Under the Dome Recap: Hit Me As Hard As You Can

Photo: Brownie Harris/CBS
Under the Dome
Episode Title
Let the Games Begin
Editor’s Rating

A caterpillar, the mini-dome’s newest inhabitant, signals that the prophecy about a monarch being crowned is still in play. Science Joe observes that the caterpillar is indeed wearing the right colors to one day make it into monarch butterfly society. Things are looking good for everyone who bet on the prophecy meaning a bug will get a cool hat.

The Domekidz — Angie, Joe, and Norrie — cover up the mini-dome with grandma's finest blankie and head out for the fourth handprint. Dodee, who hasn't trusted Joe and Norrie for a few episodes, discovers the mini-dome after a bit of spying. She tries her hand on the surface — there was a very distant chance she’d be the fourth hand — and gets blasted; she’s definitively not the one Dome Jr. seeks. Dodee winds up at the hospital, where a nurse is conveniently familiar enough with Angie's history to know there was a seizure-oriented incident at Ang's tenth-grade dance. All paths lead to Junior; convenience is paramount in Under the Dome.

Barbie and Jim convene to parse out their Maxine conundrum — sound the Dilemma of the Week alarm! Does anyone even remember what Max wants, other than her very own way? I watched last week’s episode two or three times and I’m already fuzzy. I know she’s a meanie, though. Got that. And now I also know she owns a realty company called the Osiris Corporation, an appropriately menacing moniker, another device Dome holds in highest esteem.

Esquivel is getting closer to the bull's eye with her propane investigation, and this week she’s got Chester’s Mill’s best question-asker, Julia Shumway, on her team. Dots are getting connected tonight, no two ways about it. In Dead Duke's deposit box, Esquivel finds some good news — Duke kept his special gift! — and some bad news — all the unfun drug stuff. There's a little more to the story than we could've guessed: Duke, Reverend Junkhead, and Big Jim weren't actually up-and-coming drug lords but just guys silently offering safe haven for Maxine's propane. Duke’s written confession is heavy on the sold-my-soul stuff, even if his son did die of a drug overdose. Duke goes so far as to call Maxine the devil. Neither Shumway nor Esquivel is surprised to learn Big Jim was involved in the plot to illicitly enrich Chester’s Mill.

Max has used her nine days under the dome upgrading the cement factory into party central, with bareknuckle boxing, soda pop, salt, and games of chance. Max tells Barbie, in elementary Bad-Guy-Explainese, that this is her vice-oriented barter joint — NO PROSTITUTION, though, never prostitution. Max calls Chester's Mill a hellhole for the second time in as many weeks. She also tries out the immensely corny phrase, "Welcome to my brave new world,” but that's not working for anyone.

On Mystery Island, Jim finds the manse where Max is potentially hiding her “kill me and I’ll air out your secrets” insurance policy. It's a really nice house. A happy woman called Agatha tells Jim the home isn't — ALLEGEDLY isn't — inhabited by anyone called Maxine, but rather one Oliver Luckland. First the Osiris Company, then Agatha, then Oliver Luckland. It’s the baby Lost would have if it mated with a library only filled with mystery paperbacks.

In a scene full of oh-so-precise blocking, Angie reveals to Joe and Norrie that Junior captured her during the early days of the dome. Bro and sis have an I Get to Kill Junior First, No I Get to Kill Junior First! fight. Things rev down once they remember they'll need the strapping young psycho to appease the mini-dome. Rather than tell Joe and Norrie about the shoddy pink stars painting Junior's mom made, Angie takes the others straight to Junior’s lair. Violent J shows up at his mom's studio just in time to chokehold Joe. Angie asserts that they're all connected to something "amazing." Of all the words to choose …

Holding Barbie's sordid past over his head, Max forces our antihero to let his violent side erupt interrupted. Eschewing a "the first rule of Fight Club is … " speech, Max declares that there are no rules. Barb riles his rival up and whispers for the bludgeoned dude to hit him as hard as he can, completing the Fight Club circle. Why'd Barbie do it? So he wouldn’t have to fight more? Just so Max wouldn’t get her way? Don't know, don't especially care. After the match, amid some botched sexual tension, Max tells Barbie she’ll burn the whole town down if she doesn't get her way. She’s taken Junior’s place as Dome’s dependable nuisance.

