Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger – Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2
“First Light” and “Suicide Sprints”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe expands further with Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger; a new TV series focusing on two super powered teens who are connected in ways neither of them understand.
The expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is undeniably impressive. It’s a franchise that shows no signs of stopping with new films and TV shows announced frequently. Up until this point we’ve had 19 films, 5 seasons of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, 6 different shows on Netflix amounting to 8 seasons in total and 1 season of Marvel’s Runaways. Each of these offer something different to audiences and Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger promises to be another example of Marvel taking characters in their toybox and using them to deliver something else that their Cinematic Universe hasn’t before. I’ve chosen to cover this show and for the first review I’ll combine the first two episodes into a single article because that’s how the show was aired and I think they compliment each other in such a way that talking about them individually would be less effective.
The episode opens with the lead characters as children being manoeuvred by circumstance to a single location where an explosion at an offshore rig grants them super powers and creates a connection between them that will come to help define both of them. It’s a good scene because it shows the audience life changing events for the main characters. Gaining their powers is only one part of it with loss being equally definitive. Tyrone loses his brother Billy and Tandy loses her father. On a thematic level their shared loss tells us a lot. The super powers are to be incidental to the character drama which is the most important thing. It’s a succinct and clever opening that sets things up nicely.
As I mentioned above this childhood event is definitive for each character. Tandy (Olivia Holt) finds her entire life upended by this tragedy and live as if she were homeless because the familial bond between her and her mother Melissa (Andrea Roth) has completely broken down. Tandy lives in an abandoned church and survives by stealing from rich people. Her support system seems limited to Liam (Carl Lundstedt), a companion/boyfriend who seems to be in a similar situation. The relationship between them is difficult to figure out though I suspect that’s deliberate as there’s an overriding sense that Tandy is lost and unable to stop her life spiralling out of control. The flashback opening shows that she came from comfortable wealth so showing her living in poverty as a teenager is a fascinating contrast that is explored really well.
I found her relationship with her mother to be really interesting. Melissa hasn’t coped with the death of her husband well at all as shown by the way she lives and the dependency she has on drugs. Tandy is ashamed of her as well as being disappointed in what she has become so has chosen to remove herself from it rather than try to work with her mother in an attempt to help her get better. At this point Tandy’s first reaction is to run from her problems and there are numerous examples of this with her approach to her mother being but one of them.
Another is when she accidentally uses her powers to stab a lecherous man who attempts to rape her in an alleyway. Once again she wants to run from the problem because she knows that once he recovers she will be easily identified and likely be a fugitive from the law. Much of her time in the second episode is spent working to obtain enough money to buy forged identity papers and run far away to start a new life without any of the baggage associated with this one. Her tendency towards the flight response suggests that nothing about her life feels secure or comfortable so she has no problems cutting ties with it. It’s a coping mechanism for her and her arc will clearly be around her learning to trust again.
Tyrone’s (Aubrey Joseph) life situation is very different but he is no less trapped by it. His brother’s death has come to define his entire family and there’s a weight of expectation on Tyrone who feels that he is being pressured to live up everything his parents wanted from their children. It’s an interesting interpretation of survivor’s guilt as there’s a failure to communicate on both sides. His parents are living in a state of denial about the expectations they’ve placed on their sun and Tyrone struggles to find his own identity while feeling like he has to be two children for his parents.
A lot is learned about Tyrone’s personality in these first two episode with less learned about Tandy outside of her desperation. This is deliberate as Tyrone has had a more comfortable life so is more secure in projecting who he is. Tyrone is shown to be really compassionate with lots of empathy. When Tandy steals his wallet he reflects on that and posits that she feels that life has taken a lot from her and it’s her right to take something back. He’s in a catholic school and a literal choir boy which works really well because he genuinely lives the values of tolerance and compassion for others. A joke comment is made about him being saintly but there’s an element of truth to that as every fibre of his being seems committed to helping others He also makes no excuses for mistakes he makes and is willing to accept the punishment for them.
The exception to this is his desire for revenge. I mentioned above about his brother’s death being something that defines his family and Tyrone has spent a long time trying to track down the cop that killed his brother. He’s one of two people who amount to the closest thing these episodes have to a villain and even then he’s just an ordinary man who is up against someone with super powers. The episodes do nothing to develop Detective Connors (J.D. Evermore) as a human being which is the right decision initially as it’s important to establish him as the thing that hangs over the family before properly introducing him. The end of the second episode has Tyrone catch up with him so I suspect he will have an opportunity to see him as a person in the next episode.
Tyrone and Tandy barely interact in the first two episodes outside of the flashback opening and a single scene in the first episode. Despite this the events are framed in such a way to confirm that they are connected. Even though they are apart their powers manifest at mostly the same times and their one meeting clearly shows how well they compliment one another as their abilities flare up when they’re together. It’s a bold move to have a TV series focused on the relationship between two characters and have them mostly apart in the first two episodes. The writing is strong enough and the characters are suitably developed that it doesn’t feel like the show is missing something by keeping them apart. Instead the episodes build naturally towards them coming together while taking the time to develop them as separate people so that they won’t be dependent on each other when there is a shift to having them sharing a lot more screen time. It’s a smart move and works really well because we as viewers get a very clear sense of who these people are.
