Under The Dome Review: “Manhunt” (Season 1, Episode 3)

Britt Robertson and Alexander Koch in Under the Dome

Even with four types of dramatic conflict that it could be choosing to explore (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society), Under the Dome’s best stuff since the pilot has been coming from the little known fifth class of conflict, Man vs. Dome. “It’s the dome! It’s gonna kill us all!” raves Randolph, last week’s trigger-happy deputy turned prophet of doom, a sentiment later echoed by incumbent town crazy Junior, who deals with his fear of the dome collapsing on everyone by beating his fists bloody against it. They might be less stable than anyone else in Chester’s Mill, but at least in their panic, these two nut jobs add a sense of urgency to the show that has been sorely lacking.

Between last week’s backyard barbecue, and Manhunt‘s rundown of the escaped Randolph, Under the Dome is leaning on problems only tangentially related to the titular dome, and it’s made for back-to-back episodes that are middling at best, and embarrassing at worst.

Junior’s psychotic behavior is finally getting an explanation, but it’s not a particularly inspired one, falling back on the old tropes of a dead, idealized momma, and an overbearing, nasty papa. This is where we’re supposed to develop a modicum of sympathy for Junior, except it’s easier to sympathize with broken home lunks if they’re not keeping girls locked up in their bomb shelters. And it’s a lot easier to sympathize with that girl if she’s not the one falling for the abused bad boy routine instead of the audience

Actually, there’s an overwhelming amount of high school drama going on this week, which you wouldn’t think would be a priority at this point, what with the dome and all. There’s something kinda funny about nerdlinger Joe’s generator (gennie, as the kids call it) making him the equivalent of a 10th grader with a pickup and a fake ID, but his awkward courtship of Norrie doesn’t really hold water when it’s taking the spotlight away from the dome. Sure, we get some more mythology teasing when the two share a synchronized seizure, but it’s hardly a worthy payoff when the subplot is spending all its time trying to evoke John Hughes instead of Stephen King (when bro bully is taunting Joe about having relations with his sister, you’d think Joe might say, “Hey, speaking of which, have you seen my sister? She’s been missing for two days and I haven’t really noticed”).

There’s a concerning lack of concern about the bubble situation out in the streets of Chester’s Mill, as a full-blown riot (meaning someone threw a beer bottle) over Randolph shooting a cop is quelled by Linda just giving a stern look. When Randolph escapes jail, you’d think that’d be as good an excuse as any for the town’s people to whip themselves up into a frenzy, and breakout the torches and pitchforks. But no, Big Jim instead forms a hunting party (can it really be called a party if it’s only four people? That’s more like a hunting bro-hang) made up of the first two retirees he sees at the diner, and Barbie. Even though he’s a former quarterback, that Jim can’t be arsed to get at least a hockey team’s first line’s worth of guys together is either a indictment of his poor planning, or more likely, the show’s budgetary restrictions.

I like Dean Norris a whole lot as an actor, but he doesn’t have a lot of material available to make Big Jim into the heavy the show is trying to play him up to be. He doesn’t register much menace beyond what you’d expect of a burnout small town football star, just one who’s watched a lot of Deadwood, and fancies himself an Al Swearengen type (“I will not continence any frontier justice!”). What he and Father Lurch’s plan for the town is still remains a mystery with no hook, and he’s awfully passive for being both the town’s ostensible leader, and its secret puppet master (he’s been busy ensuring not one drop of the town’s milk goes to waste, but Junior fails him yet again, by pouring out a perfectly good glass. Such a disappointment).

The show can’t be all dome machinations and conspiracies all the time, but when it’s not, there needs to be some drama on screen for us to give a crap about. After three hours, Junior’s character has progressed more than almost anyone else’s, which is pretty pathetic when that arc has him maturing from “insane teenager” to “insane teenager with daddy issues.” Sure, Julia gets her little backstory-filling speech about her expose snafu in Chicago, but she’s still the same nosey, muckraking reporter archetype she’s been from minute one, awkwardly butting her head into the plots of other characters for lack of having her own. Were this a comedy, her half-assed attempts at stealthily tailing Junior would have been played for laughs intentionally.

It’s frustrating how the show feels the need to state, then restate, then re-restate the basic character layouts over and over again, as though that’s somehow supposed to deepen them (it’s the kind of exposition-overload most fledgling shows experience. Using DJ Bushey as a kind of Greek chorus is the one clever instance of it). Jim finding out about Barbie being ex-military is news for him, but it doesn’t have any value to the viewer, who’s already aware of that fact. Does Barbie’s extended background even matter, though, if it’s still unclear why he was in Chester’s Mill in the first place? Just as Julia can’t help but glom onto whatever someone else is doing, Barbie just sorta gets pulled into the hunting party plot this week, which doesn’t make him an engaging lead.

But hey, maybe it’s the dome we should really be rooting for. If Randolph is right, and the dome starts picking off more of the citizens, maybe then the rest of them will get their asses in gear, and start doing something. Two bad episodes in a row isn’t the end of the world for a show that’s been running for a while, but Under the Dome is now officially batting below .500. I doubt that the show’s initially strong ratings will survive if that average dips much lower over the next ten weeks.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Julia has officially supplanted Hannibal’s Freddie Lounds as 2013’s Most Annoying Reporter Character of the Year. And now I’m thinking about a version of Under the Dome that has Hannibal in it, and I’m making myself sad over how that’s not a reality.

-Linda continues to be the only character moving in an interesting direction, as her screw-up with Randolph, and lethal solution to that screw-up, make her a shaky choice for the town’s new sheriff. Here’s hoping she keeps the hat.

-Dear dome: if you are a righteous vacuum-sealed deity, then please let Joe’s beanie-wearing pal be the next target of your smiting. I don’t know how much more “teenager as envisioned by a suburban soccer mom” dialogue I can stomach out of him.

-Who had Episode Three in the pool for when the show was going to lampshade The Simpsons Movie? ‘Cause they did this week. Your prize is getting to hear Norrie explain to you what the Sherman Antitrust Act is again.

Lost-iest Lost Moment: Two people have guns trained on each other. A shot is heard, and one falls over dead. A third person comes in from off-camera, and is revealed as the shooter. The orchestral strings swell in a frenzy, and we cut to commercial.

-Other favorite Randolph dome rantings: “He wouldn’t be dead if it wasn’t for this dome!” and, “It was the dome that did it!”