Under the Dome Recap: Big Jim Breaks Bad

Under the Dome

Exigent Circumstances
Season 1 Episode 12
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Under the Dome

Exigent Circumstances
Season 1 Episode 12
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Brownie Harris/CBS

The pink stars are rising and falling in the mini-dome’s rhythm shaker egg again, but at this point it’s like, Whatever, rhythm shaker egg; whatever, stars. We shouldn’t even be talking about mini-domes and rhythm shaker eggs anymore! You’re abusing the mystery points and the silliness points. Barbie, rechristened by Big Jim as “the Murderer Dale Barbara,” is on the lam. (Do we all share a life goal to never learn exactly where “on the lam” originates or what it truly means? Or is that just me?) We’re an episode away from the first season finale.

In Jim’s Barbie-skewering speech, the town’s slimiest selectman must feel actual pain as he says the words, “I will not stomp on people’s rights.” That’s Jim’s third-favorite activity after soaking in hot tubs of bourbon and smacking his son! “This is still the United States of America,” Jim reassures. He’s as into being evil as the show is into being obvious, so it’s easy to assume Jim is lying and actually considers Chester’s Mill as lawless as The Simpsons thought international waters were. But what if Big Jim was such a bad guy but also such a lover of the Great American Way that he really felt conflicted about ditching his country’s laws and codes? And if we got to see that? Oh, to dream …

But the audience suggests enacting martial law, so Jim has an excuse to start sweeping through houses like that angry dome-tornado threatened to sweep through last week. Jim has a victory lap and gives a big American balcony speech. This is the American iconography I see in the frame with Jim as he makes his speech: Antlers, a domino, a crucifix, a hand-painted Jasper Johns–ish American flag on the wall that doubles as a menu heralding burgers and ‘dogs, a polished wooden balcony, shafts of sunlight not unlike the ones that must have beamed through Independence Hall in the late 1700s. Jim is a small potatoes dictator who thinks he’s the next Reagan or Bush or George fucking Washington. Clearly having reread the part of The Stand where the good guys go through the minutiae of rebuilding society, Jim gets the crowd amped up to tend crops, clean streets, and attend boring town hall meetings. “We will survive! This dome can’t break us! Chester’s Mill will see tomorrow! And the next year! And every year after that!” Jim loves playing politician; the crowd loves playing sheep.

The military knows about the egg and is chattering about Barbie, Dodee learns. Outside the dome, radio transmissions are discussing Barbie’s “necessary expertise” in a way that sounds like Barbie’s dealt with domes before, or others have. Is the dome a military simulation gone awry? Have other, maybe historical, times and places been domed? Are other domes happening right now? Is Barbie’s expertise a matter of character or of actual learning and experience?

First we have a barn to revisit. Here, at episode twelve, I’ve accepted that Under the Dome will, every week, recap events of the previous week, wasting precious time by insultingly holding its audience’s hand. Every second of every episode of TV can be used to build toward something beautiful and riveting — why fill your viewers in on things they very recently watched? I’ve begrudgingly accepted it, but I wish the actors would look directly at the camera and wink and shrug every single time they have to read those lines. “We all saw the same vision at the big dome, Joe!” Angie tells her brother, a big goofy smile and a wink. “It wants him dead.” Shrug. Or she could wear a T-shirt reading “I’m with Stupid/Patronizing/Stalling” and the arrow would point to the writer’s room.

The week’s major moment of rewind action is accompanied by some weak foreshadowing about the mini-dome and the cool light-up egg. “I think … something will … change, when this … thing … does … whatever it does!” Carolyn, done grieving for her partner after a respectful number of episodes, shows up at the barn and nicely sidesteps her responsibility to act like the Unimaginative Parent Who’s Skeptical of the Child’s Clearly Real Brush with the Supernatural. Carolyn’s experienced the supernatural, too — everyone in this dome has. So she accepts Norrie’s “mom, this is the dome’s heart; dome’s heart, this is mom” routine.

The Domekidz relocate the mini-dome to Benny’s house. This way the mini-dome won’t get found when Big Jim’s Big Mob comes a’knockin’, and also we get to chill with the chillest beanie-wearin’ skater dude in Chester’s Chills, my man Benny. (Upon seeing the mini-dome: “So you really think this is the engine? It’s like a lava lamp.”)

Since Barbie shared that one moment with Angie on Dome Day, he tracks her down and conveniently — Convenience is thy middle name, Dome — finds an anti-Jim ally in her. Good thing, since Barbie’s come to the accurate conclusion that Jim will murder Julia if she wakes up and starts telling people Barbie never actually shot her. Jim’s frame job on Barbie will slide off the wall, and Jim can’t have that happening. The man likes to keep frames where he hung ‘em.

