Under the Dome Recap: Winter Is Coming

Photo: Brownie Harris/CBS
Under the Dome
Episode Title
Black Ice
Editor’s Rating

Zenith's ante-dome playground has been cordoned off as a biohazard zone, and the still-mysterious rhythm-shaker egg is even angrier than it was when it throttled Big Jim in his own bomb shelter last week. Barbie's dad isn't going to have much luck handling this thing, it seems. Unless there's a new Friend of the Dome on the outside, another mystically inclined character to toss into the stew? 

In Chester's Mill, Barbie is locker-punchin' mad over Jim's executive decision to throw the egg over the abyss and out of the dome. Big Jim's been on a big journey as a person this season, opening up to the idea that the dome has reasons for existing and purposes for its citizens, particularly Jim himself. It's been moderately interesting to watch. But now Jim's on his second episode of yammering to Pauline about wanting to "get the family back together." It feels so dumb and hollow. We know Jim's going to give this up and turn heel again, possibly killing or making a murder attempt on Pauline and/or Junior. Why do we even have to waste time getting there? As long as there's no immediately available antagonist substitute, Dean Norris will continue filling that slot.

"Your good intentions don't always produce good results," Pauline tells Jim, attempting to mildly inform him that she knows he's the town's biggest asshole. When this doesn't land, she goes the rest of the way, telling Jim that his notions of altruism are actually textbook narcissism. The conversation, freighted in that way only a #marriedfight can be, gets intense quickly. When the subject of Lyle comes up, Jim manages to pay quick lip-service to that old cliché, "Do ya love 'im?" Somewhere in all of this, Sherry Stringfield's performance as Pauline is slowly finding its legs.

Last week I was disappointed, not for the first time, about Under the Dome's insistence that microclimates and magical weather moments are fascinating. They are not. This seemed to also be the case for the latest development — the town suddenly, rapidly shifting from summer to fall. Autumn lasted one episode, and now it's winter, which is suitably Stephen King–ish. The dome freezing is (a) one of the coolest dome effects since the show's pilot; and (b) reminiscent of Wizard and Glass, the fourth Dark Tower novel. So, cool!

Along with a domefreeze comes a domeslide, apparently. Joe tries touching the dome's frosty surface and finds it uncomfortably similar to sticking a hot tongue on a wet flagpole. This wouldn't be much of a problem, except the Dome is moving, sliding, rotating, something. What does this mean? Is it just another cool, weird thing? Either way, at this point, I'm into it. This show does "everything and the kitchen sink" like few others. Until we get an explanation (if that's ever gonna happen, which seems unlikely), Joe and Norrie hit up Becky Science, who uses her hard facts to make yet another development seem unfathomably boring.

The addition of Melanie has been one of season two's wildest wild cards. Her membership in the Domekidz 1.0 — Lyle and Pauline and Sam and Melanie, who originally found the egg — simply seemed convenient for the writers, or maybe like it added an extra layer without any real desire to explore that layer. But now, despite Dome's deeply improvisational feel every week, it's looking like the season has had something of an arc to it all along. Melanie and Pauline, not only OG Domekidz but old-school BFFs, have a decently compelling reunion. These are two of the people most affected by, and connected to, the egg. They have history. And they actually improve each others' performances. This whole episode is finale-level intense, particularly thanks to this full-circle-ness. (It also reminds me of Storm of the Century.)

Driving to the Sweetbriar Rose to get all that food Andrea Grinnell has been stashing, Barbie and Julie have a very frank, dicey conversation about the town's prospects for the winter. Estimated death toll: 50 percent. "I'm gettin' tired of survival being the best-case scenario here," Barbie says.

Sometimes it's good to know episode titles beforehand. Mad Men and Breaking Bad, to use two go-tos, have titles that add to the rich art unfolding throughout the episode. They are hardly ever spoiler-y. Under the Dome is often alright with titles, but this week's was "Black Ice," meaning we knew to be terrified as soon as Barbie and Julia hit the road, and especially when Julia climbed into the back of the ambulance. I knew that ambulance was destined for a tumble. I'm not a prophet, but I know what black ice is. In case you don't: It's not some supernatural thing — it's more or less invisible ice on a road in winter in a cold place where ice is just everywhere. It's deadly, and it sucks. 

So the ambulance flips. Julia's dive looks brutal; if this were a different Under the Dome, it might have even been fatal. But she's fine, clearly, although a little scuffed up. (Are these lovebirds ever not scraped up?) HOLD ON, THOUGH: Julia's not just scratched up, she's impaled through the leg with a metal mystery rod! Ouchie-mama. 

"I need you to go talk to your mom," Big Jim tells Junior at the high school/makeshift medical clinic. "She's too pissed to listen to me right now and she's got her reasons, okay, but I need ya to go to her, be my advocate." Junior doesn't want anyone to stay together for the kids, and Jim's awful at convincing.

