One of the best aspects of Marvel’s foray into live-action film and television has been the variety involved. Between the MCU and the various networks airing their TV shows, Marvel has done a solid job bringing lesser-known characters to the big and small screen. Even better, they’ve done so in ways that avoid the feeling of watching the same thing over and over. Cloak and Dagger continues this trend, giving audiences a YA show far different from watching Daredevil or Agents of SHIELD.
So far that’s a pretty good thing.
Light and Shadow
If the title wasn’t clear enough, Cloak and Dagger follows two teenagers named Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson. They each suffer a family tragedy as kids that takes place on the same night; a car accident kills Tandy’s father with her in the car, while Tyrone’s brother is shot by police. At the same time, an offshore oil rig collapses and explodes, sending out a shockwave giving them their powers. These powers unknowingly bond them, until they eventually find each other as teenagers.
This connection between Tandy and Tyrone rules Cloak and Dagger, and, as such, much of the first two episodes is spent drawing parallels between them. Most of the time these parallels have the subtlety of a hammer blow to the head. The scene transitions seem to scream at you to get it. The dialogue often does the same. Does that matter if these comparisons are effective? Of course not, and I can say that the comparisons are definitely effective. I never doubted the similarities between Tandy and Tyrone, similarities that will eventually create a closer relationship between them.
Considerable time takes place to make you understand them as individuals, as well. I found the environments for the two leads interesting. In the opening scene ending with the two of them acquiring their powers as children, Tandy definitely lives a life of considerable privilege. Her father is a corporate bigwig and Tandy attends ballet class. Tyrone steals a car radio, runs from police, and sees a cop shoot his older brother dead.
This had the potential to develop into worn stereotypes. Instead Cloak and Dagger flipped this setup when we catch up with them as teenagers. Tandy lives in an abandoned church and makes a meager living scamming rich people. Her mother lives an awful life of drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile Tyrone attends a rich prep school and has a mother working as a campaign manager, or something of the sort. It’s a flip on their comic origins that I appreciated, and I’m interested to see the show play with.
Even better, both characters are clearly defined by their tragedies and environments. Despite his family being well off, the racial injustices of Tyrone’s life explain his actions. He sees a cop shoot his brother and then hears a story from a police chief about how no cop shot a gun that night. Now this doesn’t equal generic bad cops, because there’s clearly more to the story with this cop that shot his brother. Still, it’s an example where Tyrone’s skin color has fostered a feeling of legal injustice in his world, and he feels the need to take justice into his own hands. Which, obviously, makes sense for a superhero.
Tandy, on the other hand, has developed an allergy to commitment or close relationships due to the losses in her life. Losing her father and her family wealth, as well as her mother in every way but physically, has pushed her to a tough life robbing people. However, her privileged childhood affects the type of cons she pulls. She isn’t robbing the way someone from a less privileged upbringing would, where they have to break into houses or steal a car radio like Tyrone’s brother’s friends. She can waltz into glitzy weddings for her grifts, because who will question the pretty blonde girl?
I have to appreciate how these episodes never forgot the privileges (or lack thereof) inherent to both characters.
I’m not so sure about the powers themselves in this regard. They’re certainly cool, but I feel like there are so many potential missteps in having the blond white girl with the light powers and the black kid as the one with shadows and darkness. There might be more concern especially in the two mental abilities both have; touching Tandy sparks moments of hope, where people view dreamlike projections of their innermost desires; touching Tyrone causes them to witness their fears. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but having the white girl give people hope while the black kid gives them fear and horror can possibly go wrong if not handled sensitively.
Thankfully, Cloak and Dagger handles everything else about the two well enough that I’m not overly worried about racial insensitivity so far. And it’s cool to see the teen girl have the daggers and aggressive powers, while the black kid has more passive teleportation powers. It’s a nice switch on expected gender dynamics.
It makes for a very effective mix of comparison and contrast between two well-fleshed out main characters.. Compared to another Marvel show of similar style, Runaways, you can see how the tighter focus with Cloak and Dagger succeeds where Runaways did not with a larger cast.
You always get a sense of the grief both feel over their childhood tragedies, and how their personalities and everyday actions inform their personalities. Tandy is always balancing on ledges, both a sign of her former ballet interest and a subtle visualization of how she lives life on the edge. Tyrone has a habit of cloaking himself in blankets and hoodies, which both foreshadows how his powers work and then explicitly shows it, while also displaying his habit of trying to hide himself.
