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Cloak & Dagger: B-Sides

"To Tyrone. My best friend. My port in the storm. My hero."

Oh, Cloak and Dagger, I apologize for ever criticizing your love of the theatrical framing device. It paid off with interest this week.

'B-Sides' picks up a visual metaphor from a few episodes back by continuing to represent the personal experiences of our characters as sides of a record. By placing the record on a turntable, you 'experience' the relevant moments of that character's life as recorded there.

This is just a wonderful conceit, and I'm glad that it's back again this week. Clearly we're intended to wonder whose gloved hands are playing the records, but I was so entranced by the elegance of the visual device that I wasn't really that concerned about that particular question. On some level I suspect I was expecting it would turn out to be Tandy herself, ruminating over all the 'could have been' possibilities of her life.

Because, really, that's what we've been conditioned to expect from this sort of format. We spend an episode looking at one or several 'what if' situations, before returning to the status quo as it was beforehand and continuing on with whatever the season long plot is next week. It's a nice way of exploring a character, it can be useful as part of a character's story arc as it lends itself to self-revelation, and most importantly it's super popular with the cast, as it allows them to play different variations on their established characters and do things that that character would never otherwise be allowed to do. Anyone who thinks that 'Superstar' wasn't Danny Strong's favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to film is kidding themselves.

Now, I've gone on record as not being a big fan of 'what if' storylines. Usually they're nothing but a huge pause button that keeps the story from progressing, and it's hard to get invested in them when you know that nothing that happens in the alternate universe can possibly have any consequences. I struggle even to get through 'The Wish,' and that gave us evil, lesbian Willow. What saves this episode from feeling like that was the way that they managed to marry in the reveal of Andre as the real villain while raising a thousand other questions about what's been happening, then somehow taking me in with the exact same last second rug pull that wasn't even particularly fresh when they did it on Angel fifteen years ago.

What I'm really saying, I suppose, is that from an objective perspective a plot summary of this episode would read, 'Tandy takes an ambulance ride to a motel.' In reality a lot more happened than that. What really happened this week is that we found out that Andre was also caught up in same Roxxon explosion that gave Ty and Tandy their powers. While Tandy got 'hope' and Ty got 'fear,' Andre got 'despair.' When looked at in that light, what we're seeing is exactly the same sort of power usage that we've seen Tandy and Ty use to 'go into' the hope/fear of whoever they're using their power on at that moment. The one thing added is that Andre isn't just going into his victims' despair, he's actively increasing it in his victims, because he needs to feed on the despair of others in order to stop the pain of his migraines.

I should note, I'm not a migraine sufferer myself, but I have enough friends who are that I have no trouble believing that someone would readily take that deal if it made the migraines stop.

Two things worth noting at this point. Excellent job of the show in giving us a completely abhorrent, and yet understandable and sympathetic villain. Andre has clearly made peace with what he's doing, and the fact that he helps nine out of ten women that come to him for help, only eating that tenth one, seems to keep the scales nicely balanced as far as he's concerned. Also, even more excellent job by the show in remembering that Tandy was guilty of this exact same thing during her lowest points last year, and not letting her off the hook for it. I'd been a little concerned that they'd given her a free pass on that one.

So we have three despair visions for Tandy this week, each symbolized by an LP played by Andre in the dark dimension. 'Perfect Life,' 'Fractured Family,' and 'All Alone' are the listed titles of the LPs in question. I highly recommend pausing the screen on the albums to read the track lists written on them, because they're a nice piece of prop detail work and tell interesting little stories in and of themselves.

Each of the three 'elseworlds,' for lack of a better term, attempt to break Tandy down into giving into despair, first through the idea of losing her idea of perfect happiness, then when that doesn't work through forcing her to confront inevitable catastrophe, and then finally through attacking her sense of isolation and loneliness. When none of these work, Andre/Despair realizes what's been fairly obvious to the outside observer from the get go; i.e. that Tandy is never going to be taken down by attacks on her sense of self because her sense of self just doesn't rely in any way on feeling positive about herself. That's just not who she is. Once Andre gets that, he makes the obvious play of forcing her to live through the loss of Tyrone, simultaneously tricking the viewer into thinking that that's what's really happening through the tried and true 'Aha, I've escaped from your twisted dreamscape and defeated you in the real world, oh, no, never mind this is still inside the dreamscape and I've lost now' trick.

