Superhero shows are a dime a dozen these days and ever multiplying in the near future, so it’s nice to see Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, which is one of the more intriguing superhero origin stories, taking a different kind of approach. It airs on Freeform, so it’s a little more teen oriented than usual, and while that involves some sillier elements (this show probably has the most obvious soundtrack in terms of lyrics describing feelings and plot as it’s occurring onscreen that I’ve ever seen), it mostly wants to be far more character driven than action, which is a nice change. And yet, the ten episode first season still feels like it has more potential to evolve into something great than it’s delivered so far, as the series showed signs only in the last few episodes of really finding itself as its main duo took center stage as a duo.
Cloak & Dagger is a beloved, but a bit more obscure comic book property, created in the 1980’s by Bill Mantio and Ed Hannigan, centering on two teenage runaways, Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen, a black male and a white female, as they were kidnapped and experimented on, resulting in the discovery of superpowers that bound them together physically. The show tweaks this origin story a bit, to dispel with any problematic stereotypes (in the comics, Tyrone was a homeless street teen while Tandy came from a rich family- that’s gender flipped here for obvious reasons), and in order to really delve into issues of racial justice which lie at the heart of Tandy and Tyrone’s pairing.
The premise hands the show a strong foundation, but the execution is a little clumsy at times, mostly because the show’s insistence on a slow burn origin story keeps Tandy (Olivia Holt) and Ty (Aubrey Joseph) apart for the majority of the first half of the season, as each of them embark on their own separate quests for justice. The pilot episode establishes Tandy and Ty as having gotten their powers due to the explosion of an oil rig when both were eight years old- they ended up in the water at the same time following tragedies that befell each of them at the same moment, and now as teenagers, are just waking up to their powers when meeting again for the first time. But Tandy is preoccupied with seeking vengeance for the corporate malfeasance that killed her father, while Ty wants justice for a dirty cop who murdered his older brother the night of the explosion.
This leads to some plodding scenes as each goes about their business, with the majority of intrigue coming from the discovery of their powers, which are kind of all over the place. First off, Tandy creates literal daggers of light from her hands which can kill people, while Ty has the ability to teleport, but that’s not all. When Tandy touches someone, she’s transported into the world of their greatest hopes, and when Ty does, he takes the person into their greatest fears. When they combine these powers, well…it’s vague, but it appears to be all knowing, mystical and somewhat unlimited. We’re talking mind warps, dreams, etc.- who knows what they could use these powers for?
The show has a lot of components to explore here, because Cloak & Dagger’s telepathic powers are largely undefined, especially the visions and mind control. That can lead to visual interpretation of basically whatever you want, I mean you can send these two into multi-dimensional travel if the desire arose. Luckily, the two young actors cast as the leads have a natural chemistry and the show comes alive in their scenes together. In the back half of the season when they finally start to pair up, the difference in momentum is immediate. So much so that when it drifts into their separate lives again, it deflates a bit. I understand the value of not wanting to burn story out, but in this case, the show is absolutely the two of them working as a pair, and I hope the writers have figured that out by now. It’s a show with a slower pacing and less superhero action overall, preferring to explore character’s feelings through the spiritual nature of Ty and Tandy’s powers, but seeing as how the best scenes in the entire season involve the two kids themselves, I’d say play that up next time, put them on adventures together every episode and we’ve got ourselves a show. There’s no sign of a love story yet, but since it’s comics canon, I’d expect that to happen eventually and I’d advise them not to be afraid to go there either, since romance has been jettisoned in a lot of superhero properties these days, and these two could be one of the strongest. The show left a lot of untapped wells in the first season, but it’s all there waiting to be explored, leaving next spring’s upcoming Season 2 one of my most anticipated shows.