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Jessica Jones and Hunter: the Vigil

Michał

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Greetings, readers of the Fandomentals. The topic of today’s article is fairly specific – I would like to explain why I think the Netflix show Jessica Jones, which my fellow writers have gone over in detail, is a great, unintentional companion to Hunter: the Vigil, a tabletop RPG in the Chronicles of Darkness system. I have described it once, but looking back, I think I should have included more specific examples of what playing is like. I will try to remedy that now.

Hunter or superhero?

Now, I can hear you asking – “But Michał, doesn’t  Jessica have superpowers? And Luke as well? How do they compare to mortal hunters?” That is true, which is why I want to focus on the atmosphere and experience, not direct parallels between the two. Jessica Jones and Hunter: the Vigil present two different worlds, but they evoke some very similar emotions.

Jessica is strong enough to lift a car and throw someone twice her body mass across a room. But it doesn’t really help her against Kilgrave’s mind control. She’s as vulnerable to it as a regular person. Same with Luke, despite his physical near-invulnerability. Jessica’s other allies (loosely speaking…), Trish and Will Simpson, are entirely normal people (maybe not entirely, in Simpson’s case), who can’t resist Kilgrave’s voice either.

Thus, trying to capture and detain Kilgrave becomes a paranoid mind-game. The protagonists must outthink and outmaneuver a man whose power they can’t resist directly. A direct approach is impossible, because as soon as Kilgrave is close, he can take total control of them.

They must also contend with the fact that anyone they meet could be Kilgrave’s slave. A breakthrough occurs when Jessica discovers that Kilgrave’s powers cease to function when he’s under anesthesia. Which includes releasing his victims from his control. However, Kilgrave manages to stay one step ahead… by hiring guards, instead of mind-controlling them. They save him after Jessica drugs him, since their motivation is money, rather than control.

Once we take out the name “Kilgrave”, what I just described may well be… a Hunter: the Vigil chronicle, where a lone cell opposes a powerful vampire with mind-control powers. I say vampire, because of all the different supernatural beings that populate the Chronicles, it’s the Kindred who have the most direct and convenient methods of mind control. They’re also perhaps the best-known.

The monster

Mages, mummies or demons can have similar powers, or greater ones, but they operate on a level no mortal human could even approach. Demons and mummies are also psychologically detached from humanity. Demons were never human to begin with, while mummies were human millennia ago and are now undying demigods. And the reason Kilgrave is so viscerally repulsive to the audience is that his evil is so human and close to home. A Mage’s motives remain human, unless they slide down some darker paths. But their power and innate traits render Sleepers (that is, regular humans) completely helpless.

If we go by Vampire: the Requiem rules, a vampire has one power to instantly control someone – the Dominate discipline. It has some restrictions Kilgrave’s power doesn’t have. For one thing, it requires eye contact, and a vampire can only issue orders to one person at a time. More importantly, in a combat scenario, using the power is an action, and giving the order is a separate action. If the victim has friends, this gives them crucial time to act.

This is significantly less versatile than Kilgrave’s ability to walk into a room and instantly bend everyone there to his whims. Of course, if someone is alone with the vampire, the difference lessens. If they’re among other people, it’s still not necessarily a problem, as the use of Dominate is subtle. Most humans, ignorant of the existence of the supernatural, will not notice it. Under certain circumstances, other vampires, supernatural beings and hunters can fail to notice this as well.

Controlling many people at a time can be accomplished with the Majesty discipline, which is a more subtle form of control. Instead of breaking someone’s mind like a toy, the vampire radiates irresistible charisma. They can walk into a party uninvited, splattered in blood, and everyone will just shrug it off. Once someone falls to their charm, they can twist their infatuation in powerful ways. A vampire with Dominate and Majesty is a terrifying puppet-master – and thankfully a rare one. Dominate and Majesty can be resisted every time they’re used, unlike Kilgrave’s power, but the odds are heavily stacked towards the user, particularly if the victim is a mortal. That being said, supernatural beings are also very susceptible to them; they have more tools to resist it. More importantly, they’re more aware of their existence so they have the potential to be better prepared.

