Cloak and Dagger Episode 9 Review: Back Breaker

Tandy starts stealing people's hopes as Tyrone confronts his mother about Billy's death in the season's penultimate episode.

This Cloak and Dagger review contains spoilers.

Cloak and Dagger Season 1, Episode 9

Have I mentioned how happy I am that this show has been renewed for a second season? I am very happy this show has renewed for a second season. America should be happy, too, because this is one of the few superhero dramas that intersects its superhero storytelling with issues of class, gender, and race, and it is doing some nuanced work in a genre that isn’t exactly known for its subtley.

In the first season’s penultimate episode, we are guided through our current place in the traditional hero’s arc by Tyrone’s friendly neighborhood mentor Father Delgado, as diligent student Evita listens on and takes notes. She is basically the audience surrogate of this entire show, trying to figure out the nature and fate of the Divine Pairing, and it is never more clear than in this scene.

For those keeping track at home with Evita, this is the part of the story arc in which the heroes seem to regress, only to be met with a character-defining challenge that they will either step up to or run away from. Most of the episode was spent in the exploration of these characters’ regressions and, like every moment of character study on this show, it hurt so good, in the emotive hands of Aubrey Joseph (Ty) and Olivia Holt (Tandy).

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For Tandy, the regression was spurred by the realization that her father was not the perfect man she always remembered/imagined him to be. Namely, that he used to physically abuse her mother. This understandably sends Tandy into a tailspin. She returns to her conning ways, this time stealing hopes from her marks alongside their most valuable material possessions. It is the latest coping mechanism for a girl who is afraid of her own hopes, who has felt like they have been stolen from her for so long and so consistently that she actively eschews building new ones.

Tandy uses the money she earns from her cons to bail poor Liam out of jail, who has apparently been in there since O’Reilly chatted with him as part of her pursuit of Connors. Tandy finally seems ready to let him into her life, showing Liam the church she lives in and telling him she wants to let herself build something with him. I believe that she means it, but I also believe that she is too entrenched in her patterns and coping mechanisms that, when she sees Liam’s hopes, she can’t help but go for them.

Tandy is interrupted by Tyrone, who wanders (or is pulled?) into Tandy’s hope-walk from his own fear-walk. Tyrone has been having his own day, falling back into bad habits in his own trend of regression. His day begins in the police department where a cop calmly tells Tyrone and his parents that they are reopening the case into Billy’s murder following Connors’ filmed confession.

Tyrone expected this to change everything. During the meeting with the cop, Tyrone can’t tear his eyes away from his mother’s expression. He’s been waiting for this moment since his brother died: for his mother to tell him that she believes him, for her to get just as angry as Tyrone is, for his family to be magically healed by this small degree of truth and justice. It is none of those things, and Tyrone can’t stand it, yelling at his parents on the sidewalk outside the station. Furious that his pain is still there, furious that the justice won’t bring his brother back and make his family like it was before.

Later, at school, his pain comes out in a different way, when Tyrone pummels his garbage-in-human-form teammate (you know the one) in the middle of the hallway. Tyrone is sick of his pain. He’s sick of his anger. He’s sick of the world continuing to fail to live up to his expectations. Delgado encourages him to be honest about the source of his anger, but Tandy, who confronts Tyrone at school following their dream world meet-up, just wants Tyrone to lower his expectations, like her.

In the space of a few minutes, Tandy calls him childish, continually puts herself down, and pushes Tyrone away as hard as possible. She bombards him with her own low expectations because, if she can convince somehow-still-idealistic Tyrone to accept them, then maybe she can finally accept them to, too. But Ty refuses to. When Tandy pulls her dagger on him and holds it to his throat, he doesn’t flinch. Tandy wants Tyrone to believe she is a horrible person because, if she can convince everyone else, then she doesn’t have to live up to the expectation of being anything else. But Tyrone refuses to play along. He won’t give up on Tandy, even if she wants him to.

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It’s probably this conversation that convinces Tyrone to go home and have a proper heart-to-heart with his mom, not wanting to end up like the Bowen family, or to lower his expectations for how the world can be. Even know, especially now, he needs to live up to the example Billy set. In what is one of the best scenes of the episode and entire season, Tyrone confronts his mother about her lack of anger in relation to Billy’s death, about how she never believed him or sought justice for Billy.

