The Cape…Ohhhh, The Cape

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Braak
Tags: , , ,

The Cape is a new show on NBC.  It is about a policeman who is framed for murder by the head of OCP and then is given a super-powered cape by the head of a traveling circus of crime and, because he learned a special kind of cape-fu while he was in the special forces, decides to emulate the main character in his son’s favorite comic book by fighting OCP and (presumably) other evils.

This show is completely insane.

I mean, I don’t know.  I can’t predict how television shows are going to do.  I famously didn’t think Tosh.0 was going to get more than a season, and boy was I wrong.  (I am, actually, still baffled that anyone watches that show.)  But I would be very surprised if this show lasted for any great length of time.

Here are some things that you might expect from a TV show, which are nowhere to be found in The Cape:

Characters.  No one in this show has any actual personality.  The main character (The Cape!) is On a Quest For Revenge.  He Loves His Son.  He’s otherwise boring.  His wife and son think he’s dead (for kind of stupid reasons, I’ll get to that); the wife is a Fiery Redhead.  The son Wants to Be Like His Dad.  The bad guy is some crazy evil guy, I don’t even get what the hell his plan is; it somehow involves privatizing all of the shittiest parts of bureaucracy so that he can…whatever.  Something something profit.  The mentor (played by Keith David) who runs the Carnival of Crime, which is an evil bank-robbing carnival, is only able to speak in tortuous circus metaphors.

Like:  “When you’re on the wire, you can’t have any fear.  The lions in the cage can smell it.  The Cape has thrown gasoline on a fire.”  Okay, Keith David.  If…if you say so.

Summer Glau is in the show, she plays the Exposition.  This is in the form of a blogger who is fighting corporate/fascist crime (? I guess?  She knows who all the corrupt cops are, anyway) and calls herself Orwell, I guess because of irony.

Anyway, because no one has any character, and instead they just have character *types*, there’s no real ensemble here.  Of any of the people that The Cape might be friends with, it’d either be the blogger — and, I know people like Summer Glau and everything, but…ahhh….I’m not really feeling any chemistry happening here.  Or else it’d be with Keith David, and that guy CAN ONLY SPEAK IN CIRCUS METAPHORS.

Ugh.

There’s no sense of a sustainable premise, either.  The major villain is this guy called Chess.  He is the head of OCP  (called, peculiarly, The ARK Corporation), and also some kind of masked mass murderer.  I guess for kicks?  That isn’t super clear.  Anyway, he decides to frame our hero (Vince Farraday) for murder, by convincing everyone that the hero is really Chess, and then blowing him up.

This is where it starts to get confusing, so I want to plot through it very clearly.  Chess staples a Chess mask onto Farraday’s face, and chases him around, exposing him as Chess on national television.  Then Farraday gets blown up.  Or, everyone thinks he does.  Really he escapes into a conveniently-located sewer.  So, everyone thinks Farraday was Chess, and Chess thinks Farraday’s dead.

Now, Farraday disguises himself as the Cape, because he thinks that if Chess knows he’s alive, then Chess will kill Farraday’s family, right?  Okay, right.

At the end of the first episode, Chess exposes himself as Chess again.  And in the second episode, Farraday tries to kill Chess, and reveals that he’s still alive.  So, we’re actually back where we started, right?  Everyone knows that Chess is alive (and therefore not Farraday, who got blown up), and Chess knows that Farraday is alive.

But Farraday still pretends to be a superhero, instead of telling his family that he’s alive.  Like, he doesn’t even send an e-mail or something.

“Hey family.  Framed by that super-evil guy from the news.  Am in hiding.  Don’t tell anyone.  Much love.”

But anyway, I don’t really get what the long-term arc is supposed to be.  Proving his innocence, sure, I guess.  Stopping Chess’s plan, I guess.  But there’s no sense of mystery here, nothing I’m interested in finding out.  I’d even be happier if this was a super-villain of the week show, but that kind of doesn’t make sense, either, since Chess runs all the cops in this town, so wouldn’t he and The Cape end up being on the same side?

