The Cape: “The Lich” Part 1 & 2

Bride of Icky

“The Lich, Part 1” & “The Lich, Part 2”

The Cape

NBC, Monday, 9/10 PM

The Lich, Part 1 written by William Wheeler

Directed by Karen Gaviola

The Lich, Part 2 written by Toni Graphia & Robbie Thomson

Directed by Roxann Dawson

“What kind of monster was raised here?” – Max

I didn’t expect The Cape to last this long, not because it was too good to last but because it was too unfocused and weird. Yet week after week it continues to hold my interest, and I’m darned if I can figure out exactly why. It has something to do with the spooky-carnival atmosphere, something to do with the way David Lyons looks in a black hoodie, and something to do with Summer Glau’s ability to go from slow-smiling seductress to blank-faced robot in the course of one episode. It has something to do with the fact that the writers believe in it so deeply that they are even convincing me that a guy could run around a city in a black cape and not be laughed off the streets. This two-part episode takes the comic-based series into very dark territory, the kind of territory where once I would have foundThe Crow or Tim Burton’s Batman. I like it very much.

“It’s a mix of a synthetic neurotoxin and a more natural component, like the venom of a puffer fish. It causes paralysis and a deep suggestive state.” — Max

Peter Fleming schemes to buy some waterfront property in order to turn Palm City into a thriving port – for drugs and terrorists. Hoping to stop him, Secretary of Prisons Patrick Portman (Richard Schiff, The West Wing) turns to Orwell. He reveals the plan, along with something he’s found buried in the city archives: a birth certificate showing that there is an unknown heir to the property, one Conrad Chandler, who could stop the sale if he’s found. Orwell starts looking for him. In the meantime, Vince is looking into the death and reappearance of a friend of Rollo, one Janet Peck (Alicia Lagano, CSI: Miami). When they find her, Janet is in a “deep suggestive state”, i.e., psychotic and frenzied. It takes the skills of both Max and Ruvi to bring her out of her nightmare; she has been drugged with powerful neurotoxins. In her frenzy she mentions “The Lich” and calls him her master; Vince recognizes this as the cognomen of a phantom criminal the police of Palm City tagged for ritual murders and assorted horrific crimes. Now this is a villain – no more scaly comedians or bad guys based on Tarot cards. The Lich carries all the shadowy terror of a Scarecrow or even a real-life serial killer like Dahmer. Here is a worthy foe of the Cape, one who will test all of Vince’s abilities as a cop, a man and a hero.

“I can’t do this alone.” — Vince

It doesn’t take long for Vince, Max and Rollo to figure out that someone is planning to use similar neurotoxins on the Founder’s Day Parade. They find the lair of the terrorists, complete with maps, blueprints and a time line (don’t you just love villains who lay it all out for the good guys?). But even when he shows all this to his friend Marty, the new Chief of Police, Marty is reluctant to shut down the parade. Fleming threatens to fire Marty, and he not only caves but arrests The Cape. I loved the scene where Marty relents and passes the handcuff key to The Cape, only to see that The Cape has already freed himself. That note of sardonic wit was one of the better moments. It almost offset the glaring stupidity of having Vince arrested in costume at all – the very first thing law enforcement officers, even the inept ones working for ARK, would do would be to pull that mask off, and the game would totally be up for Vince Faraday. That’s why most well –run comic book shows will contort the plot into pretzels to prevent the hero from being arrested in costume; nothing spoils the game like revealing your secret identity. Still, Marty listens to The Cape long enough to follow his hunch, which gives me room to believe Marty may eventually turn out to be Commissioner Gordon after all. The two discover that the chemical deployment system has been switched from the spray truck to a parade float (which would have made more sense in the first place). They also capture The Lich – or so they think. Only when the drugged-out Preston Holloway (Tom Noonan, Damages) extols the wonder of his Master, The Lich, do they realize that they have been after the wrong guy all along.

“You’re not the only one who’s an orphan.” — Orwell

A nurse in an insane asylum tells Orwell that Conrad Chandler is a patient there under another name. Her interview with “Roland” takes place in one of the creepiest locales we’ve seen yet, a combination of Chucky’s nursery and something out of Hoarders. Apparently Conrad was born with a disfiguring disease that made his mother cry for three days; his parents abandoned him in the asylum. Orwell goes all sympathetic and implies that she, too, is an orphan, which we know is a flat out lie because her daddy is Peter Fleming. The dim lighting, Conrad’s odd behavior, and the fact that she’s in what looks like a set for a horror movie fail to warn Orwell, who learns too late that Conrad has been turned into the twisted monster known as The Lich. He uses his chemical weapons on her, and she passes out. Vince, using his skills as a cop rather than as The Cape, lifts a fingerprint from his own vest and connects him to the insane asylum, where Holloway was once the director, and races to Orwell’s rescue.

