After this 15th hour of Under the Dome, it’s time to set a few parameters on our weekly discussions. As promised last time, I’m here as someone who read and loved the novel, as a part-time fan of low-calorie genre TV, as a part-time hate-watcher, and as one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers. And in order to avoid drowning in snide barbs every week, I’ve gotta transparently lay out a few stances on this series.
Under the Dome is a direct descendant of Lost. This show reminds me of Lost at least a few times per episode. It shares DNA (Jack Bender, Brian K. Vaughan) and a similarly bottomless hunger for mythology. As a book, Under the Dome was about a fairly straightforward, non-sentient dome and the reality-based effects it had on the average small town of Chester’s Mill. The TV series is about a communicative, mercurial dome and the mysteries it both sets in motion and unlocks inside Chester’s Mill, which is already a minefield of secret histories.
I bring this up because I don’t think Lost comparisons ever warrant explanation with this show. Dome is written as a Lost comparison, even if it only succeeds where that series did — varyingly lifelike characters, genuinely intriguing questions — every four or five episodes. It’s interesting watching one show specifically follow the blueprint of a better, recent, and also flawed show. (Dome’s Problem of the Week setup bucks Lost’s serial tradition, however.)
At this point, one of my favorite reasons to tune in is to see how high Under the Dome will build its Jenga tower of mysteries and unexplained happenings. Every Monday, the stack of questions and answers and red herrings teeters more dangerously. Under the Dome may wind up posing as many questions as Lost, Twin Peaks, and Fringe combined. So far, we’ve got dome-possessed ghosts, prophecy-inclined bugs, dome storms, an assortment of dome light-shows, and the gigantic questions of Why this town?, What is this dome?, Who is Melanie?, and What’s the deal with Junior’s uncle and his mother?
Under the Dome is a nonstop stream of bargain-basement dialogue. On the one hand, breaking the cardinal rule of “show, don’t tell” can accelerate the complexity of the dome situation and create beginning-to-end story lines in 42 minutes. On the other hand, it leaves us with a landfill of lines like:
• “She’s dead. Don’t try to cheer me up, okay?”
• “They’re butterflies.” “They’re dead.”
• “Hey! What the hell are you doing?” “What I have to. Otherwise we’re all dead.”
• “People say it was you who ended all that magnetism business.”
• “Only an impenetrable, completely invisible dome.”
• “No one hates Big Jim as much as I do.”
• “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
• “You were there when I offered myself on the gallows. It was the first test of many. I’m guessing the dome wants me to prove myself.”
• “C’mon, you never picked up on his hero complex?”
• “Gratitude? That’s a word I thought’d never come outta your mouth.”
• “Yeah, well, meet the new Big Jim.”
• “But there is not a day … that I don’t wish that I’d taken the chance … to say good-bye.”
• “My father.” [Cue Inception BRAHHHHHHMMMMMM!]
That’s a lot, but it’s far from all the face-palm-worthy lines delivered in any given night. So we shouldn’t come to Under the Dome to root for the next Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series winner at the Emmys. (Lost managed to be nominated five times in six years, actually. It never won.) I come to Dome accepting that its characters will vomit up clichés, overly convenient explanations, and hand-hold-y descriptions of feelings we were perfectly capable of intuiting. Accept it, and let it become part of the fun.
Under the Dome doesn’t give its characters actual motivations very often. Take Rebecca Pine. She’s new. She’s a science teacher, and she’s definitely familiar with global warming. She’s also aware of the not-gigantic dome covering her town. And yet Rebecca’s fear of a caterpillar-ravaged town makes it seem wise to torch a vast field, sending the smoke straight into the limited space that comprises the town’s atmosphere. (I seem to remember learning that the dome was porous to the elements last season. Still: A huge fire doesn’t seem like an idea a science teacher would instantly run with.)
Or take Junior, for example. He physically couldn’t stand his dad’s presence last episode. Now he’s willing to listen to Big Jim jabber at the scene of Angie’s death — until the question of whether Junior had anything to do with the crime comes up. Junior, seeming permanently distrustful of his dad at last, goes 0-100 real quick, yelling, “If you killed Angie, so help me, I will make you SUFFER!” Then he … walks away. Like the wacky dialogue, it’s almost delightful waiting to see the nonsensical ways these characters accept the convictions they confusingly arrive at.
Everyone is beautiful, and everyone looks pretty sharp most of the time. Barbie’s T-shirts are so crisp! Ditto for his perma-manicured beard. I don’t like to refer to The Walking Dead as a positive example — and its scenario is much more extreme than Dome’s — but maybe Dome’s costume and makeup department should tune in every once in a while?
