Cloak & Dagger – Season Two

Whenever I think of superheroes, whether it be movies, comics, or television, I have a pretty specific image in my mind of what it is. There are people with powers or gaining them, up against a villain often portrayed as more powerful, with ambitions to takeover something or just to acquire power for its own sake. It’s flashy and exciting, with gratuitous fight scenes, losing speeches, and ultimately our heroes saving the day. Typically, I am not a fan. Cloak and Dagger is the exception.

I watched the first season and enjoyed it. It was good. I was a nice origin story for two teenage soon-to-be super heroes. I pitted them up against an evil corporation, which makes for a good villain. It twisted the trope on its head by having a homeless white girl and a rich black guy, as opposed to the inverse, which was refreshing. It was good without being great. It had moments that I enjoyed, like an episode that largely took place in the mind of a catatonic man that I thought was really well done, but otherwise nothing that blew me away, and an ending I thought was a little hokey: the two of them holding hands and blasting light into the sky to save the city from a threat I can’t even recall at the moment. I definitely liked what I saw because I came back for a second season, but I wouldn’t have placed it ahead of other superhero shows like Jessica Jones I’ve enjoyed.

Season 2, however, really stepped up its game.

This season really dives into the psychology of its characters in a way the first season started to but never got deep into. The characters for the most part have adjusted to their powers, so the story got to focus on them and their respective demons, at times literally facing them down. Everyone seemed to really dig deep, but particularly Tyrone and Tandy, played by Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph, developed unique voices that give the characters much needed depth they didn’t have last season.

Tandy’s story arc has her back at home with her mom, going to support groups for women of abusive relationships. This serves as background for Tandy exploring the world of human trafficking, particularly girls who have gone missing around the city. It’s a really gritty topic, but a good one because it feels like a real threat you would explore in a city like New Orleans, as opposed to an artificial threat like a monster threatening to destroy the city or something to that effect. Tyrone similarly is on the lam but is working on stopping the drug trade and gang violence in the city. Both of them are working on what it means to be heroes and they do a good job of showing us a natural path to that end, particularly how they screw up and what those consequences are, like Tandy threatening the boyfriend of one of the women in her support group only to have her disappear soon after.

At the same time, we’re introduced to Bridgette and her new doppelgänger, who we refer to as Mayhem. This was actually one of my favorites parts of the series, because they do a good job of setting her up as a villain at first (though a better one emerges later on), but as we follow the two versions of this character, their complexity comes through in a way that really shines. “Mayhem” is essentially a manifestation of Bridgette’s rage and anger, while Bridgette has none herself. This leaves Mayhem to go on a vigilante spree while Bridgette sinks into a depression and loses her nerve as a cop. When it becomes clear there are two of them, we start to see that neither is the bad guy, and we get a chance to appreciate both of their motivations for what they are. Mayhem, for all her violence and lack of impulse control, still wants to do right by the world and work for justice, but believes holding back won’t accomplish anything. Bridgette “Classic” is by the book, but still is a great support for Tandy and Tyrone as they work to stop the threat to the city. Eventually the two halves reconcile and rejoin as one person, and the result is now a great, strong, complicated female character I hope they continue to build on.

But the real villain of this story is Andre, a former jazz musician who we first meet as a friend of Tandy who runs the support group. They lead into his character so well and for the first half of the season, you don’t even know there’s a villain you’re supposed to be looking out for, but when he enters, the series is careful never to lose sight of his humanity and turn him into a monster. He was affected by the Roxxon explosion like Tandy and Tyrone were. He didn’t develop light and dark powers like they did, but he has much better control over the “Loa Dimension”, as the show refers to it, which acts as a sort of collective unconscious for everyone. Andre suffers from severe migraines, which he finds he can only alleviate by feeding off of the despair of people, which leads him to create the support group that allows him to recruit women that he can use to sustain himself, in turn killing off all hope in them and then convincing them to become sex workers under his employ. It’s a dark idea, but his motivation doesn’t come from a cliche’d place like greed or lust, but he’s a man in pain who’s found only one source of relief. He has to turn off the part of him that feels badly for imposing his pain on others so he can survive. And yet, he does appear to be consumed by the power even if that isn’t his main objective. He’s able to manipulate people by playing their greatest fears and insecurities on a loop, portrayed as literally playing records, so they react the way he needs them to. That’s seemingly how he converts Lia, essentially his right-hand woman, to go from being a nurse to aiding him in capturing and trafficking women. He can do this and has justified in his mind it’s ok because he has no other choice, but as the series goes on, he’s always searching for anything that can provide permanent relief and loses sight of what it does to the people around him.

