Dealing From the Bottom of the Deck
NBC, Monday, 9/10 PM
Written by Craig Titley
Directed by David Jackson
“Don’t you ever shut up?” — Vince
Clue number one for casting directors: do not make your villain look like the hero’s older brother, unless you’re trying to make some subtle point about two sides of the same coin. In tonight’s episode of The Cape, we are introduced to Gregor Molotov (seriously? Molotov? Is there an upcoming villain named “Scud”?) played by the always intense Thomas Kretschmann (FlashForward). Gregor is a bad-guy version of Vince Faraday — a student gone bad, whose mentor Max Malini rejected him when Gregor killed a woman and went to jail. Master thief, illusionist and escape artist, Gregor has just escaped from a Russian prison and is ready to take up the cape again. When Max refuses, telling him Vince owns it now, Gregor engages in a (quite literal) tug of war with Vince for possession of it. Along the way, he delivers himself of some rather clichéd dialogue and one or two bright lines. He co-opts Max’s circus, flirts with Orwell, and takes out an entire table of poker player with some deft and deadly card-throwing. In short, he’s a lot more interesting than Vince Faraday.
“Some say it was the cape worn by Merlin, maybe even Jack the Ripper.” – Gregor
I wish the writers had gone down this road. The idea that the eponymous Cape has some subtle power, that it has been passed down over the centuries as something more than just a tool in an illusionist’s toolbox, is more compelling than the idea that currently drives this show. Certainly making it a weapon is just downright ludicrous: every time Vince or Gregor flipped the cape at someone it looked as if the scene had been staged in a locker room after the homecoming game. And the scene where the cape is tightening “like a snake” was just borderline funny. You can get away with cheesy dialogue, or cheesy staging of a fight scene, but you cannot get away with both. The Cape needs a better weapon than stretchy outerwear.
Max: Do you ever give a straight answer?
Orwell: I just did.
Max: And I thought I was mysterious.
We got to know a little more about Summer Glau’s Orwell in this episode, which made it pretty clear that her father is the psychopathic Chess/Peter Fleming. Chess is searching for his daughter and simultaneously ordering the assassination of “Orwell”, which sets us up for some interesting confrontations down the road. Max is still the most colorful and flamboyant character in this show, a showman whose misdirection is unparalleled, who deflects questions and conclusions like Teflon.
Vince: You know the Cape motto: “One man…”
Trip: “One fight…”
Vince: “…one right”
Trip: Do you really say that to people?
Vince: Once in a while.
We learned a lot more about Vince’s passion for his calling, as even Gregor instantly detects that he’s a cop. That aspect of Vince’s character is probably the one that holds most interest for me: he’s not just a vigilante, and he’s not just focused on his own problems. He throws off Max’s advice to leave Gregor alone, because Gregor is a bad guy and “every cop cell” in his body tells Vince that he needs to take him down, for the good of the community. That focus on justice and the needs of the community, even the community that has failed him, is the hallmark of a hero, and we cannot do without it. Likewise, continuing the focus on Vince’s family rings true to me: they are the keel to his ship, the rudder that keeps him on course. While he watches, grim-faced, as another man makes up to his “widow”, he also pays attention to her concerns about his son. Determined not to let another man usurp his father-figure status, he visits his son and reminds him that courage, not just violence, makes a hero strong. I like the devoted dad aspect of this hero, which fits nicely into the current crop of not-ordinary heroes, villains and families we’re seeing these days. Of course, it also totally undercuts the idea that Vince dare not contact his family for their own safety (lame superhero excuse #32), but then Earth logic rarely applies to shows where grown men run around in homemade masks.
“Why don’t you get in on the act, join our little family?” – Max
By far the most interesting facet of the show right now is Max’s circus, and by far the most interesting character is Max himself. Larger than life, he fills the screen with presence, mystery and a wicked grin. His fellow performers offer us a taste of the exotic and mysterious, and the writers have wisely decided to include Orwell in the mix. From her first feisty meeting with Rollo (Martin Klebba,Dark Crossing) to her final scene as Raia’s (Izabella Miko, Clash of the Titans) apprentice acrobat, she shows a lively wit and more depth than we’ve seen before. I look forward to seeing Summer Glau play a character with an actual facial expression. Initially I thought the idea of bank-robbing circus performers was ridiculous – and to some extent I still do. But if the show wants to do comedy noir, there’s no better setting than a circus. It seems that Max’s troupe is a more or less permanent attraction in Palm City, so we may not get any road scenes. The possibilities for magical illusion, deception, misdirection and just plain fun inherent in a circus setting intrigues me.
“You either wear the Cape, or the Cape wears you.” – Max
Despite clunky dialogue like this, a villain who virtually twirls his mustache, and an over-earnest portrayal by its star, The Cape does have some funny, funky moments. There are hints here and there that this show might come together, if it can find its way between self-conscious irony and too-sincere adherence to pulp archetypes. This is really not the day and time to bring back the unquestioning, two-dimensional heroes of yesteryear; what suits us more today is the noir sensibilities of the post-WWII era. Right now, Vince Faraday is too much the goody-two-shoes to be realistic, too much the conscious hero to convince. There is definitely potential here, but the writers need to gel this recipe quickly before it boils over. It feels as if the writers are still searching for direction. If they are waiting to see what audience reaction is, they’re making a mistake. A concept like The Cape calls for boldness, innovation, and a clear vision. Wishy-washiness will not work.
The Cape lost more than 30% of its audience from its two-hour premiere, only some of which can be written off as tourists leaving after the first glimpse. 6.1 million viewers tuned in for the first showing in the regular timeslot, leaving it in fourth place for the hour. Worse, it garnered a measly 1.7 share in the critical demo, which is even worse than low audience numbers. If this show wants to keep its timeslot, it will need to figure out pretty quickly whether it is going for fantasy or grim realism.