The Cape premiered on NBC last night. The premiere was two hours long, so this is a lengthy recap. If you’re short on time: The Cape is about a framed cop trained by carnies who fights cheesy villains with the help of a blogger. If you’ve got extra time, well, the same thing, but I’ve got some more details, too. The show is organized under title cards, so I’ll do the same. Here we go:
Our first moments with The Cape are a mite claustrophobic, and the director refuses to linger on a scene for more than a few seconds. Hey, it’s only the very first episode of a new and conceit-heavy show, who needs a grounding sense of place or character, right? Our protagonist, Vince Faraday, is married, has a son of indeterminate age, lives in a boring upper-middle-class house where every room looks pretty much the same, is handsome in a nondescript way, and is a cop. That may have seemed like a laundry list of information, but that’s pretty much exactly how the show laid it out.
Vince strolls into work one day and is almost instantly stopped by Female Coworker We’ll Likely Never See Again, who is clickity clicking around on what she refers to as “Orwell’s Blog” in a way that tells us we really should pay attention. Coworker tells Vince that Orwell’s List O’ Crooked Cops has been updated to include Fellow Cops X and Y; Vince glances up to see the gentlemen in question smiling shady smiles. Seriously, my notes from this read: “Cops on ‘corrupt’ list; well, durr, shady smiles.”
Cut to the Chief of Police holding a little press conference, in which he talks about the city’s corruption problems, then confidently foretells: “There’s a new day ahead.” He hops into his waiting car, only to see a dead woman (Female Coworker, no!) in the backseat. Whoops. The driver isn’t his driver, but rather a man in a mask, with an accent and some crazy cat-eyes. I’ll solve the puzzle for you right now: They’re chess-piece contact lenses. Whenever Mr. I’ll-Fill-In-The-Blank-In-A-Second wants to commit some costumed villainy, he takes the time to put in some thematically appropriate contacts, because he’s committed.
“Chess,” as he calls himself, tosses a hissing little canister in the backseat, so obviously labeled “L-9,” you’d think it was product placement. Chief of Police begins to choke and die, and Vince, who was apparently head of security detail for this shindig, notices. He can’t get into the car, though, so is just watching his beloved boss suffocate, or maybe be poisoned. The car then blows up in a well done explosion, with a pretty groundswell and everything. You may think that an odd aspect to note, but trust me: Embrace that explosion. It’s pretty much the only good visual effect you’ll get.
Vince is in the garage, wailing away on his punching bag when Trip, his son (not Bristol Palin’s, I think she spells it differently) comes in with his little fists all taped up, ready to fight. Adorable. He joins his father at the punching bag, and Dad takes a minute or two to correct his form. They bond a little, Dad promises to make the bad guys go away, it’s probably supposed to be touching. After the little tyke has hit the sack, Vince and wife Dana chat about ARK Corporation’s plan to fully privatize the city’s law enforcement within the next six months. Should Vince interview for a privatized cop job? It has benefits! And time off! What will he do?
Cut to Vince striding into the fancy-pants ARK lobby to have his interview with CEO Peter Fleming. Despite Vince’s horrific mop (Never wear your hair like that anywhere you’d like to be taken seriously.) and the fact that the interview consists of two insults, a clumsily dropped bit of exposition, and not much else, Vince gets the job. He’s a new member of ARK’s privatized police force. This can only be a positive development in his life.
Now we’re outside the Faraday home on what has turned out to be, I kid you not, a dark and stormy night. (I would love to get a hold of this script and tally up how many times it uses the word “ominous.” I bet it’s a lot.) Vince and Trip are reading a comic book called The Cape behind Mom’s back, because Moms are killjoys. Vince is reading the comic aloud, which is silly because Trip is obviously old enough that being read to is a little annoying, and what comic book features third person narration (“The Cape leapt through the flames! The arsonist sneered…”)? It’s a mess. Anyway, the last thing Dad reads before we’re torn away from this scene — because we’ve been here for a full twenty seconds, we can’t linger any longer — is something about the vermin of the city growing and multiplying, which sounds very Rorschach.
