Under the Dome
“Last night was our final viewing,” began the brief missive from Vulture commenter jcapflorida last week, followed by the bullet: “Show is awful.” My Stephen King fanboy heart sank — I want this series to be something people can’t help but watch. I want lots of TV lovers to want to talk about it, for Dome to have Homeland-size twists that make me call my dad in Maine when the credits roll just to say whoa, man, right?! But jcapflorida isn’t alone — viewers are bailing, commenters are railing, and Monday nights on Twitter are threatening to turn into an all-out Under the Dome laugh-along.
The show was at a precipice this week. Its pilot was strong — the silly B-movie concept was bolstered by potentially riveting, realistically thought-out aftermath and possibly engaging mysteries. The second episode was so-so. The third flirted with boring and embarrassing. Dome needed to find a way to soar before it plummeted. And then it did neither — this episode wasn’t a travesty or one worth calling home about. It was just another hour of meh. It’s still standing at the precipice, just enjoying the view.
Shumway and her glorious bronze locks shouldered the burden of last week’s dull ending, so she gets the joy of being our opening act tonight, achy, aspirin-less, and wearily suspicious of Barbie. Shumway’s had about enough, and so have the townsfolk, finally, maybe. As the military begins to recede, the Chester’s Millians spray paint messages and pseudo-riot. Even Esquivel has almost no semblance of cool, pulling her pistol to intimidate the crowd away from the dome. Her fear is justified — she watched her avuncular mentor die from getting dome-zapped — but this is her first day as sheriff. Not a good look.
Reverend Salem’s Lot Reject opens a fresh packet of What Did We Do to Deserve This? with his domeside shout-preaching. That particular snack tends to be followed by an acidic beverage called Whose Sins Are We Reallllly Paying For? but somehow no one’s running in that direction quite yet. I love you, Chester’s Mill, but you’re bringing me down. Get mad. Get curious. Turn on each other. Turn on the dome. DO SOMETHING.
The Junior Situation gets more uncomfortable than ever, with Angie pretending to play nice until she tries stabbing Junior in the back with some scissors. She gets choked (eeeeuuuuggghhhh … ) and more chained up than ever. This is a lot of episodes to watch a person trapped in a bunker doing nothing but trying to escape and appearing terrified as her Andy Samberg–ish captor vacillates between a sly look and a doom-bringing glare.
Joe finally gets around to wondering where his sister is; it’s almost like between this and the mad townspeople, the show knows what the viewers are complaining about. Maybe we’ve just been impatient. (It doesn’t feel like we’ve just been impatient.) Re: patience, though: Shumway plays her card against Barbie pretty early, which is welcome. A lesser show might have stalled her suspicion for a whole season. But Shumway’s investigation stalls in its infant tracks due to a gnarly case of domesickness. It seems to be an outbreak of viral meningitis, and hordes of feverish viewers’ Captain Trips theories go to waste.
Barbie, Big Jim, and Alice agree that the hospital/meningitis festival needs to be quarantined; our Story of the Week has revealed itself. For a second, it looks like Jim’s gonna shoot the virus in the face, but he’s actually handing the deadly weapon off to Junior — the son he’s only been shown chastising and belittling thus far — to guard the hospital. Funny how Jim tsk-tsked Esquivel for pulling a gun to handle business just minutes ago, and now he’s passing off a weapon to his psychotic son to do the same thing, quell the public. It fits, though: Jim himself won’t be caught dead pointing a gun at anyone. Not yet.
Jimbo and Barbie find the pharmacy ransacked. Within seconds, Jim can ascertain that “whoever did this took everything.” Hmmm. It starts looking like Esquivel might suffer the least dramatic death ever, shivering and dying of fever in a hospital bed. Luckily Esquivel’s passive-aggressive third-grade teacher steps in; they share what feels like an interminable conversation, but it’s actually 100 percent terminable because the teacher, y’know, dies. It’s a shame (a) because she seemed like a convincing actress, and (b) because the show wants us to be affected by this death, I think, rather than using it to illustrate something. There’s no other explanation — we know the disease is fatal or there wouldn’t be an episode about it. But is there any doubt this disease panic will be wrapped up by the end of the hour, just like the fire in the second episode and the manhunt in the third? If the major players aren’t doing a damned thing about the dome — not wondering about it, testing its limits, seeking its source, freaking out about it, trying to communicate through it and glean information about it — it better be because they’re solving a whopping new problem du jour. But this formula has to stop. And I’m concerned it won’t.
Barbie and Big Jim’s relationship seems to be blossoming, as does Shumway’s and Junior’s. Team B&BJ find Reverend Scumdrugs with a hearse full of pills, enacting earth’s first medication-bonfire. The Rev, as always, MUST BE STOPPED, so he’s stopped. Back at Saint Mary and the Single Set of Doors Hospital (I don’t want to keep snarking, I want to have fun and be fully engaged with what’s happening onscreen, but this is a hospital … with one set of doors!), Junior gives a corny speech and follows it up with an interesting move, leaving the gun behind and letting the townsfolk prove their own honor rather than dominating them with scare tactics.