“An insane asylum? Full of zombies? I don’t even know what to say to that.” – Rollo

Unfortunately, the mansion is defended by zombies under the control of The Lich, and Orwell is nowhere to be found. Rollo, the small but tightly wound pugilist of the Carnival, manhandles a bunch of men twice his size and doesn’t break a sweat. I just love it when Rollo unleashes the crazy. Max hypnotizes, disappears in a puff of smoke, and generally fights with verve, dash and misdirection. Vince lands solid punches even on crazed-out zombies. It’s fun stuff, but ultimately pointless, as they leave the mansion without even really searching it. If they had, they’d have found Orwell, dressed in a bridal gown and tied to a wheelchair, drugged out and being romanced by The Lich.

“She gets me.” – The Lich

Here’s a familiar sight: Summer Glau playing an inert character, blank of expression, vacant-eyed. At least this time we get a bit of contrast: Orwell may be confined and helpless, but her fantasy life is very active. So active, in fact, that she’s imagining herself marrying Vince. Since Vince’s fantasy life revolves about his family, this could get awkward pretty soon if it ever gets out. As boring as dream sequences generally are, these were at least enlivened with a little character revelation: we already knew, or had deduced, that Orwell is Fleming’s daughter. But what happened to her mother? Something terrible, something she hides behind a door in her mind that she will not open. Nor does this door disappear completely even when Vince, Max and Rollo finally return to the mansion and rescue her.

“When will you stop screaming, my darling?” – The Lich

One thing I liked about The Lich was that this abused child turned the tables on his tormentors. Whereas they had strapped him down, he now doses them with paralytics. They gave him electroshock therapy; he devises a new drug to stimulate convulsions. They controlled his every move; he has enslaved even the former director of his prison with subtle and deadly poisons. As an example of poetic justice it is unparalleled, but as a weapon for world domination it leaves something to be desired; Orwell eventually manages to shake off the paralytic and foil the nurse’s attempts to inject her. Glenn Fitzgerald (Six Feet Under) brings a spine-chilling magnetism to his role, a soft-voiced menace that insinuates itself into the character and gives him a far more dangerous aura than the slapstick Scales character. Conrad Chandler is a villain right out of cult horror, one we can almost understand but whose soul is as revolting as his face. Likewise Tom Noonan, who was born to play people who give us nightmares, excels as the fey Holloway, his bland features as always a poor mask for the demon beneath. Fitzgerald and Noonan between them have brought two of the scariest, most disturbing villains toThe Cape, and I hope they return.

“Mostly, she’s pretty cool.” — Trip

The other thing I really liked about this story was that Dana Faraday finally came across as a real person. She struggles with self-doubt and loneliness, second-guessing her own reaction to her handsome, amusing boss. She is fierce in the protection of her son from a stranger in a hooded cape, and in some moments with Trip shows maternal love well mingled with adult concern. If she is unable to recognize her own husband’s voice, body language or profile in The Cape, well, she has that in common with Lois Lane and Vicki Vale; it’s part of the tradition. Her loving relationship with her son is a good foil for Conrad’s abandonment by his parents. The scene where The Cape takes his leave of her in the ARK interrogation room, placing his hand on the mirror over hers, was poignant and believable. I hope to see more character development in the woman who is the anchor of Vince Faraday’s life.

“They thought she was strangled, but the family was real religious, so they didn’t do an autopsy.” — Rollo

The thing I didn’t like about this episode was the idiotic departure from what most modern audiences know of police procedure. Besides the arrest episode mentioned earlier, we have Rollo’s assertion that religious scruples blocked an official autopsy on Janet. Vince, who keeps being held up to us as an experienced cop, doesn’t even blink at this. In real life as well as on TV, autopsies are not halted at the request of family, no matter how firm their principles. This is especially true if “they thought she was strangled”. Here is a missed opportunity on the part of the writers to show Vince alerting to this red flag, making some remark about how corrupt police work has become under ARK auspices, and possibly looking into who really blocked that autopsy. For Vince to simply accept that no autopsy was ordered is absurd, and helps to undercut all the foundation already laid to show us what a good cop he is supposed to be. The plot required that there be no autopsy – fine. Show us a better reason for it, one which ties into the plot and does not block it. That was just clumsy writing.

“The boogeyman doesn’t have an address.” – Vince

Overall, this was probably the best Cape to date, one which will linger in memory long mainly because the villain made it memorable. I thought Fleming, with his sinister alter ego Chess, was pretty interesting, but he can’t hold a candle to The Lich, who has all the potential of Batman’s Scarecrow to become something to keep us all up nights. However, he may not be back, or even around much longer, with The Cape‘s ratings doing a nosedive. Monday night’s episode clocked in at a dismal 1.2 share in the 18-to-49 group, with viewership at 4.1 million. This was the lowest rated new episode on all four networks that night, beating only a rerun of Gossip Girls. If there’s any consolation, it’s in the fact that all of NBC’s shows are failing on Monday night, so The Cape is in no worse case than Chuck or Harry’s Law.