Cloak & Dagger: Ghost Stories

Ty: "Will I be just like you?"
Billy: "Nah, You'll be better."

No spoilers above the break.

Let's start with the celebration – Cloak & Dagger has been renewed for a second season! And apparently fast tracked for it, as it's scheduled for spring of 2019 instead of waiting for summer. I'm a little saddened by the timing, as C&D has felt like a really great fit for a summer show, and I'd hate for it to get lost in the broadcast season, but then I suppose 'getting good stuff too early' is hardly the worst thing that can happen to anyone, so I won't complain too much.

Speaking of the worst thing that can happen to anyone...

That noise you just heard was the sound of my heart breaking.

I should have been prepared for it. If Joss Whedon has taught me nothing else, he's taught me that a happy couple who have resolved their issues can count their remaining lifespan in less than 42 minutes. But regardless of the loving pancake breakfasts and how supportive Fuchs suddenly was regarding Brigid's quest to take down Connors, I had no clue that tragedy was coming right up until the point when I noticed that we'd happily resolved all the plotlines and there were still fifteen minutes left of the episode. And even then I was only concerned for Ty and Tandy's parents. I'd completely forgotten that Brigid and Fuchs even existed at that moment. That's admirable scripting, since the episode itself kept just enough of the spotlight on Brigid and Fuchs in among the other plotlines that in hindsight his ultimate fate was obvious.

Dammit, I liked Fuchs. I hadn't even managed to come up with a couple name for them yet.

It was a neat trick all around, the way the episode played with audience expectations regarding what is supposed to happen in this kind of series this close to the finale. Ty and Tandy's plotlines were both centered around their need for justice/vengeance for what happened to their loved ones on that night eight years earlier. Generally speaking, the resolution of that need for justice/vengeance should have happened in the finale. The role of the antepenultimate episode in a series traditionally is to clear the last of the extraneous plotlines up so that the essential core of the issue is defined clearly. Then, in the penultimate episode, you reveal a hidden truth that reverses or undermines our understanding of the situation. Then in the finale that reversal gets used to resolve the now exposed central conflict. That's season plotting 101, and the last three episodes of Buffy are actually a really nice illustration of it if you care to go back and re-watch them through that lens.

Which makes it pleasantly unexpected here when they go all in and resolve both Ty and Tandy's quests and plow straight on through to what happens afterward. Tandy is driven by her need to expose what happened that night because she believes that exposing it will restore her father's good name and reputation. Ty is driven by his need to expose what happened that night because he believes that exposing it will force the system to bring justice on the man who killed his brother and got away with it. Both of them succeed in their task, but in neither case does it reap the results they were hoping for. A side note here – this is assuming that Connors is in some way responsible for Fuchs' death and that this beat in the episode is informing the viewers that Connors is too powerful to be taken down by the video Fuchs shot. I personally think it's pretty clear that that was the screenwriter's intent, but it's by no means spelled out explicitly.

This show actually has a strong history of leaning heavy into vagueness, which I really hate to criticize since I think the intention behind it is to give audiences credit for being able to read into situations and make inferences from incomplete information. God know I've complained often enough about shows that feel the need to over explain every little detail just on the off chance that the viewers won't understand things if they aren't beaten over the head with them, and I really, really don't want to give a show a hard time for not doing that, but if I'm being honest, Cloak & Dagger could afford to be just a tiny bit more direct about explaining things.

It was a strong choice to open the episode with flashbacks showing Billy and Nathan as the paragons and heroes that Ty and Tandy still see them as. The deliberate confusion when Andrea Roth chose to remember that she and Nathan had been at the ballet instead of the movies was a beautifully subtle note, inviting viewers to begin to question how much of Tandy's memory of her father had been fictionalized. The imagery of Tandy's mom visualizing her past as a movie theater in which she was projecting a happy version of events was a note perfect visual metaphor for the way survivors of abuse try to protect their children in the aftermath, just as Tandy cutting through the screen to a black and white rendered image of the reality was a fantastic directorial choice to demonstrate the breaking down of that protection. Two things I want to underline here: Cloak & Dagger has consistently used the language of television in a notably effective way, and Andrea Roth is just great in everything. Honestly, if you never watched Rescue Me, go back and watch Rescue Me.

For all the good decisions here, there were a couple of things I wish had been handled better. First off, it was clearly set up to be a parallel journey wherein both Ty and Tandy learned that the dead loved ones they had idolized were flawed people in and of themselves. This is a normal and healthy part of growing up, even when it isn't as extreme as that loved one being deceased and being revealed as a spousal abuser. But while we get the reveal of Nathan's abuse, Billy is left on his pedestal. I suspect that that has a lot to do with Billy's story being one of a young black man shot and killed by a white cop. Absolutely anything negative you say about Billy in that circumstance has a danger to read as a vindication of why it wasn't so awful that he was killed. I totally understand why they wouldn't want to go there. But it would have been a braver choice to say, 'Yes, Billy was a flawed and complicated human being, just like all of the rest of us are. And he still didn't deserve to be shot by the police.' But, that's an argument that we're still struggling with in reality, let alone in our genre TV shows, so I get why they chose not to go there.