Sickly Shumway ransacks the cabin (is it her and her husband’s cabin? a mystery cabin? Jacob’s cabin from Lost?) where Barbie killed Peter. She finds some papers but we don’t get to see, because no fair, we never get to see anything. Soon it’ll start looking like Shumway’s husband was either going to hire a hit man to kill her, or that Barbie was a hit man and Mr. S was onto him.
We now know why Norrie was looking for an iPhone-boost from Joe’s genny: SELFIE MANIA. Joe, again making me breathe a little relief, voices that the town assumes it’ll get out of the dome before the situation becomes serious. This is a believable stance — think about all the natural disaster warnings you’ve maintained a blasé “everything’s gonna be cool” attitude throughout — and maybe more of the town should try expressing it if we’re not meant to wonder why nobody seems to give a shit. Joe and Norrie had so much fun with their first couple seizures they decide to try again, filming it this time. They indeed seize it up, nabbing a Paranormal Activity–looking video in the process. It’s hard to watch, and it’s also time for the visions to stop and the Big Thing to happen. I want to see some pink stars falling in lines. I want the sky to look like Lisa Frank took bath salts and went wild all night long.
Dream Peter shows up and now we’re watching a show where visions appear. Yeah, there have been seizures accompanied by mystical incantations, but ghostlike figures are on a different plane. Let’s chalk it up to domesickness and keep sallying forth. Barbie saves Shumway, and in turn we learn a bit about the Barbster. He was an enforcer, in town to bruise some bet-money out of Phil “D.J. Kravitz” Bushey and Peter “More or Less Deceased” Shumway. Either that or Barbie was a hit man and we’ve been juked. So many doubts. So many maybes and ors.
By the end of Barbie and Shumway’s tête-à-tête, my craving for subtler dialogue is maxed out. “Your sorry means nothing to me,” Shumway says. Earlier, from Big Jim: “This damn dome, it’s like an incubator.” The writing’s shown its exposition-loving seams since the get-go, but this supercut really hammered home how unimaginative the dialogue can be. I’m having a hard time unhearing the tepidness and clinging to other things like plot and visuals and dome-logic.
Barbie moves out of Shumway’s place while Norrie and her moms move into Joe’s farmhouse. Carolyn wonders about the dome lasting forever and openly says she’s scared. Damn the basicness of the sentiment — it’s nice just to get confirmation that some people are actually worried about this inexplainable and inherently terrifying scenario. The stakes need to ratchet up. We’re getting hints that they will. Hopefully that ratcheting will come in the form of a jaw-dropping Ned Stark moment, or even a moderately shocking power shift in the vein of The Walking Dead. Hopefully it’ll come before the finale. So many hopefullys.
Reverend Porch Swing is camped out at Big Jim’s at the end of the day, ready to announce that he’s bowing out of the sordid drug/propane biz and buying all the way back into the Jesus market. Our weekly cliff-hanger leaves us with Jim finding Angie in the shelter. As he’s walking up, I’m realizing his moral code is pretty vague thus far. He’s not a cartoon-size baddie, or at least not showing it if he is. He’s clearly not a solid guy. What runs him? All we know so far is “not getting caught” and “being bossy.” The “not getting caught” part mandates that he’ll slam the door directly back on Angie; the sons sins would reflect on the father, and Big Jim can’t have that.
• Who knew Esquivel had all that hair?
• Weird how parents start treating their kids like dogs under the dome, huh? “STAY.”
• If I weren’t watching this show in a stuffy recapper dome, I’d make my friends get together every week just so we could chant along to Julia Shumway’s ludicrous intro narration. The show is titled Under the Dome! We do not need a summing up of this circumstance! It doesn’t even sum anything up! It’d be insulting to viewers if it wasn’t just so freaking goofy.
• If you’ve been reading but avoiding the comments: There’s a small but loyal contingent who really want to discuss whether or not there’s wind inside the dome, and why everyone’s beautiful hair keeps fluttering if it’s supposed to be windless. Let us continue this discussion once more and never speak of it again.
• Under the Dome is getting a ton of viewers and also a ton of eye-rolling. I get the feeling both of these are happening because it’s summer and there’s not much to watch. So, in an awkward segue filed mostly under I Got Nowhere Else to Put This, I want to — nay, MUST — recommend both Dome-haters and Dome-lovers check out Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. Incredibly well done, heartwarmingly unique, and just so, so good. Take Seitz’s word if not mine.
Dear commenters: Please flag any spoilers referencing Stephen King’s 2009 novel spoilers loudly and clearly.