Vince, having tucked Trip in with his weirdly-written comics, is sitting down to check his email when his screen is suddenly replaced by a big rotating symbol, subtitled, “ORWELL IS WATCHING.” A distorted voice accuses him of buying into the privatized police hype, and gives him a tipoff about a weaponized chemical explosive being smuggled into town that night. Why Orwell thinks he/she/it can trust the cop he/she/it just totally maligned is unclear, but Vince decides to trust the mysterious voice who totally hacked into his computer, and hightails it down to the docks.
Vince and cop buddy Marty are poking around in the big red storage units that always populate docks when they uncover the explosive — yes, L-9! You remembered! — in a shipment of Pammy Pees dolls, which promise hours of toilet-training fun. Marty cautions Vince to just take it easy with this discovery, then watches with what’s probably supposed to be a conflicted look as his buddy is grabbed from behind and knocked out cold.
And now we have our first commercial break.
THE CARNIVAL OF CRIME
Vince wakes up to a chess set and a sad-looking Marty. Chess himself strides in, saying Vince forced him to fine-tune some plans. He likens Vince’s family to the king in his chess game, which is ridiculous, because he would have had a much stronger metaphor referring to Dana as Vince’s queen, but whatever.
Surprise #1: Chess unmasks. The surprise isn’t that he’s Peter Fleming, ARK Corp CEO, or that he intends to scare the city so bad they’ll beg ARK to privatize the police right away, but that he actually unmasks. This means, obviously, that Vince has to die. Say it ain’t so!
Fleming’s thugs, supervised by Marty, staple the Chess mask onto Vince’s head and set him free. Law enforcement jumps on him fast, as now Vince is fleeing outside, in broad daylight, followed by choppers, cops, and television cameras. Of course, the TV is on in the Faraday home, and Dana and Trip are watching. Vince tears the front of the leather mask off without tearing into his head at all, which makes sense, because leather is so simple to tear with one hand, particularly when both sides are attached to your face. Anyway, the news can see his face now, which is what’s important, because they can verify his identity. Vince escapes, inadvertently faking his death by escaping underneath an exploding tanker truck.
Here comes the crazy: Vince wakes up in a weird, drugged out Moulin Rouge nightmare, seeing contortionists, monkeys, and ladies with tattoos through his blurry haze. He regains full consciousness after being punched in the face by little person Rollo, and promptly has his weight guessed (“187, on the nose”) by the scenery-chewing Max Malini. There’s a lady eating cotton candy. A man turns on the television with his stilts, on which the newscaster is discussing “Vince Faraday, a.k.a. Chess,” at which point there’s an ominous organ chord, courtesy of Max.
Funny you should say that paragraph reads like a crazy amalgamation of weird and clichéd images; that’s exactly what it looked like on the TV.
It gets better, as Max informs us that they’re “The Carnival of Crime: professional bank robbers.” So the bank robbers have a circus schtick, but they love it so much that they spin cotton candy and run about the place on stilts in their off-hours? Okay, sure. Vince offers up a trade: Let him go, he’ll give up his ARK keycard, which bypasses all their security codes. So the Carnival gets to robbing, in a peppy little montage involving clown masks and a raccoon. Think the opening sequence of The Dark Knight, but rated G. The agreement between Vince and the Carnival eventually distills itself into: Help us rob Peter Fleming, and we’ll help you get your family back. Except your family thinks you’re dead. See? They’re having a funeral. You’re sort of messing it up by very obviously stalking the solemn proceedings from behind that tree, but whatever. It’s your funeral.
Commercial break. From the beginning of the show to now, 24 minutes have passed.
