Under The Dome Review: “Exigent Circumstances” (Season 1, Episode 12)

Mike Vogel and Britt Robertson in Under the Dome

Under the Dome has finally entered its seasonal end game, with “Exigent Circumstances” presenting a culmination of weeks’ worth of careful chess piece maneuvering. Okay, that’s a lie: chess makes for far too intricate a board game metaphor. And it’s not like the show has setup an elaborate Rube Goldberg apparatus over the course of the season either, so there goes the Mousetrap analogy (cause and effect don’t really go well together in Chester’s Mill anyway). It would be tempting to finally draw the Trouble comparison I promised back in the pilot, but the team of pegs the player has control over moving in that game convey to great a sense of individual agency for this show to match.

So why don’t we just say that Under the Dome has set up its Candyland board wonderfully, each week flipping over a new colour card telling us what steps in a logical narrative progression we can just leap over in order to get things where the writers say they need to go. “Exigent Circumstances,” as the penultimate episode of the season, does present something of a culmination for many of the show’s core tropes. Characters acted completely irrationally, either jumping to insane conclusions, or keeping their mouths shut to exacerbate a situation. The whole town appeared from a long absence to be a rabble-y unkempt mess, with distractingly half-assed mentions of legality and politics thrown in for no real reason. And we even got to see Big Jim go from zero to murder mode in near record-setting time. Truly, the show has flipped over a card all colours of the rainbow this week.

And a colourful hour it was, with the assorted masses of Chester’s Mill deciding to hunt Barbie down at Big Jim’s authoritative command. If Under the Dome really does turn out to be an implausible spinoff of Breaking Bad, it’s good to know Hank Schrader got to reenact some of his favorite Al Swearengen-isms after watching all those Deadwood DVDs, promising from atop a balcony that the town will survive and thrive once Fugitive Barbie is put in the Jailhouse Playset. Ah, but how is it such a mob -despite being made up of what looks to be the entire town-, will know one another from the enemy? Simple: armbands, of all shades and cloth. Jim would have handed out swastikas to go with, but he left those back in the Albuquerque desert.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” intones Norrie gravely at one point. This might be the first time in history an angsty teen has used that quote properly instead of just obnoxiously, as Norrie is apparently the only person in town able to recognize that an armband-adorned populace viciously hunting down undesirables kinda has a negative historical connotation. At this rate, Jim’ll be able to secede the town from the USA, call it Tyrannopolis, make its national flag consist of nothing but snakes, skull and flames, and no one will bat an eye. With the townspeople having been so thoroughly established as a blind and mindless herd, Jim’s speech to Dodee, in which he tries to justify using Barbie as a scapegoat to mollify the masses, actually makes some sense. Then again, the citizens usually disappear completely when there’s no major crisis at hand, so maybe if Jim wasn’t always stirring shit up, they’d just be hanging out quietly in their homes all day like we presume they do anyway.

But then Jim shoots Dodee and burns down the radio station, which is as good a sign as any that maybe we shouldn’t cast our lot in with the guy crazy enough to barbecue the town’s one line of communication with the outside world. Admittedly, he’s got a lot on his mind at the moment, what with Junior keeping an eye on Julia in case she blabs about Jim’s charade. And his sudden interest in being dome lord regent for all eternity certainly must be distracting. Making the best for himself out of a bad situation has always seemed like Jim’s M.O., but what exactly is the appeal of stopping the dome from coming down by getting his hands on the mini-dome egg? Despite the fact that no one HAS ANY ACTUAL EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THAT THIS IS THE MINI-DOME’S PURPOSE, Jim’s desire to capture the egg in order to keep his little slice of feudal life cutoff from the outside world marks a bold change on his part. Totally unexpected, some might say. Laughably stupid, others might also say.

With the neighbourhood watch/S.S. out to get him, Barbie understandably has few plays left to make, so going and getting help from a girl he’s barely interacted with since the pilot should properly convey his current desperation. Angie turns out to be pretty cool about teaming up with the guy everybody else is assured is a murderer, promptly leaving the whole mini-dome plot as soon as her smoke buddy needs a hand. With a goose-stepping gaggle kicking down doors to find Barbie and the mini-dome, Joe and Norrie are left to transport it to the one safe place in town: Beanie Ben’s house. Seeing as we haven’t seen him for weeks, it’s a smart call. Presumably the townspeople have forgotten about him the same way we have.

