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Under the Dome Recap: From a Lacerated Sky

"Force Majeure" -- When tensions in Chester\'s Mill continue to rise as resources dwindle, Big Jim  holds a census in order to forecast how long the town can continue to exist under the dire conditions.  Meanwhile, a rainstorm brings much-needed water until it changes to acid rain, threatening the lives of everyone it touches. Also, Rebecca and Lyle butt heads over the reasons for the dome\'s existence, on UNDER THE DOME, Monday, July 14 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured (L-R) Grace Victoria Cox  as Melanie Cross and Alexander Koch  as Junior Rennie Photo: Best Possible Screen Grab/CBS2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Under the Dome doesn't make a lot of bold choices, but occasionally it makes a cool one. I haven't seen this kind of blood downpour since I watched Slayer get drenched in fountains of the stuff onstage a decade ago. (If Slayer didn't enter your consciousness the moment the red rain showed up, then … we've made different musical choices on this winding road of life.) The dome's latest weather pattern looked eerie enough for me to forgive the show's umpteenth instance of an interesting visual being describing in blunt, hyperunnecessary terms. "It's raining blood," says Dwight Yoakam's Lyle, our new barber friend/fiend. To which every one of Dome's millions of viewers replies: "No shit, Lyle." It's TV; we see things as they happen.

Let's rewind a little, though, to Lyle shaving Big Jim in his fully functioning end-times barbershop. In keeping with last week's rejiggered expectations, let's just accept that outdated small businesses are still operating as if there isn't a life-pausing, state-of-emergency-creating dome overhead. And while we're here, let's admire how bold Big Jim is to be a repeat murderer who dares to let another man — a man who used to date his wife, in fact — shave him with a straight razor. It's actually a minor stroke of genius for the show to plant Sweeney Todd–ish bloodbath imagery in our head and then make it come to life in an unexpected fashion moments later, from the skies.

Lake Girl Melanie still doesn't know who she is. I'm hoping she secretly does know who she is and is going to show off her stormy-eyed villain within a few episodes. Seems unlikely by the end of this hour, though. She very much seems to be a genuinely amnesia-stricken pawn of the dome. For now she's joining up with the newly diminished Domekidz for a trip to the high school, where she recently saw Angie get ax-murdered.

Uncle Sam is counseling Junior, who's somewhat convinced he offed Angie without remembering it. Sam mentions how Junior's mother used to have "dissociative fugue states." (I'm sure we'll hear more about that eventually.) "We'll figure this out," he tells Junior, this uncle who hasn't taken the time to see his little buddy since he was truly little. But maybe there's a new-leaf thing happening in Sam's life. Or perhaps he's our villain in wait. Junior heads to the high school to see if he can jog his memory and recall any grisly murders he might have committed.

With a new dome-storm brewing, science professional Rebecca Pine — Big Jim's latest lackey — instructs the townsfolk to collect as much water as they can. But it's blood instead, or something that looks bloody but scorches the skin. Rebecca happens to know of a red rain that occurred in India this one time, caused by "spores from an abnormal algae bloom." Rebecca's science-versus-faith battle starts jumping off earlier than expected as Lyle attacks her logic. "I'm lookin' at scripture to tell me what this is — what're you lookin' at?" he asks. "Science?" Rebecca answers, cocky as hell. "Like, when the dome magnetized, or the crops were infested?" Ah, our last two Problems of the Week! This is our neon sign indicating that the rain is our latest POTW. My God, do we need to break out of this stifling format.

"I believe in the original definition of apocalypse," Rebecca tells Jim on a drive over to the high school. "It's Greek: to uncover, or reveal. That's what crises do — they reveal character, strength. Or not." Big Jim's charm, invisible to us as an audience but terribly real to these townsfolk, persuades Rebecca to try looking at things with a mixture of science and faith. We'll see.

At the high school, everyone's got Super-Cool Microsoft Tablets with Snap-On Keyboards, one of which Joe will carry for the rest of the episode. Luckily and inexplicably, these bad boys are suddenly intercepting some internet. Joe has an emotional email from his parents ("you're the man of the house now, dawg") and can't decide whether to tell them Angie's dead. Norrie's discovering that "we're super-trendy in Twitter-land." Junior fields an email from 01@houndsofdiana.com, which directs him to a video message from his mom, Pauline. She takes no time to ease Junior into the information that she's been alive these past nine years. "Talk to Lyle," Pauline insists instead. "Only to Lyle." Whose last name, by the way, is Chumley.

Mr. Chumley — a fanatically religious man as well as a hardworking barber — starts spitting some Yahweh brimstone at Rebecca Pine, whom he's captured and bound. He wants her to drop the science bullshit and admit that the red rain is an infidel-zapping pre-Rapture device. Barbie, meanwhile, is hammering the same nail Rebecca started pounding earlier, telling Julia, "Under the right circumstances, anybody's capable of anything. I believe that when things fall apart, people show their true colors." Barbie's past life as an enforcer is cloudy, but I think we're within our rights to assume he worked at a fortune-cookie company for a long while.

