I just couldn’t stay away. With a title that isn’t stagnantly literal for once, I grew immensely hopeful and optimistic about this episode. Well, not really. The talk of a missile being shot at the dome made me perk up though. Chester’s Mill being annihilated would save me some time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The episode opens with Joe showing Norrie a swarm of monarch butterflies that’s gathered on the dome wall in his yard. Struck by the beauty, they wonder why they’re in the area out of season. Norrie, who’s previously been dismissive of any discussion of the dome’s powers, quickly offers this theory:
“Maybe the dome sent them. Maybe it’s trying to tell us the dome’s just a cocoon and when it finally goes away, we’ll all get to be something new.”
Yes, the dome would communicate with you using clumsy metaphors. Dialogue that not only slaps us with a hamfisted summation of one of the show’s thematic goals, but is both out of character and an embarrassingly absurd logical leap for that character to make is rare. I’m impressed.
Barbie joins them, having been sleeping in his car in Joe’s yard after Julia kicked him out. They watch as buses arrive with civilians. Joe spots his cousin and other townspeople who were trapped outside the dome. The military is back, and they’ve brought visitors to cheer up the domers. No-one questions why the military would shift from making no contact with them to being warm and fuzzy, in only one of many instances of stupidity and incompetence in this episode.
The development does at least return focus to the dome, so it no longer feels like an extra in its own show. The two groups meet and communicate with notepads and tablets because sound doesn’t penetrate the barrier. Sheriff Esquivel asks Barbie to put up some police tape so that people don’t hurt themselves by getting too close to the dome with electrical devices. She then steps under the tape in front of everyone else to awkwardly ‘kiss’ her fiancée through the barrier, despite having no cause to assume that prolonged physical exposure to an energy barrier that explodes pacemakers won’t also do harm to human tissue.
Then they chat, her fiancée communicating with a tablet after walking past an announcer asking people not to approach the dome with tablets (seriously). Linda also isn’t bothered by this despite her instruction to Barbie minutes earlier. This might be marginally acceptable if someone stupidly hurt themselves or someone else, but nothing comes of it, so why make an issue of it? Maybe Microsoft, who evidently paid for product placement given we prominently see Windows 8’s shiny interface, wanted their product to be more enticing by having the characters foolishly disregard all safety warnings because their tablet is so glorious and helpful for those times when you need to chat with someone trapped in a dome.
Julia is bummed that her missing husband, Peter, isn’t there to meet her. But his sister is, who shows Julia a letter he sent explaining he was planning to skip out on her anyway because she deserves better. So by giving Julia plenty of reason to hate Peter, the show sets her up to get together with Barbie that much more quickly. She even tells Linda later, quite convincingly and far too soon to be psychologically credible, that she’s over it. She even holds Barbie’s hand at the end of the episode.
But he killed your husband, Julia! Apparently that doesn’t seem to matter, because secret accidental killing gets in the way of ‘shipping, begging the question of why the Peter story was necessary at all. Yes, Barbie tries to confess near the end of the episode, but Julia discovering Peter was a dick who planned to leave her will diminish the shock value of her discovering what Barbie did, if she ever does. Make up your mind, Under the Dome! You’re only five episodes in and you’re rewriting your own history and undermining the stakes you’ve set up.
At the bridge, Barbie chats to a soldier who reveals the military is about to leave because something big is happening. Along with Reverend Coggins raving that he’s hearing the word ‘Moab’ from God, Barbie pieces together that the military plans to shoot at the dome with a MOAB, the largest non-nuclear American missile. Assuming with uninformed certainty that this will destroy the dome and everyone inside, the town leaders arrange for the townspeople to take shelter in the cement factory tunnels, as Julia heard military code over the radio that the missile would be launched that afternoon (so much handy information leaks into the dome by radio. Even Coggins’s hearing aid can pick it up). Barbie gives an oblique and dashed-off explanation that the butterflies indicate the dome is altering magnetic fields in the outside world, which the government won’t tolerate.
We also learn from Joe’s wisecracking friend that China nearly attacked America, thinking that an invisible dome over a populated area was evidence of a new superweapon that the US would use against them. Yes, that reflects the current state of geopolitical affairs. The number of ways this makes no sense aren’t worth getting into here.