I really think Cloak and Dagger did a good job with these two, and there was no more important mission for these episodes.
Now, this character focus also made for a slow first couple episodes. I don’t think it was too slow, because the story always progressed in some meaningful way, but the progress towards the two of them finding each other personally or from a powered standpoint has moved a bit slow. Cloak and Dagger definitely focused more on the two characters individually. Whether this is a bad thing depends on the individual viewer. Some may hope for faster episodes than these.
My ultimate opinion will depend on future episodes. I thought Runaways was heading along at a good pace, until suddenly it wasn’t. I don’t think Cloak and Dagger will prove that frustrating. We still need to wait and see.
But What about That Plot?
After all, no matter how engaging the main characters might be, you still need plot to inspire their development. So how did Cloak and Dagger handle that? I think they did okay, despite the slow pace.
Maybe it helps that I’m a comic reader, but I thought these episodes did a good job establishing who the eventual villains of the season will be. Even better, it was a place where Cloak and Dagger managed a bit more subtlety and speculation rather than the more blunt approach taken with the two main characters. Hints large and small embed in all the character development to suggest at a higher mystery surrounding both the tragedies the mains suffered. How was Tandy’s father involved in the accident that gave them their powers? What was his role within the Roxxon Corporation, and why was he chosen to take the fall for the tragedy? Who is this “cop” who shot Tyrone’s brother? Was the police chief lying about not knowing him, or is he involved deep in something the police wish to conceal?
Cloak and Dagger sets all this up so that it will take both the mains pursuing their separate threads and eventually pooling their knowledge together to unveil. Or at least I hope that’s how it plays out. The potential is certainly there. You can add in Tyrone’s mother being involved in politics, which could bring her up against Roxxon. You also have Tandy’s mother trying to bring lawsuits against Roxxon after what happened to her husband.
All of this tied together well. It prevented these first two episodes from ever feel like wheel-spinning or devoid of plot. Just about every scene informed in some new way on the characters, the plot, or both.
One question I am left wondering about is how far Cloak and Dagger will lean into the super-powered content. I generally like how it was handled in these episodes. The powers were well established while still leaving room to learn more. Certainly Tandy and Tyrone have to gain control. Maybe I’m just wary by habit, but I do worry that Cloak and Dagger will drag this mastery of the powers out too far. I also worry the powers won’t ever really matter like they should. It’s happened before where shows learn too far towards teen drama rather than superhero stuff.
But again, this is just wariness natural to a lifetime of watching attempts at superhero movies and shows. Overall, these first two episodes did a promising job balancing between all the elements involved.
Best of all, the second episode left off at a very good place. The status quo was broken, both main characters are in danger, and they’re about to be reunited. It seemed like a good place to kick into the plot proper now that the setup was dealt with.
In the end, your opinion on Cloak and Dagger will depend on your preference for this kind of show. It is what it is: a YA show focused on teen romance with a super-powered flavor. The dialogue will be super ham-fisted sometimes. There’s going to be a lot of focus on teen issues. The acting might not land like you hope sometimes. It’s not going to be Daredevil or Jessica Jones. It’s not going to be like an MCU movie. Nor should it be, if that’s not what it wants to be. It should be what it wants and be judged as such.
Perhaps the best endorsement I can give for the first two episodes of Cloak and Dagger is that, despite my not being very interested in YA shows, this one kept me engaged throughout. It’s a show I want to keep watching and one I have hopes for. The hardest thing to do with any new show is hooking an audience. Especially so when someone like myself isn’t particularly interested in the genre.
I think Cloak and Dagger succeeded. It certainly did for me.
Images Courtesy of Freeform
Honest Conversations and Unfortunate Insensitivity on Cloak and Dagger
Content Warning: This review discusses suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, as depicted on the show.
Last week’s episode of Cloak and Dagger ended with Tyrone and Tandy together and finally ready to discuss why exactly they have new superpowers insistent on bringing the two of them together. Both their lives have been tossed upside down, and the only consistent thing in the tragedies of both their lives is each other. Maybe it’s time to sit down and talk about it? That’s exactly what “Call/Response” did this week. Unfortunately, to mixed results.
