As we dive into the final two episodes of The Tick’s first season, it’s impossible not to think of one thing and one thing only: The finale’s title — “The End of the Beginning (Of the Start of the Dawn of the Age of Superheroes)” — looks like some of your humble reviewer’s multi-clause sentences. These bookend-defining titles are a perfect takedown of the overly epic superhero narratives inflating the DCEU and MCU, but this series’ zingers need a bit more substance behind them. The substance it doesn have, however, is front, naked, and center as we get back into it.
Mid-showdown and with Very Large Man heading towards the city, The Tick is in the heat of its various moments. Superian (Brendan Hines) is wandering around the apartment, put into a heavily-fevered flu-like state thanks to the powdered bismuth covering The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) after his escapades blowing stuff up in the pilot. While Tick faces full-body suction to recover all of the element, your mind may begin to wander. Hey, Tinfoil Kevin’s (Devin Ratray) office is a robot head that slowly becomes their head-quarters.
Thankfully, even when things are slow, there’re plenty of small jokes to suss out from the nerdy writers room—things like the way Hines squints and warbles around Arthur (Griffin Newman), Dr. Karamazov (John Pirkis), and the apartment-invading Goat (Kahlil Ashanti) as best he can while the plot is unfurling. His outward physical perfection and inward, well, uselessness is another great variation on The Tick’s main joke: His literalism—at the root of much of the show’s humor—undermines everything, including his invulnerability. The ridiculous plotting, especially Karamazov’s mad science, whizzes over everyone’s antennae but The Tick’s, who just says, “Snazzy, let’s do that!”
This mad science—about shrinking the VLM instead of allowing The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) to detonate the bismuth-filled, skyscraping dad bod in a Superian-killing radiation-filled explosion—is a ridiculously convoluted and lightly explained plan. Which actually works out fine, enjoyment-wise. No need to think too hard on mad science. Just call it mad and walk away to more interesting things, like the villains behind it.
The seductive femme fatale angle for Miss Lint (Yara Martinez) brings out so much from Overkill (Scott Speiser), allowing for a series of jokes equating vendettas and crushes—especially now that it’s clear which is the villainous, leather-up dom and which is the surprisingly rugged (and equally leathered-up) sub in this relationship. There’s a cute bit about their shared eye disfigurations and facial scars, followed by less cute electric BDSM (now there’s a band name), but it all leads up to Lint’s power play against The Terror, whom it’s been clear she’s more competent than since day one.
The Terror, big idea guy that he is, just recently realized he doesn’t know where Superian is. He, naturally, drums out his frustration. Then he decides, hell, I know Arthur’s full name, I bet I could get to his family. Family like Dot (Valorie Curry). Wait, where’s Dot again?
Oh yeah, she’s dicking around by Overkill. She rescues Overkill from his unhealthy relationship and his imprisonment, proving that she is useful, damn it, before vanishing from the story until a brief yet funny aside in the finale where it turns out Overkill is too tough to die from cardiac arrest. Even when his heart stops. It’s a weird disposal of two of the more complex characters with a relationship ripe for growth, but at least the joke is funny.
That value structure is maintained for the rest of the side characters. In a small character-building scene, it turns out that Superian is a nice guy who’s always harbored doubts about The Terror’s defeat and knew about his own weakness, but like any of us, had a hard time acknowledging his faults because he wants to be a good person—or at least seem like a good person, which to many is the first step. That’s very sweet and also never touched on again.
Plenty gets lost in the whirlwind push to the execution of Karamazov’s plan, which only has a 20% chance of success. Arthur does some crunchtime soul-searching and reaches out to Walter (Francois Chau) and his mom (Patricia Kalember, whose delivery is as flat as month-old Big Tingle Cola), who’re right in the middle of danger at the Flag Five’s memorial dedication ceremony. Arthur reaches an unsteady peace with his stepfather (and clues his mom into his superhero-dom) before heading out with The Tick to face the biggest naked man ever to grace non-pornographic television.
