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Cloak & Dagger: Funhouse Mirrors

"What's wrong with the city?"
"S**t goes down from time to time."

Ty, Tandy, and Detective O'Reilly each play their own separate undercover sting operations in an episode that manages to explore the cliched 'Dark mirror of the main character' trope without becoming irritating or dragging the masquerades out too long.

All this, plus we finally get some information about Roxxon's big, evil plan.

Nicely played, show. Now please have Ty put that Cloak on.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with introducing a character solely to be a 'road not taken' version of your main character for the sake of a comparison/contrast exercise. Indeed, all you need to do is say the word 'Faith' to prove that that sort of thing can be done very, very well. It's just that it's a trope that lends itself a little too well to heavy-handedness, and it allows a show to really crawl up its own behind if they're not careful with it.

Thankfully then, the only aspect of this episode that was a little too on the nose was the title, and that's not too terrible a sin.

So, what about those dark mirror characters then? Let's start with Brigid, whose storyline was the most straightforward. She's alienating everyone at the NOPD as part of a larger scheme to convince Connors she's also dirty, unfortunately irritating her kept man, Officer Fuchs, in the process. Unfortunately, Brigid seriously underestimated the turnaround time for Connors to decide she's too much of a risk and just have her killed. Well done, show, I did not see that happening that quickly. It will be interesting to see how the show portrays the fallout from an officer involved shooting, because honestly, television doesn't have a great history of accuracy on that front.

Ty, meanwhile, gets paired off both with Duane, and in a smaller way with Kev the neighborhood dealer. Honestly, this plotline didn't do a lot for me, and I think it comes down to a couple of factors. Firstly, and mostly, it was a lot of thematic duplication with Brigid's plotline, in terms of trying to convince other people that you're Baddy McEvil from Villaintown. Additionally, plotlines involving young black men selling drugs can really tumble into cliché very quickly, and I expect better from this show than that. And lastly, the coincidence of Brigid and Connors busting Kev right in front of them so Ty could rescue the backpack felt really forced.

Let's all try not to get attached to Duane...
Which leaves us with Tandy, who was a great vehicle for a lot of plot revelations. What's most interesting about Tandy's 'dark mirror' character, the delightful Mina Hess, is that unlike Connors and Duane, Mina is actually causing Tandy to pretend to be a 'better' person, if I can use that term in a broad and societal-consensus sort of way. While Ty is pretending to want to break into the drug sales market and Detective O'Reilly is pretending to be heavily into the drug stealing and taking market, Tandy is buying sensible waders and bringing thoughtful coffee. It's unusual for the 'road not taken' character to actually be the more positive character, and it put Tandy in an interesting place this episode. Her entire plotline basically existed to get her to the realization that simply telling the truth would have accomplished everything she wanted, but that honesty never even occurred to her. That's good stuff, and they didn't beat us over the head with it too badly, but that also kind of means that the entire Tandy plotline here was sort of an enormous waste of time. At least it allowed them to tell us about the deposit of what is clearly supposed to be Darkforce from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or Zero Matter from Agent Carter, depending on your taste in Avengers spinoff properties. Mina also helpfully told us about her valve, which was in itself a great setup for the way Evita's Auntie described the function of the Divine Pairing a little later on.

So, basically Cloak and Dagger are merely the latest instance of a supernatural relief valve system that occasionally pops up to stop New Orleans from blowing itself off the map with supernatural 'Oogie'. That's a massive divergence from the source material, and it really works for the characters. Well, well done. Not crazy about the 'one of them will die' part, but we'll see how that plays out.

There's two other character issues that need to be addressed here. The first one is Mina Hess. I like her. I like the misdirection of being led to believe she was evil solely based on the episode structure. I adored how quickly she pieced together exactly who Tandy was and called her out on it in a completely reasonable and even sort of polite way. But there's an essential problem with the character of Mina Hess as designed, and that's that she's kind of a Poochie.

Poochie, on the off chance that you don't immediately place the reference, is the most mind-blowingly useful character that The Simpsons ever created. Appearing only once, Poochie was a new character introduced on The Itchy and Scratchy Show and voiced by Homer. Poochie was designed by the laziest committee imaginable, who basically just threw together a bunch of random personality traits that they vaguely believed were 'cool' regardless of how little sense they made with one another. This is useful for two reasons. First, that exact thing happens in lazy television writing often enough that it's handy to have a shorthand term for it. Second, it gives a whole generation of smug post-graduate English majors an excuse to explain what semiotics is.  I'm accusing myself on this point.