Their powers are used mostly symbolically for now. I’ve already mentioned how them being triggered represents their connection but they also compliment their established characteristics. Tandy spends a lot of time hiding her light by burying her compassion for others under a veneer of selfishness. To her forging relationships represents weakness because she feels that all that will happen is that she will have to endure loss sooner or later. Outside of the attempted rape which triggers her abilities out of self preservation the light appears at moments of introspection. One such powerful example is when she is looking to steal from rich people at a wedding. The experience brings up memories that she has worked very hard to suppress over the years. Being reminded of what she used to be and could have had is the trigger for her powers which suggests that the key to controlling them will be her admitting who she really is and embracing the good person that she actively denies. A bright light is a very obvious image suggesting warmth and compassion creating a palpable connection between Tandy’s powers and her personality.
Tyrone’s powers are founded in darkness which is a direct contrast to his already compassionate personality. They allow him to understand people better by seeing their fears and getting a sense of their anxieties. He uses them to connect to those he cares about such as his mother. In many ways he’s the only one who can see what she is only presenting the image of someone who is coping well with the tragedies life has brought her. They also support him being someone who doesn’t believe in violence as they are broadly defensive abilities for now used mostly to escape danger rather than combat it. As with Tandy the connection between Tyrone’s powers and his personality is clear and effective.
Another good thing about how the powers are introduced is that there is no exposition accompanying them. The audience learns about them as the characters do and are expected to form conclusions based on how they are used. It’s a great approach as it highlights how solitary the characters are. They have nobody they can talk to about them and they are afraid of what they can do to some degree so any information that can be gleaned about them has to be taken from context. Once they spend more time together I’m guessing that they will spend a lot of time practicing and learning together but for now the show uses visual storytelling very well to develop the powers.
I’ve mentioned that these episodes are light on villains but they prove that they aren’t always required as the focus is on the characters dealing with particular situations rather than fighting a supervillain who can match their powers. One of the major situations the episodes explore is how race impacts the world the show lives in. Tandy is the white attractive female who came from money but lives alone grifting her way through life where Tyrone is a black upper middle class teenager who seems to want for nothing in a financial sense. This flips the script on what audience expectations might be but also says a lot about these racial and gender roles in society.
Tandy uses her sex appeal to lure men into thinking they’re taking advantage of her before she robs them which says a lot about how some men view women and how a smart person like her could exploit that. On the flip side the fact that she’s attractive means that some men feel that she can easily be taken advantage of and this leads to the attempted rape. It’s a somewhat realistic comment on more modern gender roles in society and highlights the problems Tandy has to face simply because she is an attractive female.
Tyrone may live a comfortable life, have a mother who has some influence and have a lot of opportunities that others don’t but the episodes make a point of addressing the fact that he’s still black in a society that doesn’t necessarily treat black people as well as it should. This sort of stuff is covered really well in Black Lightning and echoed here very nicely. Tyrone is frustrated by his parents constantly expecting him to do everything perfectly. He sees it as fear of losing him if he doesn’t live a perfect life but their fears run deeper than that. They are afraid that they might lose him even if he does everything perfectly because that is the reality of being black in this modern world. They are already a family who have suffered loss because of police brutality so it’s easy for that to happen again which would render Tyrone’s behaviour and accomplishments worthless in the grand scheme of things. If this continues to be one of the underlying themes of the show then it will continue to be a grounded and fascinating exploration of societal expectations on people and the problems they endure because of their background. Add super powers into the mix and there’s the recipe for something really special.
In terms of acting the show is a bit of a mixed bag at least for now. Olivia Holt as Tandy is the strongest of the two leads with a remarkable ability to show complex emotion throughout. Aubrey Joseph seems to struggle some of the time to bring across what is required. He isn’t terrible and has moments where he is really good but something about his performance fails to connect. Hopefully this is down to him getting used to his characters and won’t negatively impact the show overall. It’s impossible to tell how good the chemistry between the two leads is at this point because they hardly spend any time together but Olivia Holt has great chemistry with everyone else she shares screen time with so I fully expect the same is true of her and Aubrey Joseph.
The only real misstep the show takes is that the pacing is very off at times. I can see why the first two episodes were aired on the same night as there isn’t an awful lot about the first episode that builds excitement. It is all setup and it’s very well done but at the same time it could have moved faster and been less repetitive. The second episode takes what has been established and runs with it to provide a much more succinct experience so the pacing issues are confined largely to the first episode but they do crop up here and there in the second. Despite that I applaud the time taken to develop the characters and the world they belong to while taking a more measured approach to introducing super powers.
An excellent opening for a fascinating character driven show. The approach to storytelling is very measured and character driven which highlights the different approach of having two main characters instead of an ensemble piece or a lead individual who has a group of supporting characters. Time is taken to establish who the characters are and the world they live in by exploring how different their lives are. Tandy is homeless and working really hard to have no meaningful relationships in her life where Tyrone is somewhat overprotected by his parents and lives very comfortably. These characters are used to explore gender and race politics in a modern context in very real and brutal ways. Tandy is exploited because she’s an attractive white female and Tyrone is constantly working to be the most perfect version of himself while living in constant fear of that not being enough.
Very little screen time is shared between the leads which isn’t as detrimental as it could have been because the writing is strong enough to help define these characters on their own. The connection between them is clear and having their powers manifest at mostly the same time despite them being apart helps solidify that connection. The approach to powers is a refreshing one as there is no exposition associated with their use with the characters -and the audience- learning about them as they go. It’s a great approach as it maintains a sense of mystery while making the journey towards knowledge more about the people than the abilities. There are some pacing issues in the first two episodes that drag things down a little but despite them it’s a very strong introduction to something that promises to be a fascinating character study.
- strong characterisation
- excellent worldbuilding
- the sophisticated exploration of race and gender politics
- a refreshing and exposition free approach to super powers
- creating a tangible connection between the leads without bringing them together very often
- pacing issues during the first episode in particular
- Aubrey Joseph’s performance not being as strong as Olivia Holt