Thursday, June 7, 2018

REVIEW: 'Cloak & Dagger' - Tandy and Tyrone Experience Tragedy That Ties Them Together in 'First Light' & 'Suicide Sprints'

Freeform's Cloak & Dagger - Episodes 1.01 "First Light" and 1.02 "Suicide Sprints"

Two teenagers from very different backgrounds find themselves awakened to superpowers which are mysteriously linked to one another. The only constant in their lives is danger and each other. Tandy and Tyrone try to grasp what has happened to them with their newfound powers, while Tandy's past catches up with her and Tyrone becomes consumed with revenge. Detective Brigid O'Reilly works an interesting case that has ties to Tandy.

Cloak & Dagger is the first drama from Marvel to air on Freeform. It's a type of show that the network has produced and aired before. It has featured shows where the main characters have special abilities that allow them to play in a fantastical world. The network is probably hoping that Cloak & Dagger proves to be a more consistent hit for them than Beyond and Shadowhunters did - even though the latter still had a healthy run that should satisfy fans. But Marvel is also running the risk of over-saturating the marketplace with content right now. The company is essentially releasing three films a year. Plus, it has shows spread out across ABC, Freeform, Hulu and Netflix with countless more in various stages of development at a number of other outlets - like the upcoming Disney streaming service. As such, any new show that resides in this universe needs to have a unique and specific perspective right away. It needs to stand out in order to feel like necessary viewing for the Marvel fans who have already given so much time to this world. Of course, one doesn't have to be a Marvel fan or completely up to date with all the happenings of this grand, extended universe in order to appreciate what Cloak & Dagger sets out to do. In fact, it seems like the show is just doing its own thing instead of trying to fit into some overarching story of a broader world. That helps the show stand out in its opening two episodes. Of course, Marvel also runs the risk of having Cloak & Dagger being too similar to Hulu's Runaways because they both tell young adult stories about a group of high school students who suddenly learn they have powers. As such, it's vital for this premiere to set the tone and show the audience that it plans on telling a vastly different story. One where the focus is split evenly between the two leads - Tandy and Tyrone. Their powers are connected. And yet, they remain just as baffled by everything as the audience is at the moment.

"First Light" opens on the sequence that reveals how Tandy and Tyrone got their powers. It's a shared experience of tragedy. Tandy is simply at ballet class and is stuck waiting for a ride afterwards to take her home. Tyrone is hanging around his older brother's friends wanting to prove himself to them. It's a story that builds until Tandy's father and Tyrone's brother both die. The cause of their deaths extends outward from an explosion at a nearby oil rig. Tandy's father is actually an executive at the company that owns the rig. He's on the phone driving over a bridge when he is furiously talking to someone about the tragedy that is about to happen. He can see it coming. And yet, he is powerless to stop it. Just like he's powerless to stop the truck that is coming straight at them and forces their vehicle off the bridge and into the water below. Meanwhile, Tyrone's brother was simply trying to do the right thing by returning the stereo system that Tyrone stole from a car. It led to an unfortunate encounter with the police where they were forced to run for their lives. Tyrone's brother ultimately gets cornered and shot in the chest because the officer is startled by the explosion. He plummets into the water and Tyrone goes after him. So both of these children are in the water when something mystifying occurs. It's completely unknown and foreign to both of them. They are trying to save their loved ones somehow. And then, they mysteriously wake up on a beach amongst the rest of the wreckage completely okay. That visual right away points out the connection between these characters. It's clear that this is their origin story.

And yet, it's important to point out that Tandy and Tyrone haven't had their powers since that day. That's the way these things typically work out. Some crazy thing happens that will forever alter the lives of these characters by giving them superhuman abilities. They can sense it immediately and have to find a way to control their new powers. Instead, Cloak & Dagger suggests that Tandy and Tyrone's powers don't activate for them until they touch once more. As such, they are allowed to grow up with their lives changing solely because of this tragedy. Tandy's family is ruined by the explosion because the company is able to use her father as a scapegoat for all of the problems experienced there. He gets the blame for everything and he can't defend himself because he's dead. That leaves Tandy with a mother who is an addict and her basically living on the streets as a con artist just trying to steal enough money to survive. Meanwhile, the death of a child propelled Tyrone's mother to pull their family out of poverty and into a neighborhood that can provide new opportunities to Tyrone. Sure, she may be working herself to death and perpetually worried that something will happen to Tyrone as well. But she has built a better life that allows Tyrone to go to a private school and play on the basketball team that has just made the state championship. The show is very insightful about these parallel stories. Both Tandy and Tyrone are oppressed by the world and made to feel less than. No matter what the world at large still looks at them differently. Tyrone is the young black man while Tandy is a white trash girl. At times, they do play into those stereotypes. But they also aspire to be so much more with their lives as well. And yet, they find themselves forever haunted by the past too.

