Under the Dome Recap: The Endless Thirst

under-the-dome-the-endless-thirst

Despite a misleadingly grandiose title, the sixth episode of Under the Dome more or less settles the show into a steady rhythm of obviousness and stupidity. No plot turns or character decisions are particularly preposterous by its established standards, although they would be on any other remotely respectable show. So perhaps it’s safe to settle in and know that Under the Dome may have thrown its worst at us.

We begin with the Angie-Junior storyline, which quickly deviates from what I predicted last time. The town is too preoccupied with a threat to their survival for a standoff in Big Jim’s house to fit into the episode, so Angie quickly clocks Junior with a snowglobe and runs out of the house.

The teaser ends with one of Under the Dome‘s most laughable plot contrivances. Alice, having run out of insulin, has a precisely timed hallucination and asks about their flight to Los Angeles. As do all unfortunates confused about what day it is, she quickly wanders away from her family and into the path of a speeding truck. The truck swerves and crashes into the watertower, emptying it over the main street.

The plot device of damaging the watertower to speed up the peril in a well-supplied town is bad enough. Worse is that the script didn’t at least have an insane person like the late Reverend Coggins sabotage it or, better yet, have the town accidentally compromise their water supply when trying to somehow improve their situation (you know, dramatic irony). But American network shows are getting shorter and shorter* so they need to cut to the chase.

Barbie and Linda check out the state of the lake, the source of the town’s water, but find a bunch of dead fish on the shore. Methane from a burst pipe has contaminated it, so the town has no clean water. This finally tips the townspeople over into losing their shit, but they do so hilariously quickly. First they’re complaining about shopkeepers asking for resources rather than cash, then they’re looting, then a couple of previously unseen villainous thugs break into Rose’s cafe to steal her food. No thought is given to how a community would plausibly react, to a more credible degeneration of law and order. For plot convenience, the story is ‘no water, so townspeople riot’.

The cafe is where Angie has finally found help, telling Rose what happened. Then the two men promptly beat Rose to death with a baseball bat and knock Angie unconscious when she retaliates. One watches the door as the other approaches the unconscious Angie, saying something like “it’s Angie, she won’t mind”. So out of nowhere, we have two murderous, rapist hicks to create some menace. Forward thinking would have established them earlier as those most likely to sow dissent or take advantage of anarchy in the dome, adding some much-needed internal tension to the opening episodes. Instead, they walk in here, deus ex thug, to nasty things up a bit.

Meanwhile, Linda and Barbie try to keep order as people loot and attack each other for supplies. Barbie’s temper gets the better of him and he chases one guy out of the store after he gets clocked with a can of food. He nearly suffocates the guy in fury before Linda intervenes. Instead of being appalled at his pursuing a single guy on foot away from the crisis and nearly killing him, she calmly accepts his homicidal rage and asks if she can count on him. No, it’s looking unclear that you can, Linda. “Won’t happen again”, Barbie says.

He quickly gets to make up for it when he notices the thug standing guard at Rose’s. He barges in and beats up the attempted rapist in the nick of time. Again, he nearly kills the guy even after beating him into submission. but stops himself without someone interrupting him. I guess this is something resembling progress…

The fighting and looting get worse, and old tear gas cannisters have no effect. Just as Linda is about to shoot someone to send a firm message, rain falls, again in the nick of time. Big Jim drives up, whooping that it can rain in the dome. You’ll be groaning at the lucky timing, but to its credit the script addresses this later in another storyline. Whether it’s just a delayed contrivance is a question for further down the line.

The rain not only alleviates thirst, but magically cures the townspeople of their panic and bloodlust despite having no impact on the scarcity of food and other resources. Big Jim tried to address the water issue, however, by negotiating with local farmer Ollie, played by Deadwood‘s Leon Rippy. You may remember him as the bigot from a few episodes ago. Ollie has an Artesian well on his land, but won’t let the town use it without some incentive. Big Jim offers him propane from his mysterious backup supply, and warns that he shouldn’t stand alone in a crisis like theirs. Jim brings him the propane, but the whole storyline is rendered moot by the rain. Sure, they’ll have trouble gathering enough rainwater and the well may be necessary, but the emotional victory negates the conflict of the well story. Plus, the dome is actually looking out for them and could just make it rain again.

