Brothers in Arms

"Goggles & Hicks"

The Cape

NBC, Monday, 9/10 PM

Written by Craig Titley

Directed by Deran Serafian

"This is a comic book. It's not real." -- Goggles

Apparently, Peter Fleming is tired of messing around with this elusive Cape fellow, and has taken decisive action. Which is to say, he's decided to let someone else take action. Resorting to the "Masters" of the Tarot revealed in the first two episodes of the series, he hires a pair of assassins, Goggles (Pruitt Taylor Vince, The Mentalist) and his brother Hicks (Chad Lindberg, Supernatural), to take out The Cape. The brothers, who answer to the Tarot card The Chariot, see themselves as artists in crime – hardly an innovative approach in a series whose biggest criminal gang moonlights as circus performers. Goggles, the wheelchair bound (Chariot?) brains of the operation, is a little surprised at the assignment, since the only Cape he's aware of is a comic book character, but when Fleming offers a premium for a quick kill, he accepts. But, he HeBtells Fleming, they will study, stalk and kill The Cape on their own terms, in their own time.

"I'm a firm believer in the separation of church and crime." – Scales

Enter my favorite over-the-top villain, Scales (Vinnie Jones, Chuck). Goggles maneuvers Vince and Scales into a meeting of mutual confusion and distrust, set in a cathedral. This affords sharpshooter Hicks a chance to plant a tracking device on Vince while he is embroiled in a fight with Scales' henchman. After that, it's hardly any effort at all for the brothers to discover all there is to know about Vince: his real identity, his address, his wife and family. They somehow don't manage to learn Orwell's real identity, but then it would be fatal for the show if they got ahead of Vince in that matter. Having decided that it is time to kill Vince, they send a flying drone after him, which they manipulate remotely from their rather conspicuously painted van. Orwell and Vince run for their lives, and only the fact that he is wearing the Cape under his clothing saves Vince from a hail of bullets. Who knew silk could stop a bullet or five? Vince uses the Cape to disable the Bumblebee – for once, I thought this tactic worked very well. He and Orwell set about tracking down the trackers, who begin to feel a little alarmed. As well they should.

"We've been hired to kill a dead man." – Goggles

Vince and Orwell turn the tables on the murderous duo, becoming such a threat that Goggles and Hicks create a power outage across the entire city just so they can corner their target. In a well-paced fight set in a darkened theater (yes, I get the irony), lit only by the green glow of night-vision goggles, Hicks tries to take out Vince with first a gun then a very big knife. Vince throws him over a balcony, then he and Orwell take the fight to the van. Quoting from the immortal Bette Davis, they kidnap Goggles and leave Hicks in the dust. Hicks goes back to Fleming to offer him all their data on Vince – which would tell Fleming Vince's real name, expose his family to Fleming's vengeance, and generally destroy The Cape. But before he can give Fleming the data, the enraged millionaire fires him. A professional to the core, Hicks keeps the data and offers it to Vince instead, in exchange for his brother. Vince does not want the deal, but Orwell makes it, thereby saving the data from wide distribution. Now two more people know Vince's secrets, but have secrets of their own to conceal. Checkmate, as Chess would say. And neatly done.

"I knew you were a girly-girl at heart." – Vince

One of the charms of this episode was the glimpse we got of ordinary life as The Cape. Vince wakes with busted ribs and craves aspirin. Max persuades him to take a day off, which he spends with Orwell. Vince wants to play baseball with his son again, and finally cannot resist the urge to go watch him play with his softball team. His pride bubbles to the surface irresistibly when Trip "flawlessly" fields a ground ball. We also got a good bit of background on Orwell herself. During a conversation at a diner, she reveals that her favorite day off would be spent hacking firewalls. When pressed by Vince, she reveals that in an earlier life, she would have spent the day having her nails done. I continue to be more impressed by Summer Glau in this role than any other I've seen her in. It's a pity she has been so often cast in roles that require her to be a pretty robot; she shines here in a role that allows her to be playful, smart, sophisticated and even, in one "touching" scene, downright sensual. She proves useful in a fight, and her enigmatic background gives Orwell the air of mystery she needs to avoid becoming just the pretty sidekick to the stalwart hero.