THE BIRTH OF A HERO
Vince is bumming around the Carnival’s hideout when he finds a cape. He picks it up and is instantly whirling it about himself like some demented Phantom of the Opera, never tangling it around himself or spinning it at a weird angle or hitting himself in the face. He’s got a natural gift with capes! Max shows up, and between telling Vince “I’ve broken 92 bones in pursuit of the perfect illusion” and picking up a wineglass with his scarf, insinuates that the real way to become a superhero is to dramatically give yourself, “body and soul,” to thieving carnies. That’s what Bruce Wayne did, right?
So the cape is “stronger than Kevlar but thinner than filament,” and if you spin, spin, spin, then snap it at something, it will pick up objects in a flurry of bad CGI. Under the tutelage of the Carnival, Vince learns hand-to-hand combat, which he never learned as a cop, hypnotism (which is always played as a gag involving women’s underwear, as that is the crux of crimefighting), and how to extinguish candles and throw stage blades with his cape. He’s ready.
Scales is a villain with a skin condition, very Dick Tracy. It’s interesting to note that none of the big-time villains — not Chess, not Scales, and not the not-yet-introduced Cain — is from the United States; they all have either British of French accents. So Americans can’t be bad guys, but they can totally be heroes? Well, too bad, viewing audience — David Lyons (Vince Faraday) is Australian. Ha!
Back to boring, scaly Scales. We’re by the docks again, moving more L-9, and The Cape picks off Scales’ henchmen in a scene directly lifted from Batman Begins. Scales catches our intrepid hero, wraps him in chains, and tosses him underwater. But The Cape was trained by circus folk! As long as his predicaments are perils Harry Houdini would willingly face, he’ll escape just fine.
The Cape finally, literally bumps into Orwell, who carries with her flyers advertising her secretive presence. That’s right: Orwell is a lady, more specifically, Summer Glau. They drive her kickass Mercedes back to her lair, which has fancy image-projected, screenless touchscreens, but is made a bit less secretive by the fact that she leaves the garage door open during their entire ensuing top-secret conversation. Anyway, they make a pact to take back the city. I’m sure it’s intended to be very inspiring, but seriously, shut the damn door.
Oh, and of course, Max has been captured by Scales, who rejects the showman’s offer of a sideshow job rather vehemently. It all makes perfect sense. Commercial!
THE CAPE VS. CHESS: ROUND ONE
The Cape shows up to rescue Max, who despite being hardly worked over, is apparently dying, and takes out some ARK cops with his cape on the way in. Max dies, except not really, as he dramatically pops an eye back open. The scene is brilliant, provided the director said, “Be as hammy as you possibly can.” The Cape and Chess eventually come head to head in what was probably supposed to be a climactic scene, and each retreats to his corner to fight another day. (That’s why the title said, “ROUND ONE!”)
The Cape shows up outside Trip’s window and gives him some fatherly advice; the scene is only really notable for some dramatic pauses in the line, “Don’t lose hope, don’t ever… lose hope.” Breaks up the drivel.
ONE WEEK LATER
The Cape thwarts some drug store thugs, the ungrateful store owner makes fun of his superhero name, and a masochistic nation wonders why they’re still watching.
Exterior shot: poorly CGed ARK building. Inside, Richard Schiff, slumming it as Secretary of the Bureau of Prisons Patrick Portman, is resisting ARK’s attempts to privatize Palm City’s correctional services, as it already has with the police force. Cut to a man with long dark hair conducting chemical experiments with what are probably supposed to be chemicals, and not water and food coloring. He’s mixing something nasty, as a bird in the background falls over dead. Um, deep, I guess?
The Cape is breaking in to Peter Fleming’s place. Oooh, Fleming’s got a fancy projected screenless touchscreen, too — and The Cape can use it with gloves! I can’t even answer my smart phone with gloves on, but he can flip through a bunch of digital file folders? Hrmph. Anyway, The Cape notices a file on a French serial killer before Fleming busts in. In a shocking twist, he knew The Cape was coming all along! French serial killer, better known as Cain, is there, and he manages to get one good stab in before The Cape throws himself out the window, only to be picked up by Orwell. A man’s arm grabs her steering wheel, and she only gets a solid ten-second glimpse at the giant tarot card tattoo on his forearm before she’s able to floor it and escape.