Time to Talk
“Call/Response” continued Cloak and Dagger’s attempts at interesting episode structure by weaving together forward plot momentum in and out of the previously mentioned conversation between its heroes. This conversation lasted through the entire episode as Tandy and Tyrone hashed out what their powers are, what they do, how they experience them, and what their dreams from last week meant for each of them. These two had a lot to talk about.
For a good 90% of this conversation, I liked the direction of it. The honest and open-ended nature was refreshing. For the first time since they acquired their new powers, they held nothing back regarding what had changed, what they were going through, and how it affected them.
It moved both characters appreciatively forward. Even better, you could see how the conversation positively affected both in the scenes from the next day, when both acted on everything they discussed. Cloak and Dagger thus did a good job timing subjects of conversation with next-day action. Like you’d expect, these scenes were not exactly subtle about it, but so long as the point is made what does that matter?
Through their conversation, Tyrone and Tandy finally started acting against their instincts. They challenged their perceptions of the world. Tandy made an honest effort to learn about her mother’s boyfriend Greg and found out he was genuinely interested in her mother and trying to help. She made an effort to embrace the hope she always rejected before. Her experiences have shaped her towards cynicism in everything. Life is a giant scam where everyone uses everyone else to get ahead, and you see this in her own method of making money. For her to open her mind to the possibility of Greg proving her wrong was a significant step forward.
Tyrone faced his own challenged perceptions, naturally based around his brother’s murder and murderer. He considered Tandy’s argument about his place in the world and where his privilege truly stands, as well as the destructive path his actions led him down. The failed trip to the police station was one important step, but the truly important moment was his field trip with his father to Otis’s old Mardi Gras Indians stomping ground.
(By the way, add another cool twist on New Orleans culture to Cloak and Dagger’s credit.)
Through this trip, Tyrone found new perspective on his father and brother, as well as his own anger. His father stressed the importance of finding a channel for his anger. And he might have found his way via the suits the Mardi Gras Indians create, and the taking on of his brother’s unfinished suit. Tyrone needs this outlet and focus for his anger. He struggled with it throughout the first three episodes, even to the point of trying to shoot Detective Connors.
Even better, all this character development provided the biggest plot movement yet. Tandy’s determination to get along with Greg led to direct involvement in the Roxxon lawsuit he represented her mother in. It also led to Roxxon killing Greg for presumably getting too close. There should be no escaping the consequences of Greg’s death. Tandy’s mother will suffer. Who knows whether her determination to take the corporation down will wax or wane. Tandy herself visited the burned office to retrieve documents from Greg’s safe, so she certainly won’t let this go.
Tyrone’s plot movement was not so direct, but still meant something. He learned of his brother’s training to be a “Spy Boy” for the Redhawks, a role in Mardi Gras parades involving moving ahead of the Big Chief but was described in this episode as someone responsible for scouting the unknown to seek oncoming trouble. The unfinished suit Tyrone adopted also largely resembles the signature look of Cloak in the comics.
And of course now you also have to wonder if Roxxon will involve themselves with the Redhawks.
There was definitely a lot of good content in this episode. At this point Cloak and Dagger is close to establishing a base quality that this episode certainly matched. Unfortunately, the end of the episode left a real sour taste in my mouth. One reason due to plot, and another for some poor handling of a very sensitive subject.
Insensitivity and Stalling
You saw the content warning, so let’s dive right in. The episode-long conversation between Tandy and Tyrone breaks down at the very end, when conversations about privilege turn into insults and eventually lead to Tandy admitting to suicidal thoughts. In his anger, Tyrone tells her that if she wants to die so badly, she should just do it.
The next day, in the aftermath of Greg’s murder, Tandy restrains her hands and feet and jumps into the ocean, clearly planning on killing herself. She eventually resurfaces when her powers trigger and she cuts the ropes binding her hands.
I will say this: my final judgment will depend on how this is handled moving forward. Right now it feels like a really cheap use of suicide. There are some things you must always take care to portray responsibly when telling your story, and this did not feel like a particularly responsible way to handle Tandy’s thoughts of ending her life. I worry this was nothing more than an attempt to end the episode with high drama, and that the distasteful implications are unrecognized.
