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Under the Dome Recap: It’s Only Gonna Get Smaller

"Manhunt"

As with Vulture’s Game of Thrones recaps, Under the Dome will remain relatively spoiler-free in regard to Stephen King’s 2009 novel. Please observe this in the comments, or flag your spoilers loudly and clearly.

So, we’re a few days into dome life. What’s it like under there? If you’re a kid, there’s no texting or tweeting or Tumblvinestagramming. There are dome-side bonfires and new skateboard moves to perfect. There’s a possibility you’ll run away from your parents and a chance you’ll start calling lame music "totally schizo." There’s also an unspoken amplified fear of death, perhaps more than what the problem-solve-y adults are feeling.

And those grown-ups — what’s it like being one of them at this point? You find yourself making pronouncements. "I don't do caution," Shumway tells Barbie. "I can control this," Big Jim says. You hope your indoor plumbing doesn’t shit the bed, and you hope your secrets stay secret. You find lots of little missions to distract you from the panic-inducing fact that you’re under an unyielding sci-fi structure and you’ll probably be there for a very long time. You savor the last drops of wholesome American milk, perhaps considering how your majestic free nation is fading as a lawless snow-globe world swallows you.

The first of the night’s missions begins at the local jailhouse, where psychotic dome-blasting cop Paul Randolph fakes an asthma attack to bust out of his jail cell and lock up Linda Esquivel in his stead. The man is tweaking out, but he’s also the only one overtly expressing how shitty this situation is inevitably going to get.

Big Jim's religious side has only been alluded to once so far, when he grandstanded on the radio in the pilot, theatrically saying how no one knows if the dome is an act of terror or an act of God. "Now you go home, clasp hands, and pray for Freddy Denton's poor soul," Jim tells the pitchfork mob outside the jail, adding an artfully planned, bleedingly folksy "go awn." In private with his devil child the next morning, Jim flat out says he sees the dome not as a nightmare but as an opportunity. He tells Junior to quit hiding behind his dead mother's skirt and stop getting his ass beaten by deadly ex-military guys. Whatever this troubled young man needs, he’s not going to get it from his dad.

Angie, perhaps sensing the audience’s distress and fatigue with her bunker captivity situation, hatches a plan to get out, convincing Junior that their dead romance will indeed flourish if only they could find a way out of the dome. Shumway is starting to seem genuinely curious about Barbie's backstory, rather than like someone who might accidentally ask enough questions and stumble into one of the man’s deep dark secrets. Maybe Shumway’s series of brief, suspicious glances in Barbie's direction will amount to something soon.

For a minute it seems like the night's greatest moment will be the two guys at the diner. "Why worry? I bet they got government scientists tappin' on that thang, tryin' to figure out how to talk with us in here." "Better they figure out how to get us more bacon." Then the first one asks one of Norrie’s moms, Carolyn, how two women can have a daughter together. Then he says "pray the gay out of her," and it's just a fucking mess. You suck, guy. Bigotry really shines under the dome. But hey, on the bright side, the show’s got a new, uncomplicated death target.

Big Ol' Jim enlists Barbie to help hunt Paul Randolph. If we're not meant to wonder if Jim hopes to sneakily shotgun-blast Barbie deep in the woods, we've got a problem, because I'm wondering exactly that. Our new homophobe pal gets blasted by Randolph, although not fatally. After the first round of bullets, Jim turns creepier than ever. This leads to one of the show’s first luxuriantly paced conversations yet — it's a joy watching Dean Norris do his thing. Big Jim's menace is written a shred away from one-note, but Norris is grand-slamming it. After the monologue, Jim gets held up by Randolph. Esquivel has been on her own vengeance quest in the forest, and she kills the cop-killer. Jim patronizingly congratulates Esquivel on her circumstantial ascendancy into sheriff-dom — it’s like she couldn’t be top dog until Jim approved. I'm glad Esquivel will get to keep wearing the big hat for a while. She has seemed marked for death, but maybe not quite yet, or maybe not at all. She’s far from the show’s strongest acting presence, but she’s a necessary foil to all the machismo threatening to overrun the dome’s power structure.

Norrie, who has bailed on her mothers for reasons unknown, is shacked up at Joe’s farmhouse. (Why isn’t Joe wondering where his sister is? Do his dome-seizures not give him visions of her shackled in a bunker?) Norrie doesn’t want Joe to know she has two moms, but there’s no time for her to slip up, since Joe’s house is about to become an iPhone-charging party for all the town’s teens. Somebody puts The Simpsons Movie on loop, because "they totally saw the dome coming." A terrible boy called Carter, who used to bone Joe's sister (or allegedly used to?), shows up and tries to extort everyone who wants to juice up their selfie-taking Angry Birds machines. Badass Norrie stands up to the jock, inspiring Badass Joe to awaken. The chargers short-circuit everything, the generator party clears out. Carolyn finds her daughter playing Domeo and Juliet, and Joe and Norrie share a romantic couple-seizure. Now that the prophecy's been doubled down on, we can bet the horizon includes something like pink stars falling in lines.

Junior and Shumway share some quality time in a cement tunnel maze. In theory, it's good to know Junior can still seem sweet and can fool people (and not kill Shumway!), but it's dull to sit through. The point of this plot is to finally tip Shumway into being legitimately suspicious of Barbie and to set up the homecoming shot of Barbie hanging out with Junior’s dad, while Junior hangs with Barbie’s probable love interest/temporary landlord. The awkwardness is amped up by the fact that Shumway and Big Jim have something bad brewing, too.

The last two episodes have felt like a lot of situation-and-character establishing, testing our patience a little but building up to big finishes. The finale here isn't so big, meaning the night was almost all setup, but Shumway is officially on to Barbie’s secret. She’s either about to dig up her dead husband’s body (unlikely — that feels more like a reveal that’ll come many episodes down the line, right?) or figure out what Barbie was doing in Chester’s Mill in the first place.

Stray Observations

• Most of us can agree by now that the show's not always excellently acted and often clunkily written. But it looks pretty! And I’m still returning eager to see what happens each week, more or less regardless of any measure of quality. So something’s being done right.

• It was more or less completely clear last week, but yes, the propane tanks and the big Chester's Mill conspiracy are drug-related.

• In Big Jim's worldview, you go to heaven and eat mashed potatoes and roast beef with God, more commonly known as the Big Guy.

• Last week, I speculated that Jim was the one to give himself the name Big Jim. False.

• And there's that recurring line from Stephen King’s novel, the James McMurtry lyric about it being "a small town, son, but we all support the team."

• Why is the dome suddenly making light-saber sounds every time it's touched? That wasn't happening before, was it? Not to the degree it was in Junior’s underground dome-touching scene, anyway.

• Following last week’s Jack Bender episode, another occasional Lost director, Paul Edwards, was behind the camera this time. Edwards helmed the freaky Jacob episode “The Cabin.”

• Despite new settings like the woods and the underground place Junior explored this week, Chester's Mill is starting to feel cozy and navigable, the way the island on Lost did. I like it.

Photo: Michael Tackett/CBS