Speaking of non-pornographic television (the only kind I’m allowed to review here for some reason), let’s devote a brief aside to The Tick’s theme music. Damn, it’s catchy. Chris Bacon created an upbeat, jazzy score to accompany the delightfully silly Saul Bass-esque titles. Sometimes it’s my favorite part of the episode, much like how sometimes I’d just make up words to go along with the jaunty Parks and Recreation theme.
Sometimes, however, there’s some genuinely very exciting stuff in The Tick, despite all its intentionally undercutting shenanigans. When Arthur and The Tick face off against the VLM, there’s an impressive bit of giant-circling acrobatics and special effects that are a delightful respite from a superhero series that, for large stretches, seems to consist of two people talking to each other in small rooms.
The visual flair continues even when Arthur successfully (and anticlimactically) shrinks the VLM into a Normal Height Man, setting The Tick above even straight-faced superhero fare like The Flash. Lightning-fast zoom-outs and the hazy, shell-shocked handheld cinematography of Arthur’s post-shrinkage landing lend even the most rote plotting some much-needed panache. This, coupled with Serafinowicz’s resolute movie-narrator deadpan when undermining every heroic act anyone around him completes and smacking the former terrorizer of the city on his now regular-sized ass, makes for a conclusion that’s satisfying in its own nose-thumbing way rather than the expected closure from defeating evil. In fact, Superian shows up just in time to take credit for everything.
But really, closure doesn’t come—the evil is still at large. The Terror’s small, petty villainy extends past his Superian-slaying plan into his business model: He’s been peeing in the soda from the start. One drop per bottle. Now, he needs to take matters into his own hands. Haley’s dessicated voice, the cartooniest old man voice outside of that one prospector voice that seeped into our public consciousness some time ago, makes this all the better. Lint is quite literally shackled by The Terror, making her usurpation a failure and leaving her helpless as The Terror seeks out Arthur’s mom.
This section has one of the show’s weirdest, most disheartening, unexpectedly racist moments. Walter, Arthur’s stepdad, is being kidnapped along with Arthur’s mom. Bag over the head, hauled away by henchmen, the whole deal. But wait a second. Surprise: The one Asian character is also a secret martial arts master, even when blindfolded. That doesn’t seem OK, right? It’s not like this came out of anywhere besides left field, and that’s supposed to be the joke, but this tiny punchline reeks of racist stereotyping. Chau’s performance on the show is one of my favorites, and his bumbling, half-weird/half-sweet stepdad routine is more than enough character to drill down on. Not everyone has to be a superhero—especially in this gross, racially motivated way.
With that taken care of and The Tick punching The Terror’s giant T ship so hard that a lowercase t escape pod (carrying the crafty Lint) ejects out of it, there’s not much left but a final, thematically meaningful showdown between Arthur and The Terror. The anniversary of the Flag Five’s demise features a similar scene of rubble and destruction, but this time Arthur is stepping up to be the hero he needed back then. There’s a debate between life’s meaninglessness and the optimistic call of destiny, but really what’s being described is the series’ insistence that what matters most are the things we take for granted, both good and evil.
Everyday kindnesses are more heroic than punching a bad guy’s spaceship out of the sky, while peeing in everyone’s soda is way more fucked-up than building a shrink ray. That’s why the captial-S Superheroes in The Tick aren’t in the spotlight. Normal people care about that high-level nonsense just enough to cheer for Superian when he shows up to for the cameras, but what really matters is that the fatherless Arthur saved a dad from getting squished.
However, that won’t be his prerogative for much longer. Now that he’s entered into this super-world, he’ll have to deal with the consequences. Midnight (voiced by Townsend Coleman) shows up and gives a grizzled ex-hero speech about how “ya did good, kid” and leaves Arthur with a dire warning: Being a public superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A.E.G.I.S. is watching now, and we’ll have to wait until next season to find out the depths of its Captain America: Civil War-style sinister oversight.
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.