Additionally, having Tandy call 911 for her mom's apparent overdose on the very morning that she walked back from her father's body in the lake was a stupid choice and a bridge too far. This is for a few reasons. First, there would have been consequences from the call far beyond what the show is interested in dealing with. On the morning that your husband's body is found floating in the lake, having your daughter call 911 for your overdose would have been a big deal. And secondly, the show never even references it again. We don't see an EMS team show up – itself a difficulty as they would have all been dealing with the fallout from the rig explosion at that moment which would have at least merited a comment. We don't see any consequences for either Tandy or her mom regarding Mom having been too drunk and high to pick up Tandy, resulting in her husband's death. The whole plot point accomplishes absolutely nothing that a shot of Tandy trying to wake her Mom up and getting no response wouldn't have done. Tandy was a small child who needed help, and no one helped her. That was the point of the story beat, and it was already accomplished without the call. That should have been cut at the scripting stage.

How strong are those light knives?  Can they cut Cap's shield?  We'll probably never know.
Bits and Pieces:

-- Fuchs has his griddle too hot for making pancakes. This is a rookie mistake. It doesn't take away from how sweet it was that he was willing to make pancakes for Brigid for any occasion, but generally speaking if your cakes have darker ridges raised instead of a uniform tan you need to turn down the heat and add a layer of oil. This is important.

-- I didn't notice until the third viewing, but Peter Scarborough clearly recognized Tandy in the hospital hallway, which means he clearly know that Ivan Hess had contributed in some way to the evidence Tandy had later, which means Ivan was clearly correct to be concerned about his family's safety. See, this is what I'm talking about when I say the show doesn't spoon feed its viewers.

-- I'm developing a serious man-crush in Tim Kang. I just want that noted.

-- This was like the 400th time they'd re-confirmed that it was the Darkforce the rig was drilling for, not oil. OK show, we get it. See, this kind of invalidates what I said a minute ago about not spoon feeding viewers. Actually, the more I think about it, this one detail is a serious aberration from the way the rest of the series handles information. Was it a studio note or something?

-- The coffee sleeves we keep seeing have 'CC' on them. For a second I thought they were 'CC Jitters' and got all excited before I remembered that the Berlantiverse is DC and Cloak & Dagger is Marvel. That's too bad, because I feel like Tandy's conversation with Felicity Smoak would have been the single greatest thing ever filmed for broadcast television.

-- It was strong choice to set this on the anniversary of the explosion. Particularly with the plot resolution that happened.

-- Tandy's family focuses and almost wallows in the grief of the explosion tragedy. Ty's family buries and represses it. Both of those responses are very common and I thought it was an interesting note for the episode to acknowledge and explore that.

-- Ty and Tandy both met one another's parents in this episode.

-- You shouldn't release balloons. It's bad for wildlife. That said, the paper lantern Tandy bought was probably biodegradable and totally fine.

-- The contrast edit of current Tandy stealing Ty's Mom's badge and young Tandy stealing a woman's cellphone was a really nice touch. It undercuts the idea that Tandy's negative instincts are all the result of her trauma.

-- We learned that Brigid does have Ty's number in her phone, which means that Ty's call two episodes ago probably did put her on her guard and save her life. See, this is what I mean when I ... Oh, I don't even know anymore.

-- Auntie Chantelle in the past was the one who gave young Ty the idea to seek justice through ghosts. That was nicely handled.

-- How did Brigid get the sketch artist to redraw that picture of Billy? She can't have had Ty come in and describe him without the sketch artist recognizing him, and she was in NYC at the time. Did Ty give her a picture? Why didn't the sketch artist just tell her to use the picture?

-- Brigid's last scene was so Jenny Calendar.

So many feathers, So many sequins, So much manliness.
Quotes:

Fuchs: "So, will these be celebration pancakes or comfort pancakes?"

Tandy: "You have a lot to lose. You're lucky."

Tandy: "Ty, today is today for me too."

Ty: "What's the difference between a cloak and a cape, anyway?"

Ty: "Have neither of you read 'Telltale Heart'?"
Fuchs: "Yeah, when I was in high school. OK, maybe it was the abridged version."
Ty: "It's a short story."
They do a really nice job of phrasing Ty's dialogue as educated private school vocabulary. Very few people would phrase that 'Have neither of you', but a kid in private school would.

Fuchs: "I saw that kid. What he can do."
Brigid: "I'm from New York. I've seen it before."
Misty Knight reference!

A solid installment with a lot of great stuff, but I wish it had been a little bit braver in its convictions.

Three and a half out of four celebration pancakes.

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.

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