Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Cloak and Dagger Ends an Uneven Season with an Uneven Finale

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It’s been a rough, frustrating first season of Cloak and Dagger. One alternating between promise and poor quality, good decisions and bad, and as a result leaving me unsure what I really think of the show. The finale continued along these lines. It would be good one moment and nonsensical the next. It had a lot of unintentional and unfortunate complications alongside some of the best messaging yet. Honestly, I’m walking away from it thinking the same thing I’m thinking of the show as a whole: there’s some possible good here, but overall I find the whole experience frustrating.

Episode Review

I admit that simply based on storytelling requirements, there was no way to avoid the bad entirely throughout this episode. The cop storyline I have come to absolutely loathe was simply too important and would have to be resolved, which meant more of it. There was also the Divine Pair stuff that I am not too fond of. Both played a central role in the finale. Your mileage here varies on your tolerance (or enjoyment of, I won’t pretend it’s impossible) for these two story threads.

As someone with no real tolerance for either, they dragged the episode down considerably. And regardless of this difference in opinion, Cloak and Dagger made some lame decisions that forced the story towards the eventual conclusion or robbed climactic scenes of their potential.

Really, the first half of the episode served almost as an intentional contrast and comparison between the best and worst of the show. On one hand, you had the Tandy scenes, which focused on the impending release of the stuff Roxxon drilled for. They moved at a good pace, didn’t have any glaring weaknesses, everything Tandy did and said fit her character, and it made me care about what was happening. Yet again, she was the easy highlight of the episode.

On the other hand, you had the Tyrone scenes. It’s unfortunate because none of my problems are with Tyrone as a character or the decisions made for him. Cloak and Dagger just wrapped him in layers of stupidity that dragged everything happening down. The cop storyline reached its most nonsensical point yet. Why was O’Reilly arrested? Why is the entire department just going along with murdering her and Tyrone? Notice how no one mentioned why Tyrone was accused of her boyfriend’s murder. What exactly was the reasoning there? Why does everyone act like Connors runs the entire police department?

I’ll get into this later as I discuss the season as a whole, but the cop storyline has been the lowlight of the entire season and hit its lowest point in the finale.

Eventually it all came together so Tandy and Tyrone could stop the epidemic causing all of New Orleans to fall into violence.  And again, it was a mixed bag. Some good, some bad.

Tandy and Tyrone’s dynamic shined again, as it almost always does when they work together. They support each other, encourage each other, and bring out the best in each other. The dialogue tends to stay above water at all times and hit high points more often than not. When they start using their powers, all the promise of seeing these two heroes on screen is realized. There is a lot to like about Cloak and Dagger in these moments.

Unfortunately, there was some serious inconsistency and obvious plot convenience rushing them towards conclusions I don’t think they were quite ready for. The result was a wishy-washy moment where Evita is trying to convince Tyrone and Tandy that they are the Divine Pair destined to save New Orleans, but at the cost of one of their lives. One minute they think it’s ridiculous. The next they suddenly buy in without issue. It happened too quickly for me. I wish the Divine Pair stuff didn’t exist, because it forced the sudden change in opinion from literally one second to the next. Better to scrap that nonsense and let them make the decision on their own accord.

Really, the entire climax leading to them stopping the impending Roxxon disaster felt rushed. I hoped it would be pushed off another season precisely for that reason; I figured it would be rushed if shoved into this episode. As much as I don’t like the cop stuff, better to give focus to Tyrone running from murder charges with Tandy’s help. Maybe the cop stuff wouldn’t be so bad in that case.

Better to let the city-wide violence plague have its own episode like the episode spent in Ivan Heiss’s head, which was probably the best episode of the season.

Besides the problems with pacing, the climax was also plagued by another familiar problem: the music. I’ve complained a lot about Cloak and Dagger’s use of music, but always as an aside. I’ve never thought it hurt the events on screen before now, it was just an annoyance. Not this time. This time Cloak and Dagger threw continuous music over the events  that absolutely ruined the potential of what happened on screen. Having a cover of “Come Sail Away” over the moment where Tandy and Tyrone make their potential sacrifice to save the city destroyed the dramatic potential.

It’s a nice cover, but it was ill-fitting. And combined with all the constant music thrown over top of everything at the end, it distracted me from the events on screen. It just plain did not fit. It was like the random Wu-Tang thrown in during the climactic fight scene of The Defenders.

So there you have it. Whatever your opinion of Cloak and Dagger coming in to the finale, I doubt it changed your mind. There’s good here and there’s bad. Too bad for me that the bad dragged the episode down, and really the entire season.

