So before even the opening intertitles came up on screen, I knew this was going to be a bad episode. Within the first five minutes one of our “heroes” does something incredibly stupid to move the plot forward, and it was all downhill from there. Linda, the new sheriff, locks crazy deputy Pete Randolph in the drunk tank following last week’s cliffhanger where Pete killed fellow deputy Freddie (who also happens to be Linda’s brother-in-law). Pete continues to rant and rave like a lunatic about the Dome and how it’s going to kill them all, then starts doing a wimpy Zoolander cough. Even though it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that he’s faking it to escape, Linda opens the cell door and rushes to his aid, immediately getting hit in the face and locked up just like she deserves. I’m surprised no one has made a crack about “having a woman in charge” at this point as Linda is suffering from a serious case of the TV lady vapors… which is to say she’s acting like a moron so the plot can move forward.
So immediately, just in the teaser, the audience is taken out of the story. How can I care about Linda, or rather anyone in the town when the individual who should be the most competent, i.e. the sheriff, is apparently suffering from brain damage? So Linda goes on a crusade to take Pete out single-handedly which doesn’t really make sense because the guy is a maniac and has run off with a silenced assault rifle, so I dunno, maybe some backup would help. Big Jim, constantly reminding everyone that he’s “the last councilman in Chester’s Mill” organizes a search party made up of bigots and Barbie and basically decides to lynch Randolph even after telling a crowd of angry citizens that he doesn’t support mob justice and that Freddie’s death was an accident.
Side note: why exactly is he the only councilman? I know one of them got killed in the plane crash in the pilot, but aren’t they like, a council? Isn’t there a mayor? Was there a line about this and I just missed it? If so, tell my why I’m stupid in the comments.
“I mean, let’s be real here, Linda. You’re a woman. Women can’t be cops. Lady vapors.”
Later, Jim’s posse is assaulted by Randolph, who thanks to a convenient bit of dialogue (he was a marine!) has instantly transformed into Rambo. Like Rambo, he’s misunderstood, and really just wants to be left alone. He purposely wounds one of Jim’s gang rather than kill him and tells the posse to let him be and that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. But Jim is still acting on single-minded devotion and decides they basically need to murder the poor bastard in cold blood for the good of the town. Barbie, who should be a voice of reason in this situation being that he’s the protagonist and should be the “good guy” (though I guess he’s a murderer too), puts up the smallest amount of resistance and mostly seems to not give a fuck either way what happens to Chester’s Mill or the people inside. He’s basically along for the ride; either that or he’s trying really, really hard to get into the pants of the woman who’s husband he just murdered.
Overhearing Jim’s plans to execute him like a dog, Randolph gets a bead on Jim and is going to kill him in self defense but is shot dead by Linda. The score swells and the act ends on a shot of Linda looking like a badass as if she’s the big hero, like she came through and has filled Duke’s shoes, but all I could think was “poor Randolph. Why’d you gotta kill the guy? Why couldn’t you just let him go?” As is the case with bad broadcast shows like this, the show tells you you should feel the opposite emotion you’re actually feeling. Like in Man of Steel. The movie’s saying “Superman’s a hero” but my heart is telling me “Superman is an asshole who just blew up a city.” There’s even this weird scene at the end where Linda takes the name placards off Duke, Pete and Freddie’s lockers and looks all sad about it. THEN WHY DID YOU SHOOT PETE IN THE BACK?????
Big Jim seems completely at odds with himself. Dean Norris and the show’s writers seem to want to make Jim into a more relatable, likable guy, to give him more layers so he’s not the overt villain he is in the book. But then, maybe at the behest of the network, Vaughn or King himself, Jim still has to be an asshole, and is needlessly cruel to his clearly disturbed son. The scene between Norris and Koch fell completely flat and they are not believable as a father/son duo. It just doesn’t fit that a man who seems to genuinely care about his hometown and the people in it would be so callous to his son.
The episode’s biggest problem, and the show’s for that matter, was every single second wasted on a terrible teenage character. Alison was actually walking in and out of the living room while I watched this and noted that every time she did it was two dumb teenagers up on screen talking. Seriously, a good third of the episode’s scant 42 minute runtime must have been spent on these adolescent assholes. Scarecrow Joe is likable enough, if not an insensitive dick who’s too caught up being the new cool kid to notice his sister has been missing since the Dome came down. But every other teenager is unbearable.
“You think we’re gonna get Emmys?”
So first off, Angie’s still trapped in the bunker. Yup. Fortunately we only had ONE scene between her and Junior but it went on for soooooo LOOOOOONNNNGGGG. I actually zoned out multiple times during the scene and found watching my cats play with string to be more interesting than these two sorry excuses for actors doing their best to emote. I dunno, maybe it wasn’t that long of a scene and I just thought it was because Koch and Robertson are such terrible actors, particularly Robertson. At least Koch is trying, even if “trying” amounts to making crazy eyes and contorted facial expressions. But Robertson (how is Britt your first name, btw?) is about as charismatic as a rock, and it makes her scenes with Junior laughable because Angie is trying to act- she’s doing the whole sexy hostage thing- but Robertson is so bad it makes Angie’s attempts at acting even more laughable and in turn makes Junior look even more like a dumbass for believing her. There was a sliver of hope Angie would be released from her prison when she suggested Junior check the tunnels beneath the town’s cement factory for a way out of the Dome, but in one of the few smart decisions a character made this week, Junior decides to keep her locked up and venture out on his own.
