This review may contain spoilers.
3. Scales On A Train
Yes, Scales On A Train. That is the actual title of this episode. A reference as timely as it is hilarious, I’m sure you’ll all agree.
In this episode, Vinnie Jones returns to justify his cameo early on in the series and redeem himself for being physically bested by a midget. As a villain, Scales is precisely the kind of pulpy, Dick Tracy-esque character that fits in the show, although it probably helps that he has almost exactly the same gimmick as Killer Croc (he’s a huge burly guy with lizard skin). No news on whether he’ll grow the fangs and compound eyes, but part of me wouldn’t be surprised.
As one of the more visually interesting villains in The Cape, it’s a shame he has to be played by Vinnie Jones. Under better writers or a better actor, Scales could be almost tragic. But when he’s being portrayed by someone who struggles to get his lines out, any chance of seeing beneath the surface is lost, particularly when he gets locked in a cage. We catch a flashback to some of his traumatic, circus freak past, and he expresses that by headbutting the bars until the door inexplicably falls off. Okay, then.
The plot sees Chess, in his civilian guise, Peter Fleming, holding a masquerade event on a luxury train. In an attempt to get Scales onside, The Cape explains that Fleming is extorting him in both of his identities, leading Scales to pay a visit to the shindig in his own legitimate identity as, er, a construction magnate.
Rebuffed in his attempts to supply the mayor with cheap copper pipes (I swear it’s true), Scales publicly ‘outs’ Fleming as Chess. No-one believes him. And then fighting ensues.
Stuff happens with the train becoming decoupled, then something about a brake cable, and eventually The Cape and Fleming work together to stop the runaway locomotive. You can fill in the blanks yourself. It’s all pretty straightforward.
There are a couple of interesting things in the episode. Scales’ outing of Chess actually serves an useful purpose. It explains why Faraday can’t just go to the press with his knowledge. It’s already been quite publicly discredited. Similarly, the idea that The Cape might have to work with Fleming, however briefly, is made more interesting when he finds himself at odds with his mentor, Max, after the Carnival of Crime actually remembers to go out and do some crime.
As it turns out, the world of The Cape isn’t quite as black and white as it might have initially seemed
The ongoing plots also get a little look in, although, as is typical, they take a back seat to the episode’s central story and set pieces. There are some amusing scenes with Faraday’s kid, but the only real moment of character tension comes when Orwell and Chess have a brief, face-to-face interaction.
If Orwell is, indeed, Chess’ daughter (as hinted strongly in both last week’s episode and this one), then it’ll now take some serious fudging to explain how they could speak to one another without him realising. Unless, of course, we’re expected to automatically transpose the comic book logic of ‘she was wearing a mask that covered her eyes’, meaning ‘she was unrecognisably disguised’. Either way, it was enough to make me wonder what the situation there was.
The episode’s weakest spot came in the form of the CGI. External shots of the train looked like an unfinished cutscene from a PS2 game. The worst part is that it wasn’t really even necessary for the storytelling.
Here’s a little advice for the people making The Cape: don’t try to show off your CGI budget when you haven’t got one. Even Lost had trouble making grand gestures look believable, and you can’t compete with that. You can barely compete with Babylon 5. Thanks for listening.
After four episodes, it feels more than ever like The Cape is kept running on its sheer refusal to acknowledge its own failings. Surely, Summer Glau is better than this? Vinnie Jones is almost better than this!
And yet, somehow, The Cape is so unflinchingly sincere in its awfulness that you actually want to come back and watch more. It’s cheesy, poorly made, and I still can’t tell if it’s supposed to be taken seriously, and yet I’ll gladly come back to watch more next week. It makes more sense than Heroes, it’s more fun to watch than Caprica, and it’s more original than either of the Stargate spin-offs.