Back at Murder Mansion, Agatha is AAAAACTUALLY Max's mom, because nothing is ever, ever, ever ever ever what it seems. She gives Jim a two-for-one history lesson/guilt trip. We're meant to see another side of a character we've (a) just met and (b) already seen another side of, but we’re also supposed to understand Max's evident disdain for Chester's Mill. Max and Agatha can't abide "the sharp teeth behind the friendly smile"; Jim argues the sharp teeth are exactly how business gets done. The man’s never met a toothless smile he couldn’t pound into the ground.

Agatha slips and yammers her way into showing that she is Max's insurance policy, which makes sense. We see the wheels above Jim's razor teeth start turning; he'll be killing Max's mom before the hour’s up. It's another good opportunity to show how vile and misguided Jim is, how little he'll second guess his impulse to murder. Then Agatha has to spoil it somewhat by disparaging the mental health of Jim's son and dead wife. It’s misleading of the show to suggest that someone needs to push Jim’s buttons to edge him into the murder-zone; self-preservation gets him there just fine, no outside help required.

With the hostage situation flipped, Jim ferries Max’s ornery mother back toward town. Agatha invokes The Wizard of Oz, telling Jim there’s no one behind a curtain pulling strings for him, just before falling off the boat. Jim gets an official Walter White moment, briefly contemplating whether to save the life of someone who’s a liability to his own wellbeing. The moment’s rushed, but Jim does in fact leave Agatha to — ALLEGEDLY — drown. Two things about that: We didn’t see her go under, and the show hasn’t given us a character to bring back from the dead yet. So sure, we’ll see Agatha again, and she’ll be salty.

Esquivel reminds us she's a remarkably poor successor to the sheriff’s throne, telling Big Jim it's cool if he takes THE ENTIRE NIGHT to either shore up his propane story or find a place to hide or hatch a scheme utilizing that gargantuan gun collection he recently obtained. Sure, it's a hook to reel us toward the next episode, but it’s also just stupid.

Barbie decides to snip the line on the anvil Max is holding over his head, telling Julia the truth about her missing husband. "He needed you to kill him," Julia says, calm as hell. Before I can wonder if a catastrophe will reunite the handsome, troubled lovers before season’s end, I’m thrown — Julia seems primed to just let Barbie off with a slap of the wrist. Her marriage must have been pretty fucking troubled for the news to hit her this way; no evident mourning, just a vague sense of disappointment about Barbie’s deception. There’s a $1 million life insurance policy to look forward to someday, at least. (Maybe. I won’t pretend to understand that stuff.)

In the barn again, the caterpillar has become a chrysalis. Junior tentatively adds his hand to the mini-dome, psyched to be part of something for once. The rhythm shaker egg starts exploding with pink stars extra hard, until they're all flying out and being projected onto the air like fireflies. The barn is filled with constellations and wonder. It's a cliff-hanger, but it’s also a Moment. Whatever it is that makes this scene so special — the awe, the air of genuinely promising mystery, the glowiness — Under the Dome could use a lot more of it.

Stray Observations

• Max says “fermiliar” instead of “familiar.” The devil indeed.

• The reminders that Jim is a used car salesman were overdue. It’s not an original trope for a sleazeball, but it’s a big part of Jim’s identity in the town.

• I’m a little foggy on how the drug plot was intended to keep Chester’s Mill drug-free. Was that a realistic hope? And did the reverend mess it up all by himself?

• The mini-dome’s blast against Dodee was clearly an attack, but does anyone think maybe she got some special powers? Should I be using brainpower to wonder about this?

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