Of course, this leads to more character idiocy when Julia follows him into the labyrinth. First we were treated to a really silly fake out where Junior said “you shouldn’t have come here” at the act break, implying that after the commercial break he would fucking kill Julia. But then the show comes back and everything’s fine and the transition was really jarring. Imagine watching this on DVD and how silly that transition will be when there’s no commercial in between. “You shouldn’t have come here”- BOOOOMMM – SMASH TO BLACK. FADE IN: ACT THREE. “So there’s no way out of this dome. What’s up with you?”
How can you look at this guy and NOT want to punch him in the face?
Julia watches Junior smash his hands against the indestructible dome and holler like a madman and doesn’t turn around running and screaming her way out of the tunnels. No, she sticks around with him and then opens up about why she’s Chester Mill’s only intrepid reporter, and how she was disgraced while working as a real reporter in Chicago. She was given an opportunity to tell the same story to Barbie earlier, which still wouldn’t have made sense as they barely know each other, but at least Barbie seems like an okay guy and not a psychopath and she’s basically been flirting with him for the last three days anyway despite constantly reminding him of the husband he’s murdered. God, give Barbie’s conscience a break, we all know you have a fucking husband. Seriously, between Julia going “MY HUSBAND” and the lesbians going “OUR DAUGHTER” constantly, it’s like the characters have the memory of a gold fish and have to publicly declare their familial relations lest they forget. Meanwhile, in a similar scene to the Julia/Junior one, Big Jim opens up and tells Barbie, a man he’s known for all of a few hours, an extremely personal story.
IT’S BEEN THREE DAYS YOU GUYS. On the one hand, there isn’t enough desperation amongst the townsfolk and this is a big complaint I’ve seen in pretty much every other recap. People are just milling about, hanging out at the diner and going about their daily lives without a care in the world. No one, other than Junior, seems interested in figuring out a way to get out of the Dome or communicate with the outside authorities, which is what made the Pete Randolph manhunt all the more frustrating. Why waste time chasing that asshole down when you could be trying TO GET OUT OF THE DOME. Just the day before they realized a small fire could immolate the entire town if allowed to spread, and there’s still the pressing issue of water/food/fuel and NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE.
On the other hand, characters are opening up to one another even though they’ve only been in this situation for a scant 72 hours. The point of the book is that a small society like this could fall apart completely in a matter of days if it were cut off from the rest of the world, but the book characters also immediately addressed the previously mentioned issues. If everyone seems content to live under a Dome like nothing’s changed, then why are they freaking out and firing guns at it, or going crazy and locking their girlfriends in basements or telling complete strangers their deep, dark secrets? There’s just such a disconnect with everything on this show; simply put, three episodes in and this series is completely unraveling.
So back to Julia and Junior. Even though Junior has crazy eyes, beat his knuckles bloody on an indestructible dome and has a creepy voice, he still seems to convince the level-headed Julia that Barbie is crazy and beat on him for no reason. Because that makes sense. Again, in an effort to manufacture drama the writers have characters act stupid or out of character. ISN’T JULIA A JOURNALIST????
“I’m totally gonna get laid.”
Meanwhile, teenagers are awful. In addition to Angie and Junior’s loooonnnng, booooorrrrrrinnnng protracted scene, we had to watch an entire subplot involving goofy Joe and his intolerable friend, Ben. That character makes me want to die. Every word that comes out of his mouth is cringe-worthy and he’s a worse actor than all the other awful teenage actors combined. He serves no purpose other than comedic relief, but he’d only be funny to a ten year old. Why are there so many teenage characters is beyond me- generally you want to limit the number of child actors on your show because generally they aren’t’ as talented as their adult counterparts, but here like, half the cast is going through puberty. Is this to make it more of a “family show?” Because that seems at odds with the cow getting sliced in half and all the murder and meth-cooking. Is it to get teenagers to watch TV? Because I can tell you right now there isn’t a single fucking teenager in America who is watching CBS, and if they were they’d be torrenting the MP4 files the next day, not watching it live.
This is why this person is awful and deserves to die.
A sign of a bad show is a bevy of pointless subplots, employed to stretch the plot out as long as possible. I think this series’ undoing is CBS’ attempt to turn a self-contained novel into a sprawling serialized, long form narrative. A mini series would have been a better choice, but of course, not as profitable. As such, so far Under the Dome’s early episodes feel very episodic and designed to set up lots of little stories that can be dragged out throughout the course of the season. This method of storytelling almost never works because the subplots are almost never compelling and frustrate the viewer. The viewer is generally only invested in the A-story, unless one of the B or C stories surrounds a really likable, fan favorite supporting character, of which Under the Dome has absolutely none.
