I started the first episode of Marvel’s newest television show, Cloak & Dagger, with high expectations. While their Netflix-exclusive offerings have been, for the most part, amazing, it’s in their network television shows that I tend to lose interest. I got bored with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D after only starting the second season, and I never bothered to finish Agent Carter. Cloak & Dagger debuted on Freeform, a channel I don’t have, so I watched it on Hulu, as I expect most folks did. I was excited and expecting C&D to be great due to Marvel’s other Hulu-exclusive series, Runaways, of which I absolutely loved every minute. Also, rumors had been rumbling of a Cloak and Dagger television show for years, so anxiously waiting played a large part in my hype level as well. I’m extremely pleased to say Cloak & Dagger is just as good as Runaways, if not better.
Cloak & Dagger tells the story of teenagers Tyrone Jackson (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) – the show’s titular heroes, Cloak and Dagger, respectively. Taking place in New Orleans, the show dives right into Ty and Tandy’s childhood, and in particular the night they both experience a ground-shaking tragedy. Tandy’s father is a scientist working for Roxxon (a company fans of Marvel Comics will recognize, but Roxxon also serves as a tie-in to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe) on a rig mining deep into the Earth for an unknown resource. Despite her father’s warnings, Roxxon pushes a bit too hard, and an accident causes a massive explosion, unleashing the mysterious energy source into the water and surrounding areas. At the same time, Tandy and her father, Nathan (Andy Dylan), are driving in a storm when they’re forced off of a bridge by a semi truck, crashing into the water below, with Nathan ultimately dying. On another side of town, a young Tyrone is returning a car stereo he stole to impress his brother Billy when police find the boys and a chase ensues. Upon reaching docks and becoming effectively trapped between the cops and the Gulf, the Roxxon rig explodes, and a frightened Officer Connors (J.D. Evermore) instinctively shoots – and accidentally kills – the innocent Billy. Tyrone jumps into the Gulf after Billy just as Tandy and Nathan’s vehicle falls into the water. Almost immediately after, the energy expulsion happens, and Tyrone and Tandy experience visions of this strange energy, as well as each other.
The vast majority of the show takes place eight years after this incident. Tyrone has become a star basketball player for his private Catholic school’s team, while Tandy has resorted to being a thief, loner, and prescription drug abuser. Both deaths in Tyrone and Tandy’s lives have created rifts within their families; Tyrone’s parents (Gloria Reuben and Miles Mussenden) have become overprotective and hold him to such high standards that he sometimes can’t handle the pressure. Tandy’s mother, Melissa, (Andrea Roth) has slipped far into alcoholism, casual sex, and recreational and prescription drug use, like Tandy herself. It isn’t until the two meet in a random encounter at a high school party and physically touch that their powers begin to manifest. Throughout the season, Tandy discovers she can not only create daggers of light out of thin air but can see a person’s greatest hopes by simply touching them. Alternatively, Tyrone is able to teleport (most often under stress or fear for his life at first, and then later at will) as long as something is covering him, such as a tarp, a blanket, or – yes – a cloak. Also, like Tandy’s ability to see other’s hopes via touching, Ty can see their innermost fears. As much as Cloak & Dagger is an origin story about the heroes discovering themselves, each other, and their powers, there are clear objectives for Ty and Tandy. When the Gulf rig exploded, Peter Scarborough (Wayne Péré), CEO of Roxxon Gulf, smeared Nathan Bowen’s name and blamed the entire thing on him posthumously. At first, Tandy’s sole objective is to clear her father of any wrongdoing, but as the season progresses, it becomes about stopping Scarborough from again unleashing the mysterious energy, as they find out there is a much more sinister purpose behind Scarborough wielding it and what it can do. For Tyrone, his personal journey is about exposing Connors, who is now a vice detective, as the murderer he is and erasing the idea that his brother was just another hoodlum who was gunned down by the police with the help of recently-transferred detective Brigid O’Reilly (Emma Lahana – there is a fun MCU connection regarding O’Reilly as well, so listen closely for that). Though both storylines are personal to each hero, it is the moments when they finally team up and tackle obstacles head on that are the most exciting; it was great to see the extensive character development on both sides.
Aside from the main storylines, Cloak & Dagger is not afraid of touching on many real-world issues. Tandy has fallen deep into a hole following her father’s death, becoming the poster child for depression and bad decisions. Everything destructive Tandy does can be traced back to Nathan passing away, and since her mother isn’t the greatest role model, it makes her downward spiral that much easier. There are moments when Tandy looks like she will be coming out of her slump, filled with renewed hope for herself and the world, only to be torn back down to her lowest points again when something bad occurs. In life, it’s easy to have hopes dashed at the first sight of complications, negativity, or things simply not going your way. As a person who suffers from depression, I can totally relate to this aspect of Tandy’s character. To some, it may seem as if she is making dumb decisions by going back to drugs, thievery, or isolating herself from Tyrone and others right after making great leaps in her character, but this is a real part of depression, one which I am happy to see represented on screen. As for Tyrone, from the moment his story starts in episode one, it’s all about racial profiling, and police brutality, genuine problems minorities face every single day in our country. If Runaways was about showcasing minorities and placing them in a positive light as heroes, Cloak & Dagger’s Tyrone is about diving even deeper into the ugly aspects of life as a black teenager. Billy was shot by accident, sure, but why Ty and Billy were even in that position in the first place was a result of racial profiling. Due to police brutality against minorities, the brothers feel the need to run from the cops as opposed to attempting to explain what’s going on. Police are expected to protect and serve all citizens, and the fact that many do not feel safe around police is disgusting. Cloak & Dagger isn’t afraid to use today’s social issues and put them in the audience’s face.
It is a testament to the excellent writing in the show’s first season that these facets of mental illness, addiction, and societal problems are presented perfectly alongside an engaging and exciting superhero origin story. I never once felt like the writers were pushing the representation of the show’s “real life” aspects on me, and a lot of that has to do with the pacing. A ten-episode run is perfect for Cloak & Dagger, whereas in the Marvel Netflix shows, thirteen episodes is often too far a stretch and the story ends up feeling boring or slow at times. Cloak & Dagger moves forward at breakneck speed while being sure to tell a clear and concise story with likable, relatable, and well-developed characters. Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph deserve the utmost praise for their portrayals of Tandy and Ty, as does the rest of the main and supporting cast. But with Holt and Joseph, their performances HAD to be spot on. An actor and actress capable of displaying genuine emotion were absolutely necessary to tell this story, and in that, the show excels. A special nod must also be given to Gloria Reuben for delivering an exceptional performance every time she is on screen.
Marvel has done it again with Cloak & Dagger, not simply delivering a great television show about superheroes, but a wonderful look into different kinds of people in general. Marvel is at their best when bringing the extraordinary to a grounded level to which each viewer can relate. Given how season one ends, I’m extremely excited to see where Cloak & Dagger will go with the Divine Pairing in their recently-announced season two. Now that the characters have an effective backstory and an interesting yet still mysterious origin of their powers, the sky seems to be the limit. In the meantime, keep your browser locked to Geeks + Gamers for all things television and Marvel!