corporation he apparently started back in the day (Brown Tingle Cola, with vending machines more common than wells in developing countries!) in as hostile a takeover as the business world has ever seen. This scene has a throat-slicing as jarring as the scattered f-bombs the series drops. For such a goofy gaggle of weirdos, The Tick isn’t afraid to remind you that these weirdos, despite it all, are living in a real world with real consequences.
Some of these consequences follow from being kicked in the balls by a tiny mad scientist. Yes, the ballad of Dr. Karamazov (John Pirkis) is far from over. He’s on the lam, his country (well, a Romanian woman and robot) is looking for him, and he’s trying to contact Arthur—but an antenna is missing from the moth boy’s suit, snapped off by The Tick’s super-packing abilities. If you had super-strength, you’d over-zip a suitcase too.
When Arthur and The Tick attach the antenna with some help from Tinfoil Kevin (Devin Ratray), Karamazov is soon to follow. Karamazov keeps screwing up his body in silly ways, now looking like a big-head hack from a Playstation game, which leads to some hilarious camera trickery, like Pirkis sticking his head in a baby carriage and shouting about being in danger. Acting on this show must be fun for everyone, but nobody’s having more than Pirkis.
This very tiny man is the key to undoing Very Large Man, a naked guy grown to kaiju proportions by The Terror. It’s a world of extremes clashing against each other, looking for a grey area. That goes for allies on the side of good and those fighting for evil. Each possess the distilled essences of their alignment, refusing to see weakness or complexity in their positions. Arthur is convinced heroes are perfect and The Tick is convinced destiny is infallible, while Miss Lint (Yara Martinez) has a no-nonsense brand of evil that runs counter to The Terror’s nonsense-heavy trademark.
This conflict belies a shared grasping for identity. The characters all cry out for belonging in their own way. The Tick has a constant need to relate to those around him. Literally, at times: He might believe that he, too, is a dog or a robot. That leads to a rather highbrow comparison (for a show with a gigantic naked man as its primary threat) between a robot’s lack of free will and those that shrug their shoulders and blindly follow an idea of destiny. That’s sort of undermined by The Tick remembering all the times he’s chosen to do things, but honestly, that just makes the poor guy feel worse. What even is he? No idea, but going on a quest to find out is the self-examining terminology that he can swallow. He won’t be alone on that expedition because Arthur’s insatiable quest to stop The Terror, The Terror’s insecurity over his evil artistry, and Dot’s (Valorie Curry) desire to feel useful in a world of superheroics all funnel down to the central self-doubt of the show.
The latter’s case is still seemingly unsolvable, as Dot admits to Overkill that she can’t be a cool badass spy-hero like him. Not without a little pseudo-romantic training scene, that is. This rubs our noses in the fact that Overkill and Miss Lint used to be a thing, until she burned him bad at the behest of The Terror (a fact confirmed later in the episode), which leaves Dot about where she started—albeit with a bit more confidence about her Terror-tracking plans.
Arthur and The Tick defeat the the Karamazov-hunting robot, which provides the moth suit’s creator with a suit of his own just in time to properly care for a sickly Superian, who’s stumbled into Arthur’s apartment. Big Bismuth poisoning (Superian’s kryptonite) allows Hines to play even more vacant than usual, which is a refreshing oasis of simple stupidity in between the vast, arid stretches of long-winded exposition. Some of the origin story plotting is fun, especially when Karamazov is telling it in his old-timey black-and-white style with vignette corners and a whole lot of silliness.
This all comes to a head when it’s revealed that Big Bismuth is the key to shrinking, growing, and killing Superian. The Tick blew up all the weapons stolen from Karamazov in the pilot episode, so The Terror is growing Big Bismuth crystals even bigger inside the Very Large Man. Yes, it’s mad science (or, as Arthur calls it, stupid science), but at least The Terror has vision. In fact, the villains are the most fun part of The Tick because they don’t spend all their time trying to solve anything. They just do.
The Terror has a mini Mad Men moment that becomes more of a Maddest Man moment as the surviving Brown Tingle Cola employees pitch his big comeback to the world. Also, he has a tiny pig now. Does it work for you? It certainly works for me, and begrudgingly for Miss Lint, who’s the only one trying to do some damn crime around here.
While The Terror dinks around with different video concepts, Lint links up with the hilariously heartfelt underling, Frank (Joshua Schubart), who wants to nail down the new identity of the ex-Pyramid gang, to prep the madman’s evil plan. This attracts the attention of Dot and—surprising nobody but Dot—Overkill. Speiser is trying his best to do what Derek Wilson’s testosterone-manic Wolf does so well in Hulu’s Future Man, but he’s still confined to relatively low-key macho-ness, especially with his budding closeness to Dot. He’s even punching people into 48-hour comas instead of killing them because of The Tick’s decree. Character growth!
However, they’re separated rather quickly as Lint captures Overkill and tensions rise like a couple of murderous ice dancers. They refer to each other by their first names (Janet and Esteban) and get much better than they are apart. Martinez chews scenery excellently, clipping her commands and letting her silly questions about Overkill’s love life drip out like poison from a tipped vial. “You brought a date? To our showdown?” Make that two showdowns on this relatively exciting two-episode cliffhanger, because the BFG, sorry, the VLM, is heading straight for the city.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.