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Under the Dome Recap: Ever Been to a Planetarium?

Big Jim and Barbie discover their lives are more intertwined than they knew when a mysterious woman, Maxine, shows up unexpectedly in Chester'™s Mill, on UNDER THE DOME, Monday, August 19

The day begins with Barbie — one of many people trapped within a town-size, missile-proof dome — grumbling that the idea of a black rhythm shaker egg inside a mini-dome sounds "kinda out-there." Shumway laughs about having to explain things twenty times, which, just … grr. Barbie suddenly accepts the mini-dome’s existence, sight unseen, and posits a planetarium theory wherein the mini-dome is projecting the big dome. That’s not at all out-there. The contradictions, the plodding rehashing — this is Under the Dome. Which is sometimes a pretty okay show, although not so much tonight. Fortunately it also tends to be a show that regains its uncertain appeal by the time each new episode comes back. The shoddy work shows itself ten times more than the inspiring, intriguing material, but somehow the latter has sticking power, while the former’s easy to shake off. For me, at least. For now, at least.

Joe and Norrie are up early at the farm again, just chicken-catchin’. Joe knows the monarch prophecy could've related to the butterflies swarming the dome; that feels like a big red slash through that theory. Joe’s comment that he guesses someone in the dome “gets to be king” seems directly about Big Jim. We’ll see, though. The show seems most comfortable when it’s hanging with the Domekidz, which leads me to believe — in addition to Angie’s tattoo — that one of the youths will be crowned, whatever the crowning entails. And for some reason I imagine them fighting through a generic Hunger Games to get there.

The Weekly Conundrum isn't as tiresome as the fact that it always involves police activity and/or firearms. This week’s incarnation of Mr. We're All Gonna Die in Here is, appropriately, the man the most guns in the world. He accidentally shot a neighbor while trying to ward off a psychotic drug guy. Psychotic drug guy (birth name: Larry, evidence he was more or less marked for drug addiction from day one) tells Linda and Barbie that Reverend Methsnivel sold him a superdrug called rapture. Woo hoo, obviousness.

Junior swings by Sweetbriar Rose — where Angie is maneuvering her way into an ownership position — and Angie has her very own pink-stars-falling-in-lines-seizure. The incident is identical to Joe’s and Norrie’s tweak-outs. More on this later.

At Big Jim’s big Jimstead, an enigmatic blonde awaits. The plinky “mystery thickening NOW” music makes me feel like I’m watching a miniseries version of Clue. Then this unknown woman calls Big Jim Jimmy — Jimmy! — and we know she’s yet another predator higher in the food chain than Chester’s Mill’s shadiest car salesman/councilman/drug guy. And Max — Maxine, presumably — is indeed a bigger piece of the big drug scheme, and of the rapture drug. She was caught in town on Dome Day and has emerged from hiding (a) to re-dwarf Not-So-Big Jim less than twenty hours since he his bigness, and (b) to make a lot of smarmy mystery-talk, referencing a secret drug ingredient. One step forward (vague clarification on the drug ring), two steps back (more mysteries added to the increasingly messy pile).

Max seems like a fancy opportunity for Big Jim to incur more paranoia about someone knowing he's not such a great guy after all. The show’s starting to operate largely around Big Jim offing everyone who knows what he’s really about, all the while hoping he'll emerge into the post-dome world a saint. Max suggests she and Big Jim start making the most of Chester's Mill's crisis — which Jim's been doing all along, but now he's gotta divvy the power up with another corrupt person.

"I really can't believe this," Esquivel says with zero conviction after discovering the reverend’s chemistry hobby. How long until she gets past disbelief about the collection between Coggins and Sherriff Duke, then makes the connection to Big Jim? How long until Big Jim, who’s spending a lot of time in the police station, verifies that Esquivel’s onto him and adds her to his death list?

Characters saying the term “mini-dome” out loud doesn't work for me. Neither do lines like, "I just wish my mom was still here to help us. Can't believe she was alive just two days ago." This kind of dialogue would be acceptable if each episode were a comic book appearing a month or more since the last issue; not in a weekly show, or a series CBS is hoping people will binge-watch via Amazon. C'mon. We’re not going to beat this dome with talk like that.

