Hail and well met, adventurers! When last we left our superfriends on The Tick, Arthur (Griffin Newman) had been captured by the certainly-still-alive and certainly-deserving-of-his-own-definite-article The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) while The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), well, did his best to cope. The helplessness of the two protagonists is both entertaining and completely engrossing as a symbiotic partnership—this is what superheroes and sidekicks should be like. In the first two episodes following its mid-season hiatus, the many duos operating in The Tick develop within their silly, plot-dense confines.
While The Tick fiddles around with badass G.I. Joe goofball Overkill (Scott Speiser) and Arthur’s sister, Dot (Valorie Curry) to find his small, mothy boy, Arthur must make some discoveries of his own. The first of which is that he’s not alone in The Terror’s subterranean graveyard lair (hence the “Tale from the Crypt” title). He’s trapped right next door to his supersuit’s creator, Dr. Karamazov (John Pirkis), who is the very model of a modern mad scientist: Romanian, whispery, and syncopated in his delivery, Pirkis goes big and it pays off.
But this episode is a tale of two headquarters. The first is The Terror’s crypt, complete with tortuorous confrontations among the villain, Miss Lint (Yara Martinez), and Arthur that result in The Terror acknowledging that yes, he used to know this kid. The other, more lighthearted base of operations is the sentient Dangerboat (voiced by Alan Tudyk), which identifies as a male—specifically a gay male—boat (not a mailboat, as The Tick suggests). This coming out accompanies a small crush on Arthur, which, in the midst of a plan-hatching session to find and save the neurotic conspiracy theorist, is delightfully derailing.
What’s also completely derailing—yet fits perfectly into the series’ satire—are The Terror’s Whiplash-like drum lessons that occur alongside Arthur’s escape after Miss Lint turns traitor (or not, because it’s so easy to see her fake betrayal from a mile away), giving him a key and directions out of his cell.
The best part of the escape is that it’s the least interesting thing happening at the time, because the lessons take place in the lair, from a kidnapped drum set instructor channeling J. K. Simmons, and are a great little twist on the “action music” trope when the drum solo jamming out on the soundtrack scoring Arthur’s tunnel run turns out to have a diegetic source. Haley is a hell of a drummer (he has a band called Earle’s Cleric in real life), which this episode smartly uses as a point of humor and, when his crescendos drown out his henchmen, a point of character development. The Terror is a bad guy who treats villainy as an imperfect, emotional art form, which leaves him exposed to the more practical pratfalls of evil’s details.
As Arthur escapes with the pint-sized professor (shrinking accidents happen, OK?), The Tick and Overkill storm the lair—right when it’s set to self-destruct. The ensuing destruction highlights the satisfying way The Tick uses its budget.
The sets are nothing impressive and the shots aren’t intercut with helicopter footage, but when wackines like a nut-punching tiny professor (who hilariously just runs off after being carried to safety) or a graveyard explosion (oh, the desecration!) needs doing, it gets done right. This kind of comic behavior (as in comic book and comedy) is exactly where The Tick shines—which makes its brake-hitting all the more frustrating when it decides to go too deep into its clandestine plot.
In the aftermath of the crypt’s explosion, The Tick and Overkill walk out relatively unscathed, aside from the latter’s malfunctioning robot hand. Arthur realizes that Overkill is former Flag Five member Straight Shooter because of robot hands and eyes, but it brings up memories bad enough that it helps explain the macho soldier’s overcompensatory behavior—even past the “my whole team was killed and my eyes/hands destroyed” thing. This reveal isn’t surprising or particularly affecting, but the burgeoning will-they-won’t-they between Overkill and Dot certainly is. Mostly because it gives Dot something to do.
Dot, who spends much of the two episodes bonding with Overkill over trying to be a bigger badass than they are, is searching for her place in the team (and the character’s place on the show). She tries going to a shooting range, but she’s terrible. Really terrible. Her growing frustration at being left out of this story is being well-built, though what it’s building to—along with poor Walter (François Chau), who just wants to be a good stepdad—may be in direct conflict with Arthur’s growing confidence.
Arthur, having all his wildest theories proved right, now wants to take these crackpot ideas about The Terror trying to kill the world’s greatest hero with bismuth (which are actually true) to the top. That means the perfect Superian (Brendan Hines), who must be gotten to via Flag Five survivor Midnight (voiced by Townsend Coleman). Midnight, of course, is a well-spoken, secular, pyrokinetic dog whose book signing The Tick and Arthur crash.
The end result of this is that Overkill is convinced to talk to his old teammate, whom Overkill quickly punches in the face, and the ensuing fight is broken up by The Tick. Tick, who’s been reading Midnight’s memoir, finds lots to relate to in the orphaned pup’s search for self—and finds himself stopping the dog from ripping out his super-friend’s throat. As the group reconvenes, figuring out how best to stop The Terror, The Tick restricts Overkill’s murderous tendencies, effectively making him NoMoreKill when the hero swears a life debt to the blue behemoth.
If the past few paragraphs have left you spinning like a cartoon coyote, you’re not alone. The amount of plot and number of character introductions jammed into the two episodes are so breathless that everything feels wafer-thin. It’s like a huge lake frozen over with a tiny layer of ice. It may be sprawling, but if you push too deep, it’s no fun. The set-up is all here, soaked through the episode’s bread and butter, but without a strong central thematic core or the hijinks of “Crypt,” The Tick’s ambitions overreach.
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.