Tuning in to Under the Dome after Sunday night’s excellent Breaking Bad premiere was bound to be awkward. Opening the episode on Big Jim Rennie made it all the more jarring, like he’d been having a nightmare of another life where he just had a very intense scene in a garage with Walter White. “You’re no son of mine,” Big Jim tells Li’l Junior Jim, deciding that if he’s going to slash his son’s heart, he better do it with a trusty cliché. At least it’s not drama just for the sake of being drama — it’s believable that Jim, no matter what he’s done or who he’s killed, would be disgusted by his son chaining up a young woman for a week, then illegally going all bloodlusty on some hicks. It’s just icky. And Jim’s too busy rationalizing his own wrongdoings to sort out his son’s.
“Can’t imagine losing a spouse like that,” Julia tells Barbie, jamming last week’s plot development down our throats and maintaining an eight-episode streak of unsubtle allusion to the fact that Barbie killed Julia’s husband. It gets better: “Strange, huh? Alice dies, Harriet has a baby? Same house, same day. Circle of life.” AND IT MOVES US ALLLLLLL. The powers that be should consider Pop-Up Video bubbles with little plot reminders; then their characters could speak like real human people more often.
The sad M83 song has stopped ringing through the McAlister home. Angie and Joe’s first bit of real reconnection under the dome teaches us that Angie was something of a teenage hellion. The siblings, who look amazingly alike for unrelated actors, head to the diner, encountering a bereaved Norrie on the way out. Joe hazards a question about how his young love is handling herself. “Well, my mom just died twelve hours ago, so … how do you think?” Point taken.
Last week Junior ninja’d his way into Sweetbriar Rose to tell Angie she wouldn’t have to worry about them nasty Dundee boys no more. This week Angie rails at Big Jim — who promised that Junior would stay away in return for Angie’s silence — saying that Junior was like a feral cat dropping a dead mouse at her feet. Nicely put. Angie floats a plan about reopening the diner. I can’t tell if this makes any sense, except to honor the memory of Rose.
We’re not made to wait long for our second “pink stars riseth within the black egg” shot. No one knows what either thing means, but boy, that music sure does want us to find it foreboding! How much are Brian K. Vaughan & Co. banking on viewers driving themselves into slobbering theory-fests over this black egg, and how strongly is that going to inform the decision about when to reveal its powers/significance/origin? I’m a fan of this show — sometimes more happily than others — but even three years after the end of Lost is too soon to have me theorizing about a supernatural-tinted thing there’s no possible way to figure out. Just tell us. (Or don’t — what’s everyone think?)
Ollie Dinsmore, the farmer with an almost total likeness to an evil rodent king in an animated children’s movie, is still in an agricultural dick-swinging contest with Big Jim. Ollie still has the food and the water, and he’s still not interesting in what’s best for the town, as long as what’s best for the town even slightly resembles what Big Jim wants.
Norrie has taken to blaming her mother’s death on her and Joe’s psychic love-connection; as soon as the two of them touched the mini-dome, Alice started dying. It would be a minor shame to see Joe and Norrie part, even temporarily, as their chemistry has fast become one of the show’s best aspects. But hey, can’t argue with Norrie’s logic: “Bad things happen when we’re together.” Dome things.
Jim takes the meager cop squad up to Ollie’s redneck ranch, where the farmer has recruited a big bunch of salt-of-the-earth fellas with rifles. Gracious, do they love pointing guns at each other under this dome. “Anybody that stands by Big Jim can look forward to a tough haul ahead,” Ollie says, either because he gets off on being menacing or because he’s read a few scripts ahead. Ollie orders a kneecap rifle blast on one of Big Jim’s cadre — always a confrontation ender. Junior, starved for some fatherly love, jumps to Ollie’s ship, snidely disarming Big Jim in the process. The family feud has escalated. The glares remain the same.
Big Jim plans a return to Ollie’s farm, which is basically signing off on a small-scale civil war. Since Barbie, the out-of-towner, somehow has ideas no one else ever comes up with, he and Linda hatch a counter-scheme to blast Ollie’s well and nix his monopoly on the drinking water. The line readings here are so sped-through and joyless it’s impossible not to feel all five senses glazing over.
Big Jim has unsafely rallied something like twenty gun-wielding townsfolk in a small space at the diner. These people are eerily okay with the idea of getting killed over some H20. Jim is pissed about Barbie’s alternate plan — I’m pretty positive he says they’d be “worser off” than before — and takes a utilitarian approach: Sure, a gun-battle might leave some casualties on the ground, but not as many as a long-term situation without water.