Season Review

I went into Cloak and Dagger with tempered expectations and little idea what to expect. My weekly reviews since have bounced around inconsistently, to the point that I’ve started questioning myself. Is the show really this inconsistent, or are my expectations? Is Cloak and Dagger raising them too high with the good, just to leave me disappointed when it reverts back to normal? Or am I reacting normally to a show that is wildly varying from week to week?

I don’t think there’s much debate about whether Cloak and Dagger varies in quality. It does. From scene to scene and episode to episode, it was often inconsistent. I was a big fan of the first 2 or 3 episodes, then had my opinion wane a bit over the next few. Then the 7th and 8th episodes gave me a lot of hope, only for the 9th to greatly disappoint me.

And believe me, that I enjoyed the show at all speaks to the fact it did a lot of things right. I honestly worried I would not like it at all simply because it’s a YA show. There’s nothing at all wrong with young adult fiction, but it’s typically not my jam. I’m an admitted prestige drama snob and find it hard to dial my expectations back down from that level. So the fact Cloak and Dagger hooked me and made me care did means something and brought my expectations up as a result.

In the end, I feel exactly the same way about it that I do about Runaways. They’re nice shows with some promise, but were ultimately dragged down by a hesitance to dive right in to the most interesting parts of the show and instead focus too much time on cliché, poorly handled subplots.

Like Runaways, Cloak and Dagger did a fine job with its characters. Tandy and Tyrone were good characters throughout. There were missteps, sure, but overall they were handled well and I was glad to have them to root for. Their arcs progressed naturally from selfishness and grief to two people willing to risk themselves for New Orleans. Even better, as I said before, their dynamic was almost always interesting. Most of the show’s snappiest dialogue came from them interacting.

Through them, the strongest writing and plotting took place as well. Whether it was the issues of police and race involved in Tyrone’s arc, Tandy’s struggles with grief and the tearing down of parental idealization, or discussions of privilege, there was a lot of good in how these two were handled. This was a lot like Runaways, which always shined brightest when it gave the actual Runaways room to star.

And like Runaways, Cloak and Dagger was at its worst when it bogged them down in nonsense or plain uninteresting stories.

I said last week that the storyline with O’Reilly and Connors was already a failure, and the finale only cemented it. Nothing about this made sense at any point. No attempt was made to clear up what the police were doing or who Connors was in the bigger picture. Little was done to make me give a damn about O’Reilly. The plotting went way off the deep end. It was just bad. I guess call this Cloak and Dagger’s equivalent of the affair nonsense from Runaways.

The stuff with Evita and her aunt also proved rather needless and poor compared to everything else as well. I’m surprised to say this, because I liked its original appearances. Over time, it became this blunt object begging you to please understand the theme of the episode or the plot to come. The aunt’s history lessons (notice I can’t even remember her name) were cheese to the maximum. Same thing with the priest’s lesson about the hero’s arc last week. These little thematic interludes were pretty solid early in the season, but eventually became these annoying voices screaming in your ear rather than trusting that you understand why things happen.

You also have the issue of the unintended implications in certain storylines. Some were thrown out there and never addressed again. Tandy’s suicidal thoughts, which led to the terribly mishandled moment where Tyrone screams at her to do it and Tandy eventually tries? Never brought up again. Tyrone being beat up by a bunch of white students? The only callback was Tyrone beating the hell out of one of them and nearly getting expelled for it.

This is what usually happens when you fall back on clichés in your story as a way to fill out episodes. The irresponsible implications of those storylines go ignored.

Cloak and Dagger already has already been renewed for season 2. So, I find myself in the same place I am with Runaways, where I hope they cut the nonsense away so that all that remains is strength. Depend more on Tandy, Tyrone, and their powers. Don’t write generic cop stuff because you need something else to fill out time or because you think you have to. Don’t fall back on the clichés that every show does. Fix the pacing. Watch out for those irresponsible implications.

Marvel TV is at much the same place the movies were during Phase 1. They were all clearly a bit afraid to fully embrace the creativity of the universe inspiring them. It wasn’t until Guardians of the Galaxy became such a success that Marvel finally leaned into its creative potential. The result was funny, visual feasts like Thor: Ragnarok and cultural smash hits like Black Panther. Who knows what Infinity War may have looked like if the MCU still felt the need to conform to grounded plots and sets out of fear of alienating audiences.

Marvel TV desperately needs a Guardians of the Galaxy right now. I hope it gets one soon.

Images Courtesy of Freeform

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