Under the Dome – The Fire
After its flashy, sci-fi-flavored pilot, Under the Dome settled into the process of establishing character arcs and plotlines that will carry us through the 13-episode series. Consequently, the second episode was a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the plotlines are intriguing (Dale Barbara and his shady past; the attempts to determine the origins of the dome) while others seemed pointless (the stranded lesbian couple) or outright laughable (Junior Rennie and his girlfriend hostage, Angie).
The episode opens with a flashback. Dale Barbara is attempting to collect money from Peter Shumway when everything goes sideways, and Barbie accidentally (naturally) shoots Shumway during the scuffle. While I admire not keeping viewers in the dark for a prolonged period of time, I question solving one of the mysteries from the pilot in the first three minutes of Episode 2. After taking years of criticism for the slow unfolding of Lost and its lack of complete solutions to the mysteries of the island, maybe screenwriter and script supervisor Brian Vaughan is a little quick on the trigger to tie up loose ends.
Sheriff Duke Perkins dies after his pacemaker was ripped from his chest by the electromagnetic forces emanating from the dome. He leaves everything in his will to Deputy Linda and also leaves the power structure of Chester’s Mill in disarray. It appears that the massive influx of propane into the town is tied to a drug manufacturing operation being run by “Big Jim” Rennie and Reverend Coggins with the knowledge or complicity of the deceased sheriff. The second mystery from the pilot is (partially) solved, although the ramifications of this drug operation will likely reverberate for episodes to come.
Junior Rennie continues to hold his former girlfriend, Angie, in his family’s fallout shelter. One minute he is professing his love for her, and the next minute he’s wrestling her into submission. Convinced that Angie is seeing Dale Barbara, Junior tracks Barbie to the cabin where Barbie had his showdown with Peter Shumway. Barbie summarily gives Junior a good old-fashioned butt-kicking. He does leave him alive and ambulatory so Junior can cause problems for the citizens of Chester’s Mill for the rest of the season.
Joe McClatchey begins to map out the dimensions of the dome and has no recollection of his strange seizure. The radio station tries to pick up outside signals and learns that their invisible prison is being referred to as “a dome”. Everyone in town then spontaneously begins using the phrase “under the dome”. The remaining cast of minor characters mostly sits around in varying states of confusion. Although realistic for such an inexplicable incident, it doesn’t make very compelling television.
In the finale of the show, Reverend Coggins breaks into the late sheriff’s residence to destroy any evidence of the propane shipments and the covert drug lab. The reverend decides to dispose of the evidence in the sheriff’s study and inadvertently sets fire to the residence with the fire department stranded outside the dome. The town rallies and starts a bucket brigade. “Big Jim” arrives on the scene, driving a bulldozer, and flattens the burning home before the fire can spread.
As the community is congratulating itself over defeating this most recent danger, Deputy Paul begins ranting about dying inside the dome and points out that the pollution from the fire has nowhere to go. To illustrate his point, he fires his service weapon at the invisible barrier, and a ricochet hits Deputy Freddie, killing him almost instantly. Barbie tackles Paul and subdues him before he can inadvertently harm anyone else. The people of Chester’s Mill who were cheering their efforts just moments earlier stand in subdued silence, contemplating their fates.
This installment of Under the Dome seemed every bit like an hour of a “network mini-series”, and that’s not a good thing. Two episodes in, the characters are just labels: dangerous drifter, town powerbroker, creepy minister, abusive boyfriend, liberal lesbians, local kids. The performances are very one-dimensional, but that isn’t entirely the fault of the cast. They haven’t been given much to work with. Alex Koch’s portrayal of Junior Rennie is painfully bad. The fact that he’s a deadringer for Saturday Night Live veteran Andy Samberg doesn’t help things. Every time I see him on screen I expect something funny to happen. Something that’s intended to be funny, not his hammy performance.
The dome isn’t the plot. It’s a device. It is an artificial way to take an average American town and turn it into an isolated island. Lord of the Flies, suburban style. What happens when we are cut off from our support systems? How will people behave when the usual types of civil authority aren’t present? What lengths will people under pressure go to save themselves? As these issues arise in the coming weeks, it’s going to take characters with depth and quality performances to bring these themes to life. Here’s hoping things improve or it’s going to be a long summer.
7 out of 10