In the icy overturned ambulance, Barbie's middle name is suddenly MacGyver. He turns a sample-size jar of petroleum jelly into a supercandle. Things are a lot bleaker than usual tonight, especially once a redshirt townie's wife dies and the power goes out at the school. Unfortunately, "bleak" isn't a shortcut to being a better show. Dome's still blindingly obvious and clunky even when it's making an honest effort at being grim. Example: Moments after the wife's death, Julia asks Barbie, "So what's going on with you? You're acting like you're losing hope." The two of them starting reenacting the end of Titanic, from the snuggling to the wavy auburn hair to the trembling hypothermia voices.

"We had a way outta here, Julia," Barbie murmurs, defeated. "We're not gonna get another one." But hope springs eternal in Julia, our Monarch: "So we'll spend the rest of our lives here. We'll make the best of it." Almost fun to imagine, although it's terrifying how this also insinuates infinity seasons of Under the Dome. Barbie realizes Julia's hypothermia is probably enough to slow the blood loss from her rod-in-a-leg sitch. It's tough getting invested in the "will Barbie and Julia be separated forever"/"won't they" when we're asked this question on an almost weekly basis.

Hunter starts getting into Egg Theory with Joe, the dome's other nerd. They can't piece together how the dome can be the egg's power source but the dome can continuing being powered even as the egg's gone. Hunter's secretly fishing for information about the egg so Aktaion Energy will help him escape. Norrie clues Hunter in to the fact that the only people who can touch that egg are inside the dome. (How does she know?!) Hunter hits on Norrie, because Joe going astray wasn't enough Domekid Drama for the season evidently. Meanwhile, whoever has the egg — Mr. Barbara, or maybe someone even bigger that he worked for — is causing Melanie serious anguish.

Jim goes to get some spare gas from his boat and finds Barber Lyle thrashing in the frigid water, somehow not dead. (Always somehow with this show!) It looks like Jim will leave Lyle to freeze and drown — he's an evil narcissist, remember! Big Jim only does what's best for Big Jim! — but the unthinkable happens and Jim chucks a buoy to his old frenemy, despite the fact that Pauline might be in love with the batty chap.

"Keep talking to me," Julia tells Barbie as they edge closer to death. For a minute I'm pretty sure Barbie won't have anything to say, because what does Barbie have to say, when it comes to just talking, not plotting or analyzing or whatevering? But he does it! He tells Julia they'll make it and they'll love each other and have children and a nice little place with some rabbits an' live off the fatta the lan'. Julia zonks out, Barbie yanks the metal from her gooey leg, and they head to the diner, to safety. What follows is a scene I'm fairly sure has never been filmed: a frostbitten woman sprawled out on a floor behind a diner counter while an open oven preheats the icy air. And it works out because that random guy's wife already died earlier, so the beast has been satiated, Julia need not perish this night.

Before you know it, Under the Dome has found a way to cram an entire winter into one episode. Spring is breaking with the dawn. We conclude with an all-new sound for the dome, a speaker-busting screech followed by a low alien burble. Melanie's eyes flash open and she whispers, "It's starting." The music gets all funky, Norrie touches the now-stationary dome, and the dome starts SHRINKING IN ON THE TOWN. I don't know how many more of those wild cards are in this series' deck, but I hope they just keep laying 'em down. The dome turning into the garbage compactor from A New Hope is exciting, even if I can practically see the whiteboard in the writers' room by now, the one with every event that could happen to/within a town-covering dome. We're working our way down the list fast.

Minutes From the Town Meetin'

Commenter kristmhart asked last week: "Do we think [the debris-free Styrofoam cave] felt ridiculous to Stephen King? He has to be laughing at all of us." OMG, kristmhart, if you knew how many times I ponder that latter sentiment every single week. Stephen King is a fan of good TV. He was the first person to put me on to Breaking Bad, via his Entertainment Weekly column. He also loves schlock and genre stuff, but can he honestly be psyched about this show on a week-to-week basis? While it's fun to watch and recap, it's just so embarrassingly flawed in so many ways. 

The generational aspect of the Domekidz 1.0 and 2.0 "finishing what we started all those years ago" is reminiscent of It.

Melanie making out with Junior means she's been getting involved with her best friend's son, which you don't see every day.

Hunter: "Did you know that there's a Little Bitch Road about a mile from here?" Joe: "Yeah, used to be the most exciting thing about Chester's Mill."

"Everything I've done, I've done for my family," says Jim. This is, no exaggeration, the fourth or fifth instance of an "everything I've done, I've done for X" line this season alone. What do the writers collectively smoke, and where do I get some?