A couple of years ago, I went on an Ultimate Spider-Man binge. One of the story arcs that stuck with me was one that occurred after 70 or 80 issues, when a few contrivances suddenly brought in most all of the recurring heroes, villains, and rogues like Black Cat into a massive battle in a small room. It was absurd, out of the comic's usual form, and just a hell of a lot of fun for its ridiculousness. Of course, Ultimate Spider-Man had several years and dozens of issues to draw upon for that scene to have its impact, not to mention 40-odd years of non-Ultimate Spider-Man mythology.
The Cape, having no sense of scope, has naturally decided to do that kind of battle royale with as many heroes and villains as it can fit into a small space in its fourth episode. Of course, The Cape has no need for your traditional modes of storytelling. If it seems like a good idea, ever, The Cape will try it.
SCALES: Former Wimbledon hardman Vinnie Jones is back! He says geezers, in case you weren't aware that he was a lower-class English bloke. At any rate, Scales is working the docks, doing some generic criminal stuff for Chess, when a guy from ARK shows up to demand that they get a cut. The Cape has a dude with a wire in Scales' organization, which implies a certain level of organization to his operation that we haven't seen before.
Vince and Orwell are hanging out, and Vince seems downright offended by Fleming's audacity in his dual-layered criminal enterprise. He also proceeds to use his own chess metaphors ("Time to knock the pieces off the board!”), presumably as some kind of pun-based vengeance against Chess. Then he starts throwing another bitchy fit, but when Orwell calls him on it, he admits that it's his kid's 10th birthday. Orwell says that birthdays aren't that big of a deal, but bitchy Vince says “Not when you're turning 10,” with all the emotion he can muster.
Vince goes to the carnival to ask for backup, to which Max replies “Oh, so you're Gladys Knight, and we're the Pips?” a line that easily wins the night. Max says they have circus stuff to do, and once Vince leaves, he announces the name of the Carnival of Crime with a great deal of drama, thus reaffirming that this was a thing. Also, bagpipes play in the background, because nothing says “Carnival of Crime” like a dude saying “Carnival of Crime” over bagpipes.
Vince also decides, for no apparent reason, to tell Scales that Fleming is Chess and he's getting screwed over, setting up a confrontation on this charity train gambling thingy. (Don't ask, the show never explains how this is supposed to work.) Scales also has a couple yes-men who are like Labrador puppies in their enthusiasm and inability to act, which is really quite excellent. On the downside, The Cape refers to Scales' “public school” upbringing in order to drive a class-based wedge between Scales and Chess, which doesn't quite mean the same thing in England as it does in the USA. Actually, it means exactly the opposite. Whoops!
BIRTHDAYS: As everyone prepares for the great train thingy, The Cape watches Fleming, dressed as a cowboy, meet with Scales, who demands to get in on the train thingy or else he'll out Fleming as Chess. The Cape also randomly sees a little girl, which makes him think of his son and DEAR LORD, THE FLASHBACKS. Yes, it's the worst part of The Cape, and it's just getting started! This time, Vince is visiting Trip's class for his last birthday and playing supercop. He tells all the kids that they should remember to lock their doors and not let strangers in. Keep this in mind, because nothing, absolutely nothing, on The Cape is subtext. This is literally something that is important as a textual plot point.
Anyway, back to the present day, and Trip is reading through a schoolbook when he discovers that someone from his class has written something annoying in it. I couldn't make it out, but it looked like it said “RETURN TO MURDERER KID” which is nonsensical even by The Cape standards.
On the bright side, Summer Glau is in a mask and a wig to prepare for the train business, but once she and Vince get aboard, he discovers that the “circus business” that prevented Max from joining him on the train was actually the Carnival of Crime robbing that same train! What a twist, and now, all the pieces are on the board, which is the train.
THE CAPE VS. THE CARNIVAL OF CRIME: The Cape runs into another The Cape on the train, who's revealed to be the Secretary of Prisons guy from the last episode. The real The Cape compliments the other's costume, saying “I like the utility belt, man,” a line which almost approached comedy from David Lyons, so well done to him there. Fleming, meanwhile, fulfills his promise to introduce Scales to the Mayor (just writing “the Mayor” gives me a little TV critic rush, even though I know this isn't the real “the Mayor”). This Mayor has none of Scales' UK thuggery, so Scales indignantly says, “Are you telling me I'm proper?” and tears off the Mayor's (unfortunately) costume mustache, which is fun.
