Cloak & Dagger: White Lines

"Well, I guess the cat’s out of the bag."

Have I ever mentioned before how much this show enjoys subverting our expectations?

Official spoiler warning on maximum, right up front. In a minute or two I'm going to talk about the big twist reveal at the very end of this episode. There is a monster at the end of this book.

You have to give them credit. When Cloak and Dagger decides to go with an unusual episode structure, they commit to it 100%. This week we got a variation on the kind of fragmented structure that normally gets associated with Tarantino, although my personal go-to association for this kind of thing is the movie Go.

Go, for those who haven't seen it, tells the story of a single night from four different characters' perspective, reaching the end of the night with one character and then restarting the night back at the beginning with the same scene but following a different character from that scene onward. It's gimmicky, but when it works it really works. Go used it to explore the movie's themes by contrasting the characters' experiences. Tarantino usually uses it to disguise reveals that change our understanding of what we've already seen. This week's episode of Cloak and Dagger... seems to be just using it to disorient the viewer by presenting the end result of later sections before we have any context for them. This, admittedly, has the effect of putting the viewer in the same headspace as the character currently being followed, but all it really achieves is to make you repeatedly say, 'huh?' to yourself before each commercial break.

What I'm really saying is that in this specific case, this particular storytelling technique took more away from the episode than it contributed.

I really hate to say that, because 'too ambitiously experimental' is not a problem you come across in broadcast television terribly often, and I really, really don't want this to read like I'm discouraging it. And I can see what they were aiming for. They were attempting to use the episode structure to mirror the visual metaphor of the veve that was drawn at the crime scene, which is why the veve was the foundational image that we came back to the first two times. Every line of the veve, Auntie Chantelle tells us, has its own independent meaning, coming together to form a symbolic whole. As thematic hooks for your episode structure go, that's not a bad starting point. The intention was that each section would have its own thematic vibe, all of which would together form the big reveal about Mayhem. Unfortunately, the independent sections weren't really about exploring theme, they were about plot reveals. They were structuring for Go, but plotting for Tarantino, and as a result the non-linear structure ended up being more confusing than revelatory.

Wow, that is a really pretentious way for me to say that the story being told would have worked better if they'd just told it in a straight line, even if that would have blown the reveal at the end.

Having overstated that, let's talk about the good stuff here, because there's lots of good stuff here. The way that they are leaning heavy into both Ty and Tandy not being over last season's finale is bold stuff. Instead of having them process what happened to them and starting a new story, the showrunners have instead made Ty and Tandy attempting to process what happened to them be the starting point of the new story. I like that. It feels more like storytelling and less like bookkeeping. So, while the scale of Tandy's victim-blaming that we see this week is a little startling, it feels like the natural development of her own anger at herself for not understanding her father as an abuser, and that just straight-up works as character growth. Similarly, Ty's growing realization that there aren't any simple fixes for the city's drug and gang problems, and that every attempt he makes at a simple solution instead makes the problem magnitudes worse are causing him to learn more about his powers in a way that feels like a mature response to his situation.

The character work for both of them has been so good in these first two episodes that I'm a little disappointed to see the season's actual plot starting to come into things.

Also in the 'good' column, I'm a bit surprised to find out that the season's plot is something separate from Mayhem's existence, but not nearly as surprised as I was by the reveal that Brigid and Mayhem are two separate people. That's a big change from the source material, and I have a million questions about it. Well played, show. It was particularly inspired the way the direction of this episode used our expectations of film language against us. We've all seen the 'good personality and bad personality of the antagonist argue with one another' sequence before, most notably with Gollum in The Two Towers and Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn in Sam Raimi's Spider Man, so to use that same shot set-up, only to later reveal that they were really showing us what was literally happening and that there were actually two people there, was a great trick.

So, Mayhem is Brigid, but is physically split apart from Brigid, a la Timothy Hutton in The Dark Half. Mayhem is distinguishable from Brigid by her sassier walk, her not being drunk all the time, and her bright green fingernail polish which is a little nod toward the character's look in the comics. I'm all in for wherever the Mayhem plot is going.

I'm not yet entirely invested in whatever is going on with the kidnapped girls and the private ambulance fleet, mostly because what little information we have about that situation was completely muddied by the plot structure jumping around. Are they drugging every girl they kidnap? Why did they shoot Mikayla full of heroin and then let her go? There's a slight implication that they let her go because she's white, but that doesn't make sense since she was kidnapped in broad daylight and the kidnappers would have probably noticed that right off the bat. I'm going to need more information before knowing how I feel about this plotline.


Bits and Pieces:

-- The two things that the pre-season publicity promised were that Ty and Tandy would power up and that Mayhem would arrive. We got both of those this week.

-- One of Dagger's big powers in the funnybooks is that her light knives clean drugs out of people's systems. I really thought they were going there when she was at Mikayla's bedside. Missed opportunity.

-- As long as we're on the subject, having people physically crawl inside Cloak before he teleports them away is a much cooler image than just having Ty hold on to them. Sadly, Ty holding on to them is a lot cheaper to do. I hope at least once this season we get to see the proper effect.

-- The veve made out of drugs with blood pooling next to it was a striking image. I have to confess that I have no idea if it was supposed to be cocaine or heroin or some other drug.

-- That was a lot of wind suddenly coming in from the hallway and then completely disappearing.

-- Ty has never been a more authentic teenage guy. Every single thing he said to apologize to Evita was completely the wrong thing to say.

-- Auntie Chantelle casting a veve to protect Ty from Evita's anger was laugh out loud funny.

-- It's nice how consistently respectful this show is to Voudon as a belief system. And Auntie's explanation of the benefits of prayer was lovely.

-- Andre's jazz career was ended by migraines. That was an unexpected character note. I was expecting the same cliched answer that Tandy was.

-- I'm hugely grateful that they made Lia the counselor a flawed human being whose first instinct toward Tandy was to lash out. Counselors are almost always shown as saintlike and flawless on television, for fear of your show appearing to criticize therapy as a process. I don't know a single therapist who doesn't appreciate being humanized.

-- This episode ended with a card for www.loveisrespect.org for those dealing with domestic abuse. I repeat it here, because it's important.


Quotes:

Ty: "People don’t choose to struggle, Tandy. They don’t choose to hurt. Doing nothing is not a solution."

Tandy: "Maybe people don’t want to be saved."

Mikayla: "I told Jeremy that I’m in therapy, and how much it‘s helping me, and he said I absolutely need to keep working on myself. He totally supports it."

Tandy: "I lived in an abandoned church for years, and still somehow escaped unmolested by spirituality."

Woman: "I’m going to tell chief Duchamp about this outrageous behavior."
Mayhem: "I’ll let you know when I give a shit."

Mayhem: "I’m a cop. I can be wherever I want."

Evita: "I came here to apologize. I mean, not for what I said, because I was right. On all of it."


I loved just about everything this episode was doing, but not so much the way it was attempting to do it.

Two and a half out of four cocaine veves.

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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