Under The Dome Review: “Blue On Blue” (Season 1, Episode 5)

Mackenzie Lintz and Colin Ford in Under the Dome

People are preprogrammed to see connections between things that aren’t there. Call it kismet, karma, faith, fate, whatever -human beings have an innate desire to see the dots in their lives connected into a larger, logical whole. Making sense of the microscopic plots of existence that our lives take up in the greater universe is only natural, even if doing so can seem like grasping at straws. Sure, maybe we are just grains of sand on the edge of an endless cosmic tide, but that just fuels to need to try and build something out of that sand, just so you can think you’re a part of something bigger. Holding on tight to the modicum of control we have over our lives is the only way to stay sane in the face of knowing there are forces in unfathomable number really running your show.

All of which is a very roundabout, and up my own ass way of saying, guys, I’m really sorry for tonight’s episode of Under the Dome. After harping on the show for its complete lack of energy and urgency for a few weeks now, I feel like I’m somehow at fault for the show throwing caution to the wind, and jumping to DEFCON 1 for an hour in a way that’s so, so much less interesting than that might sound. If nothing else, I feel like I understand Big Jim a whole lot better now, as his frustrations with Junior mirror my own quite nicely, with both of us trying to saddle our ambitions onto an entity that’s out of our control, leaving us only to gnash when that independent being doesn’t take our advice. The big difference between me and Jim, however, is probably that I wanted to melt my own ears by the time “Blue on Blue” was over, not somebody else’s.

The opening paragraph of bullshit spinning that this recap started with would seem ideally placed as a segue into how this week’s Under the Dome was a more contemplative and existential hour, with our heroes struggling in the face of their own powerlessness. Except, Under the Dome has subtext to chew on, it’s all text: repetitive, expository, flavourless text. There’s no beat or rhythm to the dialogue, just a low-droning hum of plot grinding away, as Julia explicitly lays out her belief that her husband left her due to gambling debts, or Junior tells Angie for the umpteenth time that his heart was in the right place when he chained her up in a bomb shelter…though, maybe there’s a coincidental grain of truth to his “it’s for your own good” shtick this time, what with the actual bomb that gets dropped on Chester’s Mill (wait never mind, he does his routine when the two are outside the bomb shelter. No points for you, Junior).

Like I said, the doomsday clock is running fast this episode, as the U.S. government has decided that the 5-mile wide blister that’s been growing out of Maine the last week needs to be removed. Why, you might ask? Well, considering it’s Joe’s beanie buddy who’s the only one with an explanation, your guess is as good as mine. Based on the rumors he heard, it could be related to the Chinese being threatened by the dome’s appearance, or because the electromagnetic radiation being given off by the bubble is attracting hundreds of monarch butterflies, which apparently constitutes a crisis of national security. Birds are also heavily dependent on EM fields for navigation, so why aren’t they swarming the place (follow-up question: even if birds aren’t attracted to the dome, how has it been up to a week without getting completely caked in bird shit?)?

Beanie probably isn’t the guy to go to for hard-hitting answers mind you, seeing as this is the same kid who theorized that the dome’s permeability to water meant that people, being 70% water, would have no trouble crossing the barrier. But what are we supposed to believe? What would compel the government to drop a bomb big enough to make everything from the city limits to the horizon look like a low-res version of Fallout? This is a pretty important question to understanding the actual world Under the Dome is taking place in, not just the microcosm of Chester’s Mill, but because everything passed the bridge is off limits to the narrative, we have no means of understanding why it is that nuking the dome is a priority. Has anyone even tried studying it, other than the science-y looking guy who sprayed it with a hose a few weeks back?

