Well, we’re two episodes into the run of 13 for the CBS series “Under the Dome” which last week proved to be a bit of a ratings monster, opening with the highest rating of any network show in the last six years. The pilot certainly showed promise of an intriguing show to fill the sci-fi meets horror meets mystery meets thriller niche left wide open since “Lost” left the airwaves, but can the intrigue, and those ratings, hold up? Before getting to my overall opinion of episode two of “Under the Dome” let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve learned this week.
10. The Dome Hates Cops
So far, “Under the Dome” is two for two in terms of killing a cop thanks to, well, the Dome. In the pilot we ended on Jeff Fahey getting iced when the Dome caused his pacemaker to explode right out of his chest, and in this episode, another cop was hit by a bullet that ricocheted off of the Dome and straight into his chest. The bullet, by the way, was fired by a fellow police officer who snapped and started firing wildly at the Dome, because screw bystanders.
If the first two episodes are any indication, that guy will probably die next episode anyway.
9. This Show Bares More Than a Few Similarities to Jericho
Stop me if this sounds familiar: a small town witnesses a mysterious disaster that leaves the residents more or less isolated from the rest of the world, and a loner driving a muscle car and wearing carefully layered clothing who clearly has former military training is trapped in this small town where he doesn’t want to be. There’s also a bald guy striving for power who has his initial power play shot down by a gruff guy with a beard, but when an accident befalls said gruff guy with the beard, the bald guy takes advantage and seizes control of the town.
Meanwhile, early on in the story a fire breaks out and the townspeople scramble and work together to put it out, with the mysterious loner playing a crucial role. The townsfolk suspect that the government is responsible, only to discover that lo and behold, the actual government is in the dark as well. If that sounds familiar it could be due to the fact that I’m describing “Under the Dome” and also because I’m describing “Jericho,” another series that ran on CBS a few years ago. “Jericho” developed a small but loyal cult following, so “Under the Dome” already has a leg up, but if the storytelling continues to echo “Jericho” this much then it may have trouble sustaining its much larger audience.
8. Domed Cities Aren’t So Far Fetched
Believe it or not, back around 1980 there was talk of one small New England town actually willingly placing themselves inside a dome like the residents of Chester’s Mill, only presumably without all of the violence and supernatural mystery. Winooski, Vermont, is just to the northeast of Burlington, and a little over 30 years ago they were actually on the verge of building a dome to enclose the town which at the time had a population of around 7,500. The dome would have been a measure to fight rising heating costs and would have covered 880 acres, and the town leaders actually received approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, DC to pursue construction of the dome.
The idea of the domed city spread around the country, with people in New Mexico actually looking into a joint research venture with Winooski, and eventually people were chiming in from around the globe, with newspapers as far away as Saudi Arabia voicing their opinion against the precedent that a domed city would set moving forward. Ultimately, HUD did not wind up granting Winooski the funding to construct the dome after receiving a call from Jimmy Carter, who was worried about the perceived waste of federal funds in a time of financial crisis. Still, considering how widespread the story was, the fact that Winooski was a mill town in New England, just like Chester’s Mill, and Stephen King is from Maine, it makes you wonder if perhaps the Winooski domed city may have been a bit of an inspiration for “Under the Dome.”
I should also note that just within the past few years there have been proposals for other domed cities, but on a much larger scale. Like, for example, Houston.
7. The Reverend is as Shady as he is Creepy Looking
Ned Bellamy is one of those character actors you immediately recognize but you’d never know his name, unless you’re actually Ned Bellamy or one of his relatives. Hell, even then I’m not sure you’d still recognize the name. However, he’s got one of those faces that leads to him being cast in a lot of shady and creepy roles. By the way, remember how I mentioned the show “Jericho” earlier? Well he was a shady deputy on that show, so there’s one more similarity between the two.
Anyway, he plays the role of Lester Coggins, the town reverend who apparently decided to flip God the finger a long time ago since he’s generally high as a kite, and is also in on whatever drug operation is going on in town, and oh yeah, he accidentally and hilariously set fire to the deceased Jeff Fahey’s house while trying to find and destroy some incriminating evidence that would implicate both himself and Big Jim Rennie in their drug business. Between Reverend Coggins and, well, half the townsfolk, you’ve got a little mill town that was apparently hit with a big old dose of incompetence.
6. Julia Shumway is a Lousy Journalist
And speaking of incompetence, that brings us to Julia Shumway, the “intrepid” editor of the local rag who treats absolutely everything like the biggest story the world has ever seen. I’m not talking about the Dome, either, since in the pilot she seemed more interested in finding out who Barbie was than in even looking at the Dome. In this episode she rushes to the scene of a fire and warns Barbie that if the fire spreads, the whole town could go up. So naturally she starts taking pictures.
Not only that, but earlier in the episode she learned that the military refers to the invisible barrier as a Dome, and she does the only thing she deems sensible: tries her best to incite a panic by barreling into the radio booth at the only station in town, interrupting a broadcast and announcing without any sort of hesitation that they’re in a Dome, and pretty much screwed. That’s solid journalism right there.
