Sunday, April 21, 2024

Cloak and Dagger Continues Down an Unfortunate Path

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Last week Cloak and Dagger made a shaky choice that I decided I would wait to decide on. After all, a single moment should be judged by the way the story handles it moving forward. Call me crazy, but I give almost any show the benefit of the doubt. “Princeton Offense” not only doubled down on this mistake, it compounded the mistake by retroactively creating larger mistakes elsewhere. Combined with the continued slow pace of the show, I’m starting to worry. I went through this same frustrating dance not too long ago with Runaways.

Compounding Mistakes

Tandy’s suicide attempt last week stuck out as a sore point in an otherwise solid episode. Not just the attempt itself, but how it came about. For Tandy to attempt suicide after Tyrone basically dared her to was a shockingly insensitive move in a show that to date had handled social issues with appreciated subtlety and awareness.

I decided to wait for this episode before passing any final judgment on the issue. Again, you have to wait and see how a story handles these moments moving forward. They did not handle it well. Cloak and Dagger made the worst mistake they could have: they spun the suicide as a positive.

Turns out self-harm is the way Tandy unlocked control of her powers. Lovely, right? And not only did it work for her, she then suggested Tyrone do the same to control his powers. When he understandably expresses concern, she pushes him off a balcony to force him to. Cloak and Dagger doubled down on this shocking insensitivity, and I frankly struggle to understand why. They could have taken numerous routes toward this idea of danger unlocking their powers. For some reason they settled on suicide without anyone really calling out the harmful implications of it.

I mean, do I really need to say why this was such an awful idea? Do I really need to go into detail as to why promoting self-harm is a stunningly irresponsible message to push, especially on a show airing on a network aimed at teenagers? There are a lot of kids that harbor these kinds of thoughts. There are many people in general who do. You have to be careful when including this kind of content in your show. I can’t believe anyone would glorify it like this.

I know that wasn’t the intent. Most likely Cloak and Dagger wanted to suggest that you can turn your depression and fears into strength. They could have done so without promoting the use of suicide. Even knowing it was unintentional, I can’t really give the writers a pass here. Even ignoring Tandy’s attempt would have been preferable to “put yourself in mortal danger, that will work!”

Even worse, this wasn’t the only mistake made this week. After Tyrone was beaten by two of his white teammates as retaliation for the entire team being punished due to Tyrone’s late arrival to practice, there wasn’t any follow-up. I didn’t see much immediately wrong with that. I took it as part of Cloak and Dagger’s subtle messages about white privilege and racial injustice. The scene fit with everything around it.

Then, “Princeton Offense” followed up on it by turning it almost into a positive. That beating was exactly what Tyrone needed to get his head in the game! Nothing wrong with that whatsoever!

Now, again, I know that’s not the intention here. You can’t help but see the unfortunate implication here, though. The white kids assault Tyrone and think it helped him. They think it worked. Tyrone goes along with the idea when they say so. Does this create space later on for these same kids to hurt Tyrone again, especially since he threw the championship game? I honestly expect it. I think it’s how we’ll see another escalation of Tyrone’s powers in the next episode. Which again falls back on the idea of pain being necessary to activate his and Tandy’s powers.

The idea of pain activating power can work in the proper context and handled with the right sensitivity. Any story should handle these subjects with sensitivity, but this is especially true of shows aimed at a younger audience.These past two episodes of Cloak and Dagger have absolutely not handled it with proper context or sensitivity. The fact Cloak and Dagger made this mistake two episodes in a row suggests they will keep making these mistakes. And that’s a damn shame.

Then you combine these mistakes with the continued slow pacing, and I really worry for this first season. I won’t say nothing happened. O’Reilly officially got deep into an investigation into Connors. Tandy made contact with multiple Roxxon bigwigs, including THE bigwig. She has control of her powers and moved Tyrone a step closer to controlling his own. So, there was plot movement. More than previous episodes, in fact.

Thing is, we’re about halfway through the season and we’re just now at the jumping off point for the larger plot. And you know, I get it. They’re going for a slow burn. Problem is I just saw this happen with Runaways. I saw a show that kept looking like it was about to kick into gear, but never really did. With each episode that passes, I worry the same thing will happen here. We all know where this season will eventually go.  Tandy and Tyrone must unite before anything truly significant happens. That we’re nowhere close to this unification after five episodes does not bode well.

I just don’t want to see the promise of the first three episodes go unfulfilled the way the promise of Runaways’s first season did.

The Light in the Darkness

It’s a damn good thing that Tandy is carrying this show so well. I hope her shoulders can carry this burden throughout because she damn well may need to.

To say Tandy is the most interesting character is a massive understatement. Tyrone is still bogged down in high school drama following worn out tropes. O’Reilly is lukewarm at best. Everything interesting, for better or worse, revolves around Tandy. Olivia Holt is easily the most interesting actor on the show so far. I’ve been resisting saying this in hopes he would improve, but Aubrey Joseph is falling flat in his performance as Tyrone.

This episode was a great example of how Tandy stands out in a show that increasingly struggles around her. While Tyrone is stuck in a cheesy basketball game plot, Tandy’s at a party making connections to further her investigation. While O’Reilly’s awkwardly transitioned scenes bore me, Tandy uses her powers to create surprisingly edgy (in a good way) scenes showing the borderline evil “hopes” of the Roxxon executives she sought out. While everything else stays stuck in the same old high school drama stories that I’ve seen over and over, Tandy’s story at least tries to lean into the more interesting potential of her superpowers.

I don’t want to keep going back to this, but it’s another area where I’m reminded of Runaways. The most interesting parts of that show were easily the scenes involving Karolina, Nico, Gert, and Molly. They were the scenes that leaned into the superpowers and the interesting weirdness a superhero show is capable of. The problem always came when the show moved away from them and focused on cliché nonsense involving the parents. The same thing looks to be happening here.

Tandy is by far the most interesting character, not just regarding the plot but just as a character. Tandy has sympathetic traumas that make you want to root for her. She also has consistent flaws of thinking and action that create interesting drama within the show. She’s the one pushing the plot forward while nothing happens around her. Despite the unfortunate dialogue involved, I really liked her perspective on her ability to view people’s hopes as a form of “stealing” from them. After all, she makes her living conning people.

Now, maybe Tandy can carry this show through a rough first season in the hopes that the second season improves enough to give her a break. I hope so. Otherwise Cloak and Dagger will continue to struggle moving forward and may even get worse.

It’s obvious at this point that whatever plot movement occurs will occur because of Tandy. I just hope she can get it moving in time to help this season rebound. It’s been an unfortunate downward turn these past two episodes, and a turn that doesn’t inspire hope for great improvement in Cloak and Dagger.

Other Thoughts:

  • For real, the dialogue about Tandy “checking books out of library without returning them” to symbolize her using her powers to invade thoughts was painful. It was a perfect example of how the Tandy and Tyrone interactions try too hard sometimes.
  • O’Reilly was probably faking her drug use. At least I hope so, because it was a pretty dumb scene otherwise.
  • Tyrone actually did have some plot movement of his own. It seems like his brother’s friend had nothing to do with Billy’s shooting, but was deep into the drug trade with Connors. So we’ll see where that goes. There are plenty of threads weaving together.
  • I really liked how Tyrone threw the championship game. It spoke to his strong sense of justice. Alongside his guilt over his brother, his sense of justice is his defining characteristic.
  • I also loved the basketball teleporting into the party Tandy attended. That was a funny gag.
  • All of a sudden Evita plays coy? Really? Why? Also interesting that she suggests she knows about Tyrone’s powers. She was at least aware in some way.

Images Courtesy of Freeform

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