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Under the Dome Recap: Riots and Microclimates

"The Endless Thirst"--  When the town begins to run low on water, the residents of Chester’s Mill begin to fight for the remaining resources. Meanwhile, Julia discovers a strange connection that two of the town’s residents have with the Dome, on UNDER THE DOME, Monday, July 29 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Rachelle Lefevre as Julia Shumway. Photo: Kent Smith/©2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

At last, things get dark under the dome. Everything that came before — Angie getting chained up in a bomb shelter, Reverend Methsnivel’s brain leaking out onto the dome, a cow being gorily bisected — pales in comparison to this episode’s grim events. It’s well timed with the announcement that Dome will indeed receive a second season, which was a sure thing ever since the pilot’s mammoth ratings. (And Stephen King will write the season two premiere, which is bound to cover entirely different territory from his novel, based on the way things are going.)

We open, as usual, at the edge of the dome. Last week I glossed over the fact that the military’s “mother of all bombs” had no visible effect on the dome. We all knew nothing was going to happen. The dome wasn’t going down in episode five. It’s not going down in episode six, seven, or eight. Even in the tail end of the season, we might not be able to bank on high dome-related stakes when there's a second season on the way. But the missile finally shows Chester’s Mill something we already knew: This town is really trapped and truly screwed. It took something close to a nuke — the scorched earth outside the dome is pretty unsettling — but the townsfolk are at last considering the repercussions of living long-term inside a small-town-size dome. What happens when the food runs out, when the global-warming effect happens, when the generators run out of gas, when everyone reads all the books and no one can stand another round of Boggle?

Barbie and Shumway are back on track. I’ve been watching closely and still only have a vague memory of what ended the tension and suspicion between them. Did the apocalypse do it, or was it just their inhumanly good looks? Also in the troubled lovers category are Junior and Angie. The recently freed Angie’s end-times decision to cozy up with Junior doesn't seem so bright in the aftermath of the missile's failure. She brains him with the snowglobe from last episode (nice follow-through) and makes a successful run for it, FINALLY.

Alice, one of Norrie's moms, is out of insulin and her brain’s starting to scramble. She wanders into the road, and for a second it looks like we've got a big character death on our hands. The oncoming truck (King’s Appliance, shout-out Stephen King) swerves just before flattening Alice. Now we've got a high-stakes water supply shortage on our hands; the big character death will have to wait another half-hour.

D.J. Phil stays spending tons of time styling himself in the morning and fine-tuning quips like "kinda sounds like the alien from Aliens." Dodee is less content to joke around and more interested in maintaining her status as the show's most valuable brain. She informs us, in the studied mode of every sci-fi movie scientist ever, that the dome began emitting strange frequencies right before the failure-missile struck. (Shumway asking if the source of the weird frequencies is "inside Chester's Mill" is very "the call is coming from inside the house.") The idea that the dome wants to protect itself is our second hint that the dome might be sentient, the first being the time Joe and Norrie felt like the dome didn’t want them to say anything about the seizure-prophecies, the pink stars falling in lines. Hopefully the show's creatives have reflected long and hard on Lost and remembered how poorly the whole "the island wants what it wants! the island makes destinies! the island has its own favorite food!" stuff went.

After a bit of love gossip, Barbie and Sherrif Esquivel discover that Chester's Mill's fish are all dead or dying and the water is polluted with methane. A medical professional advises Carolyn, the non-diabetic half of Norrie's moms, to … just pray for her totally doomed partner. There’s nothing anyone can do. There’s no insulin, and Dodee doesn’t have time to invent a chemical substitute.

Big Jim knows Chester's Mill's history and geography intimately enough to know there's a functional well on Ollie Dinsmore’s farm. It is convenient, but it’s also in character — the man (a) loves the town and (b) has studied the place and its people for the better part of his life, in order to better control it. Junior finds his dad and gets told to do his own damage control for once in his life. There’s clearly a revelation about Junior’s past on the way, some major trouble his sociopath tendencies once got him into. I bet he killed his mom. Either he or Big Jim had to, right? There’s been suspiciously little mention of her, and the writers need some reserves of evil to roll out later this season.

As a supermarket riot brews on Main Street, Farmer Ollie says he’ll only share his well’s water if Jim is ready to part with some propane. What's motivating Jim here? An egomaniacal sense that he's the only person who can care for the town? It takes me a second to realize it’s probably a guilty conscience — the methane ruining the lake’s water must come from Jim’s drug operation. Although insatiably power hungry, Jim’s not cartoonish enough to just hate his neighbors; when it’s his fault, he wants to save them.

It's good to see Angie unimprisoned, since she's one of the show's only real acting presences. She takes refuge at Sweetbriar Rose’s and bawls to her old boss, finally telling another soul what she’s been through since the dome came down. Rose and Angie seem safe, but there’s the looming threat of Junior finding them. Turns out the threat ends up coming from two men we’ve never seen. The way the one vandal snarls "so we're just gonna take what we want" is a little on-the-nose, but it doesn't stop the situation from being goddamned horrifying. The vagrants don't waste a second death-bludgeoning Rose with a metal baseball bat and doling out more abuse to the already battered Angie. Things are getting gruesome. It starts to look like Angie, unconscious on the floor, will get raped.

