Nathan Rabin is…The Time-Warped TV Recapper: Episode IV, The Cape’s “Scales”
Four years ago, pop culture writer Nathan Rabin fell down at a Phish show and contracted a bizarre medical condition that forces the sufferer to perceive every television show they encounter as a new and miraculous phenomenon sweeping the world. Random Nerds then decided to callously exploit this unfortunate and totally real medical condition by forcing him to watch every episode of The Cape, followed by an episode-by-episode jaunt through Baywatch Nights.
I have an embarrassing confession to make. In my zeal to delve face first into the exhilarating world of The Cape, I inexplicably — and, I would argue, inexcusably — skipped from the third episode to the fifth episode. Well, “inexplicably” is probably the wrong word for my transgression, because I know exactly why I made the omission.
Before I watch an episode of The Cape, I first prepare for the experience by mixing together a drug and alcohol concoction I have taken to calling “Grammy Num Num’s Magical TV-Watching Elixir.” It consists of the following substances in the following order:
- Fake Marijuana
- Synthetic Marijuana
- Wine Coolers
- Crystal Methamphetamine
- Red Bull
Honestly, after imbibing one of Grammy Num Num’s Magical TV-Watching Elixirs, it’s a marvel I’m coherent and comprehensible at all.
I take this tonic because it sharpens my mind, but also because for me, watching The Cape is a deeply spiritual experience on par with going to a Phish show, or going on a vision quest. To really drive home what a deeply spiritual experience watching The Cape is for me, I’ve decided to watch these episodes while taking part in a Native American shamanic cleansing ritual and I’ve gotta say: they are total dicks about me watching DVDs on my laptop while they’re doing their holy ceremonies or whatever. They’re all, “Get that computer out of here!” and “You shouldn’t be here in the first place!” and “What is your problem, you awful, drug- and alcohol-addled white man?”
But I don’t pay them no mind because I have more important things to worry about — namely a little television show called The Cape.
In the fourth episode, shit gets real when superhero The Cape finds out that his beloved colleagues in the Carnival of Crime are, in a shocking, difficult-to-understand turn of events, going to use their carnival to do some crime.
Namely, they are going to rob a train carrying supervillain Peter Fleming, AKA Chess, who spends the vast majority of the episode in a Nudie-style white cowboy suit and cowboy hat. With his gleaming attire, lanky frame, and crooked non-smile, Peter Fleming bears an unmistakable resemblance to a deeply misguided man cos-playing as Hank Williams in some misbegotten sci-fi, comic book, and country/western convention.
This vexes the Cape because he is all about stopping crime rather than facilitating it, and clearly never imagined that there may be some rough spots in this partnership of convenience between a carnival of crime and a Cape of crime-fighting. But before The Cape’s allegiances are split between his crime-committing pals and his crime-fighting instincts, he first shows up at an anonymous warehouse where secondary heavy Scales (Vinnie Jones), thus named because of the lizard-like green pallor of his skin, is hanging out with his minions and informs him, at length, that he’s being screwed over by Peter Fleming.
Now, there is a good reason Batman tends to rasp out a few words at a time: it looks ridiculous for two adults to have an extended conversation when one of the adults is dressed up like a costume shop conception of a superhero. Sure enough, it looks preposterous for a man dressed like a homeless Batman and an alligator-skinned Lizard Man to have an extended talk about criminal competition among heavy hitters down at the Palm City docks, but then again, the endless scene does establish a conflict between Scales and Chess.
The Cape, meanwhile, is brooding even harder than usual because his son’s tenth birthday is coming up. To really drive home that The Cape loves his son and wishes he didn’t have to conceal his identity for his family’s protection, we’re treated to lots of flashbacks of The Cape’s son (Li’l Capey, I’m going to call him) gazing adoringly at his dad during camping trips and take-your-dad-to-school day and all sorts of other clean-cut horseshit I would never be cruel enough to subject my son to.
The Cape is in a mad hurry to clear his name, so he dispatches Orwell (Summer Glau), his sexy hacker sidekick, to tape incriminating footage of Chess and Scales using a spy camera she affixes to the sexy outfit she’s wearing for an elaborate masquerade party onboard a train carrying Chess and Scales and their crime-fighting opponents.
Our intrepid hero turns out to be something of a dickish micromanager, because he keeps questioning Orwell’s camera placement, leading her to respond so often that it almost feels like the show was trying to turn it into a catchphrase: “Don’t question my camera placement!”
Onboard this train, The Cape encounters another man (played by guest star Richard Schiff) also dressed up like the The Cape.#. Watching The Cape, I keep waiting for bad guys to call the hero out on his outfit, to roll their eyes and say, “Really? That’s what you’re going with? A fucking cape and a bootleg ‘make your own Batman costume’ you probably bought at the fucking dollar store? That’s what you chose as your permanent crime-fighting alter-ego?”
The Cape costume is sad enough on its own; when two men are wearing it, the silliness increases exponentially. Scales ends up outing Peter Fleming as Chess to the hoity-toity sophisticates onboard the train, but they just laugh at the revelation. It isn’t too long until The Cape and Chess must team up to keep the train from crashing, just as The Cape works with the Carnival of Crime despite their wildly contrasting attitudes towards crime (The Carnival of Crime is strongly pro-crime; The Cape is strongly anti-crime).
Yet somehow, this kooky band of outlaws and this shrill, cold, charisma-deficient crime fighter find a way to make it work.
The Cape isn’t just flawless entertainment: it’s food for the soul as well. Maybe it’s the Peyote speaking, but The Cape isn’t just a mere television show: it’s a fucking cultural and religious movement as well, one I suspect will quickly overtake Christianity as the cornerstone of Western civilization.
But don’t take my word for it. I’m just a drugged-out, Cape-crazed spiritual seeker.
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