So that knife Vince was stabbed with? Covered in poison, and Orwell is lecturing him as he dies. Women, you know? She takes him to Max, instead of the hospital, and Max takes care of the situation with leeches and nightshade. The way you do. There’s a product placement for Mercedes in there somewhere, too, lest I forget. Anyway, Max confiscates the cape, and gives Vince three conspicuously labeled Train Tickets, for him and his family to get out of dodge. Vince turns down the offer, opting to be heroic, but is crying and drooling a little as he says it, so whatever he actually says loses a bit of its punch.
Vince buys a Cape comic on a street corner, which made me sit up and wail, “Why can’t I just buy comics on street corners?” He finds a disused underground space, perfect for a secret lair, and gets to decorating. First thing he does is to tape up a photo of Peter Fleming, just in case he forgets what his nemesis looks like.
On the other side of town, Fleming is literally moving pieces of his plan around on a virtual chess board, and my throat hurts from this show cramming so much badly managed metaphor down it. Mr. Portman — prison Secretary, remember? — is almost nabbed and stabbed by Cain, disguised as a janitor, but Orwell swoops in and rescues him. I was a blogger once, and I don’t remember being omnipotent, but maybe I just wasn’t doing it right.
There’s a flashback somewhere in here about the strength of the Faraday name, which would be a total waste of film if the baby playing Baby Trip were not adorable. But he is, so I’ll let it slide.
Arts and crafts time in the lair! With Max sneakily spying, Vince sews together a mask. He surveys his work, looking first oddly aroused, then weepy, then angry, as he puts the thing on. It’s an okay mask, nothing special. Certainly not arousing.
FARADAYS ARE FIGHTERS
The Cape is wailing on a punk named Linus, threatening if he doesn’t talk, the whole underworld will hear that he did. Linus agrees to meet him at a bar later, and disappears just as Orwell struts into the alley in heels and a big Gucci belt and kicks another thug in the head. She tells Vince that the tattoo we only barely saw too much of? It says that Cain belongs to Tarot, the secret society of killers that must not be so secret. Oh, hello, rogue’s gallery! So nice to meet you.
Vince gets to the agreed-upon bar to meet Linus, only to find that Cain got there first and poisoned everyone in the place. Vince rushes to find Secretary Portman, just in time to prevent him from drinking some maybe-poisoned booze. In the ensuing conversation, Portman raises his voice, and I see Toby from The West Wing, and that’s the most exciting thing that happens in this scene.
Oh, that’s right, Dana overwhelms the prejudice of her married name to talk her way into a job as a lawyer. It feels about as tacked-on as this sentence.
THE CAPE VS CAIN
Max finally returns Vince’s cape, so he doesn’t look foolish running around town calling himself The Cape without a cape. Orwell finds out that Portman and Fleming are meeting at a restaurant, which wouldn’t be a problem, except Cain is an ex-chef, as well as being as poisoner. Orwell snags a table by pretending to be a food blogger, then dresses up like a chef to get Portman’s poisoned food away from him, The Cape saves the day by grilling Cain’s face and trussing him up like a bird, and Fleming looks mildly annoyed.
WE KNOW THE MAN HE WAS
Secretary Portman turns down the proposed ARK prison takeover to mild applause, and Dana and Trip bond over the fact that, while the situation is sad, “they can’t take away our memories.” “They,” presumably, are the media, making news by demonizing Vince’s corrupt-cop memory.
So that’s The Cape. It’s incredibly fractured and has horrible pacing problems, but if you think of it as a comedy, it’s almost enjoyable. The promos for next week promise “more danger than you can throw a cape at!” The preposition-capped sentence is a cheery foreboding of what’s to come, right?