The Cape is totally ludicrous and silly, but there's something kind of lovable about a show that believes in pulp archetypes so much that its characters are nothing else. What is The Cape, under his cape? He's naked. Spoilers ahead...
Last night's episode, "Kozmo," packed in so many story threads and themes that it's hard to keep track of them all. But the unifying idea was, who are we once you strip away the made-up personas and myths we've created for ourselves? And to its credit, The Cape came up with an answer: We're nothing. There's no point trying to figure out who the "real" Vince is, or who Orwell "really" is, or who Max Malini was before he became Max Malini. They're just the sum of their personas, and those fronts are no more fake than any of the other personalities we put on. So you might claim that the characters on The Cape are a bit flimsy and one-dimensional — but it's totally intentional on the show's part.
So in last night's episode, Vince continues to create his superheroic persona as The Cape, based on a comic book that appears only to have published one issue. But as The Cape, he goes too far, nearly killing a dirty cop, and Max Malini and Orwell both warn that he's in danger of being swallowed up by the darkness of the Cape — a fearsomely powerful piece of haberdashery that we later learn may have belonged to Merlin or Jack the Ripper, or possibly both — in fact, who's to say that Merlin and Jack the Ripper weren't the same guy? Anything's possible! Anyway, Max warns Vince, "You either wear the cape, or the cape wears you." Advice that could have come from the slices of cheese man.
As if on cue, a guy named Gregor turns up after spending 20 years in a Russian prison, and he was the former owner of the cape. He wants the cape so he can embody a different myth — Kozmo the Unkillable, a master illusionist. And Gregor embodies the wrongness that could ensue if the Cape gives in to his rage and uses his fearsome cloaky powers to kill people. As Gregor tells Vince, "You're me with a badge." But finally, Vince vanquishes Gregor by using the Russian dude's rage against him — but he won't kill, because he's not a murderer.
Everybody's struggling with identity issues in this episode. Vince is trying to figure out if he's The Cape or The Dark Cape. Orwell has a secret past — which can't possibly be connected to the fact that supervillain/business mogul Peter Fleming is looking for a missing daughter. Vince's kid, Trip, is getting in trouble at school because the other kids are giving him grief for being the "Son of Chess." And Vince's wife, Dana, is trying to be a good Public Defender while struggling with temptation and faith in her husband and stuff. And so on.
A key scene comes late in the episode when Vince, disguised as The Cape, goes to console his son, who in turn is dressed up as Vince. Because of Vince's disguise, he's able to tell his son the meaning of the military shirt and medals Trip is wearing — one costume providing illumination on another.
It's not exactly unheard of for a superhero movie or TV show to deal with questions about who people really are, and fake identities, and so on — but it's also not a bad idea, either.
Even though this episode, once again, was as silly as a bank vault full of squirrels, and none of it entirely made sense, I'm starting to warm to The Cape a bit. Once you accept that it's a show about people who really believe that you read a comic book by narrating it aloud in the most melodramatic manner possible, you just kind of have to roll with the idiocy a bit. And the dialogue is so unrelentingly goofy that you never run out of giggles.
And to be honest, last night's episode was all worth it for the random subplot where Summer Glau's mysterious blogger vigilante, Orwell, finally meets all of the circus freaks properly. I am now officially a Rollo/Orwell shipper after seeing the little guy come on to her, only to be told, "I don't squeeze." It only took half an hour between Orwell turning her nose up at the circus and her suddenly becoming a silk aerialist in a leotard, and in between we got to see her riding on the back of Rollo's buggy, drinking with the freaks, bonding with Max and getting caught up in circus hijinks and perils.
I would say "The Cape might actually be fun if you don't take it seriously" — but I don't really think it's possible to take this show seriously, even if you wanted to. The real question is just how much of a tolerance for braindead campiness you're able to muster. Or to put it another way — will you wear the beer goggles, or will the beer goggles wear you?
Update: The Cape dropped a lot in its second week, so I wouldn't get too attached to this show.