Now, we do need to see where it goes from here. If Tyrone recognizes the terribleness of what he said and apologizes for it, and there’s a genuine effort to understand the mistake he made, this can pass by without issue. And it’s not like the idea that Tandy might have suicidal thoughts came from nowhere. Considering her immense survivor’s guilt and lack of connection, I can certainly understand how thoughts of suicide enter her mind. Thing is, I don’t think you can just throw it out there, have a main character yell at her to just go ahead and kill herself, have said character try, and then move on from it. It all happened so quick and dirty that I can’t help but feel like it may have just been there for drama.
I hope it’s needless to say that using suicide just for drama is an awful idea.
Cloak and Dagger needs to follow up respectfully on Tandy’s attempt. Suicidal tendencies are a serious concern that must be handled delicately and with a purpose. And unfortunately, this is an easy fallback too many shows rely on without the proper care needed. I hope Cloak and Dagger doesn’t.
My second, lesser, and plot-related concern is the argument that led to Tyrone’s insensitive words. Namely that, to me, it came completely out of nowhere. The two of them spent the entire episode having a calm, respectful discussion. Even sensitive subjects between the two caused little drama. Then all of a sudden a piece of genuine advice blows it all up and leads to an unnatural argument over privilege. Which leads to Tandy mentioning her suicidal thoughts and Tyrone’s comment.
This development renewed my worry from last week over these two being kept apart too long. It seems clear that the real, ground-shaking forward movement on Cloak and Dagger won’t take place until Tandy and Tyrone unite. “Call/Response” spent 90% of its runtime heading in this direction. Then it all fell apart.
I certainly understand how a conversation over privilege could lead to heated tensions, especially with backgrounds like Tandy and Tyrone have. Still, this felt so artificial. It almost felt like Cloak and Dagger attempting a superficial, ham-fisted discussion of privilege without any real meat. The main goal seems to be keeping the two main characters apart. It’s the absolute worst attempt the show has made regarding the privilege debate. Scenes like Tyrone walking into the police station and looking around, only to find a sea of white faces, speak volumes more than this conversation did.
While we’re certainly not back where we were at the end of the second episode, we’re a little too close for comfort. Both characters seem like they will tackle the plot alone. And you know they will tackle it ineffectively. The whole idea (at least to me) is that they won’t truly make progress until they team up. I’m also reaching a point where I will start to distrust the moments where they appear ready to team up if this goes on for too long.
In one moment, they undid a great deal of the work the 40 minutes before hand strove hard for.
I’m all for character development, but here’s hoping Cloak and Dagger avoids this mistake in the future. And here’s hoping Tandy’s suicide ends up as more than a way to create drama feeding this mistake.
- I was delighted when Greg turned out to be a good guy. Damn shame they killed him in the same episode he turned out as such.
- Tandy’s mother is seriously tragic. I worry we’re heading in a self-harm direction with her as well.
- I also loved learning more about Tyrone’s father, Otis. He seems to harbor a lot of the same barely repressed anger that his son does. I hope we get more of him and his history with the Redhawks.
- Roxxon is still paying for the rights to the plot of ocean with the collapsed rig. This suggests to me that whatever gave Tyrone and Tandy powers still slumbers beneath the water.
- Sometimes Tandy and Tyrone have some really good banter…and then sometimes I wonder how it can be so off.
Images Courtesy of Freeform
The Expanse Wanders Among The Wreckage
The Expanse is on its penultimate week, and with an episode called “Fallen World,” showed us the aftermath of a disaster.
When the episode starts, Holden is unconscious, so Bobbie picks him up and they head towards their shuttle. However, she realizes the speed limit might have decreased after her commanding officer threw the grenade last episode, and tests it. Turns out she is right. They get out and stabilize Holden. However, many Martians and Earthers are both dead on their ship, as the quick deceleration was a massive shock.
Naomi survived, but her skiff is no longer able to move, so she abandons it and steps into space. Drummer and her first officer are both pinned by heavy machinery, and have to cooperate to get out of the situation. Anna wakes up and goes through her ship, watching the scores of dead people. Those who are bleeding severely are lost as well, since in zero gravity, there is apparently no way for the blood to drain. One would expect they’d have some sort of vacuum pumps for that, being a space-faring civilization, but whatever. Anna is horrified and offers her help, being a trained nurse.
