Marvel’s newest show CLOAK AND DAGGER begins with a traumatic event. The Roxxon oil rig explosion permanently ties Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson, the eponymous duo, together. The night of the accident changes their lives forever, resulting in new powers and a nearly a decade of turmoil until they meet again. At times, it can be argued that trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER takes precedent to their powers as they sort out the chaos present in their lives. 

The Worst Night of Your Life

Tyrone and Tandy get their powers after getting exposed to the aftereffects of the Roxxon oil rig explosion. Tyrone had been attempting to save his brother after a cop shot him and he fell into the water. Meanwhile, a truck knocked off the car holding Tandy and her father from a bridge.

Despite the hysteria, the pair shows signs of their respective powers and touch only once. The result frees Tandy from the sinking car and washes both her and Tyrone up on a beach. Tandy wakes up first, filching Tyrone’s borrowed hoodie, and finds her way back home alone. Tyrone does the same, keeping a single ballet slipper. They don’t see each other again for eight years.

trauma in cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Freeform and Marvel Entertainment.

The trauma of this night defines Tandy and Tyrone. Tandy’s mother, already dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs, falls further into a depressive spiral. The cops lie to Tyrone and his parents about the cop that killed his brother, Billy. The grief weighs down the Johnsons, putting pressure on Tyrone’s relationships with his parents. In the very first episode, Tyrone begs his mother to stop putting so much pressure on him to be perfect. This theme revisited pretty consistently throughout the season.

Wildest Hopes and Darkest Fears

Between the night of the accidents and Tandy and Tyrone’s first reunion, their powers remain dormant. However, at a party thrown by someone from Tyrone’s affluent private school, Tandy knicks Tyrone’s wallet off him. When he gives chase, the two touch hands in a cemetery and are subsequently blown apart from each other. Tandy’s power manifests as white light — with enough practice, she can wield the light in the form of a dagger.

If she touches another person, she can see their hopes. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tyrone’s power is the darkness that allows him to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. If he touches someone, he becomes privy to their darkest fears. The use of these powers directly brings the trauma of others into Tandy and Tyrone’s lives.

trauma in cloak and dagger
Trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER: Nothing like meeting in a cemetery. Image courtesy of Freeform and Marvel.

An integral piece of controlling their respective abilities lies in constant exposure to trauma. Before Tandy becomes capable of summoning her daggers at any moment, they only appear when her safety is threatened. When jilted rich boy attempts to rape her after she steals from him, Tandy stabs him in the gut with a light dagger. After she makes off with a car and tries to ditch town, she summons her daggers when Tyrone surprises her in the middle of the road and crashes. Most tellingly, the traumatic event that gives Tandy control over her power is an attempted suicide.

Near Death Experiences

Tyrone’s powers initially only transport him places when he’s thinking about his brother, Billy, or the cop that killed him. Billy’s death haunts Tyrone. Despite witnessing the murder, Tyrone and his family receive no justice or acknowledgment. The most control Tyrone exercises over his powers before the season finale comes only when someone’s shooting at him. At one point, Tandy even pushes Tyrone over a balcony and into a fountain so he can get back to his basketball game.

After what happened to them the night they got their powers, there’s something to be said for the long-lasting effects of almost dying again and again without knowing when it might take.

Meet My Therapist — God

Religion crops up pretty frequently over the course of CLOAK AND DAGGER. Tyrone attends a private Catholic school, and Tandy lives in an abandoned church. Tyrone’s girlfriend, Evita, has an aunt who’s a practicing voodoo priestess.

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Outside of his family, Tyrone discusses his pent-up rage and anger after Billy’s death with a priest at the school. Father Delgado makes it point to tell Tyrone that his rage in the face of trauma is a poison. If he doesn’t deal with it properly or make an effort to find a healthier outlet, that poison will shake up and come out in unexpected ways.