Also, while we’re on the subject of Chess.  Here is what you’d expect a character like that to be like:  maybe he wears a suit and has a black and white checkered mask.  Definitely, you’d expect a black and white, or maybe red and black, color scheme for a cat like that.  He’d be all cool and calm and collected and have long-range, interesting plans; maybe he’d also have a crazy bad temper and flip his shit out periodically, and need to to just stab a dude in the face nine times before he feels better.

Instead, we’ve got this guy who’s wearing a weird 1920s leather aviator jacket, and this generic black leather mask that covers his hair, and these contact lenses that are white with black chess pieces on the iris.  I don’t know if those are contacts in the show, or just a weird thing that his eyes do.  Anyway, the guy’s Lex Luthor plan is to take over all the prisons in Palm City (?) by killing the guy from the West Wing who is the secretary of prisons (??) and then…I guess profit (???).

His plan to kill the guy is to hire a super-secret assassin from a super-secret order of assassins that no policeman has ever heard of (even though the assassins all have big tarot cards tattooed on their arms, and leave tarot cards at the scenes of there assassinations, and also sometimes poison everyone at a restaurant), and then have this assassin KNIFE THE GUY AS HE COMES OUT OF HIS OFFICE.

There’s a scene in the first episode where a midget fights a thug with a scaly face.  That guys name is “Scales”.  I don’t know what the midget’s name is, I guess I missed it.

What the hell.  I don’t know, the thing is, they obviously spent a lot of money on this show.  And they went to some trouble to think of like, clever “gimmicks” for things.  The midget who’s good at kung fu.  The thug named Scales who has scales.  Keith David is some kind of circus guy.  Chess…likes chess (?).  But it’s like the rest of the stuff that you’d need to make a compelling hour of television:  character, theme, dialog, story — it’s like they aren’t even *trying*.

Or, maybe the problem is that they’re trying too hard at the wrong things.  Consider the basic premise of the first episode:  OCP wants to take over all the cops in Detroit.  But in this show, Dick Jones, instead of hiring Clarence Boddicker to cause a ruckus so that people will think OCP needs to take over all the cops, is the villain himself.  So, okay:  evil corporate mastermind is also a masked terrorist, sowing fear and discord in order that he can take over the city.

That’s not a half bad idea, actually.  Especially if you play up the stark contrasts in Chess’s personality — that he NEEDS to go out into the city and stab guys or blow things up, because he’s borderline schizophrenic or something.  So, why is it that the plot of the first episode is about Chess trying to get a hold of a huge pile of experimental explosives?  I think he was even robbing them off of the USS Intrepid, which is a battleship even when it’s not a museum.  Wouldn’t regular dynamite have served for this plan?  And been easier to get a hold of and harder to trace?

Why didn’t this story maintain Chess the terrorist and the evil guy who is head of OCP for a while?  This is potentially a four-episode reveal, ESPECIALLY if Chess is so schizophrenic that you can make the head of OCP out to be a good guy; he could have been the one to give the Cape the speech about one man making a difference, on account of how he is one man who is making a difference.  He could have even had red herrings and such, an episode where he’s paid someone and ungodly amount of money to pretend to be Chess.  People who aren’t really Chess, but who we think ARE Chess could totally have been his thing.  Mystery:  “Who is Chess?”

In the second episode, the main dramatic arc is that Keith David takes the Cape’s cape back, and without, we’re meant to wonder if the Cape will ever be the Cape again.  This is not drama.  The show is called “The Cape.”  We know he’s going to get the cape back.  And it’s not like murders and crimes are happening all over the city that he wants to fight but can’t, because he doesn’t have the means; he doesn’t fight anyone except for a random mugger (thug?) who knows about the secret assassin.  Why wouldn’t you make an episode that was just ABOUT losing the Cape, during the middle of an insane crime wave, and drawing attention to the fact that Keith David’s character doesn’t care about fighting crime and is kind of a sociopath, instead of making this some kind of weird test that he’s doing?  Mystery:  “What are Keith David’s real motives?”

