Ever since gaslighting came into the lexicon with 1944 film Gaslight, it has stood as a form of mental abuse more often than not levied against the most vulnerable members of society. Women don’t have meaningful complaints and criticism — they’re hysterical. Communities of color don’t have a reason to worry for their safety — they’re overreacting and angry. Don’t they know all lives matter? Gaslighting is a handy tool for keeping at-risk people so busy questioning the nature of their reality that they don’t have time to actually protect themselves.
That’s what made Thursday’s Cloak & Dagger episode, “Ghost Stories,” so very refreshing. A few of the good guys of the series, Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph) and detective Brigid O'Reilly (Emma Lahana), use the tricks of gaslighting on a man who is often doing the gaslighting: season villain detective Connors, a powerful white man who murdered an unarmed Black boy years ago and covered up the entire crime. Connors, with the help of New Orleans P.D., helped convince a young Tyrone (Maceo Smedley) he didn’t even see his brother get shot.
The “Ghost Story” trap is a subtle, powerful inversion of an old, tragic story.
The goal of Tyrone and O’Reilly’s plan is to trick Connors into confessing to the murder of Billy Johnson (Marqus Clae), Tyrone’s older brother. The duo might not be able to bring the cop down for his sprawling, secretive drug empire, but they can get him for killing a boy. Especially since it is the anniversary of Billy’s death, leaving Connors extremely, noticeably jumpy (or, you know, vulnerable). So, Tyrone and O'Reilly decide to convince their enemy he is being haunted by Billy’s ghost.
This is where two major prongs of gaslighting come into play: getting Connors to trust his gaslighters, and then making him think he’s losing his marbles. O’Reilly has been working on the first tenet for weeks, as she has acted every bit the “bad cop,” proving she’s down with Connors’ own criminal behavior. At this point, like Ingrid Bergman's manipulated character throughout Gaslight, Connors has no reason to believe his partner is playing tricks on him.
That’s where Tyrone’s part in “Ghost” comes into play. On the night of Billy’s death anniversary, Tyrone starts haunting Connors, hiding behind him, disappearing, stealing his gun, putting it back in Connors’ holster, whispering “you killed me,” and then disappearing once again. Connors is immediately panicked. Later, upping the ante, Tyrone appears in front of Connors and O’Reilly shrouded in a cloak (it’s the cloak Billy made before his death, but Connors doesn’t know that emotional detail). The sight of Tyrone standing in the middle of a dock, covered in darkness, is terrifying. It only gets worse when Tyrone begins using his teleportation powers to disappear and reappear all around Connors. Like a ghost.
This is where the true gaslighting begins. First, as part of the scheme, O’Reilly tells Connors she saw him “chasing no one” earlier, slyly suggesting he’s seeing things. Then, when a cloaked Tyrone appears before both officers, Connors asks, “Don’t you see him?;” his “partner” responds, “No.” Within seconds, Tyrone disappears into the ether. “Are you feeling okay?” O’Reilly asks, again suggesting Connors is mentally unwell. When Connors begins chasing Tyrone, O’Reilly yells, “I don’t see anyone. Who are we chasing?!” Obviously, Tyrone is wildly visible, but no one wants Connors, a murderer and a drug kingpin, to know that.
All of this gaslighting gets the conspirators exactly what they want. But, they don’t uncover jewels like the evil husband (Charles Boyer) dreams of doing in Gaslight or capture the presidency, as someone else used their gaslighting powers to accomplish. Rather, Team Cloak And Dagger gets their confession, which a petrified Connors serves up after watching Tyrone teleport towards him like a vengeful ghost and finding out the haunting won’t stop until he admits his crime. “I shot you,” he announces. “It happened quick. My uncle helped me get into Vice … I couldn’t undo it.”
As the camera pans, we realize O’Reilly’s police officer boyfriend Fuchs (Lane Miller) recorded the whole confession. Immediately, O’Reilly arrests Connors for murder.
It’s thrilling to see the types of people who are often the victims of gaslighting — opinionated women and young people of color with something to say — flip the script in a way that punishes an actual monster. Unfortunately, that victory is short-lived as Connors has poor Fuchs murdered, despite the fact that the dirty cop is behind bars.
It’s doubtful some more cloak-themed gaslighting will get Connors to confess to another murder this time around. But, with just two episodes of Cloak & Dagger season 1 left, our heroes are sure to figure out a different way to bring down the big bad, once and for all.
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