Episode 1: First Light
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Written by: Joe Pokaski
Having been inundated with comic book-based and superhero-themed TV shows within the last decade, it is incredible that there seems to be no end to this seeming inexhaustible well of mainly DC and Marvel properties. Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, courtesy of Freeform and produced by the trifecta of ABC Signature Studios, Marvel Television and Wandering Rocks Productions, is just the latest such show on the small screen that begs the big question of, does it do enough differently and enticingly to justify your attention?
In the premier episode, we are exposed to racism, police violence, substance abuse, bullying and even attempted rape, but the show does not use these elements to preach a message or exploit them for cheap shock value. The entire tone of Cloak & Dagger is far more grounded and personal than even the Marvel/Netflix series that indulge in the super-heroic elements even with its gritty and uber-realistic aesthetics. It is certainly more character driven, opting for the simplistic over the bombastic or extravagant in terms of both action and the display of powers. The show also lacks that pretentiousness and self-humor of its contemporaries and does not pander to the fan-base. It is very somber throughout, but despite the seemingly joylessness and some upsetting moments, the show is still never utterly hopeless.
The first episode is swathed in dichotomy and monochromatic imagery, which is very heavy-handed at times. Our main protagonists are one black male named Tyrone Johnson and one white female named Tandy Bowen, who are often wearing or are very often surrounded by the colors black and white respectively. The contrasts don’t end there, as the titular Cloak and Dagger played by Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt, also come from different walks of life; Cloak being from a struggling middleclass household, and Dagger from a wealthy background.
But as with most superhero origins, tragedy strikes, and that is where Cloak & Dagger deviate from the norm. After the obligatory tragic power-bestowing accident when they were very young, we follow Tyrone’s and Tandy’s very separate lives a few years later, where the roles of our two protagonists are reversed. Following that one shared event and the loss each suffered, their lives and those around them have been inexorably transformed, mostly for the worst.
Both Aubrey and Olivia do a fantastic job of invoking the many tumultuous feelings and emotions of these young adults struggling in a suffocating world. Your connection, relatability and/or sympathy is well warranted with their performance, which, thanks to the excellent writing and directing, never devalues these characters as incapable victims or survivors – which in itself is both motivating and empowering.
Overall, Cloak & Dagger chooses substance and strong, complex characterization over everything else, so those looking for some semblance of something superhero-y will be sorely disappointed. Another point of contention is the meticulously slow pacing of the first episode, almost to the point of drudgery. But if you have superhero fatigue and want something more adult than your typical teen drama, you will certainly have something to whet your pallet with this brand-new entry.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.