Monday, July 15, 2024

Cloak and Dagger Gets off to a Solid, Character-Heavy Start

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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.

Final Thoughts

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

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