That being said, a Storyteller (Dungeon Master) is under no compulsion to use rules from other games in the series. Hunter: the Vigil includes Dread Powers, which is a toolbox the Storyteller can use to create their own supernatural beings and creatures. Their main purpose is, of course, to allow Storytellers to run games without purchasing all of the other source books and expansions. But even if someone has them, we often want to create our own denizens of the Chronicles’ deep shadows, without shackling ourselves to other rulesets. For example: if we want to create a terrifying mind-controller who isn’t a vampire, mage or another established supernatural entity, we can do that.

Kilgrave is, after all, physically a human – and not an imposing one at that. It wouldn’t take much of Jessica’s strength to overpower him. Vampires, however, are undying predators, and even those who doesn’t focus on physical prowess are shockingly resilient. Additionally, Kilgrave’s only ability is his mind-control, whereas any member of a supernatural group within the Chronicle games have many others at their disposal.

Using Dread Powers to create someone whose mind control goes beyond even vampiric domination, but who is otherwise physically human, would be very simple. In the end, Kilgrave is an antagonist, while characters created with the main books of the game are protagonists. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re heroic by any measure, just that their powers have a different structure.

And against him is… a private investigator who was once his victim, a popular radio host with a connection to the private eye, a policeman who is clearly more than just a beat cop, and an invulnerable ex-con bartender. That’s a first-tier hunter cell if I ever saw one. And like I said before, the methods they use strikingly remind me of hunters. They avoid direct confrontation, where Kilgrave can overpower them easily. Once they find his weakness, they ruthlessly exploit it. They risk conflict with law enforcement to attack him. All of it costs them physical, emotional and mental damage, and they come into conflict with one another.

I should note that when I say “first-tier”, I mean hunters who operate on their own, on a local level and without the support of any larger group. They also don’t have access to any special equipment or powers that hunter conspiracies typically provide their members. Which, again, might seem to clash with the fact that Jessica and Luke do have superpowers. Despite all of that, the mood and structure of Jessica’s struggle against Kilgrave is quite reminiscent of a first-tier Hunter game.

The victims

Still, that’s the major dramatis personae. What about the world around them? In Hunter: the Vigil, mortals are ignorant of the supernatural. Or rather, they are aware of its existence on some level, but most simply repress it, rationalize it away or just outright deny it. There’s a supernatural energy pervading this world that makes them forget. Many magic beings have traits that more actively obfuscate them – it’s literally impossible for a Sleeper to remember seeing a display of Supernal magic, for instance. Vampires, if we’re sticking with treating Kilgrave as one, notably do not have such traits, which means they must take more active measures to keep their existence secret.

In Jessica Jones, it’s clear that people do know superpowers exist. The series takes place in the same universe as Marvel’s superhero movies, meaning everyone saw aliens, gods and superheroes tear New York City apart. Nonetheless, most people don’t believe in Kilgrave’s mind control.

It’s not quite the same situation as it is in Hunter: the Vigil, though. People who witness Kilgrave in action generally believe it. He very rarely displays any sort of subtlety. And when his victims come together to recount their experiences, they remember them clearly. Still, how many of them had spent years wondering if they had simply gone insane? How many were blamed for people who only saw mind control as a ridiculous excuse? Particularly since when Trish puts out a call for Kilgrave’s victims to come forward, there are those who try to blame him for their misdeeds, or are simply mistaken.

So even though there’s no overreaching conspiracy, or innate energy that makes people forget, the sense of isolation that hunters, and monsters’ victims (categories with significant overlap), feel is still present in Jessica Jones to a degree. Jessica doesn’t find much solace in the support group for Kilgrave’s victims. Her reasons are her own, of course, but it is a bit reminiscent of the isolation hunters feel from other mortal humans.

Jessica’s reluctance to be a hero, even though she has superpowers, isn’t particularly relatable to Hunter. The player characters of Hunter: the Vigil are mortal humans who either chose or were forced to stop ignoring the truth about the world around them. They take up the Vigil, which is a dangerous obsession to do something about it. Jessica has her share of struggles with the concept of heroism and eventually decides to act against Kilgrave, even though her first instinct was to run. But it’s not really the same thing.

