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Under the Dome Recap: Friendly Fire

Even after Under the Dome’s two-week holding pattern of near-shittiness, I begin this episode excited to watch, to ponder, and to hash it out. The show is refusing to become a lost cause in my mind, which is lucky, because this episode doesn’t suck. The new hour fastidiously avoids logic and relies on groan-worthy exposition as much as ever, but it’s still engaging. I imagine this may sound nothing like the show you’re watching; personally, I’m glad the glimmer of quality remains.

Norrie and Joe are in full-on girlfriend/boyfriend mode, which we know for sure because Norrie (a) wakes up early to investigate the dome with Joe and (b) is letting Joe see her without any goth makeup. The pale young lovers find the dome speckled with orange, mysteriously but wonderfully crowded with monarch butterflies. It’s the coolest dome effect since the slicing of the cow. Norrie wonders if the town will emerge as “something new” after its dome-cocoon. Yes, Norrie. It will. But it won’t be a pretty, winged new.

Last week’s cliff-hanger gets addressed awkwardly. Big Jim and Angie somehow interacted without discussing what she was doing in the bomb shelter — it seems like Jim handled the running water problem, made sure Angie would live through the night, then … kept her locked up. Now, the morning after, Jim and Angie stumble as they try discussing Junior's gross antics. Jim leaves her again.

Reverend Hearing Aid has been intercepting some type of divine/infernal/extraterrestrial/totally-earthbound-and-explainable transmission. Before we get a chance to Google “Moab,” our attention’s being siphoned over to Chester’s Mill’s first visitors day. Instead of seeming promising and exciting like the butterflies, this chance to reunite with loved ones is coated with the same ominousness as nearly everything that transpires under “this … this thing.”

Deputy Esquivel touches the dome immediately after telling Barbie to make sure no one touches the dome. COME ON. She and her firefighter hubby Rusty give us the #domekiss we all saw coming from the pilot. If the dome absorbs extra power from human-smooches, now we know who to blame.

Even People magazine got in on dome pun mania ("DOME-ESTIC DISTURBANCE: ENGAGED HEROES TRAGICALLY SEPARATED"), as we learn on Rusty's grossly product placement-ed Microsoft tablet thing. The drama continues as Norrie's biological father, who she thought was anonymous, shows up just to make her difficult situation worse. Get out of here, guy. You deserve your own dome. And your handwriting SUCKS!

Reverend Crisismonger gives Big Jim a 24-hour ultimatum: Unveil thy sins or have thy sins unveiled. So the Rev’s going to die shortly. As Esquivel opts to tell Rusty his brother’s dead, the moment seems poised to be affecting. Then director Jack Bender cuts artlessly away. Hmmm.

"Hey, that's my sister!" D.J. Phil, using this dome-life to demo some of the zanier fashion choices of his dreams, explains to no one in particular. C'mon, Dome-runners. Isn’t there a better way to do this writing characters/telling stories/revealing details stuff? Also frustrating: Folks’ insistence on ignoring the dome’s sound-obliterating qualities and just chattering away. Dodee, at least — in addition to being a genius — speaks sign language. The domeside scenes are handled well. We’re fortunately not asked to read more than a couple of shoddily scrawled notebook messages.

Barbie flashes some kind of answer-getting coin. The Moab/MOAB mystery winds up being less half-baked, more "we didn't even get the ingredients into the mixing bowl before deciding we weren't actually hungry." MOAB = mother of all bombs, and it’s coming ASAP. So that’s why the visitors got to pop by — to have a first and last reunion with their loved ones, who are doomed as well as domed. We're onto another mission of the week — get everyone underground safely — but at least it feels like there are real stakes.

Big Jim's decision to set Angie free with no caveats and no scheming feels out of character — a man this power-hungry is hoping to hell that the dome won't come down, not letting sentimentality best him and setting all his psycho son's captives free. And if a show's going to have a character flat-out ask another one, "Why are you doing this?" the person being asked better have a good answer, not a hokey piece of junk like, "Well, if we're all gonna die today, you might as well die a free woman." Maybe Junior killed his mother and this scenario reminds Big Jim of that. There should be more of an explanation.

Why does this town so readily accept the apocalypse is coming while they've spent nearly a week more or less refusing to acknowledge the apocalypse-like situation their town’s embroiled in? (This is a huge, huge error: Dome needs to honestly tackle the realities of resource management and townwide tension, like, yesterday.) It’s world-ending confessional time, so we get a bit more of Barbie's backstory — he killed some allied soldiers in Iraq — which doesn’t add much. He's still the same Conflicted Good Guy Who's Done Bad Things. D.J. Phil struggles to choose a final song for everyone to listen to; I'm as music-obsessed as they come, and I can say this is among the show’s more silly, obnoxious moves to assign a character. First Phil spins Beethoven, then, sure, why not, Skeeter Davis's sixties tune “The End of the World.” Dodee and the D.J. dance. The sardonic lovebird frenemies reveal their true hatred for each other, then nuzzle. Jim and diner proprietor Rose cozen up a bit, too. These people aren't going to die, so we're probably supposed to use this mass near-death experience to learn some things about the people of Chester’s Mill. Like what? They’re saps? They’re highly selective with when they do and don’t take dangerous circumstances seriously?

Joe and Norrie have been wanting to make out all night, so they give it one last whirl at the moment of impact. It’s a smart way to keep the special-effects budget cheap, since the missile strikes just then. The good news is they don’t have seizures. The bad news is that the dome now sits against a smoldering wasteland.

To close the evening, we have our third episode-ending death in five weeks. Last week we wondered if Jim would murder Angie. Turns out it’s Reverend Stubbledrugs whose number is up. Jim mashes the Rev's mechanically assisted ear against the dome and gives us the show's most cold-blooded killing yet. Scribble murderer next to Big Jim in your character notebook. We don’t know if it’s his first time, but yikes, does it looks casual.

That sounds like a lot of gripes, but something about the characters finding their groove, the visuals being appealing, and the general capable feeling behind the episode makes this one easy to swallow. Even if Junior does hold a snowglobe as he’s under the dome.

Stray Observations

• Julia says she's made her peace with Peter's leaving/disappearing. Remember that the next 100 times she mentions him.

• That shot opening on Coggins going, "SINNNNNERRRRRRS!!!" Oh man.

• Big Jim's old photo with baby Junior is unspeakably creepy.

• Grantland recently posted a feature with some on-set reportage. A key bit: “Neal Baer, the doctor turned TV producer who runs the show, told of the great lengths to which his scientific background drove him in crafting the series, including hiring an L.A. Times reporter to research the genuine environmental effects that having a dome placed over a small town might cause. When told of the background work they had done, [Stephen] King advised the team, ‘You know, you can just make shit up.’”

• Check out this Comic-Con poster. They know we love the cow.

Dear commenters: Please flag any spoilers referencing Stephen King’s 2009 novel loudly and clearly.

Photo: Kent Smith/CBS