5. Once Again, Junior Rennie Provides the Unintentional Comic Relief
I really do feel for the actor playing Junior Rennie. It’s not his fault that he’s being written so over the top and villainous so quickly, after all. But this episode showed once again that Junior is going to be the best source of comedy on the entire show, for all of the wrong reasons. Or the right reasons, depending on whether you watch this show while playing some sort of drinking game.
In this episode Junior fixates on Barbie and follows him to a cabin, where Barbie is inside retrieving his dog tags, and where it was revealed he killed Julia’s husband while trying to get…something, from him. It’s a little unclear as to what he was trying to persuade Julia’s husband to cough up, but it wound up with him being shot in the gut while brandishing an empty gun. Anyway, after Junior confronts Barbie, Barbie proceeds to quickly pummel this dude he seems to perceive as only a mild irritant. Junior, however, goes and tells the captive Angie that he killed Barbie and is about as believable as a four year old covered in chocolate trying to convince you he didn’t eat all of the Hershey Kisses.
4. …and Angie is a Lousy Hostage
Of course the entire incident between Junior and Barbie could have been avoided if Angie wasn’t such a moron. So far on this show, people behave almost exactly the opposite of how they should. This is never more the case than when Junior accuses Angie of having feelings for Barbie simply because she saw them sharing a cigarette in the aftermath of the disaster. Initially, Angie is rightfully confused, but then makes the inexplicable decision to incite the psychopath who has her locked in what amounts to a dungeon by telling him that she and Barbie slept together.
So not only is she intentionally trying to piss off a guy who is about two seconds away from committing a murder, but she’s also throwing a complete stranger in his path for no other reason than she wanted to get under Junior’s skin. She also had no way of knowing that Barbie was so capable of beating Junior down, either, so she basically sicked a wild dog on some poor schmuck she met for about three minutes the previous day.
3. The Dome Isn’t Entirely Air Tight
Some crucial information is gleaned in this episode, though, specifically the fact that the Dome is not actually air tight. This is important for a few reasons, as it shows that they will not run out of oxygen anytime soon because particles can pass through. We learn this when teenage Joe, the kid who Barbie saved from the falling wreckage of the plane crash, is walking the perimeter of the Dome and stumbles across some military types spraying the barrier with a fire hose. He places his hand on the other side, and it comes away moist, displaying that at least some things can pass through.
As is the case with almost every Stephen King story, kids play a central role and are wise beyond their years. In the case of “Under the Dome” there are actually three kids who fit the bill, though two of them have been changed pretty substantially for television. The third is Joe, who remains relatively similar to his character in the book. Though as the parent of a two-year old, knowing that the actor used to do the voice of Jake on “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” as soon as he picked up a map and started out on his little adventure I couldn’t help but start singing, “Yo ho mateys away!”
2. Somehow People are Taking the Dome Remarkably in Stride
Honestly, considering these people are trapped inside an impenetrable Dome, a fire almost consumed half of the town, cops are dying left and right, and they have no way of communicating with the outside world, these people are shockingly calm. The fact that Big Jim Rennie is more concerned about covering up his drug business despite the fact that he already has control over most of the town and there isn’t exactly much by way of law and order anyway is bad enough.
Then you factor in the way Joe and his friend Benny stumble across a pair of severed legs and basically just shrug it off, or how the lesbian couple from LA stops mid-bucket brigade to casually mention how neighborly everyone is being, or the way everyone ignores the fact that the billowing smoke is trapped inside the Dome, and well, you have to wonder what insanely traumatic things these people went through that desensitized them to the horrible tragedy going on all around them.
1. Episode Two was a Pretty Major Letdown
Yeah, there is not much getting around the fact that the second episode was a pretty big step down from the pilot. The pilot was big, bold, and highly intriguing, and the second episode just felt much smaller and less eventful. The big moment was a bucket brigade to put out a fire at a small house on the edge of town, which is not exactly an epic climax, and while a good guy character was killed off, it was a dude whose name we barely knew. Heck, I’m still not sure what it is without the help of IMDb, but all I know is that we were suddenly told he’s the brother of Rusty, the firefighter fiance of Linda, who seems to be the closest thing to a sheriff the town has now that Jeff Fahey is gone.
There also wasn’t much by way of answers other than a couple of things we all could have guessed, such as the fact that the government didn’t put the Dome there. The most noteworthy thing we learned about the Dome itself was Joe’s discovery that water particles can pass through, and that early on some guys dug down a few feet and were about ready to give up on tunneling their way out. Hopefully next week’s episode will cut down on some of the hammy character moments, specifically with Junior and the reverend, and get back to focusing on some of the cooler aspects hinted at in the pilot episode.
Oh, and I still hate what they’re doing with Barbie. That’s just an unnecessary change from the book put in purely to create eventual drama between he and Julia before they inevitably bang.