I’m not sure what CBS’s angle was in promoting this episode, but it easily could’ve been “SOMEONE DIES!” Sure, lots of Domers have bit the dust already, but Rose’s death is different. She was nice, innocent, and completely uninvolved with any drama or scandal. She wasn’t on the bad side of either Big Jim or Junior, our two towers of menace. And she suffers the most unsettling death yet. (On a more cynical, show-critiquing note, it’s disappointing Rose had to die because she knew Big Jim's secret, that he’s raised a psychopath for a son.)

As things darken, seemingly to the point of no return, we sink into some legitimately interesting scenarios and questions. What do you say to people stuffing their sweatshirts with precious Sterno and Diet Rite Cola, especially when you're about to starve just as rapidly as they are, and you're not even a real cop? How do you punch out a lawless dick when you have to live in the same fishbowl as him for a long time to come? Barbie intervenes with one such dick, chasing the man from the riot scene to administer a clinical beatdown. It’s becoming clear Barbie’s got a temper problem and/or an addiction to violence — moments ago he refused Esquivel’s pistol offer like a man who wouldn’t be able to help himself from Hulking out and blasting everyone who pissed him off.

Joe and Norrie’s insulin hunt is the night’s most fascinating exploration of what happens when your town gets domed. The young series already has a history of characters acting unrealistically and without obvious motivation; in this vital side story, everything actually makes sense. Yes, a scared daughter could conceivably smash a window of a seemingly vacant home to grab the insulin she knows is inside. The shotgun-wielding homeowner catches Joe and Norrie in the act, heartbreakingly telling them he just took his last dose. Not only will he die, but Norrie’s mom and every other medication-reliant Chester’s Millian will perish, too. Even after escaping death-by-shotgun, the kids have no choice but to keep insulin-hunting. They encounter a little guy who’s home alone, and it turns out he's the one they were about to steal insulin from. There are no easy solutions.

Jim brings Ollie some propane, only to hear it's not enough. Ollie moves from creepy hick to rabies-eyed threat in a second. It's a complicated feeling, seeing two bad guys beat their chests at each other and rooting for the show's big baddie to win over the baddie of the week. We shouldn’t want Jim to win, because he’s inevitably going to screw everyone over and make us yell at our TVs, but here we are.

The dome might not have its own agenda, but it does have a pair of dome superkidz in Joe and Norrie — they’re the place the alien noises are coming from, Dodee deduces. That’s all we’ve got for now. Bold move to have Shumway say “it doesn’t make any sense” on a show that sometimes doesn’t make any sense, though. It’ll be a while till we learn any more about it, but we do see Joe and Norrie touch the dome, accidentally using their powers to unscramble the frequencies inside. Hmm.

Esquivel pulls her gun on the rioters, moving from her corny first rule of business ("always believe in the goodness of the people you serve") to her bleak second rule ("do whatcha gotta do"). And then, because the episode has been too solid and riveting, we have to have a vomity deus ex machina. RAIN. IT RAINS IN THE DOME. Big Jim shows up with the grossly expository, "It can rain! It can inside the dome! Woohoo! It came outta nowhere! Alright!" There's a gratuitous shot of Esquivel soaking in the rain in slo-mo. Please put me in an opaque, person-sized dome till this is over.

Norrie brings Alice the one tiny vial of insulin she felt okay stealing from the kid. You know you're under a society-obliterating dome when parents are saying, "I don't know how you got this highly scarce substance, but I’m sure glad you did." Barbie and Shumway reunite in the rain. A kiss is so, so coming. The strings swell. (The score isn't bad when it takes a detour out of its swamp of relentless foreboding.) They exchange the dreadful lines: "It's been a hell of a crazy day." "Yeah, I guess you could say everybody went a little crazy today." They hug it out. Barbie’s probably thinking about murder. They smooch. Barbie's definitely thinking about murder.

Angie is in the very unfortunate position of being free, relatively safe, and not only unguarded from Junior, but posted up at Junior’s house. Since there ain't no cliffhanger like a "we're gonna hafta kill 'im" cliffhanger, I assume Big Jim’s going to hatch this kind of scheme with Angie. But no, he's merely sitting and speaking like the Jimfather, offering Angie protection and propane if she won’t spill the beans and ruin Jim’s rep with talk of his psycho son. Junior walks in, and there’s our cliffhanger.

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

Stray Observations

• I don’t think it rained inside the dome in the novel, but the novel wasn't shooting to run for multiple seasons. Novel comparisons are generally moot at this point, anyway.

• Julia and Dodee's scene in the car is good. A mix of mystery, nice acting, and characters that are starting to seem real. 

• Neither Barbie nor Big Jim have a problem with extremely violent vigilante justice. They've gotta figure out that they have this in common.

• The shopping mayhem feels and looks a little like The Mist, which is basically a small-scale version of Dome.

Photo: Kent Smith/CBS