In the end, Jessica makes sure Kilgrave won’t destroy another life, but it’s hardly a happy ending or heroic victory. Which is also true for most successful Hunter: the Vigil campaigns. Hunters can eliminate a monster that preys on people, but the toll on them is considerable. That’s if they don’t simply act in their own interest, or become fanatics who attack any supernatural being, no matter how innocent. Which brings the parallel to an end. I hope that, by drawing a similarity between the show and the game, I managed to help you understand what playing Hunter: the Vigil might be like, using a seemingly unlikely source.


Images Courtesy of Netflix and White Wolf

Michał is a natural meddler, driven to take fiction apart and see how it works. In The Fandomentals, he examines fantasy and gaming with a critical, and somewhat cranky, eye.

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Queer Eye Isn’t Just for the Straight Guy Anymore

Meg

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So have y’all heard? I’m finally back after my months’ long hiatus—and so is Queer Eye for the Straight Guy! Sort of…

Netflix’s reboot of Bravo’s cultural juggernaut is now simply Queer Eye, and, as the catchphrase says, it’s about more than just a makeover. With a new cast and new trails to blaze, the new Fab 5 tour the Atlanta metro area offering makeovers and life advice for more than just poor schlubs with bad beards.

For those needing a history lesson, the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (QEftSG) premiered on Bravo in 2003 and ran for 5 seasons. Though the cast changed a little, the original “Fab 5” are generally cited as Ted Allen, Carson Kressley, Thom Filicia, Kyan Douglas, and Jai Rodriguez. Basically a straight guy was nominated (usually by his desperate girlfriend or wife) to get a “queer eye” makeover: the Gays know food, fashion, decorating, grooming, and culture, right?? Let’s bring it to the Straights!

The original boys: Carson, Thom, Kyan, Ted, and Jai. That is a LOOK, Carson.

While the show was immensely popular almost overnight, it did of course earn some criticism, especially from the LGBT community. First of all, without setting off any debates, the word queer is deeply controversial. Some people consider it a slur that should be put to rest, while others proudly use it as a reclaimed term. Whatever your POV on that subject, many believe it iffy to give everyone and their brother the idea that they can throw a word like that around willy nilly. It’s a sensitive topic.

Also, of course, there are a lot of stereotypes the original (and the reboot) reinforce. Oh you’re gay! Of course you know how to dress and decorate your apartment! Again, not to start something, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Whatever else it did, the original Queer Eye reinforced the GOOD stereotypes, not the bad ones, and it helped put to rest (for some people, anyway) the idea of the “predatory gay.”

Meet the New Boys…

The reboot follows the same formula as the original, with 5 bright and chirpy (Ted Allen, chirpy??) gay men, each representing a “category” that needs a makeover: food, fashion, interior design, grooming, and culture.

From l-r: Tan France (walk walk fashion baby), Karamo Brown (culture and Serving Looks), Bobby Berk (design and making me cry), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming, henny), and Antoni Porowski (avocados).

In the original, the culture category always reminded me of “Heart” from Captain Planet. How is “Heart” an element? How do you make over someone’s “culture?” The main thing I remember from QEftSG is that Billy Joel is lame and it’s important to make eye contact when shaking hands.

Sorry, I digress. We’ll get to Karamo later.

If you compare the pic of the original group to this new one, I think you’ll notice something. The first Fab 5 were a great group of guys, but only one of them is brown. It’s not exactly a diverse selection. The new cast includes a Black man and a Muslim (who’s married to a Mormon), and it’s refreshing to see more than just the cookie cutter cute white boy.

I’m not going to get into some sort of ranking thing here, because that annoys the beejeezus outta me. I love them all, okay!? Each episode focuses on some aspect of one of the guys’ stories: Bobby and his religious upbringing, Karamo’s struggle as a gay Black man, Jonathan’s small town upbringing, Antoni’s love of avocados, or Tan’s need to bring the French tuck to the wider world; and as such they’ve all earned a solid place in my heart.

Obviously those last two are tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t want to get too heavily into it since this is just a general overview. Look for season 2 episode breakdowns starting next week.

