This Under the Dome review contains spoilers.
The show that proved that fresh genre programming is viable for network television in the summer is back. Under the Dome, the adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name took television by storm last summer taking a seemingly thin premise and turning it into appointment viewing. The inaugural episode of season two has Stephen King hisowndamnself along for the ride on the writing side which is pretty exciting as things get off to a quick start for the residents of Chester’s Mill.
Maybe a bit too quick as a returning viewer may get whiplash from the rapid fire seismic changes that pepper the season opener. The verdict on whether these changes are a good thing is still out, but stick with us Domeophiles and we’ll get through this together.
Last season ended with quite the cliffhanger. Dale “Barbie” Barbara, the show’s ex combat veteran protagonist, about to be hung by dome despot “Big” Jim Rennie. This week, the payoff was rather anticlimactic when the dome began acting all mysterious and “Big” Jim’s almost serial killer son Junior refused to pull the switch to hang Barbara. So, cliffhanger resolved as Barbie, Junior, Jim, and Sheriff Linda Esquivel raced towards the dome to see what the heck is going on.
Suddenly, the dome went all Erik Lehnsherr and magnetized everything that got close. Poor Barbie, who was still cuffed, flew towards the dome and brave Sheriff Linda followed. Ok, last season Sheriff Linda had a good arc. She was dedicated to order and justice, had a brave firefighter fiancé on the other side of the dome and was caught between following the orders of “Big” Jim and following her own sense of fairness. She represented the eternal conflict between duty and justice and I was looking forward to see whether her character would continue to follow Rennie or follow her heart and join with Barbie and the others.
Well, so much for that because she was squished by a car saving Barbie. Seems like a waste of a well-established character but it seems the showrunners wanted some new blood in the cast and Linda was dead weight so...splat. Except she wasn’t dead weight, there was no catharsis to the story arc with her fiancé, there was no dramatic finish between her and “Big Jim,” there was just a well rounded character turned into a pancake by a magnetized car. (sigh) Well, at least she returned as a dome-fueled ghost image to haunt the guilt ridden Rennie later in the episode. Linda wouldn’t be the only death in the opener but more on that in a bit.
Who replaced Linda, you ask? Well, we have the mysterious Sam Verdreaux (played by Eddie Cahill), a very convenient but intriguing new character who just happens to be “Big” Jim’s brother-in-law. Clearly, there are some dark secrets and King crafts a subtle and twitchy first impression of the character. Sam lives on the outskirts of town and has an outcast vibe. When Sam reveals himself, “Big” Jim looks none too happy and it might be cool to have dueling maniacs in Chester’s Mill.
I'm looking forward to learning about Sam and his clearly dark past even if his introduction stretches the boundaries of plot convenience. No one mentioned Junior’s uncle with a well known dark secret at all? Really? Not one “Hey, what with this mysterious and often dangerous dome overhead, I hope Uncle Sam is all right.” Oh well, a well-conceived character will make me forgive such things.
New character number two is a mysterious dark haired girl who Julia saves from drowning early in the episode. This new girl, Melanie Cross (played by Grace Victoria Cox), seems to be somehow connected to the dome and fellow new character Sam seems to know a bit more about her than he is letting on. It will be interesting to see how she fits into the dynamic of the young people of Chester’s Mill. In fact, Joe and Norrie, such intriguing characters last season, seemed to get shorted in the opener. At least they didn’t get flattened against the dome like poor Linda, even if Joe got a nail driven through his hand.
New character number three is Rebecca Pine (played by Karla Crome), the resident high school science teacher who replaced the fallen Dodee Weaver as the sciencey dome expert that speaks in long bouts of technical jargon. In the opener, she built an electromagnet to counteract the dome’s own magnetic tantrum because science.
Speaking of Dodee, her dome-induced ghost is also haunted “Big” Jim Ebenezer Scrooge style. “Big” Jim’s descent into madness is one of the opener’s most intriguing plot elements as it looked like there could be some payback for Jim’s season one machinations. It’s clear the dome has plans for Jim as the magnetic tantrum stopped the moment Julia saved Jim’s life. Now, it was the dome that convinced Jim to hang himself in the first place through the ghosts of Linda and Dodee but it was also the dome that was pacified by Julia’s act of selflessness. Or was it Rebecca’s magnet that did it? It's a nice riddle that kind of saved this episode despite its disjointed feel and distractingly obvious dismissal of many elements from season one.
Stephen King may have penned a plot that was at times way too busy for its own good, but he certainly brought the sphincter tightening drama to the proceedings, as well. When the dome magnetized, Mr. King did a great job presenting what would happen if a group of people were trapped in a house when all the metal started to fly. The chaos was delicious as King guided Joe, Norrie, Angie, Barbie, Rebecca, and Carolyn through the harried chaos of flying nails, appliances, and in a nice Carrie homage, kitchen knives.
But it wasn’t till episode’s end that we got the most King of King moments. The dome was satiated, Chester’s Mill woke up, Sam was revealed to “Big” Jim, Junior further distanced himself from his father by demanding he now be called James, and all is ready to continue in a familiar direction even with the loss of Linda. Until Angie, poor haggard Angie, who spent half of last season locked in Junior’s basement. Angie, who found an inner strength to stand up to “Big” Jim this episode, ends up the victim of a mysterious assailant with an ax. Now, unless King brought Jack Torrance along with him to Chester’s Mill, we have one powerful whodunit on our hands.
On one hand an intriguing mystery, on the other, another well-realized female character who spent all of last season fighting not to be killed by a maniac is...killed by a maniac. Under the Dome better have a good payoff because I don’t think I like where it’s going so far.
The axe isn't the only big surprise to kick off the season. As for the first time we travel outside Chester’s Mill and the dome to witness Junior’s mom painting portraits that Junior and Sam seem to be connected to, portraits of a (ahem) dark tower. Nicely done, Mr. King.
So we kick things off with a mixed bag of seemingly needless character deaths and the introduction of new characters who are going to need a great deal of fleshing out to replace Linda and Angie. But Under the Dome proved itself last summer, and we look for more of the same despite a disjointed beginning.