The Taiwanese-American film producer Dennis Liu was intimately aware of the lack of diversity in Hollywood, and of the difficulties people of color faced in getting their projects greenlit. That’s why, after coming up with the idea for Raising Dion, he created a one-issue comic and a two-minute short film to drum up interest for a live-action adaptation in 2015. The idea soon caught on, and what resulted from Liu’s unconventional marketing is Netflix’s nine-episode Raising Dion, written by Carol Barbee and directed by Liu himself.
The story at the center of Raising Dion has struggling mother Nicole (Alisha Wainwright) trying to figure out how to raise her suddenly superhuman son Dion (Ja’Siah Young), all while job-hunting and mourning her dead husband Mark (Michael B Jordan). It’s a family drama wrapped up in the paranormal, and one that answers the question of what a superhero origin story might look like if told from the point of view of Martha, rather than Clark, Kent.
With Marvel and DC completely saturating the film market, it’s notable that smaller publishers are finding homes for their projects on TV streaming platforms. Raising Dion follows in the footsteps of Amazon’s The Boys and Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, telling a different kind of story of a rather unique and cheerful eight-year-old superboy. Let’s break down what works, what doesn’t, and what’s next for Netflix’s latest comic book bid.
A major selling point for Raising Dion is undoubtedly that it’s one of the only superhero shows centered on a black family, alongside the CW’s Black Lightning. (Marvel’s Luke Cage, the other major player in this category, was canceled in 2018.) Furthermore, while the aforementioned two, and the Black Panther film, all star grown men as leads, Raising Dion is notably centered on a young black mother and her young son.
“I started this project many years ago because I wanted to see more diverse representation on film and television,” Liu told Deadline when Netflix ordered a season of Raising Dion in 2017. “More than ever, we need more stories told from different points of view.”
Raising Dion incorporates representation in a variety of ways, from featuring a majority black cast to casting Sammi Haney, a young wheelchair user who has brittle bone disease, as Dion’s best friend Esperanza (easily the standout character of the season). This diversity is treated as normal and unremarkable, but there are moments where the show’s plot diverges to address how being marginalized may affect how someone moves through the world. At one point, Dion is racially profiled by his teacher, which painfully forces Nicole to explain to Dion what racism is. Later, Dion floats Esperanza out of her chair without asking, a moment of casual ableism he’s later educated on.
The problem with Pat
Undoubtedly one of the biggest reveals of the season is that Jason Ritter’s awkward Pat Rollins is actually the villainous Crooked Man. It’s a twist so out of left field that for a moment I froze and sat gawping at the screen. At the end of the second-to-last episode it’s revealed Pat is not actually the nice guy he seemed: it’s implied he killed his girlfriend from Iceland, and he most definitely absorbed several other supers from the trip, Dion’s dad and Pat’s own best friend Mark included. Pat also has a huge issue with respecting boundaries with women, and in his final moments he reveals he’s, well, a self-entitled incel – a purposeful framing to start a conversation about male entitlement and consent, Ritter told TVGuide.
Does the reveal play entirely fair, though? The show spends an inordinate amount of time showing us Pat caring for Dion, with zero whispers of any ulterior motive. It seems like the show could have been better served revealing Pat’s duplicity earlier, dedicating more episodes to Nicole and Dion then figuring out how to defeat him. Instead, it feels like Raising Dion pulls a Mad Daenerys twist, favoring shock value over a fully developed arc that could’ve seen Pat be a formidable villain for the second half of the season.
At the end it’s revealed that Pat wasn’t so much the creator of the preternatural storm but probably just a host possessed by it. Dion and Nicole are able to deal with Pat relatively easily, but they don’t succeed in wiping out the storm. Instead, the storm itself literally whizzes off, seeking a new body – and it certainly finds one in Brayden (Griffin Robert Faulkner), the second-generation, anger-prone young super that Charlotte (Deirdre Lovejoy) has a brief run-in with in Alabama.
In the final moments of the show, it’s revealed that Brayden killed his aunt, and is now carrying the storm inside him. This raises several questions: what is the storm? Is it an alien planet destroyer with its own agenda, or just a parasite that feeds off negative emotions? Is that why it’s attracted to Pat and Brayden, who both demonstrate that they’re unable to control their rage (particularly around women)? Is it what granted all the Iceland folks their powers to begin with, or is it a separate thing entirely that was riding the meteor?
Regardless of what the storm is, if Brayden is also able to manifest multiple powers, Dion may just have his own Brandon Breyer to contend with.
Biona is good
At the risk of feeling like a Maze Runner “WCKD Is Good” twist, it’s revealed that the company that’s been spying on Nicole and Dion, and which threw Dion in a CDC van with zero explanation to his panicked mother, are actually the good guys. But do we believe that? Every piece of evidence that Biona is good was fed to us by Pat, who isn’t exactly a reliable source of information. That Biona removed all evidence of spying on metahumans before giving Pat access to the labs, long before they knew he was the Crooked Man, is at least a little questionable.
Perhaps one of the more frustrating things about Raising Dion is that despite feeling like a padded season, it still leaves so many questions unanswered. Nicole’s dancing side plot and love triangles, for example, hold less interest than questions surrounding Dion, the storm and the meteor shower. Are Charlotte and Mark actually dead, or just trapped inside the storm? Why is Dion able to manifest several powers, while the other adults in Iceland appeared to get only one? Does the storm retain memories of its past host, and does Brayden now know about the dozens of other supers from Mark’s research? Why was Pat the only super who got a degenerative condition from his powers? Is Iceland really just rotting away after the meteor shower?
One can only hope that Raising Dion will get renewed for a second season, as there’s a ton of material left to explore, and plenty more room to grow.