Vince has confronted the Carnival of Crime, and they flash his eyes, which makes him take a break and look at a poster of “the Sierras,” which triggers, yes you guessed it, another totally generic boring father-son flashback. Why couldn't Vince have been a bachelor without a kid?
Speaking of the kid, his mom's boss shows up before his mom for a little work date, and the kid, who's home alone, doesn't open the door. Because, remember (and you might not remember), his dad once told his class not to open the door for strangers! It's like Tolstoy said, “Never show an annoying flashback with a totally generic safety message to a room full of idiot kids without having that message become relevant at some point later in the story.” What would have happened if Vince had said “Only you can prevent forest fires?” Would the kid be running around breaking lighters and dunking matchbooks in the bathtub?
Anyway, the kid and the boss have a little bonding moment over the American concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” So the kid drops a fruit roll-up for the boss, which is kind of cool.
A PROPER VILLAIN: Fleming shows up to rescue the Mayor from Vinnie Jones' decreasingly interesting thuggery, so Scales drops the Chess-bomb on the assorted and sundry dignitaries, who laugh at the concept. Whoops! So much for that plan. Scales resorts to Plan B, which is grabbing a gun and stealing jewelry. The Cape wants to bust in, but first, he has to deal with the faux-Cape, who doesn't want to just hide in the back. “You give me something to do, or I'm going rogue.”
The Cape and his new sidekick bust in, but just as the confrontation starts to escalate, the Carnival of Crime unleashes its plan, and everything goes crazy. The Cape fights Scales on top of the train, in a marvelously terrible green-screen scene. The Cape's cape doesn't work with so much speed turbulence, so he kinda gets his ass kicked, which is nice.
Chess and Scales argue about which one is badder, and Scales swears that he's totally ready to be a grown-up villain! He separates the train, and as he slows down with the caboose, Fleming tips his hat with his six-shooter, in the most bizarre imagery of the night.
WAR: Scales thinks he's made off with the money, but Max and the Carnival stop him and threaten to lock him up in a cage. First of all, are cages a thing in train cabooses? Even train cabooses that have lots of money? It seems unlikely to me, but I'm not a train interior designer. Second, this triggers a bizarre flashback for Scales, meaning that they're not franchising the worst part of the show to minor characters. On the other hand, this was a flashback to Scales' life as a circus freak, including not getting any cake (a recurring theme in the episode, actually, perhaps the writers just played Portal?), so it was rather more interesting than Vince teaching his son how to shave and shit, like the other flashbacks.
Speaking of Vince, he pulls himself up from the train to discover that it's now a runaway train, and stopping it is a two-man job that requires Fleming's help. So the two have to team up in order to stop everyone from dying. It's actually even more contrived than it sounds, because there's virtually no setup for this. The last scene ends, and suddenly The Cape and Fleming are standing there saying “Yup, we gotta work together. Crazy ol' world, innit?”
NO JOURNEY TOO FAR: After Fleming and The Cape succeed in saving the train, they have a confrontation over the proper metaphorical description for their situation. The Cape believes that it's inaccurate to describe the situation as any kind of game, but Fleming disagrees, and implies that The Cape can't see just how gamey it is. So The Cape throws him up against the side of the train, which seems a bit excessive
Scales busts out of his cage, only to discover the flunky who'd delivered ARK's message to him at the start of the episode. Then Scales apparently eats the guy. Meanwhile, Trip's mom finally comes home, letting her boss come in. Since he's bonded with Trip, they have an acceptance scene involving an offering of “milkshake cake” for Trip's birthday. Yes, “milkshake cake.”
Vince is busy wrapping a present for his kid, as he and Orwell analyze what happened. Orwell suddenly remembers that she's Summer Glau and has a River Tam/Terminator moment, saying “Why do parents love their kids like that?” I think we're supposed to get the feeling that she and Vince have some kind of chemistry, but that's rather lacking.
This episode didn't work for me quite as well as the first three, unfortunately. I think I might have grown some immunity to The Cape's special brand of crazy. Either that or the show has hit a basic level of competence that makes it a little less fun to yell at. It certainly didn't measure up to Ultimate Spider-Man, but I never expected that it would. What did you think? Better, worse, more fun, less fun?