But Big Jim’s immaculate facade crumbles into a scrap pile when the military guys outside the dome casually mention seeing Jim — just one of the ants in the military’s all-hours domequarium sitcom — murder the reverend. Dodee is right there to hear. Dodee is now a threat; a threat is a thing big Jim kills. The manner in which Jim advances slowly on Dodee; the, again, Walter White-like ways he rationalizes his acts of evil to himself — it’s really good. Jim talks of neutralizing threats, eliminating liabilities. There’s no mustache twirling. Jim believes he’s done all this bloody work to preserve Chester’s Mill, but he hasn’t made the connection that, in his own mind, Chester’s Mill equals Big Jim. Dodee seems to buy this, offers to team up with Jim, everything. It’s sad and scary. It gets sadder and a lot scarier when Jim pulls a gun; info-harvesting is over and the bodies may now hit the floor. Dodee gets a good last lick in, some of the first genuinely harsh words we’ve seen directed at our villain’s face: “Big Jim, you’re a sick bastard. And one day everyone’s gonna know it. And they’re gonna smile when you die.” Good-bye, Dodee. Au revoir, radio station. Adios, military-intercepting equipment.

Sincerely, though: It’s a cold-blooded moment for Under the Dome, showing Jim blast the very cool and smart and interesting Dodee, then burn the place and her body with it. A show so frequently laughable shouldn’t be able to give me chills, but it does every now and then. (Back to the funnies, though: Jim slowly descending the stairs as he lit a tie-dye banner with his Zippo was so Woodstock ‘69, bro.)

Phil thinks Barbie killed Dodee and burned down his palace of radio love. Esquivel seems to be swallowing the “Barbie’s a Killer” headline without doubt, but let’s hope her flawed police-brain wheels are turning. Big Jim, fully committed to being a bad guy and barely caring who knows it, has Carolyn disgustingly detained at the former site of the mini-dome. Joe and Norrie show up and get arrested. Jim’s tossing the laws out the window and Carolyn’s a lawyer who happens to be watching him do it.

Barbie and Angie plan to distract Junior at the hospital and rescue Julia in the process. This almost gets botched thanks to Angie’s smoky mouth after bumming a cigarette off Barbie earlier. Junior? More like JUNIOR DETECTIVE. Junior and Barbie have a parking lot brawl that begins with a just-humans-no-motorcycles version of Mission: Impossible 2’s motorcycle jousting scene and ends with Barbie just bludgeoning Junior. Barbie is, like, SO dangerous. He’s got a soft side, though, never forget. He kisses a comatose Julia on the mouth and breathes, “I love you.” That’s what’s relevant right now.

Norrie, in Jail 4 Teenz with Joe, quotes something she once posted on Tumblr, probably: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Big Jim stops by for some intimidation practice. Norrie makes a good slash at him, but Jim does his outmuscling thing again. Also in the newly spacious jailhouse, Big Jim reveals to Barbie that he’s got framer’s insurance on everyone. Jim can convince the town Joe and Norrie are killers, and that Julia and Angie are criminals. Jim can turn all the good guys into bad guys in the eye of the public, basically. The good guys are screwed. They should’ve killed Big Jim like the vision said to.

Big Jim takes Barbie in front of the town hall, speechifies a bit more, invokes the hallowed name of Justice, and opens the floor up for Barbie to confess to all Jim’s gross murdering. We’re waiting for Barbie to make a false confession under duress. He might. But he doesn’t. Junior, meanwhile, is distraught about figuring out his dad is a killer, and the mini-dome is salty about all its beloved Domekidz finding themselves in distress. It’s realllly exploding with stars now. But still, nothing. Try again next week. It’s the finale, so something will probably happen. The monarch will be crowned, the egg will hatch, Reverend Coggins will return as a zombie slinging zombie meth. Anything is possible … UNDER THE DOME.

Stray Observations

Here’s a teaser for the finale.

• “Julia is what I call a hair actress,” said commenter cruspix last week. “They are all stuck under a creepy dome with weird weather and few supplies/essentials, yet her lush red mane always looks like she just posed for a cover of Cosmo.” You had me at “hair actress,” cruspix. Nailed it.

• Dual Twin Peaks flashes for me tonight: the almost-cheesy creepiness of Julia’s pale, comatose self, and the dead stare of Dodee in the flames. Something about those shots, and maybe the soundtrack, gave me Peaks-bumps.

• Dodee intercepts an “NSA creeper” and shakes her head at him. Semi-timely!

• What if Junior’s mental illness is a sociopathic tendency and a predilection for guiltless violence, passed on straight from his father?

• When Under the Dome was released as a novel in 2009, it felt very definitively like New Era Stephen King, an Uncle Stevie more considered with literary character-making and less with hyper crazy situations and supernaturally sinister goings-on. But the show’s playing like an Old Era King adaptation, like this could be a vaguely modernized take on the overblown satire of Needful Things, or like Chester’s Mill is the town next door to Derry, where It went down.

• I’ve held back my comments about Shumway’s dead-voiced weekly recap not of previous episodes’ events but of the premise of the entire show. This time I can’t hold myself back: Why does Julia feel the need to quantify the dome as mysterious?! Do un-mysterious domes descended on towns totally smoothly and normally?

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

Under the Dome Recap: Big Jim Breaks Bad