Holden’s brain scans show frenetic activity, but he’s not waking up. A MCRN soldiers feels like Bobbie is more loyal to him than to them, and suggests she kills him, because dying might be the best fate for him right now.
Drummer and her first have now gotten to the point of sharing life stories and singing together, since they are out of viable solutions for their situation.
When Clarissa wakes up, she think she successfully killed Tilly. But as Anna is helping fix her broken arm, Tilly contacts Anna on her hand terminal. Anna goes to find her, and Tilly tells her what happened before she dies. Clarissa, meanwhile, escapes the ship just as Anna catches up with her. She is left screaming that, “she cannot escape, only beg for mercy.”
Naomi arrives at the Roci and finds Alex, mostly all right, and Amos, who was hit in the head with a heavy tool and so is less alright. Drummer’s first starts coughing blood from his punctured lungs. For some mysterious reason, Drummer decides that means she should sacrifice herself, even though from what we have heard, doing so gives him a really low chances of survival. Still, she moves the machine back onto herself, freeing him, and he calls for help.
Clarissa reaches the Roci and manages to get inside. Naomi hears the impact and goes to check what is wrong. Clarissa tries to kill her—of course she does—but Anna, who apparently followed Clarissa, saves Naomi.
Drummer’s first, after hearing about the large number of wounded they have, gives the order to spin the drum of the ship, creating artificial gravity. They are unsure it will work, but they manage successfully. The first, who is not the captain, then opens a channel to other ships around them and invites everyone to transport their wounded to their ship.
MCRN seems to have more stupid ideas about how bad it is they are being saved by the “skinners,” apparently a name for the Belters. Bobbie effectively tells him he is an idiot and goes to see Holden, who woke up, and now tells her he had a vision of the end of everything.
Overall, this was another good episode with solid pacing and clear progress forward. But there were still plenty enough things left that bother me.
First and foremost among them would be the storyline happening aboard the Martian shuttle. For one, the MCRN marine was acting completely ridiculous. The Expanse has always had trouble with depicting the less open-minded military types with any nuance, but this might be a new low. In particular, I am talking about handing Bobbie the gun to shoot Holden.
It made no sense at all in context: their orders were to bring Holden in. I don’t expect MCRN tortures their prisoners, so the argument with “might be the best for him” hardly made sense. Most of all, it felt like a test for Bobbie, but if so, it was a test of a kind I’d expect to see in Star Trek Discovery‘s Mirror Universe, not among the Martians. The Expanse show adaptation has always depicted the Martians worse than the books do, and this continues in the same vein. Bobbie is gaining the very uncomfortable overtones of being the “one good apple.”
On the other hand, Bobbie’s own role here was scarcely better, particularly her strange obsession with Holden. She is acting like they became best friends in the first half of this season, which is definitely not something I noticed. No matter how ridiculous the marine’s desire to have Holden shot was, he was perfectly right that it looked like Holden was controlling the protomolecule. We know it was because Miller was controlling it for him, but Bobbie doesn’t.
At the same time, it doesn’t follow she would immediately jump to the conclusion that Holden is a villain. He could be controlled by the protomolecule. In fact, he was, to a degree. Or, he could have simply gone insane. Once again, he had in a way. There are many possible explanations that don’t lead to wanting to have Holden executed, but which at the same time don’t lead to Bobbie insisting to her marine crew that, “Holden wouldn’t do anything wrong.”
It is doubly irritating because this is Holden of all people, everyone’s personal favorite white boy. Of course she would be all up in arms about him. Meanwhile, women of color were in danger or outright killed left and right this episode.
Speaking of which, Drummer. On one hand, when we first saw the situation she was in, I was worried it would develop into a mutual attempt at killing the other and saving themselves. I am truly, deeply grateful it didn’t. And even the idea of her sacrifice could have been a brilliant one, really, in the right circumstances. The way it played out here, however? Just after it is implied her first has a low chances of survival, without any particular indication that she is in serious trouble herself? It just feels very much like, “all right, the brown chick was the captain for a bit too long, time to give it to a white guy.”
The scene between them was acted excellently though, I have to grant them that much. Naomi was very good this episode as well, and were her Rocinante boys.
