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The Cape: Scales

On paper, the world of The Cape looks no different than any other superhero universe, and by comparison, it’s a bit underwhelming.

The enmity between the Cape and Chess, and the way it not only envelops, but also establishes other aspects of the world, is really just a pastiche of Batman, Zorro, Daredevil, and pretty much every other masked outlaw hero (except Spider-Man, whose world has always been part adventure fiction, part teen dramedy).

Comics have mastered this, but television still has yet to really do it well. Most superhero shows for TV are based on established characters, and parts of their worlds have to be watered down for budgetary reasons and to keep the shows engaging to casual fans who may not care for the more fantastic, larger than life aspects of genre fiction.

The other problem is that most action-adventure shows still have to adhere to the formula that made them popular. Smallville was very much a procedural in its earliest days, an X-Files rip that happened to incorporate the Superman mythos. In television, you don’t get a lot of recurring villains, because producers want to keep things somewhat fresh for the audience. They can’t tweak the actual format, so they just bring in new bad guys to spice it up. Recurring villains, if they work the first time, can be trumpeted as a big deal on procedurals like CSI.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for all its horror trappings, was really a show about a superheroine that created a wonderful universe filled with enduring supporting characters and memorable villains. Joss Whedon–who obviously learned at the feet of Chris Claremont–and his writers created long-form plots that weaved recurring villains into the fabric of the show in ways that shows before it really couldn’t do. His big bads drove the plot in ways beyond just sitting in the shadows and sending henchman after henchman at the heroes. They would mix it up with Buffy and the gang and hand the Slayer her ass before she finally leveled up at the end to win the day (normally at great cost).

So far, The Cape is doing an admirable job of that, believe it or not.

One of the show’s biggest attention grabbers from the start was Scales, a small-time gangster with reptilian attributes (hence the name) whose main draw was that he was played by Vinnie Jones.

That’s all you need, honestly. Vinnie Jones playing a grotesque badass. He proves it in episode four, titled–appropriately enough–“Scales.”

The main plot revolves around the Cape’s plan to clear Vince Faraday’s name by turning Scales against Peter Fleming and having the former publicly out the latter as Chess. It doesn’t take much to do that: as Chess, Fleming already takes a cut of Scales’ revenue, but he takes another piece under his everyday guise, on behalf of Ark. Vince has an informant in Scales’ organization and gets wind of Fleming’s double-dipping. He then uses the information to bait Scales into confronting him on a charity casino night/masquerade ball on a train loaded with high rollers.

The biggest hitch in the plan is the Carnival, who plan to heist the train without Vince’s knowledge. It doesn’t take long for Vince to find out–one look at Rollo in conductor’s getup gives it away before he even gets on the train–but it’s still a headache for him to have to work around, or stop them.

As Vince tries to find Max and convince him to lay off this time, Orwell stalks Fleming–her father, if you recall–with a camera hidden in her mask. Obviously, this is a dangerous game she plays; after all, what if Fleming recognizes her? (It’s suggested in both this episode and the last that it’s been a long time since he’s seen her.) My earlier complaints about Summer Glau don’t seem to apply this time around. Orwell is still the show’s prime source of exposition, but since Kozmo, the character has been written to Glau’s strengths in playing a who is both intensely vulnerable and extremely capable. She also seems to be at ease with the show’s ridiculous dialogue, which in this episode tries to approximate some sort of flirtatious banter between her and Vince (although I did like the joke about her camera placement, or at least her delivery of it).

The episode’s family subplot revolves around Trip’s birthday, with Vince agonizing over not being there for it (the boy turns ten!) and Dana stuck in traffic trying to get home in time. A flashback to happier days shows Vince speaking to Trip’s class about how to deal with strangers, and because the show has no sense of subtlety, Trip gets to employ that knowledge with Dana’s boss, who arrives before she can. Dana’s phone dies, so she has no way of calling ahead to have Trip let him in. There is a sweet, amusing exchange somewhere in there, where Trip asks Trevor about whether Vince is guilty if he’s never been tried. Trevor replies that, of course, Vince is presumed innocent until proven guilty, so Trip rewards him with a Fruit Roll-Up through the door. That’s cute, but as always, I can do with less of the family, unless it pertains to Dana’s own efforts at redeeming Vince’s name.

It’s slipped my mind to this point, but it bears addressing that Vince’s best friend Marty (Dorian Missick) works as Chess’ head of security and chief bootlick. It was Marty who sold Vince out to Fleming, and Marty who continues to twist the knife in Dana’s heart (first informing her of all the doctored evidence found to finger Vince, then having any potential witnesses to his framing rounded up before she could get to them). All he does in this episode is consult on Fleming’s image and how he can seem more approachable to Palm City, but he’ll doubtless continue to play a key role in future episodes.

In any case, the real action is on the train, where Vince runs into not only his “friends” in the carnival, but also Patrick Portman, the secretary of prisons whose life he saved in “Tarot.” Wouldn’t you know it, Portman’s dressed as the Cape, which creates a few funny moments, at the expense of turning the character into a joke. Richard Schiff is game for it though, such as when Portman tells Vince, “Give me something to do or I’m going rogue!”

But the episode belong to Vinnie Jones, and not just because it’s named after Scales. Jones gives far and away the best performance as the ebullient yet insecure Scales, trying desperately to play in the big leagues even though he has no hope of making the cut. He forces Fleming to introduce him to the mayor of Palm City, whom he puts off with his brutish manner and shady dealings, then proclaims Fleming to be Chess when it all goes downhill. Of course, everyone laughs it off, leaving Scales no choice but to rob the train himself.

Of course, this leads to a fight between him and Vince, on top of the train, realized with terrible greenscreen work. To the show’s credit, Vince doesn’t get the best of Scales, owing to Scales’ superior strength and savagery, as well as to the cape not responding properly in the wind.

With Vince momentarily out of the picture, Scales and Chess have a stand-off, which ends when Scales disconnects the caboose from the train, sending the bulk of the train ahead while he gets away with all his loot. His triumph is short-lived. The Carnival pop out and rob him, with Max taking pleasure in retribution after getting shot by Scales in the pilot. They force Scales into a cage, which triggers in the villain of growing up a circus freak. It’s not totally unexpected, but man, those flashbacks are kind of strange. I assume we’ll be delving further into Scales’ past later. After all, this show runs exclusively on the Chekhov’s Gun principle.

However, disconnecting the last car disables the breaks somehow, and Vince, who until now was hanging on from the side of the train, I assume (or so he says, or something–come on, this episode has abandoned sense by now). He and Oracle learn from the engineer that they have to do some sort of mechanical something, and because it’s a two-man job, somehow, Vince must team up with Chess, who turns out to be a mechanical engineer. Despite their differences, the two manage to stop the train, but they have a final exchange wherein they disagree on whether this pas de deux is a game or not. (Chess thinks it is, but then again, I’m sure he views everything as a game).

There are a lot of balls being juggled this episode, and one or two get dropped, but the show keeps moving fast enough that you don’t really have enough time to dwell on what fails (unless it concerns Vince’s family, then there’s more than enough time to consider what goes wrong). To be fair, The Cape isn’t a terribly plotted show, though sometimes, you just have to go with what’s happening. It’s also well-acted, and the end result is something that isn’t technically great by any means, but compulsively watchable–and still a lot of fun.

F13’s rating: 3.5/5

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