With Under the Dome I’d say we have a couple A-stories. You have the general chaos caused by the Dome and how to get rid of it. That should be where the show spends most of its time… but it’s not. They’re more interested in the shitty subplots. Anyway, the other A-story would be who is Barbie, why was he in town and what’s his secret. I’d also consider Jim and Coggins’ drug business to be connected to the A-stories. But then we’ve got a ton of b-stories. You have Junior and Angie. Joe and Norrie. The lesbians. When half your screen time is taken up by intolerable supporting characters that leave the viewer begging to return to the A-story, you have a problem.
“Honestly bro, I don’t care what happens to this town, I just really wanna shoot something.”
There’s just no one to get behind, no driving force for the show. Barbie should be the hero like he is in the book, but here he’s this weird non-entity who doesn’t seem to care about anything. The show seems to be setting up that he is connected to why the Dome came down and that it’s all part of some vast government conspiracy, but I’m almost positive that it’s a fakeout and that the marked point on Barbie’s map is Jim’s meth lab and that Barbie was sent to raid it by his mysterious criminal boss (remember that he got in that fight with Julia’s husband over gambling debts). Julia went from being a potentially interesting character to one of those character’s whose defining trait is “I’M EARNEST. LOVE ME BECAUSE I’M EARNEST” but she’s sooooo earnest that she’s just annoying. “I HAVE A HUSBAND, I’M EARNEST.” Dean Norris was about the only thing making this show worthwhile, but sadly the writers are even mucking up his character by turning him into this caricature of a bad dad, as if that’s somehow supposed to justify Junior being a psychopath. “I only lock girls up in my basement because my dad is mean.”
About the only thing in “Manhunt” that I liked was the show finally acknowledging that most Americans aren’t comfortable with a same sex couple raising a child. Sure, the dialogue was hammy (“pray the gay away,” lulz) and the whole scene was really forced but at least SOMEONE said something offensive about the lesbians. I almost thought CBS was gonna pull a Big Brother with that one and just avoid the ugliness that is bigotry. I also liked the detail that Norrie doesn’t like to tell other kids that she has two moms- that was really believable and almost turned her into a real character. I mean, if my parents were awful Angelino, Whole Foods-shopping faux-liberal assholes I’d probably want to run away and live with a weird kid named Scarecrow too.
Actually that was something I found weird in the IGN recap, but I mean, IGN is weird so it wasn’t a shock. They complained that because the show has shifted its setting from Maine to a nondescript town with more diversity, they’ve unwittingly set it in a more close-minded place than Maine. Um… bro… have you ever been to Maine? Just because it’s a blue state in national elections doesn’t mean its some bastion of liberalism. This isn’t fucking Vermont, this is Maine, alright, bro? I went to summer camp in Maine for five years and I can tell you there are a lot of questionable hicks in that state. I’m not saying everyone in Maine is a bigot or anything, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of hickish Maine woodfolk that wouldn’t take kindly to two ladies raising a kid. Besides, there isn’t a small town in the entire country that is this diverse, so we’re clearly operating in a fictional universe here. I’d rather the show try to address homophobia in the most ham-fisted way imaginable than avoid it entirely.
The show’s already gotten a lot of backlash from fans of the book and King was quick to come to its defense, probably because he’s contractually obligated to and CBS is giving him truckloads of cash. He’s told fans not to hate the show just for making changes from the book, that the changes are pushing the story in new and interesting directions. Mr. King, I don’t think anyone is complaining that the show has tweaked the plot of the book; that was an inevitability. We’re complaining because the changes are soooooo much worse than their original incarnations in the book. What’s cooler, Junior murdering girls and fucking their corpses or Junior locking Angie up in a basement for no reason. Seriously, the guy’s completely crazy and yet he hasn’t raped the helpless girl he’s got locked up? What kind of a villainous psycho is this guy? Oh right… he’s the family-friendly CBS version of a psycho.
Look, I want to say the show will pick up and get better but I highly, highly doubt it. I think you’re in for 10 more episodes of suck followed by 1-2 seasons of even more suck. Each episode takes place over the course of roughly a day and has a very episodic feel. Under the Dome is a “mini-crisis of the week” show. This week it’s a fire! This week a madman is on the loose! Actually, glancing at the episode titles for the first season I can pretty much tell you what most of them will be about. Next week is “Outbreak,” so there will probably be some kind of viral outbreak, like the flu, and the town will realize they don’t have enough medical supplies. “Blue on Blue” will probably involve Linda’s new deputies getting in fights with each other. “The Endless Thirst” is 100% going to be about the water shortage, something that should already have been addressed. Or maybe “Thicker than Water” will be about that? I dunno. The point is that in an effort to keep this story going as long as is most profitable, episodes will generally deal with some self contained inconsequential crisis, while avoiding the real problem: THAT EVERYONE IS TRAPPED IN A DOME AND IS GOING TO FUCKING DIE.
At this point, I kinda hope they do.