Cloak & Dagger’s thrilling first season sailed away into the sunset last week, wrapping up what has been, for me, one of the very best television productions I’ve experienced in my 47 years. Its depiction of humanity has been outstanding, a credit to everyone from the writing team to the actors on screen. But it has reached my echelon of “best shows ever” through its relevance and timeliness, all without becoming preachy.
If you haven’t seen the entirety of season one, watch all ten episodes on Freeform or Hulu before reading further. Heed the warning of my personal Klaxons: SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Looking back on this journey that began, amazingly, only on June 7, there are so many things about Cloak & Dagger that I treasure; I just jotted down a list of 50! My previous post about the series looks at a few in detail.
But since this is the Feminist Asian Dad blog, I’ll use this series recap of sorts to focus on the characters Ivan Hess, played by Tim Kang, and his daughter Mina, whose present-day version is portrayed by Ally Maki and whose teenage version is played by Hannah Hardin. All three actors are ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL.
But back to the characters. Here’s five things about Ivan, Mina, their relationship, and their storylines that I especially love. Like the cookies from Mina’s Easy-Bake Oven, which warm not only the stomach but also the soul, these things bring joy to my heart. They’ve been just a few of the numerous aspects of Cloak & Dagger that have made the show so special.
1. Let’s start, then, with an appreciation for Mina’s Easy-Bake Oven. Talk about the writers touching a nostalgic nerve! So many of us either owned or knew someone who owned an E.B.O. when we were kids. There have, of course, been many versions of this baking toy for budding pastry chefs over the decades; Mina’s appears to be a highly souped-up 1971 edition. That means IT WAS STILL WORKING, 39 YEARS LATER. Could it have belonged to Ivan or another parent of Mina’s once upon a time?
By the way, here’s a fun idea for Cloak & Dagger fans: Host an Easy-Bake Oven Iron Chef competition! For my wife’s 40th birthday a few years back, some of her closest friends went along with my crazy idea for a similar party. We divided the group into teams, provided each with an E.B.O. (whether purchased new or reclaimed from the Darkforce Dimension in a closet long forgotten), gave each a used copy of The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet (featuring recipes by prominent chefs Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless, and more), and turned them loose!
To give it a C&D aroma, make it specifically a cookie-baking contest (the gourmet cookbook includes nine such recipes) and require cardamom as a secret ingredient. Allez cuisine!
2. I can’t recall an Asian-American TV guest role that’s as multi-dimensional as Mina, ever. The fact that the show was able to accomplish so much of that character development in a single episode, the one in which Mina and Tandy go swamp-schlepping, makes the storytelling even more remarkable. And on top of all that, Mina takes a wrecking ball to the Asian-American brainiac stereotype!
Mina is depicted as a brilliant scientist, which by itself would fit a common Asian character profile. But she’s got attitude, too. I mean, she drives a truck, a legit mud-splattered one, and she doesn’t give a damn that she’s gotten cited for a parking violation; she’s too busy saving the world in English and French, making “lemonade out of assholes,” all while rocking out to The Pixies!
The sound you hear is that of a half dozen Asian-American character tropes shattering.
She’s got street smarts as well as book smarts, too. The whole convo she has with Tandy while swamping is a clever cat-and-mouse game. And the expert con girl gets completely owned by the young woman who’s had to figure out by herself how to survive incredible personal trauma, ongoing care for her invalid father, college and grad school, and the male-dominated industry of energy exploration.
No doubt Mina’s picture should be in the dictionary next to the term badass.
And though I’m a violence prevention advocate by vocation, I confess it was cathartic to see her slug Peter “The God” Scarborough with a wicked left hook. (Did you hear another stereotype shatter? I mean, when was the last time we saw an Asian-American woman sit a man down on his ass? Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels?)
But Mina is the best kind of badass – a compassionate one. We taste it in her cookies, and we see it in the way she visits her catatonic father every day. We hear it in her gentle whispers to Bee Arthur – excluding the incident in her kitchen, of course.
And even after Tandy lies and lies to her face, Mina’s still willing to give her a chance to connect with her dad Ivan, and invite her over for a meal, and offer her a real job.
We should all endeavor to be compassionate badasses.
3. I totally get Ivan, who’s an emotional dude like me. No toxic masculinity and emotional suppression with this guy!
When Ivan discovers Tandy and Tyrone in his consciousness after eight years alone, on the rig, fighting an unrelenting and hopeless battle against the Terrors, he nearly breaks down in tears. That shattered my heart.
As a Lord of the Rings nut, I couldn’t help but think of Sméagol/Gollum; Ivan has similarly even forgotten his own name.
Then, after coming back to the real world, Ivan is struck by how long he’s been apart from Mina. As a parent, I can strongly identify with his sense of guilt as he realizes she’s had to deal with so much since the rig accident that “stole” him from her, to use Tandy’s word. Even though his catatonic state wasn’t his fault, how could any parent not still feel guilty?
4. I think Mina’s family situation shows even more how much of a badass she is. After stealing her sense of hope, Tandy tells Mina, “Now you know how it feels.” She thinks Mina’s had it so good. And Mina does have her dad back, something Tandy can’t ever have – not that she particularly wants it anymore.
But Tandy’s got it all wrong.
There’s an implied tragedy in the fact that the Hess family is only Ivan and Mina. No other family members are mentioned in the show, and the photo that Tandy sees in Mina’s kitchen, next to the old Easy-Bake Oven, only shows Ivan with a very young, perhaps four- or five-year-old Mina.
It feels significant that Ivan doesn’t ask to see anyone else after his great awakening – just Mina. And she’s the one who takes him in until he can walk; she says that he can’t go “home” until then. (Presumably that’s a new place of his own, given that he probably lived with Mina in her current home when she was a minor.)
Ironically, the only other benefactor for Mina mentioned at all in the series is Roxxon, which took care of her financially and paid for her education.
Most likely, then, Mina’s other parent stopped being an integral part of the family long before the rig accident, whether through death, divorce, or simply being absent. (Could Ivan have adopted Mina himself years before? It’s highly unlikely, given that he’s a “mud man,” a job that would have required him to be away from home for several weeks at a time.)
It makes the most sense, then, that after the accident, a teenaged Mina had to deal with everything alone. Perhaps she had some support from other relatives or family friends, but all of their kindnesses wouldn’t have obscured for her the new reality – she was on her own.
We’re going to have to take the “Amazing” title from Spider-Man and give it to Mina Hess!
5. Last, but not least, I think it’s funny that Ivan, before working for Roxxon, worked for Shell! (See the video below.) Actually, I’m a shi**y liar; it wasn’t Ivan but Tim, who used to portray a scientist in commercials for the Dutch petroleum company. He didn’t just do it on TV, though; he also used to greet customers at the company’s gas pumps, appearing suddenly, Tyrone-like, on the video screens when a credit card was inserted. It was actually a bit unnerving for me to have a stranger, even a virtual one and one as pleasant as Tim, talking to me in public about the quality of my octane.
In closing, I want to say thank you – to everyone who’s been a part of Cloak & Dagger, but especially to those folks who’ve brought Ivan and Mina Hess to life. That includes actors Tim, Ally, and Hannah, as well as Jennifer Phang, director of the swamping episode that was so Mina-centric. It also includes writer Jenny Klein, to whom Ally gives credit for so much of Mina’s character. In Mina, you all have given us a badass feminist Asian American, and in Ivan, you’ve given us a character who looks to be a fellow feminist Asian dad.
To quote the mud man himself, “What a time to be alive!”