Over and over, abusive behaviors, especially those in romantic relationships, tend to repeat themselves endlessly. Apologies start to lose their meaning, behavior remains unchanged, and the hurt from these words and/or actions linger. “I’ve had this issue with partners in the past. I’m not good at bending. But you mean a lot to me,” Kara (Sasheer Zamata) tells Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) in this week’s episode of Tuca & Bertie, following a brave outpouring from Tuca calling out the controlling nature of the two women’s relationship. The effect of Kara’s words is devastating, placing her own trauma and negative experiences over Tuca’s concerns, shutting down Tuca in a frustrating play for pity. While Kara may have certainly struggled in past relationships, these experiences in no way justify her actions. By controlling Tuca, Kara is effectively continuing the cycle of abuse she claims to be a victim of.
Lisa Hanawalt’s animated comedy series Tuca & Bertie perfectly conveys the cyclical nature of abuse and toxicity in romantic relationships, powerfully addressing these themes in this week’s “The Dance.” The penultimate episode of Tuca & Bertie’s second season, “The Dance” is an emotional powerhouse that never skimps on laughs or visual imagination. In fact, comedy and inventive visuals often enhance the effect of the show, driving home emotional beats and visualizing complex psychological concepts.
“The Dance” sees one of the central themes of Tuca & Bertie reaching a new head: the titular friends’ codependency issues. Bertie’s (Ali Wong) anxiety reaches fever pitch in the episode’s first act, sparked by the absence of Tuca, who is swept away in her romance with Kara. As a result, Tuca and Bertie make plans to attend the Bird Town fair, an annual tradition between the two friends. However, Bertie is alarmed to find Tuca’s identity completely reshaped by Kara—gone are her trademark shorts, replaced by pants. Even Tuca’s speech mimics Kara, a powerful realization of the ways Tuca is fully controlled by her new girlfriend. Tuca reveals a disturbing detail from the two’s relationship, showing off a bag decorated with pins, each indicating a disagreement between the two. Tuca, to Bertie’s horror, has become a living embodiment of the controlling actions of Kara.
Kara’s all-consuming control of Tuca prompts Bertie to stage an intervention of sorts, leading to a deep-cutting heart-to-heart between the two friends. Tuca attempts to justify the actions of Kara, turning Bertie’s own words around on her in defense. Twisting Bertie’s statement that relationships require compromise and change feels particularly hopeless, the desperate words of Tuca clearly attempting to feel in control of her own life. The facade of this seeming acceptance of compromise and change breaks easily however, as Bertie chips away the artificiality with a single question. She asks Tuca if Kara has changed for her, or if the dynamic of their relationship is entirely one-sided. Tuca is speechless at this, answering Bertie’s question for her.
The speechlessness carries into one of Tuca & Bertie’s most ambitious sequences, a masterpiece of minimal animation carrying maximum emotional impact. A beautiful dance sequence serves as the centerpiece of “The Dance,” seeing the typical surreal and vibrant visuals of the series replaced by minimal line art, illustrating with gorgeous fluidity figures dancing in a phantasmagoric dream ballet. Symbolism takes full hold during this dream-like dance, seeing Tuca consumed by the domineering force of Kara. Kara’s hold breaks on Tuca with the arrival of Bertie, however, as she swoops into the center of the dance, filling the screen with bright red color, bringing Tuca along as they dance together in unified harmony. All of this beauty and emotional honesty leads to Tuca’s outpouring to Kara, which is, of course, met with denial and deflection. Sequences like these make “The Dance” easily one of Tuca & Bertie’s most emotionally potent episodes, even rivaled by the nighttime visuals of “Nighttime Friend,” a previous visual standout.
Tuca & Bertie delivers devastating pathos in “The Dance,” ending on an effective scene-setter for the final episode of the season next week, concluding a perfect installment in its own right. “The Dance” concludes with Tuca returning to her apartment, and talking with Bertie. Tuca reveals that she is moving in with Kara, a move destined to end in disappointment, a fact that even Tuca seems to know. The two best friends, finally alone after a long period of separation, are in the position to pour their hearts out to each other, to truly engage with one another. But the events of their lives transpire against a connection, with Tuca locked in to immerse herself even further into a toxic relationship, and Bertie set to move in with her boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun). Bertie asks Tuca if she’s happy, but we all know the answer to that question.
Tuca & Bertie season 2 airs on Sundays 11:30 p.m. EST on Adult Swim and also on adultswim.com.