Pilots are an odd bit of television, as they have to juggle introducing most of their principle cast members along with setting up the rest of the series and endeavoring to tell a decent narrative along the way. Did The Cape succeed in this, at least? We shall see. As the episode helpfully labels individual bits of itself, we’ll be following suit and, for this episode, I’ll refrain from my typical listing of each character as there’d be massive spoilers. By the way, this article has massive spoilers.
Our very first shot of the series is Vince Faraday (David Lyons) and his son Trip (Ryan Wynott), who have fallen asleep reading an issue of The Cape which is a bit of meta wonkery that comes into play later. This scenario also establishes Vince as a Good Dad, and once his wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin) wakes him up to get ready for work we find out he’s also a cop. As we all know, being a Good Dad in a show like this is almost certainly a kiss of death and adding the Cop trait on top of that signifies within the first few minutes of the series that Bad Things are coming for the Faradays. We get our first hint of those bad things when the news exposits that a new Chief of Police is going to be sworn in later that day and that it’s hoped that he’s able to bring a masked killer named Chess to justice.
Once Vince reaches the police station, we learn that he’s not only a Cop but a Good Cop which just decreases his chances of survival. There’s also other things for him to worry about, such as a weirdly powerful blogger named Orwell who is dishing out secrets like the names of the dirty cops of the Palm City Police Department. While Vince doesn’t like this, there’s little he can do it about it and has to help with security for the Chief’s swearing in, anyway. It goes about as well as you’d expect, with the Chief of Police surviving for about five minutes before he’s killed by Chess in an explosion caused by a small vial of something called L-9.
Vince is understandably upset about this turn of events and is taking out his frustrations on a punching bag when Trip comes in and silently begins punching the bag as well and it’s rather creepy and robotic. He eventually breaks his silence and professes his faith in his father.
The scene then abruptly cuts to Vince talking to his friend Marty (Dorian Missick) who has a lot of exposition to dole out. A man named Peter Fleming runs the ARK Corporation, which seems to specialize in weapons but is probably one of those comic book companies that does a bit of everything. It turns out that the ARK Corporation is going to take over the police department in a few months and Marty wants Vince to jump ship early, and everyone thinks it’s a great idea since Vince would get perks he isn’t getting as a police officer.
He goes with Marty the next day to meet with Peter Fleming (James Frain) and it’s good that Vince didn’t see Chess at the swearing-in because those lips would be a dead give-away. While we might know better, Vince is sure that Fleming’s intentions are good and accepts the job with ARK.
That night, after Vince amuses himself and Trip by making up narration for an issue of The Cape, he decides to do some research into his new employer and quickly receives a message from Orwell. It turns out that ARK is potentially up to no good, with a man nicknamed Scales (Vinnie Jones) working with Chess to smuggle weapons. The weapons in this case are the ARK-manufactured L-9 canisters which are being smuggled into the city by train, something which Vince and Marty discover shortly before ARK troopers show up and beat the former into unconsciousness while the latter insists that he has this. Has what, you ask? BETRAYAL.
THE CARNIVAL OF CRIME
Vince wakes up in a train car, tied to a chair with a chess board set up in front of him. Marty and Chess are there, too, and the chessboard is there so the villain can use it as a visual aid while threatening the Faradays because Chess is, unsurprisingly, into chess. Also unsurprisingly, he reveals himself to be Peter Fleming and he’s still keen on ARK running the police department. He figures the best way to do this would be for ARK to bring down Chess, and while this would be incredibly easy for Fleming to achieve he doesn’t want them to bring him in. Instead, he has Marty secure the Chess mask to Vince’s head and sets him loose with ARK troopers in hot pursuit.
The Bad Things finally happen as the ARK troopers chase Chess-Vince through the trainyard in full view of the media, and things might have gone different if Vince didn’t manage to remove enough of the mask to ensure that everyone could see it was him. This does include Dana and Trip, who watch helplessly as the ARK troopers trap Vince under a tanker car and shoot it until it explodes, seemingly killing him.
At this point, we’re going to digress a bit and talk about that explosion. The explosion itself is all well and good, but it’s rather weird that the show went out of its way to show us that some of the ARK troopers were way too close and got caught in the explosion and then hurled into another train car while on fire. It seems like an odd thing to show the audience, especially since it doesn’t really come into play at all later.
Anyway, everything’s coming up Fleming. The plan worked and he’s gotten the police department because everyone thinks ARK killed Chess and the only man who seemed willing to stand against him is dead. Except Vince isn’t dead, he managed to escape to the sewer to be found by Max Malini (Keith David) and taken to the Carnival of Crime, where he has a dwarf named Rollo (Martin Klebba) punch him in the face until he wakes up. Once Vince does, Max guesses his weight correctly to the cheers of the assembled carnies.