"Whoever did this knows you better than your doctor ever will." -- Orwell

The decidedly minor story this week was, as usual, all about Vince's family. I can appreciate that the writers don't want to make them a cipher, and that since they are the foundation of all Vince's motivation they must be made attractive. But it isn't working. Trip continues to be a sulky brat, up until he meets a new geek friend, Gerry (Grant Collins, Surviving Suburbia). Gerry is full of cheeky good humor, obscure information, and technical savvy – pretty much like Orwell. Like father, like son: the withdrawn and lonely boy now has someone to confide in, so I hope that he becomes a little more likable. His mother, however, grows more unappealing every week. This week, she crashes the celebratory party of her best friend Marty (Dorian Missick, Bones) to demand that as newly appointed police chief he re-open Vince's case. She's too smart to resort to dumb, impotent arm-twisting tactics like this, but then her character has been pretty inconsistent from the beginning. I don't think even the writers have a handle on her character yet.

"If I want to feel guilty for robbing banks, I'll go live with my parents." -- Ruvi

Max and the Carnival didn't have much of a role to play this week other than as a foil to Vince. There was enough of them, however, to make it plain that tensions are rising. Vince's commitment to justice and the law will pit him inevitably against the Carnies and their criminal enterprise; there is only so much a hero can ignore and still consider himself a good guy. In a way, it's a shame that this must be so, because the potential in the Carnival is so enormous that I'm disappointed every week not to see more of it. While I thought at first it was a ridiculous idea, the group has grown on me, especially feisty Rollo (Martin Klebba, Dark Crossing), who is the very avatar of a man whose soul is bigger than his body. Keith David's sinister charm continues to imbue his dark carnival with an aura of mystery and intrigue. And the villains are getting better; Pruitt Vince's Goggles is one of the more articulate, loathsome and fascinating bad guys I've seen in a while.

"You're not a superhero. This isn't a comic book." -- Max

I will admit that this show has confounded my expectations. It has certainly not turned out to be the cliché-ridden vehicle I thought it would be. The Cape could have gone the stock route and had the Carnival of Crime wind up as Vince's back-up crew. I would then expect a steady diet of crimes perpetrated against Fleming, enraging him, setting him up to overreach and fail and expose himself. I would expect Vince to take his act to the streets, making sure everyone saw him fighting crime and corruption. But that would be a Saturday morning cartoon show, an updated Scooby-Doo, and I've seen that show a dozen times. In the real world, this would never work—Fleming is too powerful, he controls the police, and the Carnival would be driven underground and rendered impotent. As for Vince, imagine the reaction in today's world if a masked man started taking out street criminals: the laughter would drown out the applause. The major media attention focused on The Cape would be paparazzi following him everywhere – not a good scenario for a guy who wants to keep secrets. So instead, we have a more mature approach, a more realistic approach to the problem of a man who wants to win back his honor in a time when such notions as honor are downright quaint. An audience saturated with celebrity sex tapes may not be able to appreciate a family man who visibly aches to be reunited with his wife and son, a man whose whole being is rooted in connection, trust and faith. The air of desperate loneliness that suffuses not only Vince but all the major characters in this show is one of its triumphs, and one of the elements that raises it above the ordinary.

"Just because you're dead, doesn't mean you're safe." -- Hicks

Which may not save it. I fear that audiences may come to The Cape, if they come at all, expecting Batman on a budget. They may expect a caped crusader in tights who takes himself all too seriously, who can't laugh at himself or understand others laughing at him, who bounces back from high falls with a jaunty grin. Instead we get this gritty comic noir, bruised ribs, loneliness and poverty. The Cape roams the streets not in his costume, but wearing a disguise of hoodie and jeans and ball cap. The costume is a tool, nothing more. This may be the first costumed hero I've seen in which the man wears the cape, and not the other way around. Instead of a half-psychotic rich man working out abandonment issues (Batman) or a wealthy corporate heir indulging his hobby of crime-fighting (The Phantom), or even a genius industrialist turning his penchant for invention to the fight against injustice (Iron Man), we get a tired, homesick man of limited resources forced to rely on wit, experience and gut instinct. I like it. I like it more every week. I hope it lasts.

"The hamster is in the microwave." -- Goggles

Unfortunately, the smart money says it won't finish the season. The Cape dropped 13% from last week, to a 1.3 rating with an audience of 4.65 million viewers. These numbers put it in the cancellation zone; the only reason I have any hope for this show is that NBC's Monday night shows are doing so poorly, as a block, that only the embarrassment of canceling its entire lineup is staving off the axe right now.

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