That's what makes it so random when Tandy and Tyrone reconnect and suddenly have these new powers to explore and understand. It's clear that their powers compliment one another - with Tandy's representing light and Tyrone's representing dark. But they are much more specific than that as well. Tandy can channel light and even turn it into a weapon. Tyrone can teleport. Both of those skills come in handy on a number of occasions as well. Right now, the show is playing things in a very grounded way. There is no big introduction into a superhero world where a mentor shows up to bring the two together and explain to them as well as the audience what they are capable of doing now. They aren't battling some fantastical villain who also has powers. Instead, the antagonists of these opening episodes appear to be the shady cop who shot Tyrone's brother, the police officer looking into the stabbing of Tandy's would-be rapist and the company that caused the rig to explode in the first place. The season is bound to dig further into the origins of these powers for Tandy and Tyrone. They are connected together for a reason. It would be too simplistic to say that they have that bond just because they happened to be in the water at the same time. It probably should be more complex than that. And yet, it's still notable to see Tyrone and Tandy realize they have these powers and use them when the situation calls for it. Of course, they don't know how or when they are able to do these magical things. It appears to tie closely with their emotions. When they are afraid for their lives, Tandy is able to channel a dagger and Tyrone can teleport away. But there are other occasions in which Tyrone simply goes to sleep and wakes up somewhere else while Tandy's hands just start to glow. Again, those instances may still be tied together in some way. They both have roughly the same amount of time devoted to utilizing their powers across these opening episodes. But this sudden change to their lives is also forcing them to grapple with their lingering emotions about the past trauma and what they actually want to do with it.

Tandy just wants to run away from her life. She is afraid of actually opening up to anyone and being truthful with them. Tyrone wants to get revenge against the man who killed his brother. He has all of this rage inside that he doesn't know how to deal with. He has the opportunity to speak with a priest at school. And yet, it's much more sensible to him to start a fight while on the basketball court. That's what makes it so terrifying and strange when they realize that they are also able to have these visions about the closest people in their lives. That's a power that both of them share. And yet, the context of these visions is remarkably different. For Tandy, she sees her mother and father again as a happy family as well as her criminal cohort Liam professing his love to her and willing to do anything alongside her. For Tyrone, he sees his mother absolutely terrified that she's about to lose both of her sons. All of her hard work won't be able to save them from the inevitable. Both Tandy and Tyrone are distraught because of these visions. They don't know what they mean. They appear at random times as well. Basically, it's whenever they get too close to someone. And they both have the desire to be close with their families. There are just constant barriers in the way from that. Tandy just sees her mother as an addict who will never get better. Nor does Tandy have the patience or ability to stay around long enough to find out. Tyrone feels immense pressure from his parents to be the perfect black man who will find a way to defy the odds and succeed. But he just wants to focus entirely on finding his brother's killer. It's an obsession of his that forces him to act irrationally. And yet, that only pulls him and Tandy closer together. Sure, it's awkward that they once again meet with Tandy in a car crash with Tyrone needing to save someone important in his life. But that's also a powerful metaphor for just how connected their lives are going to be even though they don't want to know each other right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "First Light" was written by Joe Pokaski and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
  • "Suicide Sprints" was written by Joe Pokaski and directed by Alex Garcia Lopez.
  • It appears that this show is playing by the same rules as the Marvel shows on Hulu and Netflix when it comes to just how far the content can go. As such, there is sex but never nudity. There is also swearing but it's nothing too bad or scandalous. Both of those elements allow this show to have a mature tone as well. And that has to be something that Freeform is genuinely interested in exploring right now.
  • Both Tandy and Tyrone took mementos from the wreckage that belonged to the other person. She took his oversized hoodie. He took her ballet slipper. And now, both of them still have those items and are strangely comforted by them. It makes more sense for Tandy to keep the hoodie though because it still fits her. It's odd that Tyrone still has the slipper and feels the need to carry it around again.
  • It's going to be fascinating to see just how complicated things will get for Tandy and Tyrone because of these powers they can't control. Tyrone could literally disappear into thin air at a moment's notice anytime in his day-to-day life. Meanwhile, Tandy could just start glowing and bring more attention to herself when she's trying to steal stuff. Those could be huge burdens for them. And yet, it's important to see them as blessings as well.
  • Tyrone's powers were able to send him directly to his brother's killer. Tyrone had no idea who this guy once. He always believed that he was out there despite the detective on the case saying that no such man existed. And now, he has a proper identity. It's clear that he's a crooked cop mostly because he's involved in drug deals. But it's important that Tyrone's powers take him to Connors multiple times but pull him away the moment before Tyrone is able to shoot him.
  • Elsewhere, there is an official police investigation into the stabbing that Tandy was responsible for. She injured the man trying to rape her after she stole from him. He is going to recover after living in ambiguity for much of the second episode. But it's more intriguing to see this new detective operate. The show makes a point in those scenes where she doesn't speak and neither do her colleagues. She is conducting this silent investigation but still arrests someone by the end of the hour. It just turns out to be Liam - who needs Tandy to return to him now despite her rejection of his love.