Under The Dome Review: “The Fourth Hand” (Season 1, Episode 9)

Dean Norris and Natalie Zea in Under the Dome

It was right as the last commercial break was starting for this week’s Under the Dome that I caught a glimpse of myself in the TV’s reflection, and realized I had been making the Obama “Not Bad” meme face for most of the last hour. You know, the one that indicates a kind of bemused enjoyment, peppered with a sense of relief. It’s the sort of face you make when eating the half-stale box of Ritz crackers that constitutes the only food left in your house, one that showcases your subtle astonishment at how unexpectedly tolerable your present circumstances are. You wind up just kinda bobbing your head up and down, lips locked in an upward arch, just sorta thinking, “yeah…okay, this’ll do.”

And seeing as that last paragraph is just about the nicest thing I’ve had to say about Under the Dome since the pilot, “The Fourth Hand” might prove to be the lifeline I needed to power through the last four episodes of the season. Despite how it might seem, it hasn’t exactly been fun coming out of almost every episode of Under the Dome with nothing much to say about it that’s not negative, no matter how snarky pointing out those negatives gets to be. There is a very specific class of program people like to watch just so they can revel in its awfulness (Smash, anyone?). But hatewatching is something you share with a group of friends and a bottle of dirt cheap pinot; you generally don’t want to do it if it means spending your Monday night alone with a deadline hanging over you.

I’ve been keeping with Under the Dome based on the strength of the pilot, and nothing would make me happier than seeing the show live up to the promise that I thought was there. What I’ve only recently realized, is that the potential show I thought I was seeing was just an illusion. There are too many limitations created by the basic premise of Under the Dome to allow for a tight narrative, and expecting the show to provide some sort of social commentary and subtext (the kind I grasped for in that initial review) was, frankly, stupid. The production values, and abilities of the cast are what they are, and the actual mysteries of the dome will almost certainly never be revealed in a way that makes rational sense.

On that last point, Julia and I disagreed tonight. What we did agree on was a line she had later in the hour, which might perfectly encapsulate what it will take to enjoy Under the Dome going forward. “Maybe now’s the time to say screw it, and stop looking for answers we’re not going to get…and be grateful for what we do have,” she tells Barbie as the two snuggle up on the couch. It’s a line that was eerily resonant for me, both for basically paraphrasing my thoughts from last week’s episode, and for also making me realize the grief transition metaphor I’ve been employing is now complete. Maybe the fourth step, depression, was prematurely experienced during episodes two through seven, because with “The Fourth Hand,” I felt like I had arrived at the final stage: acceptance, for what it is Under the Dome is actually capable of achieving as entertainment television. And you know what: it made for an hour that was more genuinely watchable than anything since the pilot.

Case in point: it finally happened – the first real instance of a new and important character appearing out of the clear blue sky, well after Dome Day. The fresh face comes in the form of Justified’s Natalie Zea as Max, a zebra-striped ball-buster who shows up in Jim’s house from the ether, and immediately starts strutting around like she owns the place. Where’s she been the last eight days, you, Jim, and any sane person might ask? Oh, you know, out and about town, living in an empty house, spying secretly on all the major players and goings on, keeping abreast of all the relevant relationships and plot details. As you do, when you find yourself suddenly stuck under a dome that’s cutting off your rural drug operation from the rest of the world.

“The one day I decide to leave West Lake to see you!” says Max, explaining her presence in Chester’s Mill to Jim, in a near word-for-word reading of how we all imagined the show would try to write-off such an insane coincidence. A couple weeks ago, her appearance would have resulted in loud booing, and more than a few empties being thrown at my TV, but the most important part of my newfound enlightenment is accepting the things I cannot change – like the show’s passing relationship with plausibility – and simply appreciating why it is the writers decide to take their leaps when they do. In this case, it’s to have a well-dressed spitfire kick Jim’s ass into gear, and add a campy villainess to the proceedings going forward.

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