But at least this is dome-related stuff – at last! This is amazing news to those enduring this show, like finding a canteen of stale urine when lost in the desert. Despite an entirely predictable ending, at least there’s the promise of forward momentum.
Of course, as required on shows like this, some characters are still wandering around outside minutes before the strike. Joe and Norrie are futilely running around looking for his sister, finally realising that even a ‘flake’ like her would probably have sought out her brother by now after a large invisible dome descended on them. With three minutes left, Joe tells Norrie to go back to the shelter to be with her family, as if there’s the slightest chance he could then find Angie and return to the shelter in time. Because Joe’s her friend – and she’s mad at her mothers after her supposedly anonymous father showed up to meet her at the bridge, hoping for some fame – they keep looking.
Also wandering the streets is Sheriff Esquivel, abandoning her community leadership role to return to a spot where she and her fiancée scrawled a loving message in some wood one time. She’s sad, you see, after he stormed off when she told him his brother (Nice-Cop Freddy from episode 2) has died. This was most likely due to grief rather than an extremely abrupt and silent break-up, but Linda thinks otherwise and decides there’s no point increasing her chances of survival in the cement factory. A tearful trip down memory lane makes more sense than hunkering down and also living up to her mentor Duke and looking after the townspeople with that “good heart” he cloyingly told her was so important. Another ridiculous thing our sheriff has done this week. Under the Dome is the worst possible advertisement for small-town American law enforcement.
Her similarly misjudged decision to deputise Junior has consequences this week too. See, he not only has a uniform, but a gun (she obviously couldn’t hear the excessively ominous score last week when his dad suggested a career in law enforcement following his sentimental riot-quelling). It starts with Big Jim discovering his son’s abusive treatment of Angie, but as expected he doesn’t do the right thing straight away. He leaves Angie there for 24 hours while he decides what to do.
He eventually lets her go and confronts Junior, who drives off. Unfortunately, because Big Jim is convinced they’re all going to die, he just lets Angie run away rather than, again, living up to his responsibilities as a civic leader and at least taking this victim of his son’s abuse to the tunnels to take shelter. And Jim isn’t even consistent in his gloomy outlook, inexplicably changing his mind about all hope being lost and going to the tunnels himself, seemingly unperturbed that he’s left Angie at Junior’s mercy. That she can’t possibly escape Junior, since she’s in a dome, doesn’t seem to be factoring into his thinking.
So poor Angie, not knowing that the town is underground, runs home in hope of finding Joe, only to discover Junior waiting with his gun in her bedroom. Viewers will likely have the same reaction as her: I thought I was free! But no, there’s more Junior psychosis to endure yet. He plays the automated missile announcement for Angie and they wait, dejectedly, for the end. Angie holds him, hopefully on the off-chance they survive and she has to keep him on side until she can escape (again). I’m dearly hoping that, in what she felt were her last moments, she didn’t forgive him. Portraying domestic violence and abduction as mere human frailty to ultimately overlook would be the final nail in this show’s dome-shaped coffin, because we can hardly expect this show to venture into a credible portrayal of Stockholm Syndrome.
So the missile hits, and the dome naturally remains intact. The area immediately outside Chester’s Mill is a wasteland, however, and Jim and Coggins survey the damage. Coggins earlier gave Jim an ultimatum to confess his drug and propane-related crimes to the town within a day or Coggins would expose him, making his death as predictable to us as the missile’s failure. Dutifully, Jim presses Coggins’s head against the dome, exploding his hearing aid and killing him. So the reverend’s 180-degree turn into religious fervour won’t be available as a regular object of ridicule. Aww.
And with that, we have no setup for any stories going forward. The missile achieved nothing and the town has no leads on the dome or why it’s there. Jim’s secrets are safe. Julia is ‘over’ her missing husband. The remaining thread is that Angie is out of the shelter but stuck with a gun-toting Junior. Even money says, however, that the next episode will feature a stand-off once Joe, Norrie, and her mums come home, and Jim has to intervene and etc etc, gun goes off, etc. I don’t think this show has the courage to kill off Junior, however, even though it sorely needs to because there’s nothing more to be done with him. He’s not menacing. He’s an irritating plot hindrance.
So between the total lack of forward momentum and the sole dangling plot thread eminently foreseeable, why are we supposed to keep watching? On the other hand, I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Although not the product of excellent plotting, at least it’s some kind of mystery to latch on to.