So, Mina is introduced to us here arguing with someone in French, has a vehicle that's just hippie-granola enough to read 'Environmentally conscious', but also has a ton of high tech equipment laid on, is a master of both fluid dynamics and thermal dynamics, somehow also took time off of the theoretical science to become a proficient enough mechanical engineer to rewire her oven's thermostat, and is a master baker. The part about baking I liked as a character beat, but most of the rest of those simply don't fit together, and that's before we get into her redesigning the Roxxon building to be green, so we'll add architectural design, some aptitude with plumbing and wiring, and pioneering work in composting and chemical breakdown of recyclable materials. Fortunately, Ally Maki appears to have enough acting ability and innate charm that somehow it all just about holds together, but none of it really holds up to close scrutiny.

The other character we need to talk briefly about is Evita's Aunt. I've been forced to only refer to her here as Evita's Aunt, because there's actually some discrepancy about what her actual name is. IMDb currently lists her as Auntie Chantelle, but plot summaries often list her as Auntie Clarise for some reason. I can only assume that the character's name was changed at some point during the post production period, after plot synopses had been written, but irritatingly they haven't said her name on screen yet at any point, so the matter is still unresolved, officially. Whatever her name is, she makes a nice framing device for the episode, for the second time, although I don't feel like Angela Davis gave a particularly strong performance in this episode. Possibly because of the expository nature of almost all her dialogue.

Bits and Pieces:

— I'm going to be really disappointed if they never explain why Auntie Whatever-her-name-is has a 3-D printer. They ain't cheap.

— The words Auntie was saying didn't really have anything to do with the cards she was turning over. Not even the general position of them. That was a little disappointing, since it seemed like they did more research last time. The spitting out of liquor is both real and accurate, however. I'm no expert on Vodoun, but I highly recommend Zora Neale Hurston's Tell My Horse for a much more informed discussion about it. Just a great book.

— I really loved how open Evita and her Aunt are about discussing sex. Particularly in a show aimed at a young adult market, the lack of puritanical demonization of sex was a breath of fresh air.

— So, did Tandy just show up and claim to be an intern? What would she have done if Mina had called in to check it?

— Cardamom is actually used in baking in Scandinavia. I couldn't find anything online about it being a natural anti-depressant, but given the suicide rate in parts of Scandinavia, I hope that it is.

— This show really does love its misdirects. We're supposed to think it was Ty and Tandy having sex, but it's Duane and someone we don't know. It looks like drugs are being measured out, but it's just Mina baking. They go to that well a lot.

— For the 'good boy' character, Ty really is good at manipulating people. He played the Billy card with Duane shamelessly.

— It was irritating that we didn't get to see Brigid's phone when Ty called, as now we don't know if she knew it was him calling and that helped warn her about the trap in the warehouse or not. It depends on whether or not helping Ty was important enough to her to program his contact info into her phone. Not a huge plot point, but I'm curious about it.

— The last episode of the season is called Colony Collapse. I'm guessing the discussion of Bees here will become relevant.

— It was nicely played that Tandy couldn't bring herself to use hope as a weapon against Mina after she saw Mina with genuine hope over the bee situation. That was a general theme this week; there are some tools you shouldn't use.

— It's much harder to stab a tire than you expect. You're much better off pulling off the valve stem. Use that information responsibly.

— It occurred to me that due to the nature of how their powers interact, Ty and Tandy can't hug. That made me sad.


Chantelle: "How go things with that boy of yours?"
Evita: "He's not mine."
Chantelle: "He's yours enough."
Evita: "Is this your way of having the talk? Because you're kind of predicting the past."

Fuchs: "Not asking questions has been my thing, because you've made it clear that you don't want them asked."
Brigid: "And I like that about you."
Fuchs: "Be prepared to like me less."

Chantelle: "We're a goody bag of bad oogie down here."

Tandy: "Judge less or leave more."

Mina: "How'd you find me? Oh right, you're a stalker-liar."

A well structured episode that started to fill in the pieces in an interesting way, only a little let down by a few details.

Two and a half out of four Bea Arthurs

I normally don't put this sort of thing in the body of a review, as if you're reading this two years from now it won't be at all relevant, but I apologize for the lateness of this, I've been sicker than heck for the last week and a bit. I mention it now, because as a result I've already seen the following episode, and it was easily one of the ten best hourlongs of anything that I've ever seen. So, there's that for you to look forward to.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

1 comment:

  1. When Mina asked Tandy "did you bring your receipt?" after she turned up with the waders, I immediately thought the writers must have been reading your reviews, questioning how Tandy could afford all the outfits for her cons. I doubt she got those from the dry cleaners!


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