Things, obviously, are not going well for Vince and it initially seems that this trend will continue. The carnies don’t believe Vince isn’t Chess, and then decide that if he isn’t Chess he’s simply a cop and they hate him because, you’ll recall, they’re the Carnival of Crime. This leads to them beating on Vince some more until Max declares him to be boring and that they’re going to leave him in the desert and cut off some of his fingers. Vince, with nothing left to lose, turns the tables by offering up the means to rob some banks.
This seems like an odd thing for Vince to do since he was previously a Good Cop and the act of robbing banks, even if they’re aligned with ARK, is definitely a crime. More so, he has no idea who these people are past the fact that they’re called the Carnival of Crime. They’re criminal carnies, after all, and there’s a good chance that they’ll hurt some innocent people during whatever crime spree Vince enables here.
The Carnival, luckily, doesn’t seem to hurt anyone while they rob the banks but they attract the attention of Fleming and Marty, who is set to the task of finding these criminals. While this is going on, Vince is wallowing in self-pity because he doesn’t want his family to believe he’s a dead murderer. Max advocates that Vince move on, but then offers a different more beneficial arrangement.
THE BIRTH OF A HERO
We then learn that Max Malini’s Carnival of Crime is just set up in an abandoned carnival on the water, which seems like a bad place for a hideout since it’s right there where anyone could find it. It is a good place for a bunch of weird nonsense to be, such as the cape Vince finds. He spends several minutes spinning around in it before Max comes in and, after some hemming and hawing, offers to train Vince but only if he’s fully committed to learning. He is, obviously, and that’s when Max offers him…
Max teaches him how to use the Cape, which was specially made for performing tricks which are combat-appropriate. The other carnies teach him how to fight, perform illusions, and mentalism.
The time comes for the Cape’s first mission. Scales is overseeing another L-9 shipment at the pier and Vince arrives to do battle, only to have his cape handed to him. He winds up chained up and tossed into the water. Luckily, he was also taught escapism and is able to use this and happy thoughts of his family to escape.
He sneaks onto the ship and finds the room where they’re storing all the L-9, but is distracted by someone in a mask taking photos. He decides this is a much more pressing threat and goes after them, only to discover that the photographer is none other than the blogger Orwell (Summer Glau) who manages to hold her own against this man who was trained to fight by carnies. This may be an indication of the hidden skills of Orwell, or it may be a condemnation of the Cape’s battle skills. It’s impossible to tell at this point.
The pair decide that, rather than remain on the ship where this crime is happening, they should return to Orwell’s fancy house in her fancy car where she has a computer set-up that looks like something from Minority Report. She uses it to find out the Cape’s true identity and, after mocking him about his fashion sense, suggests they work together in order to make the Cape a positive symbol. He doesn’t have much time to think about it, as Marty has found the Carnival of Crime and taken Max back to the ship. You know, the ship the Cape and Orwell were already at before deciding to go back to her house. Anyway, Max escapes and gets shot while our hero accepts Orwell’s offer and heads out.
THE CAPE VS CHESS ROUND ONE
Before the Cape can arrive, Rollo is there to take out Scales with a giant wrench. The Cape arrives just in time to save Max from getting shot by two ARK troopers. Unfortunatley, it looks as if Max’s wounds are too severe and the two have a heart-to-heart before Max seemingly dies. He’s immediately fine and the Cape heads off to confront Chess.
Chess’s new plan is to set off all the L-9 in the ship in an effort to create fear in the hearts of the citizens of Palm City which will allow him to have greater control over the happenings of the city. Marty voices his dissent, but Chess doesn’t care and tells him to get the escape submarine. The key to this plan is a mobile phone that was already old in 2011. Unfortunately for Chess, the Cape has suddenly become an effective crime-fighter. He gets Orwell to jam the cell phone signal as the Cape battles Chess. While they manage to stop the L-9 from going off, Chess escapes. To celebrate, the Cape goes to see Trip and assure him that his father wasn’t a murderous super-villain.
As far as pilot episodes go, this one was at least enjoyable. The world of the Cape is set up and its heroes and villains are laid for us. One could almost say that the chessboard has been set up and all the pieces are in place. The pieces themselves are interesting, or at least seem like they might become more interesting as time goes on. After all, we have a carnival full of criminals, reptilian people running around, and a young lady with enough technical expertise to build a computer light-years beyond anything else seen in the city. It’ll be fun to (hopefully) see these characters grow as time goes on.
The Cape himself is fleshed-out enough to carry the series, and we can only hope he becomes more effective as the series goes on since this rookie outing isn’t his best. Peter Fleming as Chess is less so, and while he has enough charm to make his shortcomings less noticeable I still have no idea why he wants the police department so badly. It may be to do crimes more easily, but he does seem to actually care about the department’s effectiveness so hopefully that’ll be explained later on.
All in all, this was a pretty solid episode of television and it makes me optimistic to see where the series goes from here, especially the next episode, Tarot, which we’ll examine next Monday.