Junior says his mom died in “a tragic accident,” which is now and forever movie-and-TV code for bullshit backstory. We immediately get the true version, as Ollie kindly fills Junior in: Mama crashed her car on purpose. Suicide. After, Ollie casually alludes to eliminating Junior’s dad. The man’s got a big heart, plus a knack for enabling patricidal urges.
In the forest, Joe and Julia find the mini-dome and its rhythm shaker egg all pink with minuscule fireworks. Since no one is ever unsure about touching strange phenomena in this world, Shumway lays hands on the mini-dome and sees a ghost double of Joe, very seriously intoning that “the monarch will be crowned.” WHATEVER THAT MEANS, BRO. This show is going in a severely different direction than Stephen King’s novel, which isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Chester’s Mill reverting to a medieval town where people don tunics and monarchs are crowned — that’s the worst thing that could happen. As I finish that thought, I realize the dome’s been swarming with monarch butterflies, so maybe the prophecy is just that a bug will get a hat. That’s the opposite of the worst thing that could happen.
Norrie and Angie share a moment in Angie’s bedroom. Norrie is taking her mom’s death brutally and trying to play it cool (“if we stayed in Los Angeles, she’d still be alive, so it’s the bitch’s own fault she’s dead”), shifting the blame from Joe to Alice herself. Unfortunately we have to learn that Angie has not just one conveniently thematic snow globe but a collection of the things. Fortunately this means we get a smashing-snow-globes-on-the-big-snow-globe scene. Norrie’s fuse finally burns out and she breaks down, finally getting hit by the tidal wave of guilt over her mom’s death. It was really just an insulin thing, but try telling a grieving kid that.
The buildup to the farm battle strives fruitlessly for tension — we know almost none of the players, and we wouldn’t be sad to see half of them go anyway. Of course some red shirts get bulleted, DJ Phil also gets hit, and Bottle Rocket Barbie completes his science project just in time. Surely Big Jim has a “GOOD MEN DIED FOR NOTHING!!” speech in his pocket in case Barbie’s plan fails, but it won’t. While we’ve got other problems in the mix tonight, Dome is still operating under a Problem of the Week setup and the well is this week’s star. It shall be solved.
Junior slams his dad in the face with a rifle butt, the well blows up, and Ollie’s fair-weather farmer pals blow that popsicle stand. Ollie hangs at the edge of his living room, desperate to see Big Jim’s brains get blown out all over his antique museum-house. Some well-timed emotionality from Big Jim — and what seems like some genuine honesty about the suicide of Junior’s mother — gets Ollie shot instead. The farmer plays a mean dead-guy-slumping-onto-the-piano.
With Dinsmore dead, Jim gets back to fluffing his “I’m the big baddie” feathers, growling at Barbie. Norrie’s done blaming Joe for her mother’s death anyway, so those two will keep on keeping on. We close on a shot of Angie, who’s got a butterfly tattoo, so maybe she’s the monarch getting crowned. She’s one of the show’s most interesting acting presences, so sure, why not. Crown ‘er. Still holding out for the bug hat though.
• Mary Kaye Schilling shot some pool with Dean Norris for a New York profile that’s in this week’s magazine. Here’s a bit I saved for you: “Dome’s very black-and-white world is something ‘we battle constantly on set,’ says Norris. ‘When we were developing Big Jim, I tried to bring more to him. I really don’t want him to be a mustache-twirling bad guy.’”
• I like this line from Joe: “Norrie’s not my girlfriend. She’s just my … girl, space, friend.”
• I’ve seen a lot of commenters wondering why the dome isn’t all apocalypse’d on the outside anymore. That was just one specific area where the missile hit. The dome’s big. That said, I’ve also seen people wondering how the dome could’ve possibly captured all of Chester’s Mill if there are houses right across the street and right across the dome from Julia’s house. Towns don’t really work like that, with each side of a residential street being one town. Whoops.
• The story of Junior’s mother’s death looks like it tells us one thing — that mental illness runs in the family. But look at Big Jim’s line, “She chose to leave you.” Maybe that wasn’t just because she wanted to die, but because Junior was already an unmanageable, terrifying psychopath even at a young age. Maybe this story’s not finished.
• Not to make a complaint out of nothing, but is the one-episode, one-day format tiring anyone else? The show has enough issues.
• These guys have exploded stuff in more episodes than not. Is no one worried about pollution in the confines of a dome?
Dear commenters: Please flag any spoilers referencing Stephen King’s 2009 novel spoilers loudly and clearly.