Cloak & Dagger: Level Up

"My whole life has been about harnessing this special energy. Maybe I should have been less driven."

Cloak & Dagger ends its second season with...

Oh God, I don't even have the energy for a clever pre-credits bit. Let's just jump past the break and talk a little.

I hate feeling like this.

Look, I get that this is a television show, and 'the season finale of a TV show I like was disappointing to me' is as close to the definition of a first world problem as you're likely to get. But, dammit, I love these characters and I love this show. And they are capable of so much better than what we got in this one.

It might be more accurate to say that they're capable of doing 'more' than this, as opposed to 'better,' because what they actually did here is almost entirely good, with one significant exception. The failings of this episode almost entirely involve what it didn't do, rather than what it does.

And no, I'm not talking about plot points I personally wanted them to develop, or character developments that I wish had been different. I'm talking about something more fundamental to storytelling. Specifically, they didn't take the time to set up most of the plot mechanics that their story was relying on this week.

It's frustrating, because they simultaneously prove here that they're both capable of seeding both themes and plot mechanics into earlier episodes and paying them off later. The payoffs of the dark dimension pennies that they established half a season ago was entirely satisfying. Ditto the mirrors in the evil mall. They were established clearly as a choice between alternate self images ages ago when Tandy first saw them, and here they're the final visual key to Tandy and Ty accepting their identity as the heroes named Cloak and Dagger. That's great stuff. That's beautiful storytelling handled entirely through visual symbols. And the setup and payoff in each case were handled beautifully over the season.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that they didn't bother establishing so many of the plot devices that this episode was entirely riding on. What, exactly were the black clad, vaguely SWAT-team figures that Mayhem was fighting? We have no idea. They're apparently solid, since Mayhem can kick them, and for some reason they have actual functioning grenades, despite the many questions that raises as to how 'real' they are exactly as individuals. Evita gives them a handwave explanation as 'the things that a god would send to stop us,' but that's no explanation at all. Particularly when they're mixing visual cues as to 'manifestations of the guilt felt by the person fighting them' (Hello, Fuchs), and 'numberless and faceless swarm brought forth from the dark gods.' No, in the end, what they are is 'something menacing for Evita and Mayhem to fight' while they intercut to Ty and Tandy furthering the actual emotional plot-core that the writers are interested in. That rings hollow as you watch it, because it fundamentally is hollow.

Similarly, we absolutely needed a clear answer about Andre/D'Spayre's domain. Is it an actual, physical place, or is it an abstract place of consciousness? Because they're playing it both ways and it's hurting the story they want to tell. The people that Andre is capturing through his trumpet of despair, and while I say that in a joking way it's a fantastic decision as a storytelling device, all physically disappear. We get that absolutely confirmed in the opening bank robbery montage, which again was exquisitely done. Bank robber and pursuing officer both vanish and appear in Andre's jazz club domain. So, that would indicate that it's a physical space that their bodies have moved to inter-dimensionally. But Andre's body is still laying on the stage in our dimension in an amazingly framed shot with his body over draped crimson fabric which made a thousand DPs feel tingly inside as they watched it. Ty and Tandy seem to have physically entered the nightclub after – ahem – entering Ty. But then they add a layer on top of that in which the people who are, apparently, physically inside Andre (again, ahem...) are also in a despair-induced dreamstate inside that setting. Ty and Tandy bounce around through various despair hallucinations – at least they visually coded as hallucinations, but are occasionally treated as physical reality.

You see where I'm going with this. It's all incredibly muddy and could have been cleared up so much by simply establishing the rules right at the outset. 'This is physical space,' they could have established, 'this is dream.' That would have solved about half of the problems this episode had. They could even have done it earlier in the season so that we didn't have to waste time with it here. But they didn't, and that created a problem in this one.

There is, of course, always the chance that they thought that they'd established this clearly enough by implications here and there, and it can't be disputed that there are clues scattered here and there throughout the season. But I feel like I'm a reasonably savvy viewer, and I watched every episode of the season multiple times. Sober, even. And I was still unclear about what the rules were at any given time.

Lastly, and I promise I have some positives coming up, this episode suffered from repeatedly kicking the legs out from under its own structure. Act one was the setup of Ty and Tandy getting into the Dark Dimension, whatever its rules are. Act two was them first fighting their own demons; Ty his driving need to live 'perfectly' and Tandy her inability to get past the knowledge of her father's abuse, and then them defending one another from the things that drive them to despair. Act three was them coming out of that and finally defeating Andre.

That's a solid structure to build on, and the message that the key to fighting despair is to have friends that will go on at great length about how awesome you are isn't the worst message for kids to hear. Particularly as the ancillary message is, 'absolutely stand up for your friends and tell them how awesome they are when they're giving in to despair.' The problem is that every time the basic setup changes the show goes out of its way to tell us that the previous segment was a waste of our time.

Ty and Tandy switch fight so that they can stand up for one another, and that's great. Then D'Spayre shows up and basically says, 'That's over, back to fighting your own demons.' and so they do. The status quo of ten minutes earlier is just re-established, sorry for wasting your time. Then, after they stand up to their own demons, D'Spayre says, 'OK, it's time for the real fight,' which is essentially telling the audience, 'Everything for the last twenty minutes didn't matter and was again a total waste of your time.'

