You can make just about any show sound like the silliest thing on television without much effort. “School teacher teams up with former student to sell drugs,” could just as easily be the pitch for a Showtime comedy, or a particularly edgy CBS sitcom, as it is a 10-word summation of one of the greatest dramas ever made. What matters is how much of that silliness is allowed to show, intentionally or unintentionally. The hooks of a gimmicky premise can just be the gateway to something more measured and observant, or the campiness of a show can become the foundation of its dramatic designs (the entire Whedon-verse is based around brutal emotional honesty being just barely concealed by monster makeup and zippy dialogue). Point being, just because something is goofy, doesn’t mean it can’t still be engaging and weighty.
After its second episode, Under the Dome looks to be attempting the latter approach, for better and worse; based on “Into the Fire,” we might be getting a much flimsier miniseries than the one originally hinted at by last week’s mostly impressive pilot. Rather than simply being underserved in the initial rush to get to the big dome stuff, the show’s shakier elements from last week don’t improve here, and show signs of infecting the rest of the infrastructure. There’s a whole lot more of the blue-ball conspiracy teasing this week, the kind that usually kills programs like this, and even more of the B-movie-worthy line readings/acting that you could mostly eyeroll past if only contained to the first hour. These aren’t necessarily ingredients that will make for an awful show, but they are ones for a series that’s far less interesting than I hoped Under the Dome would turn out to be.
Now that the initial awe of the dome’s appearance is out of the way, living within it has become reality for the citizens of Chester’s Mill, and this is the best material of the week. While it’s hard not to snicker a little every time someone refers to “the dome,” (that goes double when Bushy actually says “under the dome”), the barrier’s geometry is an important new piece of information for the town’s people to digest, even more so once it’s clear the military is just as baffled by the bubble’s existence as the citizens are. As Carolyn makes apparent when naively thinking everything’s gone back to normal once the lights in the diner come back on, the inexplicable nature of the dome means it’s possible it will disappear just as quickly as it popped up, but by the hour’s end, most realize they’ve been separated from the outside world for the long haul.
And, understandably so, not everyone takes it well. “Who’s in charge?” is a question repeated twice, and for good reason. As if getting cutoff from the majority of their government and fire department weren’t bad enough, Chester’s Mill doesn’t even have a sheriff anymore, after the dome explodes Duke’s pacemaker like a popcorn kernel. The deputies take the loss the hardest, with Linda soldiering on despite the loss of a father figure, and newly introduced deputy Paul bugging out completely, almost immediately running for his private stash of guns, so that he and he and his fellow lawmen can protect themselves from the unwashed masses.
Between the two you get a good dichotomy of what crises drama is meant to explore, providing an example of a character being forced to rise to the challenge of extreme circumstances, and another who cracks almost immediately when exposed to unexpected pressures. Of the two, Linda’s got the more interesting story to follow, as seeing institutions attempt to maintain order and normalcy while in a vacuum is inherently more interesting than seeing a nutjob ranting and raving about how the sky is falling, and we’re all doomed, DOOOOOOOOOOMED!
It’s the social breakdowns, not the mental ones that are where Under the Dome has the juiciest meat to bite into, but deference must also be given to why that meat is there in the first place. The inner-dome conspiracy is revealed this week to also include the local preacher, Reverend Coggins, an incompetent heavy Rennie enlists to cover the tracks left by Duke, ones that proves a curiously prescient order for propane was just recently made for the township. If the show wants to go for bone-chilling horror, splitting open a cow is a good place to start, but the real terror begins when an unholy triumvirate formed between the church, government, and law enforcement, is responsible for manipulating a town’s fortunes into oblivion.
Continue reading on the next page…