Jim uses Linda and Barbie as a test-audience for a three fourths insane speech about how Chester's Mill is becoming a sovereign, lawless nation rather than a small town in dire circumstances. Jim proceeds to make a sanitized, alternately deluded version of the speech over the airwaves. Would people really turn in their guns? (If they were offered free/cheap propane and food, yes, maybe. This point was kind of glossed over, though; I didn’t catch it until a rewatch.) Won't anyone be creeped out by the memory of Sweetbriar Rose dressed up as a gun show next time they come in for a packet of oyster crackers and a slice of American cheese? And would people keep giving their guns up as they watched Jim and Barbie blatantly exit the restaurant with firearms in hand?

It’s unfortunate we’re being asked to simultaneously root for Angie as a character and watch her follow Junior into more and more creepy, isolated spaces. But suddenly we’re living in a world where Junior not only doesn’t seem fully insane, but seems sweet and possibly even kind. We learn that Junior’s mom — the one who married Big Jim, mind you — was an artist. (And not a great one. Sorry, Mrs. Renny. Honesty is the only policy.) It’s all a setup to the reveal that Junior’s mom, shortly before her death, painted a portrait of Junior beneath a sky of pink stars. It's meant to be eerie, but there's too strong a sense that this is just something the writers came up with, not a true-feeling spooky circumstance. And there’s the other thing: We’ll soon see the mini-dome has relocated to Joe and Angie’s family barn, and that it’ll do some magical, terrible unlocking thing when it has the four hands it needs. The fourth has to be Junior. Angie had the seizure when Junior came near (although not the first hundred times — huh?), Junior’s being painted as less loathsome, et cetera.

In the home of the most well-armed man in America, Big Jim sits down to talk it out. Out in the woods, Barbie keeps a gun laser dot thingy trained on Jim's cranium rather than Mr. Gun's. Nice subtle touch for once, to get a chance to guess at what Barbie's thinking. Jim spoils the subtlety a bit with a comment to Barbie afterwards, but, well … baby steps.

Under the Dome is nowhere near as campy, incomprehensible, or poorly conceived as The Room. Nonetheless, I’m now awarding Wiseau Awards, named for the cult film’s creator, once per episode based on the purest examples of terrible, unnecessary lines. This week’s victor: "Oh, Barbie and I know each other.” Congratulations, Max — your Wiseau Award should arrive in the mail in four to six weeks, all because you kissed Barbie just milliseconds before saying this, rendering the line completely insipid and insulting to the audience. (Also: Barbie clearly can't resist lustrous, wavy locks.) Max gets an additional honorable mention for the groaner, "You have quite a few secrets buried in your past, Barbie." This woman showing up has the makings of a good plot development, but the material the writers are giving her is wretched. It’s never a good look to write a woman who taunts men by calling them girls. RISE ABOVE, DOME!

It’s another go-nowhere episode full of characters making decisions real people don't, and wouldn’t, make. A couple of zigs instead of zags maybe bode well for the future, but it's a dull hour.

Stray Observations

• The Microsoft gadget placement in this show has been unbearable. Stop trying to make Microsoft happen, Microsoft.

• Big Jim has the guns. Try to guess exactly what violent, power-hungry scheme whirred through his mind as he scanned the weapons.

• Julia's marriage went cold a while ago, but I'm having a tough time swallowing how familiar and cozy she seems with Barbie. They feel like a couple married several years already. I concede that the whole dome thing would bond them, but I doubt it would just speed things up like this.

• Last week, as Margaret Lyons's "What 'Meh' TV Show Do You Find Yourself Watching Anyway?" post neared 250 comments, only six people had voted Under the Dome. That was surprising to me, and a little heartening. It made me imagine that lots of people are enjoying the show and not having too tough a time with its flaws. I hope it’ll improve drastically for season two. Maybe that’s dumb of me.

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

Photo: Brownie Harris/CBS