More Like a Glow Up

A glow up and a makeover are basically the same thing, aren’t they? And a makeover is a makeover is a makeover, right? I mean, someone’s nominated, they get swept up into a whirlwind of “I can’t believe you WEAR this!” and after some fighting about it, they emerge at the end with a whole new look, right?

Right??

Tom, the “victim” from Episode 1, “You Can’t Fix Ugly.”

Except Tom up there doesn’t look that different. Sure, his beard’s shorter, but overall he looks like himself…just polished a bit.

That, to me, is what sets Queer Eye apart from other makeover shows—even its gay dad, the original QEftSG. The boys don’t try to make the contestants (or “Heroes,” as they call them) into someone else. They accept each person’s style as his (or her) own and just give them a nice glow up. Queer Eye is never about tearing down, only about building up.

One thing you’ll notice in the two promo images above: the “straight guy” looks pretty terrified to be surrounded by the Fab 5 in the first one, but in the second one he’s clearly engaged in the process and much more comfortable. Yeah, this group has to deal with some bullshit (Tan was asked by at least two Heroes if he’s a terrorist), but it’s a different culture now, and the idea of wearing pink or patterns doesn’t seem to be as terrifying to the average Joe as it was in 2003.

More than a Makeover

I don’t want y’all to think I have something against the term “makeover,” because this headline is lifted directly from the show’s tagline. And it is much more than a makeover show. Episode 1 has a man who basically thinks he’s too old to be attractive anymore, and he starts off telling the boys “you can’t fix ugly.” Over the course of 45 minutes you see him blossom again (not to sound cheesy) and realize that life ain’t over till you’re dead, and ugly is pretty much just a state of mind.

“I’m startin’ to look like a president!” (source)

Episode 3’s Hero is a Trump-supporting cop (!!) who ends up connecting with Karamo over the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Episode 4 is about a gay Black man who’s struggling to come out to his stepmother. While every episode has made me cry a little bit over something, hearing the boys’ coming out stories and seeing AJ read a letter to his dead father in front of his stepmother as his coming out had me bawling.

Plus this happened, so really it was a win/win. (source)

Some episodes are better than others, obviously. None in season 1 really dragged me down, though as I flip through the episode list on Netflix I don’t remember much about episode 5. Except that’s where we first learned about Bobby’s religious upbringing, and how hard it was on him to be rejected by the church he loved for being gay.

Hang on sorry I need a tissue…

Where Have You BEEN??

But none of this is news to y’all, because you’ve all devoured both seasons of Queer Eye like starving lions on the savanna. Or, I mean, if you haven’t, it’s in your queue. Just waiting for a quiet weekend when you can mainline all 16 episodes.

Otherwise what are we even DOING here?! In a world where grimdark rules the day and every new headline makes you want to rip out your hair, why are you letting a gem like Queer Eye go unwatched?! Why are you letting all that beautiful positivity pass you by??

In case I’m not expressing myself clearly enough, Queer Eye is a show you NEED to watch. Ration it, despite what I said above. Sure it’s re-watchable, but nothing beats the feeling of the first time you hear a Karamo Pep Talk or seeing the Hero’s face light up from something as simple as a pair of pants that fits.

This show, like I said before, is about telling people it’s okay to take care of yourself. It’s okay to be confident and do traditionally “feminine” things (like moisturize). Also the focus on “dress up for your woman; make her proud that you’re with her” is so great because how often do we hear that we have a to dress for a man? Men rarely put in any effort toward that on their wife/girlfriend’s behalf, and the message that hey!! Women want that too!! And it’s a good thing to do!! Is so important.

Antoni shows them it’s okay to cook. Bobby reminds them that they deserve nice surroundings. Karamo helps give them confidence to take on their challenges. Tan helps them merge their individual style with an updated, modern look. Jonathan teaches them how to make their outsides match their insides.

Basically…

Gay Jesus speaks! (source)

Watch Queer Eye, y’all. Warm your heart. Cry a lot. Refresh your soul.

You won’t regret it.