That's a bad thing to tell your audience.

Like the earlier points, it's so entirely fixable. The only change needed to fix the first point would have been for Ty and Tandy to have independently chosen of their own accord to go back to fighting their own demons because they were stronger for having heard the support they'd gotten from one another. Then it would have been character growth instead of just a dismissal of the previous five minutes of screen time. Similarly, if D'Spayre had acknowledged their escape from the despair illusion as a victory for them, or even been surprised by it, it would have read as part of their journey instead of just a way to negate the previous twenty minutes.

So. All that established, let's talk about the good stuff from both this and season two as a whole, because there was a lot of good in both.

- The way they used the metaphor of music throughout the season was inspired, and consistently paid off over and over again.

- The bait and switch when they made us think Mayhem would be the villain of the season and then substituted D'Spayre was ingenious and very well handled.

- Ending the season with Ty and Tandy as 'runaways' on a bus felt profoundly right on every level.

- Brooklyn McLinn gave a wonderful performance as both Andre and D'Spayre. I never saw him coming as a villain even after Lia was revealed to be a baddie, and any man who can make playing the trumpet seem viscerally aggressive is a force to be reckoned with.

- The image of Tandy jumping out of Cloak's darkness while hurling light is something I've waited my whole life to see and I was not disappointed. I rewound that scene at least five times.


(Additional) Bits and Pieces:

- Evita got short shrift. They really rushed her breaking things off with Ty in order to facilitate Ty and Tandy heading off to a possibly romantic relationship. We never even got to see the scene where they dealt with the fallout from her marrying a Loa and getting angry with Ty for reasons I'm not entirely clear about.

- That said, Noelle Renee Bercy did a great job here with the one plot point that was just irredeemably stupid. There was absolutely no real justification for her having to keep a candle lit in order to ensure that Ty and Tandy could come back from... the dark dimension which Ty has absolute control over making doorways to and from. She was an egregiously shoehorned ticking clock that was given no reason to be there beyond the script saying 'I have to keep this candle lit so that there's some dramatic tension.'

- That said, she still managed to keep her dignity while performing a role that was essentially 'speak earnest French to a candle for fifteen minutes of so.' That's not nothing.

- Did they just ditch all of the supporting characters? Delgado is apparently living in the church, which has become that apartment over the coffee shop in Smallville as far as its rotating occupancy. Ty may or may not be considered dead by the people of New Orleans, including his own parents – the episode declines to clarify anything on this point. Evita blows out that candle and leaves while carrying a sign that says 'My plot function is done and I'm leaving your story now.'  Tandy's mom helps her pack to leave, which was a nice detail, but we can only assume that leaves her free to recommit herself to pills and alcohol. Mina continues to specialize in anything the plot requires, including independently owning and operating a catscan machine for the use of friends. And Mayhem is hanging around New Orleans. They didn't say where Ty and Tandy were headed to investigate dead girls on a beach.

- Honestly, I've heard worse ideas than completely losing all the side characters for the next season and coming back to them later. That could be interesting.

- Mayhem apparently found Connors' body, wherever Adina had left it, and strung it up in the police firing range, despite those places having constant staff on hand and CC television to capture her doing so.

- Lia has apparently been found guilty of something and been given STS (Sentenced to Serve) which is the official term for the folks picking up garbage by the side of the freeway. That's... not what they usually do in human trafficking cases...

- It's unfortunate how much they had to lean into the same iconography from the Avengers movies regarding people disappearing. I feel like they could have done more to differentiate it through the visuals. The interesting difference is that people didn't all disappear at once in this one.

- I have so many questions about the insect women bank robbers from the cold open.

- Bright light does in fact exacerbate migraines. That was a clever use of Tandy's powers.

- It was nice to confirm that the drug dealers are holding to their agreement with Ty.

- The fade to dark with Tandy alone on the bus is called a 'false out'.

Bonjour, monsieur bougie. Parlons sérieusement.

Quotes:

Mayhem: "I’m having a bit of an identity crisis. See, I smooshed my two mouses together and oddly I feel like I know less about who I’m supposed to be if that makes any sense."

Ty: "Last time we talked she made it pretty clear she didn’t want anything to do with me."
Tandy: "I think she meant romantically."

Evita: "Today we need an emperor, not the clothes."

Real Ty: "He killed Billy."
Evil Ty: "Guess who’s still dead."

D'Spayre: "Technically, I’m everywhere. I thought you went to Catholic school, Mr. Johnson."

Tandy: "Switch Partners?"
Ty: "If anyone can kick my ass it’s you."

No official word yet as to whether or not we're getting a Cloak & Dagger season three. That said, what we got here works equally well as the end of this particular iteration of their story or the end of part one of the same. I sure am hoping it's the latter.

Two out of four threatening trumpet solos for the episode. Three for the season as a whole.

See you back for season three, good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, as my mother says.

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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