Look at this tarot-card assassin from the second episode.  He has a tarot card tattooed on his arm, and he leaves a tarot card at the scene of his assassinations.  See, this is dumb.  The Joker did that sort of thing because he was insane — he wanted people to know he was killing people like a maniac.  It would have made sense if Chess (as a terrorist) did something like that, because he’s trying to sow discord.  But this guy is a secret assassin from a secret order of assassins; isn’t the whole point of his character that he can kill someone without making them look like they were murdered?  Isn’t that integral?

Why would you explain about the secret order of assassins right away, anyway?  Summer Glau comes up with the card and just explains “secret order of assassins, they all use tarot cards”; why?  None of the other ones appear in this episode.  Why wouldn’t you hold off on that?  Summer Glau identifies THIS assassin by his tattoo, but doesn’t say anything about the secret order, so that three episodes from now, when the order of tarot-card assassins comes to get revenge on the Cape, we can be surprised that there are more of them.  Mystery:  “What does the tattoo signify?”

Additionally, you could have used the lines in which Summer Glau was delivering exposition to have her say things that somehow indicated a relationship with the Cape, or some kind of character.

Also, now that I think about this:  why is it that a story in which a guy, framed for murder by a masked serial killer, who discovers a traveling circus that gives him a super-powered magic cape doesn’t just say, “Well, I guess I’d better become a superhero.”  What is the point of this, “emulating the hero in his son’s favorite comic” thing?  Is “becoming a superhero” really something that needs to be justified at this point?

The guy has an enemy who is a supervillain.  He gets a super-powered cape.  HE WILL DECIDE TO BE A SUPERHERO.  Duh.

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Comments
  1. Jeff Holland says:

    Chess does not just like chess. He loves chess enough to wear it on his eyeballs and develop complicated software JUST so it looks like a chess board.

    This was…boy. I mean, I had to admire the feeling that the pilot just wanted to get through the origin as fast as humanly possible to get to the good (well, “good”) stuff, but then apparently they were hauling ass to get to the much shittier second hour. So I suppose I’ll have to wait until next week to really make a judgment call on whether it’s the kind of shitty I can get behind, or just shitty.

    I suspect the latter, because I woke up this morning and my first thought was, “Wait, why would you even wear a clunky metal chest plate if it can’t deflect a knife? Is it made of tin, or what?” So, that’s not a good sign.

  2. braak says:

    I’m still not clear as to whether he wears chess-themed contact lenses, or that’s just what his eyes look like. I mean, we never see him putting them in or taking them out, and also it would be pretty stupid to wear weird contact lenses just for theme’s sake if you were going out terroristing.

  3. RickRussellTX says:

    “This is in the form of a blogger who is fighting corporate/fascist crime… and calls herself Orwell, I guess because of irony.”

    An homage to Barbara Gordon’s “Oracle”, perhaps? And Scales is Killer Croc, and… hmm. Well, maybe it breaks down.

  4. braak says:

    No, it’s definitely a reference to George Orwell. She’s obviously supposed to be Oracle (except she can walk, and kick suckers in the face, because what would be the point of putting Summer Glau in something if she wasn’t going to wear a short skirt and kick a sucker in the face?), but her symbol is this eye in a triangle and a motto that’s something like “Orwell Is Watching.”

    To conclude: I don’t really get the appeal of Summer Glau.

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    “I’m still not clear as to whether he wears chess-themed contact lenses, or that’s just what his eyes look like.”

    I think, until specifically shown otherwise, we can assume they’re contacts, since this is not a show with superpowers (even incredibly minor powers such as eyeball-morphing), so much as a Shadow/Dick Tracy mashup of illusion-powers and deformities.

    This is, of course, already giving the show too much credit since you just KNOW they’re not above introducing superpowers the moment they run through all the ideas they had hastily scrawled on their legal pads.