For Adina, it was never about not believing her son; it was about the cost of that belief. She explains to Tyrone that, if she had believed him, then she would have had to seek justice. And the cost of justice in this city and this country for a black boy who was murdered by the police is high, if it is even possible. Adina explains that she chose her living son over her dead one, and that was an easy choice to make. Because Tyrone was there, and Billy was not. Not anymore.

But that’s not enough for brave Tyrone. He refuses to be stuck in these cycles of pain and violence and systemic racism any longer. “Watch your mouth, pull your pants up, take your hoodie down. When does it end? We’ve got all sorts of rules, but you said it best: Even if I do everything perfect, they could still come after me. So why be perfect? Why not stand up for the world the way it should be? What about my kids, ma?”

At their foundation, superhero stories are narratives about power: who has it and what they choose to do with it. Superhero stories are also our dominant cultural myths right now and, when we don’t ground them in questions and explorations of real-world power and power imbalances, then what are they even for? I know what Cloak and Dagger is for, and I am here for it.

Cloak and Dagger doesn’t forego the usual, big stakes superhero shenanigans for the more grounded drama. In addition to all of the stuff that happens above, the show ends on two killer cliffhangers for our heroes. Tyrone’s heart-to-heart with his mom is interrupted by the police showing up to arrest Tyrone for the murder of Fuchs. (So, that‘s how Connors is going to try to cover up his role in this particular murder.)

When Tandy goes back to her house to ask her mother about her father’s abuse, Melissa is being held at gunpoint by one of Peter Scarborough’s assassins—perhaps the same one who killed Greg? The assassin starts counting to three, giving Tandy a choice: come out and perhaps save her mother, or run like she is so used to doing. Will Tandy believe in the hope of Tyrone’s world or will she believe in the one she fears to be true? We’ll have to tune in next week for the season finale to find out, dammit.

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Additional thoughts.

Cloak and Dagger continues to go above and beyond when it comes to direction. In “Back Breaker,” the lines between these plots was thinner than ever before, with many of the story beats happening in montage form as Delgado voiceovered. We’d jump from Adina to Tyrone to O’Reilley all in the same montage, connecting them thematically, across boardrooms and bars. The sound design was also wonderful, muffling out much of the diegetic sound of the world to trap us inside the haze of individual characters’ pain. This show could be so much less ambitious than it is, but, like Tyrone, it refuses to settle.

The Stan Lee art on the wall of Tandy’s latest mark? Nice touch.

You might not have noticed because Emma Lahana is so damn good, but O’Reilley didn’t have a single line in this episode, something showrunner Joe Pokaski mentioned when he teased her transition into Mayhem at SDCC.

And let’s talk about O’Reilley’s plot here. Another element of storytelling that superhero shows aren’t always so good at is trauma, but Cloak and Dagger understands the weight of violence and loss and grief. O’Reilley found Fuchs’ cold body in her fridge. The show does not shy away from that.

Was there not one decent person at Fuchs’ wake? I couldn’t watch when Connors was physically assaulting a very drunk O’Reilley at Fuchs’ wake. I want to believe that someone would have come to her aid, but maybe that is the Tyrone in me?

We learn a bit more about Delgado’s alcoholism here, mainly that it seemingly caused the death of someone else. When Ty goes into his fears, we see Delgado behind the wheel of a crashed car, a bottle in his hand and a woman’s body dead on the ground.

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Mina killed a bee! I am very worried about her.

Cloak and Dagger actually filmed a short montage of the back breaker’s origin story. Damn. 

Liam took Tandy’s money, which I can kind of understand. 

OMG, someone give O’Reilley a hug! I mean… I know she probably won’t let them, but this episode highlighted just how few people she seems to have in her life. Without Fuchs, I think the closest person she has to a friend is Tyrone, and that’s sad.

Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt continue to be magnificent in these roles.

With everything that happens in this episode, I almost forgot that Mina saw another explosion like the one that took out the rig back in the day. The explosion caused the two Roxxon employees working on the pipe to turn into aggressive killers. So… that’s not a good sign. This is probably the thing Evita’s aunt was talking about, huh? Yikes.

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5 out of 5