Tyrone and Tandy
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Photo: Alfonso Bresciani/Freeform
Tag: opinion

Marvel's Cloak & Dagger's slow burn approach led to a solid debut season

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Aug 21, 2018

Cloak & Dagger recently wrapped up a successful first season on Freeform. The 10-episode arc largely focused on building the backstory of Tyrone “Cloak” Johnson and Tandy “Dagger” Bowen and how their shared childhood trauma impacted their current lives. The TV series deviated from the comics by having the pair encounter one another as kids, gaining their powers during an oil rigging accident. Eight years later, Tyrone and Tandy reignite their powers after a chance meeting and begin a wild ride toward justice and personal development.

As the new kid on the Marvel block, Cloak & Dagger had high expectations to deliver a stellar debut season. It’s a difficult task to figure out the right pacing to progress the story while maintaining the action and proper character development. Today’s TV audience can get impatient as they eagerly wait for a story to unfold and can be averse to episodes that they perceive as filler.

Showrunner Joe Pokaski made a conscious decision to spend ample time developing Tyrone and Tandy’s stories on an individual level as well as the characters around them before they gelled as a team. It was a perfect example of how a relatively “slow burn” TV arc with virtually no filler can create a solid season.

Tyrone and Tandy became known as the latest “divine pairing” destined to save New Orleans, but if it weren’t for their connected superpowers, they would have likely gone about their business. Both characters have ample issues and are intriguing in their own right. Tyrone is grappling with extreme survivor’s guilt and pent-up anger over his brother’s death by police shooting. A moral dilemma surfaces in terms of how to use his dark powers to take down Connors, the detective who covered up his disgusting actions.

Tyrone's psyche is heavily explored via his conversations with the school’s priest/teacher Father Delgado, which provides a window into the emotional anguish he often hid from others. At home, Tyrone has to face overworked parents who are constantly terrified of losing their remaining son, and there is an undercurrent of tension and emotional distance that causes a ripple effect in every area of his life as a relative loner. It’s almost impossible for viewers not to emotionally connect with Tyrone by either a shared experience or simple compassion for a kid in constant anguish.

Meanwhile, Tandy is resentful of her alcoholic mother and emotionally disconnected from everyone following her father's death. While Tyrone has always wanted justice for his brother, Tandy initially doesn’t care about fighting to clear her father’s name in the oil rigging accident. Her drug use, suicidal thoughts, and an intense relationship with her mom are a lot to digest as her own story unfolds.

Cloak & Dagger made sure fans understood and cared about Tyrone and Tandy as young people on the cusp of adulthood before we ever became invested in them as a superhero duo. It would have been easy to ignite their powers and stick a two-dimensional villain into the picture for them to fight for the entire season. Instead, their villains were other humans and, to an extent, themselves. Their powers were also initially used as tools to reveal their core wounds and immaturity issues that needed to be resolved for them to become great. 

Tyrone is unbelievably patient with a compassionate heart and often takes a logical approach to problems, but he is filled with anxiety, fear, and has little self-confidence despite being a starting basketball player at his high school. Meanwhile, Tandy exudes confidence and knows how to use her intelligence to scam others into doing what she wants them to do, but her emotions often get the best of her and cause her to make irrational decisions, including lashing out at people who care about her well-being. She can see others' hopes, but she has little to no hope for her own future. They each play a key role in helping each other face their privileges and flaws and often balance each other during intense situations.

The pair finally uses their powers concurrently for the first time in episode 7 ("Lotus Eaters"), and Tandy becomes entranced with speaking to her “father” in his co-worker Ivan's catatonic mind. Tyrone exercises his patience and logic with Tandy to bring her back to reality. He does the heavy physical lifting by figuring out how to get out of this time loop. At the same time, Tandy’s intelligence and her attention to detail help restore Ivan’s memories so he can save the day. The episode led to an epic fight featuring the duo and was a nice payoff for the anticipation of them working together.

This build-up also led to a great finale where an unsure Tyrone needed a confidence boost from Tandy, and her consistent defiance literally saved his life when he was going to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Tandy learned how to open her heart because of Tyrone and found purpose as well as hope for her future. It showed exactly why they need each other. The show taking the length of its first season to allow them to go on their own missions, fight each other, reconcile their problems, and discover new things about themselves was worth the ride. 

Ten episodes went by extremely fast, but the shorter season meant that each episode had to count. There were plot and character developments every week and bits of important information that helped propel the story. Each named character introduced served a purpose, even when they didn't spend a lot of time onscreen. Supporting cast like Evita and her voodoo priestess Aunt Chantelle were only seen in a couple of episodes but helped bring some clarity to the "divine pairing" history and what it could mean in the future. Detective O'Reilly played a major role and received her own arc that will lead to her wanting revenge in Season 2 as Mayhem

Flashbacks and dreamlike sequences were also utilized prominently during the season, but they helped gain a deeper understanding of Tyrone and Tandy’s mental status. There was ample action, but it did not overshadow the intentional and important dialogue between the characters. The season wrapped up enough of the central arc crises while leaving ample room for next season’s action. Tandy and Tyrone both showed some solid mental and emotional growth as humans as well as heroes. They are officially Cloak and Dagger in the eyes of the fandom, but they are still on a journey to fully realizing what this means, and it’s a slow yet steady path that is worth taking for (hopefully) several seasons to come.

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