  6. braak says:

    Well, I had also considered the possibility that his eyes were naturally chess-piece-shaped, and that he wore contacts in his regular life to hide them. Which would actually kind of make more sense.

  7. Jeff Holland says:

    The Cape: Where strange eyeball deformities make more sense in context than contact lenses.

  8. I don’t think Chess knows that The Cape is Farraday. He just knows someone in a cape is throwing monkey wrenches into his plans.

    Despite the flaws you point out, I’m still entertained by the show. But I agree it probably won’t last beyond one season.

  9. braak says:

    But the Cape didn’t have a mask at that point, just that hood. How did he *not* know it was Farraday?

  10. Jeff Holland says:

    I think that was one of those pilot-to-second-episode realizations: “Oh right, a hood doesn’t really conceal anyone’s identity. Toss a mask on him just to be on the safe side.”

  11. braak says:

    HOW CAN THAT BE A SECOND EPISODE REALIZATION? You can SEE his FACE. How could anyone not notice that the hood didn’t conceal his identity?

  12. Jeff Holland says:

    Don’t yell at me, I didn’t film the damn thing.

  13. braak says:

    Well I need to yell at someone!!!!

  14. dagocutey says:

    “The Crap”.

  15. Moff says:

    I feel some sympathy for all the people who had always wanted to do a network TV program about superheroes or science fiction or whatever. They’re finally getting their chance, just exactly when viewers have started demanding that even fantasy-based television has to make more than a modicum of sense.

  16. braak says:

    The people who wrote the pilot were on twitter when I was watching it (and tweeting); I think they probably must have felt okay afterwards, because #thecape showed far more positive responses than negative ones. Though, maybe not–the positive responses were all “I love the cape!” while the negative ones were, “Wait, why is this the same plot as Robocop?”

    But in any case, I still felt a little bad for those guys. And again, it makes me wonder just how much the studio gets involved in the story. Is the fact that no one has any real character a result of the writers just not caring about character, or of the studio saying “all this people talking to each other stuff is boring. Could we replace it with another explosion?” Is the fact that the Chess reveal happens in five minutes, rather than being a long-running mystery, a failure on the part of the writers to realize its potential, or the studio saying, “the show has gone too long without a surprising revelation”?

    I don’t know.

    I do know that the guy credited with writing the show, Tom Wheeler, does not have a lot of other writing credits to his name. I also know that when I just sat down and tried to write a spec script, I discovered that I couldn’t because I literally knew nothing about the main character’s actual character.

  17. Jeff Holland says:

    I think you may want to wait just a couple more episodes before cracking that script. I highly doubt there will be any further information on Vince Farraday beyond:

    – Working-class
    – Loves son
    – Sort of fond of wife
    – Of a long line of law enforcement and military heroes (I guarantee you if this show goes on long enough you’re going to see “Vince as his grandpa in WWII” Times-Past episodes)
    – Has beer-buddy who is secretly evil
    – Comic book reader(?)
    – Some kind of engineering genius, to get knives to shoot out of a pitching machine, and
    – Not so with it on the technology.

    But you will see how the episodes are structured, as monster/mobster of the week (I’m assuming based on the guest stars I’ve seen) and can move on from there. The first two episodes have more or less both worked at establishing the premise, less than the usual story-beats.

  18. braak says:

    He kind of just dumps those knives in, though.

  19. Jeff Holland says:

    That’s why he has to be a genius. To the untrained eye, yeah, he totally just dumped some knives in. So he must’ve done SOMETHING to the machine, to make it work that way!

  20. […] since we’ve now covered “The Cape” and (jesus I just forgot the name again) “Off the Map,” I suppose we’ll make it a […]

  21. Everything positive thing said about the Goddess Herself, Miss Summer Lyn Glau, is not and will never be good enough. ♥ Watching her watch paint dry would be a pleasure. My love is Summer forever.

  22. braak says:

    I am not sure that this is a meritorious attitude concomitant with observable reality, but I guess everybody has to love someone.

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