“I just wonder if talking about all my problems in here is actually helping,” Bertie (Ali Wong) ponders aloud to her therapist, “shouldn’t I be “improving” faster?” It’s a relatable thought for anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in therapy. By definition a slow, difficult, and emotionally taxing process, therapy hardly appeals to the painfully human desire for instant gratification. This thought provides a perfect opening for “The Flood,” the second season finale of Tuca & Bertie. A reevaluation of just how far Bertie has come throughout the entirety of the season, the episode is also a reminder of how far the road ahead her winds. From the first minutes of Tuca & Bertie’s second season, Bertie spent an exhausting amount of time working through her anxiety in therapy, and “The Flood” takes stock of where Bertie is now.
Once again, creator Lisa Hanawalt and the writers of Tuca & Bertie construct an ingenious visual representation for the internal conflicts plaguing the show’s characters: the titular flood. Opening on the cataclysmic arrival of the storm of the century, Bird Town and its residents are thrown into disarray. The storm opens up Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie to new levels of vulnerability, heightening their emotions and bringing the cracks in their relationship to the surface. After last week’s cathartic scenes between the two roommates, Tuca and Bertie work through where their relationship stands against the backdrop of a disastrous flood, airing out dirty laundry and confronting their fears.
“The Flood,” and much of Tuca & Bertie’s second season, feels like a slow break-up careening towards the end with neither party quite comprehending the inevitable. This makes the flood that throws their relationship into a very real crisis even more emotionally potent, a jolt that startles the two best friends out of their daze of repressed conflict and general avoidance. Another aspect of this break-up is the slow decline of the world around the two women, glimpsed throughout the season as Bird Town succumbs to very real issues of gentrification, natural disaster, and inequality. Hanawalt’s show beautifully, and very subtly, illustrates the downward spiral of a city, perfectly complementing the shattering of what was once a beautiful friendship.
One aspect of “The Flood” that is startlingly distinct from the rest of this season is the fact that both Tuca and Bertie spend the majority of the episode’s runtime together, sharing their storylines in an increasingly rare occasion. We’ve seen episodes like “Nighttime Friend,” or “Kyle,” dominate this season, episodes that break the duo up into separate plots, rarely crossing over into each other’s worlds. Hanawalt and the show’s writers, while building up the world of Bird Town, have imperceptibly built two separate worlds, distinct to both leads. Through adding small wrinkles to the fabric of both Tuca and Bertie’s worlds, the show begins to present two separate realities that the protagonists’ occupy, illustrating the very different circumstances of each character. It’s a small touch that adds up to a big emotional impact, showing how two people can be so close yet so far apart.
In fact, the writers of Tuca & Bertie excel at depicting every relationship within the show, not just the friendship between the leads. Both Bertie’s relationship with Speckle (Steven Yeun) and Tuca’s relationship with Kara (Sasheer Zamata) are nuanced and fully fleshed out, both realistic and dramatically engaging. The flood exacerbates these relationships as well, breaking down Speckle’s idyllic vision of a life with Bertie as his obsessively designed dream house is washed away. This disaster forces the optimistic Speckle to confront the fact that not everything is perfect, and that’s okay. Kara is an incredibly easy character to despise, as her emotionally manipulative behavior becomes more and more obvious with each successive episode. However, the writers always find a way to represent how Kara justifies her own actions, addressing her past in ways that, while not an excuse, do somewhat explain why she treats Tuca how she does. “The Flood” makes particularly poignant use of Kara’s lighthouse, the beacon of light signifying safety in the midst of the flood to travellers, while marking the opposite for Tuca.
Tiffany Haddish’s vocal performance as Tuca remains a highlight of the series with “The Flood” marking a new emotional high for the actress. Guiding Tuca’s journey towards acceptance, her difficult emotions around conflict and how to process it, is no easy task, yet Haddish is crystal clear in her delivery. Tuca is a character full of contradictions, and Haddish manages to illustrate all of these facets of Tuca’s personality while also touching on difficult emotions. With Tuca’s emotions heightened by the flood, Haddish rises to the challenge of capturing Tuca’s slow realization that maybe she does need help. Believing she can work through her trauma independently, it isn’t until the episode’s final moments, as the flood subsides, that Tuca touchingly realises that she can’t help herself alone. In the end, Tuca must open herself up to mend the relationships in her life.
In a bout of intense frustration, Tuca exclaims, “But talking about stuff just makes you feel worse!” While this might be true, Bertie’s development over the course of Tuca & Bertie’s second season is evidence that therapy does help, that opening yourself up to others, while painful, is a worthwhile endeavor. Bird Town is left in shambles after the flood, but Tuca and Bertie approach a new level of emotional intimacy and openness. While season two of Tuca & Bertie felt like watching a break-up unfold in real-time, it also opened the show’s emotional range to unexplored feelings and topics. With season three already greenlit, Hanawalt and her writers will have a difficult task making sense of the emotional wreckage left after “The Flood.” We can only hope it’s as stunning and absorbing as this season.
Tuca & Bertie season 2 airs on Sundays 11:30 p.m. EST on Adult Swim and also on adultswim.com.