Cloak and Dagger: Season One (2018)
Rating: 3 of 5 stars.
Platform: Freeform, Hulu.
Starring: Olivia Holt, Aubrey Joseph, Emma Lahana.
Cloak and Dagger is solid, but doesn’t live up to the established MCU. The show excels in cinematography with beautiful scenes, choreography, lighting, set design, and a solid contemporary hip hop and alternative pop soundtrack. However, its attempts to pander to young adult Shadowhunter-esque viewers leaves it bloated with unnaturally heavy emotional sequences.
The show takes itself too seriously and loses credibility in the process. Zero comedic relief and poor dialogue result in wasted efforts by talented young actors, and a campy soap-opera feel. Episodes steadily improve as the season progresses.
Episode One: First Light – 3 stars
The first episode of Cloak and Dagger introduces us to our protagonists as children, on the day their lives essentially switched places. Tyrone is raised in the ghetto, influenced by grand theft and doing whatever it takes to get by. Tandy is a middle class ballerina. Each endures a fateful trauma that robs Tandy’s family of their status, and sets Tyrone on a path of toeing the line to escape his upbringing.
Eight years later Tandy is a poor grifter, using her good looks to take advantage of privileged sleazebags, and Tyrone is a respectable young man on a successful prep school basketball team. The two cross paths at a party to discover they have an unusual connection.
A lot of the scripting feels like the writers should have spent more time observing actual teenagers and their lingo. Both protagonists feel a little too dramatic, a little too serious. With zero comedic relief or traditional teenage problems, the show is unrecognizable from the rest of the MCU. Even the gritty Netflix series are less soapy and more personal.
The first episode is intriguing enough to make you want to tune back in for another, but it’s far from an edge-of-your-seat thriller. I wasn’t sucked in. I didn’t fall in love with the characters. I didn’t feel a burning need to see what happens next. It’s interesting at most.
The plot jumps between the present, the past, and the Darkhold dimension (first introduced in Agents of SHIELD) where Cloak and Dagger’s powers blend the two together, giving them insight into who they are and how they became what they are. It’s easy enough to follow along with, but it creates a meandering plot that doesn’t really feel as if it’s advancing, even when it is.
Episode Two: Suicide Sprints – 2.5 stars
Little happens to advance the overall plot. Most of the episode focuses on the primary characters’ personal struggles with no external protagonist working against them. Tandy works a con to try and steal startup money for a new life outside of New Orleans, while Tyrone deals with basketball team drama and briefly contends with the man who killed his brother.
Episode Three: Stained Glass – 1 star
Tyrone and Tandy’s mysterious connection draws them together once again. Poor film editors felt the need to show us the same scene twice (supposedly from both perspectives, though the camera angles and content are all identical?).
The two have a bizarre Darkforce dimension scene that’s supposed to be this profound revelatory experience, but it’s completely self-sabotaged by overacting and absurdly written lines like “You can’t keep doing the same thing. The end will always be the same!” and “Can’t you see what’s right in front of your face? Stop running, you have to try something else!” It’s got to be one of the dumbest scenes I’ve ever seen in a serious show.
Episode Four: Call/Response – 1.5 stars
The season finally begins to advance its narrative as Tandy helps her mother’s boyfriend decipher old Roxxon records and Tyrone investigates the cop who shot his brother. We also finally get to see someone actively working against them for the first time.
Unfortunately we’re stuck with more atrocious dialogue like “When we touch, shit goes boom.” We also get a great pissing contest over who has it harder. Race relations, suicide, drug use, poverty, depression, entitlement and more all crammed into a thirty-second montage like they needed to check off their list of “teen issues” but couldn’t come up with enough plot to do it properly.
Episode Five: Princeton Offense – 2.5 stars
It took half a season for a tiny moment of comedic relief, but we finally got it. The kind of goofy teen-discovering-his-powers incident that comic book fans have loved for decades, and we only got it halfway through the season.
The show is continually written in the soapy overly dramatic style of Twilight Saga and Shadowhunters, though even those shows have more lighthearted moments than Cloak and Dagger.
Further proof the writers haven’t researched anything at all. A high school basketball game where the final ten seconds are actually ten seconds has never happened in the history of forever. Neither team tries to foul and stop the clock? That’s a bigger fantasy than their powers. Not to mention they let the sixth-man shoot the buzzer-beater.
On the bright side, we finally get some decent character development outside of the titular duo, and delve deeper into the shady backdealings of the NOPD and Roxxon.
Episode Six: Funhouse Mirrors – 3 stars
Not a whole lot to say, except that it was a notable improvement on the prior episodes. Little melodrama with real human scenes that allow the viewer to feel emotion rather than having emotion thrust upon them.
Episode Seven: Lotus Eaters – 5 stars
Finally our first deep dive into the horrors of the Darkforce dimension. Tim Kang gives a phenomenal performance as a catatonic Ivan Hess, trapped in an eternal repeat of the five minutes preceding the explosion that started their whole story.
The episode reminds me of the conclusion to Doctor Strange, while also waxing philosophic with the time loop as a metaphor for getting stuck in the past and the need to move on.
The show also earned its first laugh of the season.
Episode Eight: Ghost Stories – 5 stars
Another excellent episode, rendered imperfect only due to the rest of the season’s failure to properly build. The apparent resolution of a major plot point and the death of a minor character is unfortunately less than tragic simply because of the prior episodes’ lack of investment.
Episode Nine: Back Breaker – 3 stars
Viewers who haven’t read the comics will be unaware that much of the personal dynamics of Tandy and Tyrone are switched from their source. Tyrone was from the ghetto, Tandy was a spoiled little rich girl. That switchery continues in this episode as Tandy begins to explore a darker side of her powers that’s more reminiscent of the comic book version of Cloak.
She’s not the only one to go off the deep end as both suddenly become total assholes for no apparent reason in order to fit the hero archetype that Tyrone’s teacher narrates throughout the episode. What they attempt to present as artsy just feels forced and unnecessary.
Forced and unnecessary also describes the “Divine Pairing” narrative that would have been fine had it been utilized properly. For three or four episodes they try to build suspense for an epic showdown that will supposedly change everything. But three or four episodes isn’t long enough to build that kind of suspense. I’m not saying to go full Game of Thrones and spend four or five seasons building, but at least give it to us a little bit longer.
Episode Ten: Colony Collapse – 4 stars
The Darkhold spilleth over. The season culminates in a solid, if unoriginal, finale reminiscent of Batman Begins. The city descends into chaos, though not quite as chaotic as an action-lover might hope, and the Divine Pairing narrative continues to detract from the story rather than add to it. The writers’ attempts to ground Cloak and Dagger in the history of New Orleans causes them to lose their own story along the way.
A major flaw in the narrative is the writers’ expectation for us to cheer our heroes on as they recklessly hack, slash, and shoot their way through crowds of infected innocent bystanders who aren’t responsible for their own actions. Very heroic. We do get a bit more hokey dialogue, but the ultimate cheese comes when they hold hands to save the day.