Last night's episode of The Cape was just as caricaturish and exaggerated as all the previous installments — but this time, there was a hefty dose of creepiness instead of just silliness. And Summer Glau got to play River Tam!
One of the selling points for The Cape, originally, was the fact that the writers included veterans of the mostly brilliant Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — but last night's episode was actually the first one to bear the name of a T:SCC veteran. Toni Graphia co-wrote "The Lich, Part 2," and maybe I'm imagining things, but it definitely felt a bit sharper than the previous outings.
More importantly, though, we finally got a villain who is disturbing as well as ludicrous. In the Lich, the Cape finally got his Joker, or maybe his Two-Face. Where Chess seems to be indulging in a healthy degree of self-mockery, and Scales is just a colorful thug, the Lich has a genuinely disturbed Phantom of the Opera vibe. He reminded me of that other great Phantom-inspired villain, Sharaz Jek from Doctor Who.
Instead of last week's somewhat more scattered storyline, this episode was much more cohesive, and sadly it required turning the previously unflappable super-blogger Orwell into a bit of a damsel in distress. She's been captured by Conrad Chandler, who's the heir to Palm City's founding family but also the supervillain The Lich. And he's dressed her up in a wedding dress, so she can be married to him in a totally batshit unholy ceremony. The more smitten with her he gets, the more repulsive and horrible he becomes.
And of course, one of the episode's many ironies is that he didn't need to do any of this — she had brought him the one thing he needed: the birth certificate that proves he's really Conrad Chandler. He could have let her leave, none the wiser about his secret identity as the Lich, and used the information she gathered to gain economic power to go with his existing power as an evil cult leader. But of course, he's completely nuts and it would never even occur to him to do the sensible thing.
The Lich gets some great monologues to the almost comatose Orwell, like: "You're so pretty. The toxin paralyzes, you'll get used to it. I added a sedative that'll help with the twitching. That white skin, like a porcelain doll." Ewwww. He's also preparing a drug that he'll give to the citizens of Palm City — 70 percent of the people who take it don't survive the seizures, but the other 30 percent become his devoted slaves. I guess that's what happened to Rollo's friend last week — she survived. "I'll let you pick your own servants," Conrad says. "But first you need to learn to be nice to me."
While the Lich is pouring more and more drugs into Orwell's veins and preparing her for the wedding — in spite of the very palpable jealousy from the Lich's main helper — Orwell is having a drug-induced fantasy about a very different type of wedding. And we discover that in Orwell's fantasy world, she's marrying Vince. Which is almost as disturbing as the idea that she's marrying the Phantom of the Opera in real life. Seriously, ew.
And in the "revelations that surprised nobody" department, we find out who Orwell's daddy is — the guy we all knew it was all along. The new mystery, though, is what happened to her mom, who's represented by the mysterious floating white door. (Which Orwell keeps seeing even after she's been rescued and allegedly de-toxed, at the end of the episode.) I'm kind of bummed we didn't get to see the showdown between the Lich and Chess for control over Palm City plus Chess' daughter.
Oh, and the Lich stares into a broken mirror, for extra creepitude, and tells his former main squeeze that she'll have to move out once he's married, because it's not appropriate for an old woman to live with a married couple. Too bad Orwell makes the mistake of saying the name "Vince" during the wedding ceremony. To which he responds, "Time to jump into a grave for me, wifey!"
Meanwhile, the Cape storms the insane asylum where the Lich had set up shop, accompanied by Max and Rollo. Won't somebody eventually notice that these two carnies are always with the Cape in public? And then figure out the Cape must be someone who's living among them? In any case, Rollo is just as fantastic as ever — getting lines like, "An insane asylum filled with zombies? I don't even know what to say to that." Max, meanwhile, hoists Betty the shotgun and says, "That's why we brought dates."
Unfortunately, Orwell's no longer at the asylum, so the Cape has to go to his wife for help getting information out of the Lich's number two guy. Genuinely nice bit of anguished acting from David Lyons on the otherwise cliched line, when someone asks him if going to his wife is a good idea, and he responds, "No, but I'm out of time. And options."
So I have a few questions here:
1) Everybody in the police force has known for weeks that there's a wack job running around dressed as the Cape, a comic book hero. How is it that Dana and her boss don't know about this? Dana still seems to think the Cape is just a figment of her son Trog's imagination.
2) How is it that Dana doesn't recognize her husband the moment he shows up? He doesn't even sound any different. I mean, she seems to get an inkling by the end of the episode, but come on.
3) Shouldn't Dana just give in and start dating Travis, her boss? He's so much cooler than her allegedly dead husband.
4) Could Trog get any more skin-crawling? The whole thing where he tells the Cape that his mom always says "I'll think about it" when she means no? Urk. And the whole "give me pizza or I won't love you any more" ploy at the end of the episode. I'm really hoping Trog gets shot in next week's episode, as the teaser hinted. Please?
Anyway, Vince finally figures out where the Lich is hiding out, and it's the most obvious place — the Chandler family mansion. As Vince himself says, "I should have known."
And meanwhile, Orwell finally gets to stop being Victim River and show a bit more of Badass River — during the whole torturous build-up to the wedding, Orwell has been trying to regain enough muscle control to disconnect her meds, while resisting the seductive fantasy of her drug-induced dream state. So finally, she's just barely drug-free enough to protect herself when she's about to be injected with the paralytic slave juice.
So the rescue finally comes together, with Max saying, "I don't normally do two shows in one day," and Rollo punching a few dozen guards down a flight of stairs. And Max turns himself into a puff of smoke just as two guys are punching at him, making them punch each other. Awesome! Conrad Chandler gets locked up, and "the Bogey Man has a new address."
Orwell gets to recuperate back at the Big Top, and Max officially welcomes her the Carnival of Crime... but too bad she can still see that floating white door...
All in all, this was definitely the best episode of The Cape by far — and either I'm getting Stockholm Syndrome, or this was edging closer to "good," rather than "so bad it's good." It's too bad the show had to turn Orwell into more of a victim to get there, but at least this meant lots of wobbly dreamlike imagery and scenes of Orwell struggling to master her reality. This was definitely an episode where The Cape's more grand-guignol style really worked for it, instead of feeling like a comic-book pastiche. Too bad the quality's improving just as the plug is about to be pulled.
Screencaps via Summer Glau Web.