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Trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER, beyond acting as the impetus for the show, keeps Tandy and Tyrone close just as much as it pushes them apart. In the third episode, Tandy and Tyrone accidentally see each other’s hopes and fears, twisted together until they wake up in their respective homes. Tandy sees Tyrone’s hopes, warped by rage in the wake of traumatic grief: three options to kill Connors, the cop who murdered his brother, and all of them ending in Tyrone’s own death. As Tandy calls it, “suicide by cop.”

In Tandy’s fears, Tyrone sees Nathan Bowen killed by Roxxon again and again while Tandy runs in the opposite direction. Despite Tyrone’s pleas, Tandy doesn’t stop running away. They are doomed to repeat the same fate until they choose to rely on each other.

The Lotus Eaters

The trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER reveals itself as show’s emotional core in the episode where Tyrone and Tandy save Ivan Hess. After the Roxxon oil rig explosion, Hess survived but remained in a catatonic state, unresponsive to the world around him. When Tandy and Tyrone touch him together, they find themselves at the center of Hess’ mind. It has only been eight years in the real world, but Hess no longer remembers his name or what he’s doing on the rig. All he knows is that the same couple minutes replay over and over again: the sirens go off, there’s a boom, a phone call, and then the rig explodes.

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Most superhero television shows normally hinge a mid-season climax on a big bad whose plans to cause chaos and harm our heroes. While threatening things are certainly simmering on the horizon, the biggest enemy in this episode is Ivan Hess’ trauma, and the cloying effect it has on Tandy. Ivan Hess is effectively a prisoner in his own mind, fighting literal “Terrors,” or humans affected by the substance the rig had been digging up.

Trusting Each Other

The title of the episode references Homer’s Odyssey, where the titular hero and his crew find themselves stranded on an island and fed the lotus flower. It causes the eater to forget his name and want nothing more than to continue eating flowers. This is an on the nose description of Ivan Hess’ struggle within his own mind.

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It also further illustrates the darker and more brutal aspects of a traumatic depressive spiral. In the throes of depression, it’s much easier (and tempting) to do nothing than something. The trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER acknowledge this reality, too. Tandy cannot escape her spiral in Hess’ mind without Tyrone, and Hess cannot get down to the core room and turn off the valves without them both. 

The Past Comes Back to Haunt You

Trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER doesn’t just limit itself to the protagonists. On the anniversary of the night Billy and Tandy’s father, Nathan, died, the families are thrown into a sharp juxtaposition. Tandy’s relationship with her mother in the aftermath devolved into almost nothing. Despite everything, however, the pair still make plans to have a memorial for Nathan.

On the other hand, the Johnsons have coped by desperately clinging to any semblance of normalcy. They have no plans to mourn together. Earlier in the season, Tyrone accidentally finds himself in his mother’s deepest fear. She’s stressed beyond belief, chasing after both of her children only to reach them too late. They have already been shot and killed and buried.

Trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER: When your ghosts come back to haunt you. Image courtesy of Freeform and Marvel Entertainment.

Even further, trauma in CLOAK AND DAGGER comes for the wicked as well. Tyrone poses as his brother Billy on the anniversary of his death in order to trick Connors into confessing. Detective O’Reilly, a Harlem cop in New Orleans, tells Tyrone that Connors had been on edge for most of the day— heavily implying that he remembered the murder. Wearing a gray sweater riddled with fake bullet holes and his brother’s black cloak to harness his powers, Tyrone has no trouble heightening the cop’s paranoia and fear until he confesses.

Moving Forward

Despite how the first season of CLOAK AND DAGGER ends, there’s a distinct feeling that it’s possible for our duo to move forward. It’s not going to be easy. Tyrone’s on the run after Connors framed him for killing a cop. On the other hand, Tandy’s relationship with her mother has improved enough that she can move back home. The duo has gained a decent amount of control over their powers — specifically Tyrone.

trauma in cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Freeform Marvel Entertainment.

There’s no missing the symbolism in Tyrone donning his brother’s black hoodie as a method of controlling his powers, especially in a show that does not shy away from the real world implications of police brutality and racism. The callback to Trayvon Martin and the #BlackLivesMatter movement roots the show in a specific kind of realism that few others beyond LUKE CAGE have chosen to take on.

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