That’s what’s surmised in the other main story, as Julia and radio engineer Dodee do something bracingly practical and drive around town to trace the source of the signal that’s jamming radio transmissions. The source turns out to be Joe and Norrie, who reveal the nature of their seizures. During the rain, the two of them touch the dome together, and the nearby car radio suddenly starts working. Joe and Norrie’s ties to the dome are getting more inexplicable, which is a welcome dose of unpredictability.

Dodee theorises that the dome has its own microclimate, and “the beautiful thing about the evaporation process” (love this dialogue) is that it cleanses the lake water of methane. She and Julia speculate that the dome has somehow arranged this, recognising that they needed water. The dome has gone from trapping them to protecting them.

The dome having agency and perhaps even intelligence is one of the few redeeming features of the show, because it’s a credible mystery and quite a batshit concept, like the lunacy of pressing the button every 108 minutes in Lost. That said, the characters’ irritating habit of asking each other questions they couldn’t possibly know the answer to is minimalising any gains. The number of “I don’t know” replies is wearying. CBS must truly think their viewers are cretins if they insist on explicating abundantly obvious cause and effect.

The episode concludes with Angie waking up in Big Jim’s house. After causing a moment of panic that we’re in for yet more imprisonment (not good for Angie either), the story takes a strikingly engaging turn. As expected, Jim doesn’t want the secret of his son’s abuse and instability getting out, but he doesn’t condone it and tells Angie that this time she’s free to leave whenever she wants. But in exchange for her silence, he’ll be her ally and ensure she and Joe have whatever resources they need. Thankfully for the sake of an appealing story, Angie doesn’t just storm out but appears to recognise the ethical ambiguities she’ll need to embrace in order to survive in the dome. Junior then walks in and asks what’s going on, and rightly senses that both Angie and Jim are in charge now.

So in an unexpected twist, the Junior story didn’t end in violence but the kind of dubious powermongering that a crisis like the dome would inspire, and I’m shocked to say that I was tempted to watch the next episode straight away to see how these power dynamics would play out. I am stunned that Under the Dome‘s most trashy, tedious subplot may actually yield the most engaging one outside of the nature of the dome.

Odds and Ends

  • Survival also factors into the plot when Joe and Norrie try to track down more insulin for her now hospitalised mother. She somehow covertly pulls the hospital records of all diabetics in town, even though such records are surely on a secure database rather than a filing cabinet. That shit might have worked for Bill Bixby, but not today.
    They find a stash in a house, but it’s for a kid, so Norrie swipes one and leaves the rest for him. Unfortunately this means the same complication will repeat in a few episodes. Given Samantha Mathis only has guest-star billing, we may see another death to follow Rose’s, raising the stakes a bit.
  • Rose being beaten to death was unexpectedly savage for this show, and demonstrates the inherent problem of telling a brutal survival story with such a glossy, safe veneer. CBS chief Les Moonves recently described the show as “Dallas in the future”, which not only explains a lot, it reveals the fundamental flaws in how the show has been developed from King’s premise. But then, the show’s not set in the future, so Moonves doesn’t even seem to know what he’s talking about. He’s right though that the show is more and more clearly a soap.
  • Under the Dome has been renewed for a second season, but this was evidently structurally necessary from the beginning. There’s no way the dome story gets resolved in 13 episodes at this pace. I’m not sure I can handle blogging this two years in a row though.
  • “I don’t know.”

[I initially wrote here that the episodes run between 38 and 39 minutes, which I noted from the streaming versions I’ve been watching on Ten’s catch-up service. Then I remembered reading talk that the Australian commercial networks sometimes edit imported shows to insert more ads. Sure enough, the running times for Under the Dome on the Australian iTunes store – and therefore for the American broadcast – are around 42 minutes!

So if you’re watching by other means and I refer to missing information or scenes that were included in your version, that’s why. I never watch commercial TV live and barely use their catch-up services, so I’m pretty appalled that I’m missing out on several minutes of the programme despite trying to watch it legitimately.

Fortunately, Ten do a better job than Seven did with Hannibal, which I’ve now discovered also had two or three minutes cut out of each episode. I’d already subconsciously registered this, finding the pacing horribly rapid and giving up on the show after a few episodes. Ten’s hacking is less noticeable. They may just delete one or two scenes entirely, while I suspect Seven nips and tucks scenes throughout the show, which is shameful vandalism.

If anyone happened to see the cut and uncut versions of a Hannibal episode, please let me know in the comments.]

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