Cloak & Dagger, the latest Marvel series to hit cable, ditches Netflix and goes to Freeform because this one’s about teenagers. Far from light-hearted like Hulu’s Runaways, however, Cloak & Dagger is full of the grit and dark color of Marvel’s Netflix offerings like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Which is to say that it’s definitely a good show, but don’t expect too many superheroics or comic-book-inspired camp just yet.
Penned by Joe Pokaski, who wrote on Heroes and Daredevil, the show follows suit with the latter series more than the former by its grim tone.
Olivia Holt’s Tandy is a white girl whose father died in a car accident, has a terse relationship with her mother, and steals from rich kids while fucking her boyfriend and partner-in-crime in his car. Aubrey Joseph’s Ty is from a middle-class black family, but it all came after his mother Iyanla-ed their lives when Ty’s brother was murdered and framed as a drug user. Ty saves Tandy from the car accident that claims her dad’s life, somehow igniting their superpowers and leaving them dormant until she tries to boost his wallet at a high-school party. It's then that we discover she is able to produce daggers made of blinding white light and he is able to go unseen and teleport using a dark, mist-like cloak.
That may seem pulpy to you, but the series manages to remain grounded at all costs. It has a little in common with Heroes' beginnings, in that its characters have no idea they have powers and it will take an entire season for them to form a superhero team. It has a lot in common with Daredevil in that the series isn’t worried about putting Tandy and Ty into costumes just yet or giving them supervillains. The series isn’t about saving the world; it’s about saving their lives.
Which makes it the perfect series for Gina Prince-Bythewood to direct the pilot and set it off on a tone of redemption and self-discovery. Prince-Bythewood, who should be a bigger director than she currently is, excels at crafting stories that take intense melodrama and make them seem human and relatable. A perfect example of this is her film Beyond the Lights, which took the bleak story of a singer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) attempting to kill herself, only to be saved by a cop (Nate Parker), and make it a compelling romantic drama. Similarly, her masterpiece Love and Basketball shows Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps’ years-long romance centered around their love of basketball. Cloak & Dagger benefits from Prince-Bythewood’s touch, the characters though disconnected at first, feel drawn together and when they do meet, the intimacy is immediately felt. There’s destiny between them.
As a fan of television that takes its time simmering and comic books, it can sometimes be disheartening to see shows that decide to wait until we see superheroes be superheroes. If I wanted to see teenagers be moody, I’d watch 13 Reasons Why or Riverdale. It’s good, then, that the actors are compelling and the writing is tight enough to make the show addictive, even if the first couple of episodes feel a bit like grim porn you have to slog through.
Freeform is doing a bit of a reinvention with series like Grownish and Cloak & Dagger and it’s exciting to see the series flourish and to see that the network is embracing more diversity in front of and behind the camera.
The original comic characters were schlocky yet fun and while I never particularly read many of their comics, I loved when they popped up in the Marvel universe. Marvel right now is doing a lot of interesting things with its television series, Inhumans aside, and they’re finally starting to give the CW a fun for their money. The CW has perfect a superhero formula, yes, but they all come from Greg Berlanti and for the most part they’re full of pretty white people doing pretty white things with people of color as their sidekicks, except Black Lightning. But then again, that’s also the CW’s aesthetic.
Cloak & Dagger is like ‘Oh, you wanted a twist?’ The white character is decidedly less glamorous and our black character is no sidekick. Marvel is finally getting down and dirty.