Episode Title: "Pilot" & "Tarot"
Written By: Tom Wheeler
Story: Palm City policeman Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is framed by masked crime boss Chess. Left for dead, he's taken in by a group of bank-robbing former carnival performers led by Max Malini (Keith David) and becomes the vigilante known as "The Cape" in order to protect his wife and son. The Cape quickly becomes a thorn in the side of Peter Fleming (James Frain), the head of the corrupt ARK corporation and the alter ego of Chess, who decides to get some help from the vicious, reptilian-looking Scales (Vinnie Jones). Meanwhile, Faraday is assisted by the mysterious blogger Orwell (Summer Glau).
In the second episode, Chess recruits dangerous chemist and knife-wielder Cain, and The Cape's first encounter with the new villain is nearly his last. Forced to temporarily abandon his signature cape, Faraday learns more about the challenge he'll face in bringing down Chess — and earns the attention of the criminal organization known as Tarot.
Welcome To Palm City: It's been almost a full year since "The Cape" was first announced, and both the pilot and second episode premiered Sunday (January 9) evening in a two-hour special. Chock full of familiar faces, "The Cape" features a colorful cast of characters — a few of them heroes, most of them villains — and a host of comic book tropes.
The pilot episode manages to get through the standard origin story pretty quickly, and it doesn't take long to get our first look at Faraday in action as the hooded vigilante with a prehensile, bulletproof cape. The villain is revealed as the local billionaire businessman early on, though viewers will likely wonder why Chess' secret identity is such a secret from Palm City's finest, given the recognizable voice and the very little of his face that the mask conceals.
The adventure moves along quickly, with Faraday earning the trust of his saviors, the underground-dwelling "Carnival of Crime," and training up his fighting skills with and without the spider-silk cape bestowed to him by the troupe's leader, Max. Pretty soon, he's taking out Chess' henchmen with ease and working his way up to the big leagues with battles against lizard-skinned bruiser Scales in the pilot episode, and the knife-wielding, poison-brewing assassin Cain in the second episode.
"ER" actor David Lyons manages to pull off the costumed crime-fighter role without making the whole idea seem silly, though I'm not sure what to make of the fact that "True Blood" actor James Frain seems far more believable as a mentally unstable vampire than a mortal criminal kingpin. Cast in the hero's mentor role, Keith David proves he's the right man for the job, and though Summer Glau doesn't quite make the role her own, fans will certainly give her a few more episodes to get comfortable.
Final Word: The Cape is, essentially, Batman minus the rich playboy alter ego, snatching criminals from the darkness and slinging his cape like an infinitely manipulable appendage, then vanishing in a puff of smoke. Glau's character, Orwell, is the hero's tech-savvy, know-everything version of the Batman universe's Oracle, and the cast of villains even feel like variations on the Dark Knight's rogues gallery. Scales comes off as a primetime-television version of Killer Croc, for example.
Tonally, "The Cape" is equally distant from Christopher Nolan's gritty Batman movie-verse and the intentional camp of Adam West's 1960s series, and exists somewhere between "Smallville" and "Heroes" in the TV superhero scene. It's earnest and willing to embrace the signature costumes and other elements of the comics world, but stops short of the extremes in both color palette and comics cliche (though it gets perilously close to both on a few occasions).
While "The Cape" doesn't break any new ground in the world of live-action, costumed heroes' adventures, the first two episodes do offer up a fun little adventure. Hardcore comic fans will likely find it lacking the punch of today's better comic books and comic book adaptations, but mainstream audiences might get a kick out of the events transpiring around Palm City. It remains to be seen whether "The Cape" can succeed without the new-series hype and fan-friendly cameos that fueled the two-hour special, but we'll be tuning in next week to find out.
"The Cape" begins its regular, weekly airings with Episode 3, "Kozmo," on Monday, January 17, at 9 PM Eastern on NBC.