In the new NBC series The Cape, cop turned crime fighter Vince Faraday plays dead to protect his family as he goes after corporate kingpin Peter Fleming. The muckraking blogger Orwell calls Faraday to this adventure just as he is about to take a job for Fleming’s privatized police force under the Ark Corporation. When captured by the super villain Chess after discovering Fleming’s illegal import of the deadly explosive L-9, Faraday is framed for the murder of Palm City’s new police chief and believed to be Chess himself. Faraday must let the world believe he’s dead in order to clean up Palm City as The Cape.
[Warning: Spoilers follow…]
With the demise of Heroes, NBC is trying once again with its new series The Cape to capture TV viewers with the superhero mythos. I don’t really get the negative pushback about The Cape complaining that this show claims it’s fantasy and yet…doesn’t act realistically. I didn’t get that subtext at all, just the opposite. This is a show that cracks jokes about “the cape.”* It’s super villain wears contact lenses with chess pieces on them. A Little Person with a very big wrench beats up a scarred guy named “Scales” and makes Dorothy jokes. When did this show claim it was reality? Lighten up, people. Let yourself have a little bit of fun. At least it’s not a sequel or a re-imagining. Sure, The Cape pulls from all sorts of superhero clichés, but it mixes them together into something new. I keep thinking of that South Park episode “Simpsons Already Did It” where every single idea Professor Chaos and General Disarray come up with has already been done by The Simpsons. There are no new stories. At points, these first two episodes of The Cape definitely stumble, and I’ll get to those in a minute, but I think this show deserves points for at least attempting to create something new.
As far as the debate between fantasy and realism goes, The Cape shoots for being only as realistic as it absolutely has to be. Lately, I’ve been watching reruns of the Adam West Batman series and have realized two things: (1) we’re so totally afraid of over-the-top camp right now, and (2) a Batman/Vince Faraday comparison really isn’t in order here.
Vince Faraday, played by David Lyons, in full Cape costume.
Today’s audiences are afraid of camp. We laugh at it instead of with it. The Cape tries to walk the line between reality and camp. For instance, no one in The Cape wears tights. Not even Summer Glau. (Although two characters are mesmerized into wearing women’s underwear.) Faraday does wear a mask by the end of “Tarot,” but it’s an edgy, self-made mask. His hood is tattered and dirty. His cape might be silk, but it’s “spider silk.” His lair is in an abandoned basement — albeit one with great crown molding and stained glass. Vince Faraday is the grunge superhero just real enough that you won’t feel silly watching and believing. Just like Palm City, with all the darkness in today’s world viewers want to believe in a hero, but are jaded and afraid people will make fun of them. The Cape attempts to give people a superhero series they aren’t afraid to admit liking to their non-geek friends.
Vince “The Cape” Faraday uses technology, but he’s not invested in it. Ultimately, he is an illusionist, a magician with punch. Batman — in the movie versions anyway, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the comic book incarnations — is a scientifically minded techno-geek. Bruce Wayne gets himself out of predicaments with his methodological mind and his customized gadgets. Wayne is essentially a superhero mechanical engineer. Vince Faraday, on the other hand, uses smoke and mirrors. In one scene he’s plunged into a river while bound up in chains. He has to literally pull a Houdini act to get himself free. Batman would use his ultra sharp Bat-knife. Also, Wayne is a mega-billionaire with the requisite power at his disposal, including a vast estate. In contrast, Faraday is a police officer from a long line of lawmen and soldiers. As The Cape, he’s made a home with carnival people and is, in fact, fighting an evil mega-billionaire.
Bruce Wayne lost his family to a brutal crime and this incident not only drives his personal need for justice but also keeps him alone emotionally. Vince Faraday’s family is still very much alive as a source of strength and a recurring theme in the show so far. Max Malini, Vince’s carnival mentor, mentions how he never had a family while Secretary of Prisons Portman temporarily decides to step away from the conflict in order to protect his family.
While Batman certainly also wears a cape, with the cowl tucked up and his torso body armor, I’d say Faraday visually has more in common with Robin Hood than Batman.
Faraday has many allies from the carnies who trained him to the blogger Orwell, played by Summer Glau. Unlike Faraday or the carny folk, it’s clear from her cars alone — let alone her computer equipment — that Orwell has money to burn.
Summer Glau as blogger, technowizard, and driver of fast cars Orwell in The Cape.
She claims that she’s “no one special,” which in fact means just the opposite. I won’t be surprised if she turns out to be not only connected to Fleming, but possibly even his daughter. Faraday’s first words to Orwell when he runs her down at the docks are: “What are you, like twelve?”
Evidently Chess attended the A-Team School of Marksmanship. A whole lotta bullets rained down in Faraday’s general vicinity, all missing him. Other moments that made me balk include Faraday’s confrontation with Chess on the boat minus his mask — this while Chess says things like “I will find out who you are. I will find out who you love. I will make them scream.” Fleming could have easily recognized Faraday from the previous meeting in his office. On top of that, in the “Pilot,” Chess detonates the L-9 with his cell phone — when he’s standing right on top of it on the boat. Not exactly a checkmate move.
Faraday seems to have particular issues learning to keep his identity secret even though he keeps claiming that he has to stay dead to protect his family. Aside from the confrontation with Chess/Fleming, in “Tarot” Faraday and Orwell spill the beans on almost everything standing in the middle of an alley while two knocked-out thugs lay at their feet. Orwell even calls Faraday by name. Couldn’t those thugs come to at any moment? Later, Faraday walks into a bar wearing his sunglasses at night — and takes them off to confront a third thug he let go earlier.
I also found the flashbacks where the Faradays discuss their son’s chin and the pride in the Faraday name to be a bit monotonous. I’m glad that Dana Thompson Faraday (and I’m going call her that out of stubbornness over that whole Faraday Family Name Pride Weirdness) turns out to be a potentially kick-ass lawyer and a superhero wife who actually might have more of a role than just a pretty face. I hope we see more of her in this capacity.
Overall, I’m looking forward to the next episode of The Cape, provided they steer clear of the obvious gaffes mentioned in the section above. I like that it’s not a remake and that the writers are trying to walk the line between campiness and realism. I like the recurring themes of family and a single person making a difference. I’m intrigued by Orwell and also by the league of assassin’s introduced in “Tarot,” even if “super French” Cain fell a little flat. I loved when Faraday — as The Cape — told his son to “Be good to your mother” (as opposed to “Take care of your mother”) and also “And study your math. You need to work on your math.”
Having said all of that, the next time TV writers are drumming up a new superhero series, I hope they take a look at Jet and Iri from Black and White by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge. Orwell is great, but she’s still not the main character. In years past she would have been nothing more than a sidekick and I appreciate how that’s not the case in The Cape. Still, it would be fantastic to see a new show with at least one female superhero lead.
Portman: “What do they call you?”
Faraday: “The Cape.”
Portman: “The Cape? Well, we’ll work on that.”
Faraday: “I’m the cape.”
Portman: “The Cape? You’re not wearing a cape.”
Faraday: “I’m aware of that.”
Portman: “No offense.”
Faraday: “None taken.”