BUT … lots of people are invested in this show. Last week’s premiere brought in 9.4 million viewers. Last night I found Twitterers theorizing about and commenting on every tiny thing as it happened. A few findings:
• “not trusting this mysterious girl very much #UnderTheDome”
• “Melanie aka The Stranger aka Lake Girl is an alien. Working for the Dome or she is The Egg! #UnderTheDome.”
• YOU THINK SHE SAW WHO DID IT #UnderTheDome”
• “Silly Its Big Jims world your just living in it #underthedome”
So, those are the ground rules. Watching a phenomenal, well-rounded series like Game of Thrones or Orange Is the New Black is exciting because you come expecting excellence, and you usually get it. It’s like being a great poker player and having a weekly game with other strong players — one with actual stakes, like money and respect. Under the Dome, meanwhile, is so packed with those unpredictable motives, wretched lines, and post-Lost mythology-sculpting that it’s like playing with make-believe money in a game where you can always buy back in. It’s loose, unpredictable, and constantly toggling between really fun and eminently frustrating. You hope it’ll be worth your time, but the end result isn’t exactly the point.
Let’s touch on this week’s developments, starting with Melanie a.k.a. Lake Girl a.k.a. potential alien. After witnessing Angie’s murder, she bumbles into the forest, hangs with the butterflies, then takes a nature nap. Season two is sliding into a slasher-style murder-mystery mold, which is a great fit. Literally anyone could’ve murdered Angie. Melanie says “something” drove her to witness the scene, which aligns with her sleepwalker-ish presence last week. Was the dome that something? Probably. All we know for certain is that there’s an ominous portrait of Melanie that Junior’s premonition-prone mother created 20 years ago. Ah, and one more addition to the mystery tower: Angie’s dead body is covered in carrion-loving butterflies.
Chester’s Mill is facing a major new threat, one inspired by a classic Eric Carle book. The dome’s mystical monarch butterflies are completing their life cycle (just like Angie and Esquivel did last week — #synergy) and leaving behind non-mystical CGI spawn that will ravage the town’s ecosystem if they aren’t handled by the end of the episode. Since mini-global-warming is a terrible prospect, it’s crop-dustin’ time. (No one remembers what happened the last time an airplane flew inside the dome?) It pans out; All-American Barbie is as good at piloting a small aircraft as he is at beating people down and solving the town’s daily problems. He even scrapes the wing along the dome for extra cool points.
Even with the caterpillar situation resolved, Rebecca tells Jim she’s pretty sure not everyone will be able to survive inside the dome. Too many people; not enough resources. Things will get pretty dark if the show follows up on this. (Another Pine Promise dealt out this week: The school will open, presumably after it’s done being a murder scene. Per Big Jim, Rebecca is “gonna teach things that matter.”)
After his sister’s murder, Joe wants the culprit “in pain — more pain than they ever thought was possible.” Junior is on the same eye-for-an-eye wavelength. Kids definitely get upset when their friends/sisters/obsessions die, but I guess the dome has created a unique reaction where they’re immediately out for blood and almost willing to shoot imprisoned teenagers they’re not even sure did the crime. (Joe and Norrie are still in lurve, too. Despite the death of Norrie’s mom — and now Joe’s sister — the two are in it for the long haul. The couple that has identical “pink stars are falling in lines” seizures together stays together.) New evidence — man-prints! — comes through and spares Melanie’s life at the last moment. Later, Joe finds a teary-eyed father figure in Barbie.
Uncle Sam (again: ha-ha!) has begun driving the inevitable wedge between Julia and Barbie. I thought Rebecca would be the one to do the honors. Barbie’s lack of faith in the dome’s ways is too unsettling for Julia; Sam, meanwhile, is a Believer.
Junior finds Angie’s bracelet under his bed. It’s one of the night’s big developments — the guy who locked his ex-girlfriend in an underground bunker for days could be even more unstable than we initially thought. The “I can’t remember the heinous things I did” plot hasn’t just played out multiple times in other stories, it’s already happened in a Stephen King novella (and the subsequent film), Secret Window, Secret Garden. But what are you gonna do?
Minutes from the Town Meetin’
• Junior sitting with Angie’s dead body is a nice weird echo of Junior’s very different arc in the novel. Maybe the show’s looping back around to the source material here.
• $10 if you remembered Rebecca Pine’s first or last name before somebody reminded you.
• We’ve now seen two snow globes in two weeks.
• And this is how DJ Philly Phil wears his police uniform.