Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger
In Cloak & Dagger’s fourth episode, things finally come to a head between Tandy and Tyrone. We pick up right where we left off last week, as they’re hashing out their situation in Tandy’s church. Our heroes are in the same room, finally, for the overwhelming bulk of the hour, but in a somewhat unprecedented move, both characters touch on the race-and-privilege elephant that many of the show’s viewers (and detractors) hoped (and feared) we’d be led to.
But Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph cross that bridge with intensity and sensitivity. Their execution is striking, and it really can’t be overstated how much of an improvement this episode is from last week’s. (In comparison, the narrative-hopping histrionics felt like an entirely different series.) The structure of “Call/Response” is ambitious in itself: We alternate between the past and the present, with snippets of the days that follow. This time, the action is hardly as confusing, and it isn’t until the episode’s climax that each moment converges with one another — and that culmination is satisfying. It is absolutely a feat. But one wonders why it took us so long to get here.
Nevertheless, we start with a conversation that proves to be indicative of Tandy and Tyrone’s relationship. The pair literally walk in circles around one another, dishing on their respective backgrounds. Now that they’ve seen what their counterpart hopes and fears, they have plenty of anecdotes to catch up on. Tyrone asks Tandy about her father’s death, and whether Roxxon led to that demise (it did). Tandy asks Tyrone about his brother’s killing, and whether or not it was NOPD that murdered him (they did).
But stakes aside, they’re still two teens getting to know one another. They lie on the church’s wood floors. They lean against the walls. They ask one another about their respective significant others (which raises the question, once again, of where the hell Liam is). They prod each other about parents, hopes, and fears. The recurring scene moves naturally, and the rapport between our actors is allowed to really flex, even as their conversation is just one of the three threads spooling across the episode.
On Tandy’s end, we watch as she returns home — home home — to her mother the following day. Greg isn’t around yet, so Tandy is able to express her concerns to Melissa: She is seeing a married man, and it isn’t going to work out. Tandy wants to help her mother with the Roxxon investigation, even if only to clear her father’s name, but she only wants in if Melissa is serious about it — and Greg doesn’t seem like a serious guy. But just as it looks like Melissa is giving her daughter some serious consideration, Greg arrives, with groceries in hand, and the conversation is tabled for later.
Then, in one of the episode’s first surprises, it turns out that Greg isn’t that shitty after all! Or rather, he’s just a guy. Neither too good, nor too bad. He seems to really care about Melissa. He is totally married, but he’s also in the middle of a divorce. And Greg seems to really want Tandy in his life, but once the pair are left to themselves for a moment, Tandy decides to check his intentions for herself. In the first instance of Dagger seamlessly using her powers on command, she brushes against Greg while they’re cooking, which allows her to see his true intentions: a scene of the trio preparing a meal together, talking over the counter.
So Greg is hardly the monster Tandy painted him to be. After trailing him to his office the next day (turns out he is a lawyer, too! With an actual office!), she asks if he’s serious about pursuing Roxxon — because if that’s true, too, Tandy wants to be in on the investigation. It takes a moment of prodding, but Greg agrees. As he catches Tandy up to speed, she notices a safe in his office. It’s where he left his Roxxon documents. She notes its presence for later, and Greg isn’t the wiser for any of it.
Meanwhile on Tyrone’s end, the morning starts off a lot worse: He mouths off to his parents at breakfast, storming out into the world. At school, he runs into Evita for the first time since their haunted-cemetery-voodoo-spiritual date. In a move that’s pretty new for him, he kisses her, sweeping her off of her feet, and when she asks where “the new Tyrone came from,” he asks what made her think this was new. Briefly, a thought flashes across Evita’s face (and it’s to Noëlle Renée Bercy’s credit that this look could mean any number of things), but she lets it roll off of her skin and takes Tyrone at his word.
Once he’s back home, Tyrone gets in another argument with his father — and in a complete 180 from their earlier encounter, his dad matches him in his aggression. He finds the bolt cutters in Tyrone’s bag, and then tells him to get in the car. They’re going on a trip. The two men leave the glossed sheen of their neighborhood uptown and arrive in the Ninth Ward, presumably the neighborhood Tyrone’s family has left behind. En route, his father tells him not to speak unless he’s spoken to, and they wind up in the backyard of a group of black folks around a patio.
