Under the Dome Recap: Imperfect Circles

underthedome-imperfect

I haven’t read any other online responses to this episode yet, so I may be embarrassingly alone in being bowled over by how effective this week’s ending was. Under the Dome actually moved me with a mournful, well-directed sequence of a completely different calibre to what’s come before. Not only that, but two consecutive twists in Big Jim’s storyline brought us some unexpected, vaguely gonzo plotting at last. Again, Stockholm Syndrome may be to blame, but Under the Dome is in danger of becoming halfway decent. I am shocked, and also relieved that the next six weeks may not as painful as I thought.

We begin by meeting Julia’s pregnant neighbour Harriet, who interrupts her pillow talk with Barbie to ask for some yoghurt. They kissed in the rain at the end of last episode, which made so little impression I forgot to even mention it last time. Harriet is six months pregnant and alone, her husband stationed in the navy. But as she leaves Julia’s house, she sees him walking towards her in his sailor uniform (I was unaware they still wore those white hats, although they quite possibly don’t). Astonished, she walks up and reaches for him but touches the barrier of the dome instead. Her ‘husband’ was on the other side of the barrier and disappears, leaving Harriet in sudden pain. Her water breaks, so the dome has somehow induced an early labour.

As soon as I saw her husband, I got pumped that the dome is finally doing some weird stuff rather than just being a pain in the arse. Sure, it’s pretty familiar and echoes Lost a little too keenly, but the more Under the Dome embraces its supernatural side, the less distracting the hollow character-based stories are. Like the notion of it protecting them last week, the dome causing a woman’s water to break is nicely offbeat, even if it does give us the inevitable giving-birth-in-a-dire-situation storyline.

A side question it raises is why the dome barrier is in the middle of a residential street. We saw this before when the townspeople were protesting the military’s departure, but I didn’t register then that this goes against the whole idea of the whole of Chester’s Mill being stuck in the dome. So there are houses sitting free and clear on the other side of the barrier? Did the forces behind the dome get sloppy when working out the radius? The narrative convenience of having the barrier near Julia’s house and perhaps other characters’ may explain it, but even then I’m not sure it’s a plot hole worth having.

Meanwhile, Big Jim throws Junior out of the house as Angie watches. Revealing himself to be the needy boy he still is behind his psychotic bluster, Junior protests about his Dad embarrassing him and whimpers as he closes the door on him. Jim tells Angie that Rose’s body is still in the cafe, as Coroner Reverend Coggins is too dead to deal with bodies. She decides to return there to ‘say goodbye to Rose’, finding her beaten body under a sheet. For reasons bafflingly unclear, she nearly removes the sheet from Rose’s face before Ben, Joe’s sidekick from a few episodes ago, wanders in. Is this macabre streak a shift we should be paying attention to?

At Ollie’s farm, the well water program is in full swing, with Chester’s Millians lining up to take some home. Jim arrives to try to bury the hatchet with Ollie, reasoning that they both control key commodities and should work together. But Ollie asks how he knows the propane is still his. In a nice twist, Ollie has ambitions to supplant Jim as the town’s bigwig.

Concerned, Jim visits the propane station to find an enormous beefcake farmer guarding the propane with a rifle, looking more like a nightclub bouncer than a small-town landowner. But he’s big enough to intimidate Jim, so that’s OK. With little provocation, he beats Jim up to demonstrate that the farmers are in charge now, establishing a ‘townie’/farmer conflict axis of conflict that I hadn’t foreseen. I don’t feel bad though, because the farmers have barely been established. This causes plausibility problems because we have no sense of the number of farmers and whether they have sufficient resources to defend such large areas of land. But that may be moot, as we’ll see.

Understandably grumpy, Jim stops by the cafe. Angie and Ben have just returned from burying Rose, with Ben exclaiming almost light-heartedly how messed up that was, before clarifying in as many words that he’s not a sociopath. This short exchange says a lot about Under the Dome‘s tonal restrictions: even when two teenagers have to bury the body of a woman whose head has been beaten in, they’re not disturbed and horrified by what they’ve had to do. They just acknowledge it as if they’ve seen something gross on Reddit, so the audience doesn’t have to dwell on it too much either.

That said, the scene quickly develops just that type of rawness when Jim swigs from a whiskey bottle and tells these kids, one of whom has just been abducted and abused by his son, to clean up the blood. That harsh pragmatism is what we’d expect from a Stephen King story. One scene containing both extremes embodies the uneasy position the show occupies between unremitting shows like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad and safer, cosier CBS dramas. Allowing the whole family to watch isn’t necessarily an excuse. Even Lost‘s first season, airing at a family hour at 8pm, felt more dangerous than this show without too much graphic content. But then, an early episode did feature Sayid pulling out Sawyer’s fingernail.

But I digress. So, Joe and Norrie spend most of the episode doing us a solid and investigating this dome thing that’s trapping them all. That the kids are usually the only ones interested in the show’s mysteries almost damns them as the juvenile, silly part of the show, something for the kids in the family to latch on to. Hopefully the story is going to vindicate them and they actually save some lives and make a difference with what they’re discovering.

Joe theorises that if they think of the dome as an atom, and the barrier serves as the electrons, then there may be a nucleus. So they head into the woods, which are somehow in the centre of the dome. See what I mean about confusing geography? As they get closer to the centre that Joe has calculated, the dog gets spooked and runs away. Further on, they find a knee-high dome that shocks them when they first touch it. Inside sits something resembling a large black egg.