Images curtesy of Netflix and Bravo

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Film

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ Comes up Short

Jeremiah

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is stupid with two “o’s” and in all caps. It’s schlock. J. A. Bayona, the director, knows it’s schlock and leans so far into it, it almost topples over. The first Jurassic World was an exercise in enduring tedium. Fallen Kingdom is better, technically, but it’s still not worth two hours of your time.

The characters of Fallen Kingdom are caught in a Cold War of idiocy. Each side threatening to out-dumb the other. If you remember how dumb the characters were in the first Jurassic World you’ll understand how astounding a feat Fallen Kingdom is. Although it’s not the characters’ fault, not really. They’re just written that way.

Fallen Kingdom can be divided into two parts. Quite frankly you can divide the film up into more parts than two, and scatter its ashes across the ocean. The first part is getting the dinosaurs off Isla Nublar. Dear reader, you might be asking yourself, why would they be trying to get the dinosaurs off the island?

The answer, while not in the wind, still blows. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former head of the Jurassic World theme park, is now the head of a PETA-like organization for the dinosaurs. The volcano on the island where the man-eating dinosaurs live is about to explode and cause an extinction level event. The sane reaction is, “Oh goody.” Claire’s reaction and those of her fellow organizers is to rally to the dinosaurs’ cause. To be fair, she is also the same person who thought the Indominus Rex was a good idea. Her history of good decisions is bordering on nil.

A dying billionaire called Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) offers Claire a chance to save the dinosaurs. Because welcome to 2018 where we want to go to the island with the active volcano and rescue the untamed genetically engineered murderous beasts. Lockwood has an island, presumably one he bought on Craigslist where all shady secretive billionaires sell their islands.  

He needs Claire because the tracking devices embedded in the dinosaurs are connected to a system which needs Claire’s handprint to be turned on. If you think that’s convoluted, brother, wait until the movie gets going. Lockwood and his right-hand man Eli (Rafe Spall) also want Blue, the intelligent ‘good’ raptor from the previous film. Of course, there’s only one man who can find her, trap her, and get her on board the transport vessel safely.

But Sam Neil’s Dr. Alan Grant hasn’t gone near the franchise since the third Jurassic Park movie so we’re left with Owen (Chris Pratt). The Jurassic World franchise is developing an annoying talent for being the one cinematic universe in which Chris Pratt is dull, obnoxious, and insipid. Pratt’s Owen is a self-involved jerk who has mistaken arrogance and cluelessness for charming.

Which brings us to the curious case of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire. Not since the Lara Croft films has a franchise come so close to fetishizing its heroine quite like the Jurassic Worlds. Much was made about Claire’s heels in the first movie. Her introduction in Fallen Kingdom is a sort of sly nod to the previous installments backwards thinking. Still, Claire’s current outfit isn’t much better. A tight bodice showcasing sweater and a pencil skirt all but drawn on. She trades this outfit quickly for fatigues and comfortable hiking boots. Which would be ideal if not for the myriad of ways Fallen Kingdom seems to find to put Claire in humiliating or painful situations.

Bayona seems to delight in putting Claire in situations where she has to screech, cry, squeal, or bleed. It would be one thing but the rest of the heroes seem to get along fine. Claire’s friend and colleague, Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) the feisty punk rock paleo-veterinarian and ex-marine is captured but somehow never is made to squirm. Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) is the hapless IT guy along for the ride who stumbles from time to time but is allowed to escape with his dignity intact.

On the island, they meet the head of the excavation operation Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). Levine plays Ken with such a manic glee you’d swear he’s a long-lost cousin of Snidely Whiplash. When you see Levine in a movie your mind instantly jumps to assuming he’s a bad guy. Fallen Kingdom has Levine exploring new heights of skullduggery mixed with bouts of boneheadedness. Ken has a habit of stealing dinosaur teeth from the gaping maw of the beast itself. It’s shocking Ken lives as long as he does.

Owen, Claire, Franklin, and Zia make it off the island in the nick of time. Only to discover the shady secretive billionaire’s right-hand man had a nefarious plan all along. Eli is going to sell the dinosaurs on the black market. Thankfully he has Gunnar (Toby Jones) the premiere black market auctioneer.   

