The Age of Superheroes is certainly upon us, even beyond the galaxy-ending battles happening at the megaplex. Between Netflix’s slate of Defenders and the Arrowverse over on The CW, there are more than a few spandex-clad heroes fighting for audience attention on the small screen. However, many of these shows suffer from bloat and a failure to justify their existence. There are only so many episodes of Matt Murdock’s Catholic guilt or the Green Arrow informing a villain that “they have failed this city” before things get a little tedious. However, if the first four episodes of the new Freeform series Cloak & Dagger are any indication of the rest of the season, Marvel is willing to shake up the tried and true formula.
Focusing on two teenagers who both suffered heartbreaking trauma as children on the same night before living through a mysterious explosion courtesy of the ubiquitous Roxxon Corporation, Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt) are unable to control their newly emerging powers or the cruel world around them. Tyrone comes from a comfortable family marred by tragedy: the death of his older brother at the hands of a corrupt cop. As he deals with the survivor’s guilt, his world starts to go out of whack when he starts teleporting via shadow around the city against his will, waking up in meaningful places that he can’t explain.
Tandy is also no stranger to pain, with a dead father (a former Roxxon employee with secrets) and a mother who couldn’t cope, forcing her into a life of petty thievery and surviving on the streets after a previously affluent childhood. Her powers manifest in a powerful light emitting from her hands, often taking the form of knives. They both also have the out-of-their-control ability to form a psychic link with people in their vicinity to see what that person is truly feeling, with Tyrone tapping into their fears and Tandy into their desires. While the mechanics are still murky, it’s an effective bit and further drives home our characters yin and yang nature.
While managing to handle the topics with care (veteran director Gina Prince-Bythewood helmed the premiere, explaining the steady hand), Cloak & Dagger tweaks the comic origin stories while giving them new heft. The show leans into the current political climate, highlighting the complicated history that the black community has with the police force with the accidental murder and subsequent coverup of Tyrone’s brother. The desire for justice drives much of Tyrone’s choices, while also making him dangerously impulsive in his actions.
Cloak & Dagger also manages to take a popular trope — sexual assault of female characters — and reclaim it from the exploitive nature that it usually exhibits. As Tandy fights off her assailant, she accidentally summons her knives in her struggle to fight back instead of the usual “powers born out of sexual trauma” beats. The show avoids the common trope of turning her assault into an emotional moment for a male character, a trope unfortunately utilized in the otherwise stellar Marvel’s Runaways. The creative team knows what you expect from teen dramas and superhero origin stories and is smart enough to shake things up in new and fresh ways. All of this sounds rather grim, and it is, but Cloak & Dagger manages to blend the light with the dark as perfectly as its titular duo. Things are heavy, but never overpowering
If there is one thing that can be said against the show, it would be that it takes a little too much time for the heroes to spend significant time together. Holt and Joseph bring an easy chemistry and freshness to their characters and their burgeoning relationship and, as they figure out their shared history and intertwined powers, you immediately root for them to escape their circumstances and wrangle their new and often troublesome abilities. Cloak & Dagger wisely balances the burgeoning love with the emphasis on finding answers, and while the romance will satisfy the shipping crowd on Tumblr, it certainly won’t turn off viewers who don’t usually gravitate to Freeform’s usual fare.
With a tight episode count, modern sensibility, and a dedication to twisting the usual television tropes, Cloak & Dagger has the potential to follow Marvel’s Runaways as a top-notch entry into the canon. Tandy and Tyrone are quick to earn their viewers affections, appealing to fans of the genre and fans of well-done melodrama. If you want your summer television with substance and broad appeal, Cloak & Dagger truly fits the bill.