Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger on Freeform opens in a ballet studio on a shot of an adorable little girl tying the ribbons on her ballet shoes. Later, she falls while attempting her first pirouette but isn’t bothered by it, shaking off the fall with a smile and resolving to simply do better next time. It’s contrasted with an equally adorable little boy who runs into his big brother before a thunderstorm; the boy idolizes his brother and makes a mistake trying to help him out.
These scenes build easy-to-like characters — who doesn’t love a tiny ballerina splashing in the rain and a sweet kid trying to make his brother proud — so when they build to a violent and frightening crescendo the effect is one of shock if not surprise.
Cloak & Dagger comes out swinging, and its opening scenes form an arresting addition to the canon of Marvel hero origin stories.
Superpower origin stories are a dime a dozen in today’s hero-soaked media landscape. Captain America went into a big tin can and emerged with the chest of a god. Thor is a god. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones were scienced half to death and emerged with enhanced strength and bulletproof skin.
The explanation behind why heroes have their powers is compulsory in the genre, and while many of those stories are interesting in their right, they don’t often get a buildup as gut-wrenching or aesthetically beautiful as Cloak & Dagger. The show uses the slow burn of Ty and Tandy’s last normal day to highlight how tragedy and circumstance can come together in devastating ways.
The actual moment of power-bestowing is fantastic.
Perhaps Cloak & Dagger’s 8-minute power introduction is powerful because it involves children who have no choice about the awful events that befall them. It’s terrible that Jessica Jones lost her family and woke up with powers, but something feels fundamentally worse when a 6 or 7-year-old Ty witnesses his idol fall to racialized police violence and make a brave, childlike choice to try and save a brother who is already gone. Or to see an equally young Tandy trapped in a sinking car with her father’s dead body (Tandy’s father’s death is the first “oh shit” moment of the episode, and the sound of his skull slamming against a dashboard is particularly bad) and no hope of escape.
The actual moment of power-bestowing is also fantastic, as a shockwave from a failing Roxxon rig (damn you, Guy Pierce) briefly illuminates the water and the children float, briefly suspended in the moment their lives are turned from their previous courses. The music and lighting in this scene do a lot of work towards making the event seem momentous, and when Ty and Tandy’s powers connect them for the first time, the contrast of his shadowy portals and her glittering light is…ugh, it’s perfect. *chef’s kiss*
The rest of the first episode takes place years later and continues the origin by showing how Ty and Tandy rediscover the powers they received as children, but even their literally explosive meeting as teenagers doesn’t pack the same punch that the opening power-gifting scene does. Still, the care and style that went into creating that moment is evident and sets Marvel’s newest TV show off to a promising start.