As absurd as all this may seem I assure you it’s even more ludicrous if you happen to watch it. Bayona, however, packs Fallen Kingdom with the best. While Pratt may disappoint, Cromwell, Jones, Levine, and Howard do not. Toby Jones plays a southern fried dandy; a toothy smile with a malevolent twinkle in his eye.

More than that though Bayona and his cameraman, Oscar Furara, lend Fallen Kingdom a striking visual sense.  Idiotic though it may be, Fallen Kingdom is jammed with evocative imagery well above its source material. As they leave the island, the volcano exploding, we see a brontosaurus stranded on the dock bellowing mournfully to the passing ship as clouds of earth erupt around it.

With each passing installment of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies, we begin to truly understand how masterful and unique the first Jurassic Park really is. It’s technical and storytelling mastery remains untouched by any other movie in its franchise. The Jurassic World movies especially seem to have forgotten the core of what the other movies are about.

Jurassic Park is a monster movie. I’m old enough to remember being terrified of Velociraptors because they could open doors. As children, we tend to believe such wild things can be stopped by mundane things such as light and doors. The thought of a monster that could open a door was the stuff of nightmares.

Odd then that Jurassic World should ask us to sympathize with the dinosaurs. Jurassic Park was about people trying to get away from the island and the dinosaurs. Every subsequent movie since then has been about rushing back to the island and bringing the dinosaurs to the mainland.

It’s telling of Bayona’s sensibilities as an artist that the monsters should be deserving of our sympathies. In Bayona’s defense, he sees the dinosaurs as children do. Terrifying but fascinating things that seem lost and out of place.

Bayona’s earlier film When A Monster Calls was a startling ellagic beautiful tale of loss and mourning. I found myself left largely cold by the scenes rooted in reality. Here Bayona has fled reality totally. While he has made not a good film he has made a markedly better film than the previous one.

Every bit of this nonsense is from Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. Their script is one part morality tale in which only the bad people die. The other part being a shrieking folktale in which nothing makes sense because it’s being translated by people who don’t speak the native language. Trevorrow wrote and directed the previous Jurassic World and I all but fell asleep. He also directed last years bonkers fable-esque Book of Henry. Having seen Fallen Kingdom I can now say Trevorrow is the foremost practitioner of unhinged melodrama. Had he been the sole writer I imagine his heedlessness and Bayona’s unique evocative eye may have made something truly spectacular.

As it is we’re stuck with a genetically mutated Indominus Rex crossed with a raptor which gives us the Indominus Raptor. A name so uniformly silly even the great and charismatic B.D. Wong can’t say it with a straight face. Paradoxically, the dumbest part of the movie is also the best. For about ten minutes Fallen Kingdom does become a monster movie as the Indominus Raptor hunts a little girl through a gothic mansion. For that brief period of time Fallen Kingdom begins to unequivocally work as Bayona captures the Gothic and tense mood of the surroundings.

It doesn’t last long and before you know it we’re back to the humdrum lunacy. Though we do have a hint of a story involving clones sadly that storyline goes nowhere. It only leads to a little girl pressing a button that opens a door and allows all the captured dinosaurs to escape into the world. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I hate kids.

Fallen Kingdom has bouts of fun but too often the fun is trampled by its lugubrious stupidity. Pratt’s Owen at one point is passed out on the ground, drugged, and wakes to an encroaching pool of lava. What follows is a protracted physical comedic scene more at home in a Jerry Lewis movie than Fallen Kingdom.

Bayona ladens Fallen Kingdom with visual callbacks to Jurassic Park. He does so in such a way that never detracts from the movie itself. If you catch it fine if you don’t it still holds a shot unto itself.

Fallen Kingdom isn’t awful but it isn’t good either. I laughed when one of the secret organizations at the black market dino auction made the highest bid of the night, twenty-five million dollars. It seems there is no end to the havoc caused by the Great Recession. I can’t recommend actively going to see Fallen Kingdom. But if you happen to find yourself with some friends and they offer to pay and you have nothing else to do, you could do worse.

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Honest Conversations and Unfortunate Insensitivity on Cloak and Dagger

Bo

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cloak and dagger featured
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.

cloak and dagger church

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.

Other Thoughts:

  • 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

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