Once Andre tries this tactic Tandy gives in almost instantly, as anyone who's been watching could have told him she would. And with that her body arrives at the Viking Motel, which is apparently the final destination for the kidnapped girls. Do all the girls have to have their hope violently removed before they arrive at the Viking? We don't know. But apparently it was necessary in Tandy's case. What's going to happen to her inside? We don't know, but now that she's given into despair it can't be anything positive.  Do all of Andre's victims have to be women?  No, that's probably just implicit sexism on either the part of Andre or the show.  Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say it's Andre.

I'm a big fan of answers that just leave you with more questions. Bring on the next episode, please.

Bits and Pieces:

-- In Tandy's perfect world, she's a ballet dancer with the Met, Ty's a cop, Connors is redeemed, Billy is alive, and even Duane is living his best life. It's strongly implied that Billy and Duane are a couple now, which was a sweet touch. If all of the 'perfect world' stuff was taken from what Tandy would want, then Tandy is a much bigger romantic than we previously knew.

-- What's the relationship between Andre's record store of despair and Ty's dark dimension? Because the record store we see here was clearly in Ty's dark dimension a couple episodes ago. Are they linked somehow? Is Andre... ahem... inside Ty?

-- The use of 'Sweet by and by' as the linking song in each alternate reality was used to nice effect when they used playing it as the reveal that the scene of Ty being shot wasn't real.

-- It's always nice to see Liam again, even schlubby everyman alternate universe Liam.

-- There's a really well done moment when Tandy is in the stolen car with Ty and begins hearing the ambulance sirens bleeding through into the fantasy and she starts chanting 'it isn't real' over and over again. It's a nicely judged moment, because of course she's talking about the siren noise which is actually real while trying to stay focused in the stolen car, which isn't. It's a small detail but I like a show that rewards closer attention to the little things.

-- I can't say how happy I was that in Tandy's perfect world, Ty was still dating Evita. Perfection, to her, did not involve acquiring Ty as a romantic partner. She was perfectly happy with them being dear friends. That was refreshing.

-- The effect of the record changing every time it was flipped over was just neat.

-- I'm happier than I can say that the resurgence of vinyl as a medium means that the kids of today can recognize that static popping sound of an LP that's run to the end. It's just such a useful sound cue.

-- In the perfect world illusion, all the framed pictures in the stairwell are of a veve I didn't recognize. I thought at first it was Andre's and that he must be a Loa or an avatar of some sort, but apparently he isn't. I'm sure that they'll tell us at some point.

-- There is a recurring Marvel villain called D'Spayre, who's sort of a demon/anthropological personification of elemental forces sort of thing.  I couldn't tell you if he's ever encountered Cloak and Dagger in the comics, but Andre doesn't seem to be related to him other than the coincidence of the name. I could, as always, be wrong.

-- My one real criticism of this episode is the problem you almost always get in alternate reality stories. In order to get across what's different in the universe in as short a time as possible, the dialogue becomes ridiculously expository. 'Well, Tandy, as you know the Roxxon explosion didn't happen when we thought it was going to and therefore your father has left town to go to Silicon Valley, leaving me to open a small transient hotel and get this cybernetic leg.'  I get why they have to do it, but it takes me right out of the drama.


Mr. Bowen: "Okay, fine, can we hook him up with some tickets to your ballerina-ing? Ballerama? Dance Battle?"

Ty: "Evita spilled some champagne on me. Might have had a little too much."
Tandy: "I knew I liked her."

Ty: "One day, long ago, I saved your life. But every day since you’ve been saving mine."

Mina: "Yeah, I’m not explaining myself to structural engineering Barbie."

Liam: "That’s OK. Birds are people too."

Tandy: "Drive!"
Ty: "Uh.. no, crazy white girl."

Andre: "Not misery, Despair. There’s a subtle but distinct difference."

Tandy: "Then I was wrong. I have one person."
Andre: "I came to that same conclusion."

I really loved this episode, and I can't wait to see where this is going. Three and a half out of four crappy alternate realities.

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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