Turns out, Tyrone’s dad was a Mardi Gras Indian (of the “Wild RedHawks of the Ninth Ward”). Turns out, his friends didn’t take too kindly to his leaving. Or at least that’s what it looks like when Tyrone’s father has a knife pulled on him, but after a tense beat (where dad doesn’t even flinch!), he and his old comrades embrace in a hug. They acknowledge that it’s been too long. Tyrone looks on, more than a little aghast, and, as the first half of the episode ends, both Cloak and Dagger have found out things about their parents they couldn’t have anticipated. The same way that they’ve been keeping their secrets, they see that their loved aren’t entirely knowable, either. It is, for once, a positive turn of events. So, of course, everything has to come crashing down.
After a dinner that’s interrupted by a call from Greg’s wife, Melissa decides to take Tandy up on her initial advice: She breaks up with Greg. Tandy tries convincing her to patch things up, but to no avail. And once Tandy sets out towards Greg’s office to figure things out on her own, she watches from across the street as he’s shot in cold blood, with his office set on fire, by an unknown assailant delivering water — although, presumably, its just Roxxon cleaning up loose ends. When Tandy returns home to give her mother the news, she overhears Melissa calling Greg, frantically leaving him messages.
On Tyrone’s side of town, he attempts to get closer to his brother’s killer, Detective O’Reilly. That’ll ultimately involve infiltrating a police station, as per Tandy’s advice. But as Tyrone is quick to note, young black men are in no position to do just casually walk into those buildings (let alone in New Orleans, specifically). When Tyrone tells Tandy that NOPD only ever sees black men as criminals, Tandy tells him, entirely straight-faced, just “not to be a thug.” She suggests that Tyrone create a narrative. To make them feel safe. And Tyrone wonders aloud what narrative he could possibly concoct for a cop.
It is the most clear-faced and plain-spoken look at race, between black and white folks, from Marvel in recent history. The issue is broached throughout Luke Cage, but their approach is, at times, comparatively overly earnest. There’s a subtler reckoning in Black Panther, but it’s hardly as plainspoken — we know how things will turn out for T’Challa (and, to a lesser extent, Killmonger) in the end. But here, Tyrone states the issues on his face: There’s no tangible villain to defeat. Cloak can’t cloak himself from white supremacy. This is his reality. And that’s something that Tandy, at this juncture, simply doesn’t understand. Their inability to connect here is brilliant, in that it’s so true to life: It’s a bridge that neither one of them can cross for the other. But after a false start, Tyrone makes his way into the police station, and we end the episode before he can come terms with what he’s there to do.
But not before we see how his night with Tandy ended: After a moment of intimacy between the pair, Tyrone calls Tandy out for mentioning her thoughts of suicide — the national hotline appears at the episode’s end — and, in an wildly misguided erroneous outburst, he conflates Tandy’s ideation to her privilege. Tyrone claims that Tandy’s behavior is the result of her having too much, and in a complete reversal of the tables, the script points to Tyrone’s own ignorance. After he says, “This whole country’s trying to kill me everyday,” and Tandy tells him he doesn’t know how good he has it by living in the Seventh Ward, their respective arguments mount. In the end, Tyrone tells Tandy, “You know what, if you want to die, why don’t you just do it?”
Afterward, Tyrone storms off toward home. Tandy retreats into pills, her upcoming conflict with her mother, and the not-yet-deceased Greg. But the morning after Greg’s death, we watch as Tandy approaches the Mississippi River with chains around her body, seemingly about to jump — which is exactly what she does, feet first, only to cut through the links with her dagger.
For the first time, it looks like she’s entirely in control of her powers. And now that she knows how to do that, she heads to the scene of Greg’s murder — where the safe from earlier is left intact. That’s where Tandy will presumably begin a case of her own.
So the episode ends, once again, in the very same place we’ve found ourselves a few times this season: Tandy and Tyrone are running away from each other. But this time, it feels different. Their separation is earned. It resulted in their learning more about themselves, and our learning more about the world they inhabit. Rather than disappointment, there’s anticipation, I think, in how they’ll find themselves together again, and what they’ll do with the tools at their disposal. The villains are coming together, but we’re finding that the biggest opposition Cloak and Dagger face is the world itself.