Under The Dome Review: “Into the Fire” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Ned Bellamy and Natalie Martinez in Under the Dome

Unfortunately, the reason for the conspiracy looks like it will be teased in front of us for some time to come, as Rennie and the Reverend’s scenes involve a lot of the two talking about their plan, without actually talking about it. Episode director Jack Bender became an expert on shooting such material with Lost, and maybe it’s because of that show that I can say I’d honestly be happy if we never found out about why the force field exists. If you’re watching Under the Dome to find out why the dome got there, you’re going to be disappointed, as the answer won’t be coming anytime soon, and in all likelihood, won’t live up to expectations.

But the show has to dangle that carrot of an answer in front of you on weeks like these, where the core plot points come together in really rough fashion. Reverend Lurch is too buffoonish and comical to be taken seriously in the future, after seeing his attempts to destroy evidence lead to full-scale immolation of Duke’s home, just as the town coming together to halt the blaze is an important dramatic moment, one undercut by the show’s restricted budget being on display during the firefighting sequences. The explosions look nice and all, but Big Jim probably could have collapsed the house just by leaning on its cardboard frame.

There are some important community dynamics setup by the end of the episode, with Linda and Rennie affirming and reaffirming their positions of power within the town, and Barbie proving capable as an impromptu leader, but you wish they were more of the focus. Instead, there’s a lot of individual character stuff padding things out, and the individuals, which I said would make or break the show last week, don’t show much sign of growth in the second hour. We learn Barbie’s real name, but like the main mystery, only get scraps of info as to what led him to killing Julie’s husband. The two batting the telltale tennis ball against the dome while discussing Julie’s husband shows the murder is taking a toll on Barbie, but we’re going to need him to be more than a leather-bound pile of secrets if the show wants him to make for a compelling lead.

More frustrating is the boy wonder double act of Joe and Jr., each of whom add to one of the show’s two operating layers in blasé fashion. I nitpicked Colin Ford’s line delivery last week, but considering the alternately expository (“It’s like a sieve! Like for pasta!”) and obnoxious dialogue he’s given, its hard to blame him for not making Joe into anything but a caricature of a small town farm boy. Similar could be said of Alexander Koch, as few could salvage a character as one-note as Jr., especially one stuck in a plot as derivative as the psycho-Black Snake Moan thing he has going with Angie. Placing a microcosm of isolation within the microcosm that is the town hasn’t added anything on a thematic level yet, so what’s frightening about the plot isn’t that Angie is in peril, but that the show might be giving us a glimpse of how lacking in nuance and completely banal Under the Dome’s approach to its bigger world might be.

But can the show still be enjoyable, even if it winds up setting its bar for success a hell of a lot lower than originally hoped? Sure, as it will probably be fun for a while to see what mini-crises the town will have to face each week, how they go about solving them, and the various ways people stop being polite, and start getting REAL when they’re trapped in a 10-mile wide candy dish – it just probably won’t be entertaining for as long as if the show were to give us solid characters and side stories worth investing in. Considering the pilot’s ratings numbers, and that CBS is open to lopping off the prefix on the show’s miniseries status, Under the Dome could be around a lot longer than originally planned, which makes it all the more important that it figures out whether it wants to be more than just the most expensive, longest SyFy movie ever made.

  • Stray Thoughts

-“It means we’re all going to die in here.” *cut to commercial*. There’s that silliness laying itself out in broad daylight, with bold, declarative statements about stakes being thrown out, sans context for the actual scene they’re being delivered in.

-Joe and his beanie buddy now have a dog named Truman following them around. Unlike The Truman Show, everyone in Chester’s Mill wants to record all that’s happening, but they have no audience to share it with.

-Thoughts on how Chekov’s cigar will come back to haunt the Reverend? One does not pocket the fine tobacco of a dead man unless one intends to have their web of deceit uncovered by said tobacco winding up in the wrong hands.

-From the moment deputy Freddy introduced himself as Rusty’s brother, I was envisioning how the torrid romance between him and Linda would affect her new position of power. I’ll admit to being plenty surprised, and thankful, to see the show dispose of him as quickly as he was introduced.

-Since someone already beat me to it on twitter, the song parody for Under the Dome will not be “Under the Sea,” but instead be “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Just say “dome” every time they say “home,” and you’ve got the gist of it.