Because the focus in Under the Dome is limited to what’s there in the title, it would be cheating to have the President butt-dial Barbie while explaining to his chief of staff why it’s worth levelling half the state to pop the ultimate piece of bubble wrap, and there’s no reason the township facing an outside threat couldn’t have been compelling. But the problem is that both the crisis, and its aftermath are completely out of the hands of the characters, who have nothing to do for an hour but run around throwing various hissy fits. Had Julia and Barbie not stumbled into finding out about the impending bomb hours before its arrival, the end result of the episode would have been largely unchanged. Sure, impending doom is what it takes to get Barbie to spill on his tragic friendly fire incident overseas, and for Norrie’s dad to show up out of the clear blue sky, sending her into a an angst-nado, but it’s all manic filler for a climax that’s just a lot of sitting around, counting down the minutes from inside The Old Concrete Mine, while you check your watch from home.

Well, one plot does move along significantly thanks to everyone catching a case of the “we’re screwed” blues, and that’s with Rennie freeing Angie. I almost instantly regretted expressing my hope last week that Jim finding Angie would put this painful plot out of our misery, because, as evidenced by their first scene together, Rennie would be ruined if Junior ever got caught for his hardcore 50 Shades of Grey remake, so of course Jim’s gut reaction is to keep her locked up indefinitely. But when he did finally free her, out of belief that his son’s reputation probably wouldn’t matter in a couple of hours, it was pleasantly surprising…only to be unpleasantly frustrating, as Angie is almost immediately cornered by Junior. It was an effort, but Linda attempting to makeout with her fiancée through the barrier (after explicitly instructing no one to touch the dome) is only the second dumbest thing she does the week, the first being giving Junior a gun.

And frustration gave way to nothing short of outrage, when the town’s salvation by the grace of the dome’s structural integrity leaves us with the image of Angie coddling a fetal Junior. Getting Angie out of that bomb shelter was a top priority ever since the show proved shallow enough to shove her in there in the first place, but if the solution to that plot is to have her look the other way on the whole being kidnapped and tortured thing, than the president of the Dome-verse has my consent to launch everything he’s got in order to wipe this disaster off the face of the earth.

I was hoping after last week that Under the Dome would start to level out, but it seems more and more like the only thing it’s got any control over is how quickly it crashes – creatively, at least. The ratings are holding firm, and creator Brian K. Vaughn announced at Comic-Con that there’s a doozy of a cliffhanger awaiting the end of the season, which is the kind of thing that’s easy to speak freely about when you know CBS is inches from pulling the trigger on a second season. Maybe I don’t just feel like Rennie this week – maybe I feel like all the citizens of Chester’s Mill, trapped by this dome, and completely powerless in affecting the impact it has on my existence. Though they’ve survived the Mother of All Bombs, the townspeople have to hold onto the slimming hope that things will get better, even though surer odds say they’ll only get worse. The more clear the show’s downward trajectory becomes, week after week, and that we’re unable to affect it, living under the dome doesn’t seem quite all that different from watching Under the Dome.

  • Stray Thoughts

-“Maybe the dome sent them!” “Maybe they’re trying to tell us the dome is a cocoon!” Those were actual words someone was paid to write, and someone else was paid to say. Just a reminder.

-The army man is deadly serious that you should not be touching the dome while holding a tablet. Not electronic devices in general, just tablets. And you definitely shouldn’t be touching the dome while holding your new Microsoft Surface tablet, complete with sleek design and easy to use interface. Do I get paid now? I thought the show was making it clear we’ve abandoned any pretense of subtlety in the product integration.

-How did Norrie’s father become aware she’s in the dome? Why are Linda and Rusty on the cover of People Magazine within the same week that the dome first appears? Why are all the kids still recording everything? Why do I still think the show cares at all about answering these questions?

-So, it looks like Father Lurch is dead. So much for that religion vs. martial law plot I was cooking up last week. Yeah, it would have been derivative of The Mist, but at this point, I’d take the Asylum mockbuster of The Mist instead of a lot of what we’re getting right now.

-It’s early to prejudge where the Angie-Junior plot is going, but I just can’t buy her getting over what he’s put her through the last week, even if he does prove really good at turning on a radio at the exact moment relevant information is being stated.