The other theme that really shone through was the series leaning into the Haitian Voodoo as a backdrop for the super powers. In the first season, they referenced these things as a convenient narration tool to tell us what Tyrone and Tandy are going through without having to actually tell us. But this season, it weaved much deeper into the fabric of the show, essentially comprising the other dimension that the characters bounced back and forth between. Auntie Chantelle and Evita both took on stronger roles in the story, particularly Auntie who I initially breezed past when she came on screen, but knocked me on my ass during her episode with Andre. We learned they actually have a much deeper connection to the Loa, the voodoo gods, than it had initially seemed, and the extent to which she pushed back on Andre created some tension and drama I wasn’t expecting. The entire Loa universe captivated me in a way I wasn’t prepared for in a show like this. Superhero shows have a tendency to be superficial, but this one really digs deep into this culture and draws on it in a way that I hope is not viewed as appropriating but rather as respecting and honoring this spirituality from New Orleans.

The psychologically explorative episodes personally stood out. Tandy had a nice bottle episode in the middle of the series where she lives different potential lives, one where she and Tyrone are their perfect selves, another where she works for her father at Roxxon, another where she’s still a criminal on the streets. We find out towards the end it’s the start of Andre trying to break down her spirit, but it’s one of many ways the series lets us into the characters to show us what makes them. Another episode later on had Tyrone trapped in his own mind, playing a video game about being a superhero because it’s better than the hopeless of the real world where they never win, which I think is such an honest reaction to being a young adult superhero (Sidebar: if the side scrolling fighting game with Cloak and Dagger isn’t a real game in the App Store, FreeForm and Marvel really missed out on some obvious cross promotion cause I actually think I might have played that game). That episode also featured one of the most intriguing characters that I think we’ll probably meet again, Baron Samedi, the Loa God of Death, who was played as a flamboyant queer character that I thought gave some richness to this otherwise dark figure, another villain not after power or greed but just doing what he feels is necessary. Every character, for better or worse, always felt like they were exploring themselves in a way that felt natural and that lead to real growth. Tandy and Tyrone spend the show essentially learning how to be the heroes they want to be, and it’s as messy and chaotic as one might expect for two teenagers who have no guidance on how to do this. But the journey Cloak & Dagger takes us on to reach that point with them lends it such credibility that I can feel them getting better as the season progresses without shortcuts or cheap tricks.

The series isn’t perfect, being the young adult drama that it is. There are times when it exceeds an acceptable level of quippiness, particularly the last episode. Snarky lines, particularly in the midst of an existential threat, lose me pretty quickly. There were times when the trips to the Loa dimension got a bit repetitive, and it felt like we were rehashing the same ideas over and over. For a theoretically infinite plane of existence, they tended to end up in the same three places, which I guess fits in logically but weighed down the story a bit. They also didn’t do the best job at defining Andre’s limits. How much he can actually affect a person seemed to be pretty wide-ranging, going so far as to be able to stop Auntie’s heart with little effort. He could have probably gotten himself out of a few snags by doing that. These plot points bothered me, but not enough to diminish the series, only scratch at the surface.

But on the whole, this season, and the show in general, feels like an exercise in bravery to me; not just the characters who have to face their worst selves and overcome their own fear and shame to truly shine, but the bravery of the show’s writers and creators for making decisions other shows might not have made. I watched The Gifted on Fox, a show taking place in the X-Men Universe, and that show was terrible in comparison, in no small part because the writing was atrocious, but because they constantly made the obvious choice. Cloak & Dagger avoids the obvious choice most of the time. It allows the story to take place without fear that the audience won’t be there without, but gives us an opportunity to catch up which we always do. It pits our heroes against real terror and violence, pulling no punches when Tandy is essentially trapped in a seedy motel to be sold for sex, showing how sex work can be appealing under the right tragic circumstances for women who feel like there’s no other way. It never loses sight of the humanity of the so-called “bad guys”, who must be stopped but don’t have to be hated. But most of all, it resists the urge to romantically entangle Tyrone and Tandy, something any other show would have done from episode one. The two develop an unshakable bond, something that is proved in this season time and time again, but the word “love” comes up not once, there is no moment of tension or heat, purely an expression of friendship and trust that is reinforced over and over. The end of the season very gently guides us into them coupling up, which I think should eventually happen, but even how they do it is so subtle that it’s up in the air if that’s really what’s happening. More and more I begin to appreciate shows that highlight true friendship as something that should be celebrated, and this is one of many that does this well.

I have hopes for future seasons, and I pray we’re not going to go down from here. I do worry that the show seems to be taking Tandy and Tyrone away from New Orleans, as it makes me think that a lot of the supporting cast, particularly Bridgette and Evita who really came into their own this season, may not be returning for future seasons or will have reduced roles. Only time will tell if that’s the case. But Cloak & Dagger has earned the right to take risks with this series so I’m ready to follow them wherever the story goes.

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