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The Cape: Endgame

The first time I saw a trailer for The Cape, I was immediately reminded of Glen Larson’s ’90s superhero action series, The Night Man, itself based on a Malibu Ultraverse comic. The Night Man was honestly crap, but it was the sort of trashy fun I could have fun with for an hour each week.

I expected that from The Cape, and it pretty much delivered.

Sadly, most other television viewers didn’t share my enjoyment, and here we are now. Not only did NBC cut the show’s episode order from 13 to 10, but it pulled the show after the ninth and burned off the final installment on its website and Hulu. Given its less than spectacular ratings, it’s pretty certain we won’t see The Cape flapping on NBC again.

I’m going to come out and say that’s a shame, because–and don’t you dare laugh–The Cape showed some promise. From the beginning, I could tell the show knew what it wanted to be, which was a pulpy, breezy approach to superheroes. Compared to the dour, sluggish Heroes (yes, I didn’t like Heroes, okay?), The Cape was a breath of fresh air, albeit one that was rough, unsophisticated, and still coming together.

A lot of critics have mentioned the show’s often subpar dialogue and logic holes that made the characters seem desperately stupid, but each episode usually zoomed along at such a pace that made the negatives possible to ignore. What’s more, the show had an above-average cast, including the great Keith David as the hero’s friend and mentor, a wonderfullyl sarcastic James Frain as billionaire Peter Fleming–and his alter ego, the murderous Chess–and a puckish Vinnie Jones as deformed gangster Scales (basically Killer Croc in a cheap suit, though in this episode, he received a sartorial upgrade). And that was before you added guest turns from no less than Tom Noonan, Elliot Gould and Illeana Douglas.

So why didn’t The Cape take flight? The answers can be found in “Endgame,” the show’s more than likely final episode. I enjoyed it, but the annoyances that irritated critics and turned off casual viewers were still present.

Following from the previous episode, “Razer,” Vince obtained video evidence of ARK’s ties to Scales and leaked it through Orwell, putting the evil billionaire in spin mode. Not surprisingly, he had a scapegoat already selected: Marty Voyt. Karma came back to bite Marty as ARK troops descended upon his house and arrested him in front of his family.

Not surprisingly, Dana jumped to take his case, knowing his testimony could bring to light details about Vince’s disgrace and “death.” But Fleming was one step ahead, threatening Marty’s family–as had been hinted earlier in the series–if he informed on his employers.

After foiling an assassination attempt on Marty’s life, Vince sneaks him, his family and Dana into Trolley Park, where Max and company devise a plan to sneak them out of Palm City by rail. But Fleming has a transmitter hidden in every cell phone, apparently (implausible, I know, but…ehh, I’m used to it at this point). Marty’s daughter inadvertently leads ARK to their location, leading to a last ditch, desperate escape attempt.

It doesn’t quite work, and in the ensuing chaos, Marty takes two bullets from Scales intended for the Cape. Vince is so moved by his former friend’s sacrifice that he unmasks himself…or rather, he pulls down his hood. Marty is apparently able to recognize Vince’s hair and the lower half of his face, which he couldn’t do last time they were face to face. And forget Dana, who still can’t recognize her husband. Is it hypnosis? Is that how he can keep people from guessing his identity?

Despite the title of the episode, it’s obvious this wasn’t supposed to be the last episode. Oracl–err, Orwell’s mental illness is only briefly touched upon, before she gets back to work. (Although it must be said, she’s come full circle into “classic creepy Summer Glau mode.”) The deal Chess made with his doctor behind Fleming’s back isn’t mentioned at all, nor is his relation to Orwell. Max’s plans for Vince (having something to do with the name “Devereaux”) aren’t touched.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually liked this episode. We got further into Marty’s head than ever and learned just what he’s been going through all this time (though it probably wasn’t hard to guess). His death was as touching as it could have been, I suppose, considering it could have been easily prevented if Vince had been a bit sharper. (Come on, the cape is supposed to be bulletproof.) Vinnie Jones and James Frain were wonderful as always, and provided my favorite bit where Fleming introduces Scales to his tailor.

I don’t really know how well Tom Wheeler and company saw the end coming, but it’s obvious they didn’t really have sufficient time to end the series. At least, this episode feels less like an end and more like a turning point leading toward something really big. I don’t think the missing plot points were just a thoughtless omission; rather, this entire series has felt like one long game. Sadly, we won’t get to see the payoff.

Again, why did The Cape fail? Surely it wasn’t a great show, and it was really beginning to call itself good when NBC more or less pulled the plug. Maybe it should have been marketed as a family show, because that’s really what it was, a more light-hearted throwback to a less complicated time in action television. I’m kind of going to miss the riotously fun mess it often was, just as much as I’ll miss the better show it might have become.

F13’s rating: 3/5 (episode and series)

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