Jim, recovering from some rain burns, asks Sam — his wife's brother, and apparently a longtime low-key nemesis — why he'd help him. "I may not be on your team — hell, I might even hate your damn guts — but that doesn't mean I'm gonna let you die," Uncle Sam tells Big Jim. (Is there a show on TV with more American character names??) Then Sam leans in, smiles a giant creepy smile, and adds, "At least not yet." What's your game, guy? 

Rebecca melts down just in time to stop Lyle from splashing her with acid-blood. She repents, conceding that the dome has a plan. Lyle trades in his bowl o' acid for a boring handgun. Barbie, Julia, and Junes bust in to splinter this faith-versus-science battle into a separate faith-versus-other-brand-of-faith battle. Rebecca ends up rescuing herself, shimmying out of the ropes tied around her wrists and smacking Lyle. Julia — whose behavior is getting irritating — is pissed at Rebecca for rescuing herself from mortal danger.

So far, season two has a new policy where no relationships are allowed to exist without being threatened by other attractive men/women kicking around the dome. Look at our three new big characters, Sam, Rebecca, and Melanie. Barbie doesn't like Sam or how he's getting tight with Julia; Julia doesn't like Rebecca or her love of science or her little moment with Barbie a few days ago; Norrie doesn't like Melanie, and she hates the way Melanie benignly called Joe "sweetie" that one time. Maybe I kind of get it — you're under a dome, things are crazy, you want to hold on to your new love. But it's playing out horribly. The withering glares Mackenzie Lintz (Norrie) is asked to deliver are too much, although it's fun to see her try out a new emotion by the episode's end: rage. "How 'bout you don't tell him how to be?" she spits at Melanie. "You're not his girlfriend and, as far as I know, you're not anyone." This devolves into forehead-poking and locker-slamming. Norrie's sick of all the mysteries, and she's taking it out on this shadowy girl who had the audacity to be nice to her grieving boyfriend.

Rebecca has the lake sprayed down with a "pretty science-y" compound and suddenly the rain stops. (Ughhh.) At Big Jim's big bedside, Rebecca says that resources are now dire enough to warrant some herd-thinning. It's a good thing Julia walks out when she does, because Rebecca starts talking about putting old people in trees and shaking them out, just like some made-up tribe in Borneo.

Lyle, scalded and jailed, sings some thematically appropriate CCR in a very loud voice not dissimilar to that of Dwight Yoakam's. Sam, exhibiting more of his latent dark side, says he could kill Lyle, no fuss. The two start talking about something they buried 25 years ago. Afterward, Junior swings by to strike a deal: I let you out, you tell me everything. Never stop making great choices, Li'l Jim.

Chester's Mill High School boasts immaculate archives. Not only is there a list of all the people who've had every locker for the last 50 years (whyyyyy), there's a 1998 yearbook right there. Joe, Norrie, and Melanie end on a cliff-hanger that feels like something we already knew: Melanie has been a teenager for, like, ever. Because she's the star of her own ghost story. Probably.

Minutes from the Town Meetin'

• Last week I wondered if this season would start piling on the questions and the mythology at unprecedented rates. Tonight, a resounding answer: YES. In addition to the mysteries surrounding Melanie and Sam and Lyle, we get a quick reference to Barbie being from a place called Zenith. That's the same word Junior's snow globe — the one with the distinctive pillar — featured in the season-two premiere. (And maybe where Pauline's living?) Julia dares to say "I have faith that the answers will be revealed" in this episode. We'll see.

• If you're prepared to get into some real Lost-type stuff, let's talk about the Hounds of Diana for a minute. I wasn't familiar with the Greek reference, so I had to Wiki: "Having accidentally seen Diana (Artemis) on Mount Cithaeron while she was bathing, [Actaeon] was changed by her into a stag, and pursued and killed by his 50 hounds." Okay! CBS has a website going (funny Google result, actually) — houndsofdiana.com — that appears to a simple, unresponsive image of three menacing-looking hounds above a dome. But click in just the right spot and you'll be taken to houndsofdiana.com/main, where there's an "intercepted" video Joe and Norrie filmed to beam to the outside world. There's also this mission statement: "We are the Hounds. We hunt for you. By sight, by scent, by sound ... we track down what's really going on #UnderTheDome. Because you have a right to know. We all have a right to know who and what is behind the Dome." So there you have it. There's a Hounds of Diana Twitter, too.

• I'm tempted to start saying James instead of Junior. Maybe next week we can courageously make the switch together.

• The locker that happened to be the last thing Angie touched had great promise for the story line, right? Wrong. Empty. Take that as a larger commentary on this series if you will — or wait to find out why it was open, I guess.

Photo: CBS