The one character who continues to be a disappointment is Anna. Her very last intervention was badass to be sure, but it’s not the kind of strength I expect from Anna. She’s not there to beat people over their heads. And until that moment, she was as insufferable as before. The most ridiculous moment was shouting after Clarissa. I understand she was meant to be upset, but it just looked stupid. Tilly repeating Anna was “very good at this,” meaning her pastoral duties, only made me roll my eyes once more. Show, don’t tell, please. At this point, such assertions about Anna are about as convincing as all the characters telling Tyrion he was clever on Game of Thrones.
The season finale next week is a double episode. At this point, I feel like it can go in many different directions, and I am all impatience to see which one it goes for.
All images courtesy of SyFy
Reverie Sows the Seeds of Doubt
Last week’s episode of Reverie ended on a cliffhanger. Mara realized that she wasn’t actually at her late sister’s house, talking to her late niece (she was actually pretty sure on that last one). This leads to an obvious question: where was Mara, really. Unfortunately for her, she was in the middle of a road, with a car on its way. Before the car runs her over, Mara is saved by a mysterious man who knows her name. Turns out Mara’s savior is Oliver Hill, who claims to be suffering from de-realization as well. Hill has been following Mara, out of supposed worry. Before Oliver was a concerned stalker, he was a founding partner of Onira-Tech. He has something to explain to her, but he needs food first.
Oliver Hill V. Onira-Tech
Reverie spends about half of the episode providing two arguments for what’s really going on. Oliver argues that Reverie 2.0 is inherently flawed. He claims that he and Mara, being the two people who have spent the most time in Reverie 2.0, will be representative of the general population. In his version, Charlie is Onira-Tech’s unthinking bodyguard who hates Oliver. The medication that Mara has been given is supposedly useless (which is not a great message, especially when paired with Mara’s previous trashing of her meds). Oliver tells Mara not to tell Onira-Tech about their conversation, but that lasts for about 3 minutes. Mara is scared and she needs answers, and she tries to test Oliver’s claims against Onira-Tech’s personnel.
On the other hand, Onira-Tech claims that Oliver Hill was unstable. Charlie claims that Oliver is dangerous. Paul shows Mara Oliver’s brain activity, explaining that he had issues before Reverie 2.0. Alexis tells Mara that her partnership with Oliver was founded in a romantic relationship. That relationship went badly, and Alexis doesn’t want to be defined by that failure, hence his erasure from the company.
By the end of the episode, Mara agrees with the latter form of events. She seems to be finally persuaded by Alexis’ detailing of her and Oliver’s romantic partnership. However, it’s not clear that the narrative agrees with Mara. Mara doesn’t know where to turn, and Reverie loves drawing tension from that. It thrives off of Mara’s (and the viewer’s) disorientation.
It’s certainly clear that Oliver has other plans, since he offers to buy a Reverie system at the end of the episode.
This episode also included a client of the week. Part of the reason the Onira-Tech team started out the episode on edge was a theft within the building. Someone stole a copy of Reverie, and modified it into a form of “Dark Reverie.” The “Dark” version doesn’t have restrictions. Our client of the week, Glenn, is using it to plan a heist. Since last week’s episode involved a bank robber, it’s likely Glenn needed the jailbroken version for the detailed specifications.
Glenn is a man with a stereotypical form of OCD. He avoids daylight, and hates the color blue. In a twist that should not surprise the viewer, Glenn doesn’t want to commit the heist for himself. He’s been watching the single mother and son across the street. The son has a rare disease, and Glenn wants to save his life with a trial drug. Despite mostly living inside, Glenn’s motivation is that he feels like part of the pair’s family. This entire plot feels like a math problem. Sick kid + adult with stereotypical OCD + moral heist = episodic plot.
Glenn offers to sell out “Dark Reverie” sellers and give his system back on one condition: help him do the heist. Mara complies, but Charlie and Monica have other ideas. Instead of letting Glenn steal the medication, they make a deal with the medicine company CEO. The heist goes through, but is spinned as a test of the company’s security system. Glenn gets the meds for the kid, and doesn’t get a felony on his record. Smiles all around.
Reverie‘s season arc plot wildly outstrips its episodic plots. This week’s episodic plot was probably the worst so far. However, the arc’s plot twists easily, without feeling gimmicky.