It’s also good that the show forgot about the mini-dome up and transporting itself into the barn from the woods that one time, otherwise you might ask questions about how it is Norrie and Joe managed to move it all the way across town, let alone discreetly. But this is also the episode where someone can be on the run in an ambulance for an extended period of time, so let’s just assume all peeping eyes were distracted by the fashionable new armbands being sported around town. Ben is the real victim in all this; while just trying to do cool young people stuff, like hanging out in his room full of skateboarding posters (you can tell because they say “Skate” on them, and nothing else), the mini-dome starts going through a colourful mood change. Though his attempts to appease it with layers and layers of linens are indeed noble, the question remains of what exactly the mini-dome is reacting too.

The heavily suggested answer would be Barbie’s safety, or perhaps, the frustration the mini-dome feels in seeing Barbie do so little to ensure his own safety. Despite trying to reason with Junior, as one might do when both have so many reasons not to trust Big Jim, Angie has to do a full-on flirty candystripper routine with the nutbar who locked her up in a bomb shelter less than two weeks ago. Barbie squandering that is a bit of an insult to the sacrifice Angie is making by being within 5 feet of Junior for more than a minute, let alone locking lips with him, so she has every right to feel a bit peeved at the Big Dumb Hero when he decides to give himself up to Linda and Bushey (who’s just kinda hanging out, doing his thing), in order to save Julia. What can I say? Love, and a complete and utter unwillingness to attempt explaining yourself out of a stupid misunderstanding, will make a guy do crazy things.

With Joe and Norrie eventually finding themselves locked up along with Barbie, things start to look pretty grim for our ragtag rebel forces. Jim’s attempts at using the prisoner’s dome-lemma to get the location of the egg out of the kids proves to be a spectacular failure, though one matched by an equally abysmal shanking attempt by Norrie (to be fair, this might just be the result of Agent Schrader knowing a thing or two about prison violence). Deciding to Ned Stark his ass, Jim gets Barbie to agree to a false confession in exchange for the safety of the kids and Julia, dragging him out in front of the town’s equivalent of the steps of Baelor, where an arms-crossed crowd awaits retribution.

This does not please the mini-dome one bit, which begins glowing a vibrant orange in protest, and emitting a high-pitched wake-up alarm for its snuggly butterfly cocoon (Sorry Joe, chrysalis) contained inside. With Barbie pulling a confessional fast one on Jim at the last second, and domes within domes ready to burst, we’ve got what’s easily the best cliffhanger of the season to ride high on until next week’s finale. And generally speaking, “Exigent Circumstances” was at least more tightly knit a big honking mess of nonsense than most weeks of Under the Dome, with every plot maintaining some degree of connection to the others. At this point, you can’t really ask anymore from this show: I don’t imagine there’s anyone out their that, having watched these last twelve hours, expects next week’s finale to provide anything resembling a sense of finality. We all know better by now, so lets just get our last kicks out of the ol’ dome while we still can.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Favorite Dome-related Dialogue: “This dome can’t break us!” On that, I will have to disagree, Big Jim. The dome broke me we weeks ago.

-So realistically, where the hell is the second season supposed to go, considering how much of the show’s cast and setting has been torched these last couple weeks? My crazy theory: Groundhog Dome. Everything resets back to when the dome first fell, but with certain characters aware of the change. It’ll be just like Daybreak, another high concept sci-fi show that couldn’t even get passed two episodes without seeming tired.

-Don’t worry, Caroline fans: she’s alive, and dispensing snippy lawyer talk all day this episode. “Request, respectfully, denied,” replies Jim haughtily to one of her complaints, salting the kiss-off enough to make you think his Nazi goons will add in a few finger snaps for sassy emphasis.

-Junior and Barbie brawl once again outside the hospital. Junior’s takedowns and ground-‘n-pound are fearsome, but they’re no match for Barbie’s “pistol-whip-you-in-the-face” style.

-Another solid week for fans of seeing Rachel Lefevre look slightly clammy while lying perfectly still. And dammit Jim Junior, nurse lady is not a doctor!

-“You taste like cigarettes!” Might be my favorite dramatic line reading the show has ever done. It seemed kinda non-PC to have Angie light a smoke earlier, but the lesson here is not that cigarettes give you cancer, but instead will rat you out to your psychotic ex mid-makeout.