Those who watched Lost for the mysteries as well as the characterisation will collapse in relief at finally seeing physical evidence of weirdass mythology. The egg is vague enough that it could be a number of things, but not enough to be a meaningless MacGuffin. Plus, when Joe and Norrie touch the small dome together, another apparition manifests nearby. This time it’s Alice, looking at Norrie silently. Norrie gets a bad feeling about her mum’s health, so they head back to Joe’s.

In town, Linda and Junior are tracking down the Dundee brothers, the resident rapist murderers from last week. Linda, not knowing what’s happened between them, tells Junior that they nearly raped Angie. He strongly implies that he’ll decidedly un-coplike when they track them down. Linda sets him straight and assumes he’ll comply, continuing to not recognise that Junior is not ideal law enforcement material.

When they do, the Dundees resist arrest and Linda shoots Rose’s murderer in self-defence. Junior chases down the other one, who trips and begs for mercy, but Junior shoots him anyway. Linda runs up and can tell what’s happened, but just like with Barbie last week, doesn’t protest nearly enough. Will she continue to rely on Junior anyway? If so, bank on it being because her character is written so ineffectually rather than her recognising that she doesn’t have many other options, after her other unseen deputies don’t turn up for work. I’m disappointed that a female authority figure is portrayed as somewhat clueless and seemingly dependent on the men around her.

Big Jim isn’t feeling so proactive though. As he sits in his office with a bottle, Ollie visits him having heard about his encounter with the Bouncer Farmer. He explains that he and the farmers control the key resources, and that the townies who may never have given them much thought now depend on them.

Jim being overthrown behind the scenes is a welcome plot turn, but it’s not the only one, because Jim’s not gonna stand for that shit. That night, Bouncer Farmer loads some propane into his truck at the station and gets in. A still drunk Jim suddenly appears with a large gun and, and without hesitating, opens fire, blowing up the truck and Bouncer Farmer with it. The sudden, excessive, but decisive violence was quite unexpected, unlike his murder of Coggins. Jim drunkenly taking back control in a faintly demented way is pretty fun. Appropriately enough, it was almost worthy of Breaking Bad.

Despite having killed someone in cold blood, Junior is feeling less violent for once. He finds Angie in the cafe, and admits that he was wrong to think he could make Angie love him, and that he was sorry for everything. I want to believe him so this vacuous story can finally be over, but I doubt we’ll be that lucky.

Barbie has intercepted Julia and Harriet. With the clinic closed for unknown reasons, they go to Joe’s so Alice can deliver the baby. Unfortunately, Alice’s diabetes is taxing her system without enough insulin, and the stress of delivering the baby becomes too much. From this scene through to the end of the episode, the direction steps up a notch and becomes quite special. As Harriet pushes, Alice becomes overwhelmed. Barbie takes over until he needs her help again when the umbilical cord wraps around the baby’s neck. The baby is born, and in a schmaltzy but sorta earned moment, Harriet names her Alice. After thanking her, the exhausted Alice collapses.

There’s an intensity to these final moments and Samantha Mathis’s performance that sucked me in more than anything in the show so far. The direction has a flair not seen since Niels Arden Oplev’s work on the pilot, with that striking opening shot of the crow.

Joe and Norrie arrive home to find Alice in bed. She’s had a heart attack, and although conscious is in bad shape. Norrie sits with her mother and explains how she saw her in the woods. Alice believes her, having heard Harriet say the same about her husband. The rest of the scene is Alice’s goodbye to her daughter, and despite Under the Dome so far being too feckless to induce any empathy, this scene finally does. It’s not unique or special, but Mathis, the stoic Aisha Hinds, and even Mackenzie Lintz are all excellent. The dialogue pulls its weight, feeling real enough and free of clichés. Carolyn looks on as her partner says goodbye to their daughter.

When her eyes close, Norrie runs out of the house, and in a moment that should be hammy but somehow absolutely works, Norrie sobs and begs the dome to bring her mother back. Just as Lost made the island into a character with possible supernatural agency, the dome is developing those qualities too. Yet now the characters’ emotional connection to it is becoming relatable, just as we were moved by Locke pounding at the hatch, begging for an answer.

As M83’s beautiful ‘Wait’ plays (a solid and unexpectedly cool musical choice), we cut back to Carolyn as she has her own goodbye to Alice, and then to the rest of the town, with several discovering the fire at the propane station, with Jim looking on, pretending to be shocked along with them. Finally, we return to the egg, with beads of light now rippling across its surface.

It turns out that feature film director Miguel Sapochnik (Repo Men) directed this episode, which may explain why some sequences felt looser, more powerful, and more alive. But the script stepped up too, finally delivering some unexpected twists and mythological nuggets. For the first time, I was absorbed and moved by Under the Dome, which is finally beginning to resemble what it should always have been. Plenty of weak links remain, but the danger, intensity, and sadness of Stephen King’s work is starting to emerge.

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2 thoughts on “Under the Dome Recap: Imperfect Circles

    • remotewanderings says:

      Yes, I gather a number of fans of the books are similarly disappointed. I’m hesitant to read the book before I stop watching the show because I’ll likely be even more bummed about what could have been. Reading it after I give up though may be a fun experience in having all my expectations wildly surpassed. But maybe, just maybe, the show will find itself…

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