Damn, I have three episodes of Under the Dome to catch up on. After the ending of “Imperfect Circles” actually stirred some emotions in my dead/discerning heart, I had cause for cautious optimism. “Thicker than Water” doesn’t keep up the momentum, but the episode’s not a train wreck either.
The conflict between Big Jim and Ollie Dinsmore and the larger clash between the townies and the farmers is the thrust of this episode, which resolves it surprisingly quickly. I assumed this socioeconomic divide would recur for the rest of the season, but Big Jim’s determination to get control of the well has tied the storyline up already.
When it becomes clear that Ollie won’t share his water or the crops he’ll grow with it, Jim, Linda, Barbie, and a redshirt visit his farm with guns. Within seconds, they’re ambushed by Ollie and the other farmers in their trucks, who must have been waiting patiently there for a while on the off-chance the townies would make a move on them that day: how dedicated. The redshirt gets his knee shot out to give some weight to Ollie’s moustache-twirling villainy, and the townies retreat. But not before Junior, angry at his dad for kicking him out in disgust at his abduction tendencies, defects to Ollie’s side.
On the one hand, the power struggle gives us some survivalist rivalries at last, but it’s undermined by Ollie being so implausibly posturing and power hungry. He’s a farmer, not a Bond villain. The conflict would be more unsettling and threatening if it wasn’t so theatrical, and Dinsmore isn’t remotely intimidating. Not Leon Rippy’s fault, although he’s a tad miscast.
Barbie recovers from this failure with some wonderfully welcome intelligent thinking. For once, a character is thinking strategically rather than just reactively. After Linda explains that Ollie’s well emptied the water from the surrounding wells and the town reservoir, Barbie realises that destroying the well would return the water to the reservoir where the townspeople can access it. I’m not sure if this is accurate, but the presence of any lateral thinking at all in this show made me feel smarter just watching it, given the dumbness my brain is usually bathed in while doing so.
Big Jim, however, doesn’t like this idea. Fearing it may contaminate the water supply, he continues with his plan to attack Ollie’s farm with more people and guns. Barbie goes and arranges the bomb anyway. At Ollie’s farm, Junior explains why he turned against his fathe, and Ollie claims Jim has lied to his son about his mother’s death, that the car accident that killed her was really a suicide. Accepting this without even asking how Ollie knows this and failing to recognise that Ollie has every reason to manipulate him, Junior asks him to leave Jim alive so he can kill his father himself.
Seriously, we’re even descending to this level of melodrama? I know Junior’s nuts, but the threat is so unearned and hollow. I need a lot more to believe that even an unstable son like Junior would want to kill his dad.
That night, Big Jim and his guys move in and a shoot-out ensues. Barbie plants the bomb and detonates it, but not before several people on both sides are killed and DJ Chris is injured (hey, is his name a Northern Exposure reference?). Junior knocks his father out in the chaos, and the farmers drag him inside. Ollie gives Junior the chance to kill him, and he demands answers about his mother. Turns out Ollie was right, and Sheriff Duke and Jim covered it up (due to small-town shame over suicide, we’re led to assume, which is pretty appalling). How Ollie came to know this is left conveniently unexplained.
Jim cries and apologies, and I couldn’t help resenting that Under the Dome asked Dean Norris to break down like that. Watching this concurrently with Breaking Bad felt like seeing Hank Schrader’s steely but vulnerable reserve dissolved for no good reason. This moment felt unearned too, and embodies the differences in how shows like this and Breaking Bad differ in presenting their characterss internal conflict. Under the Dome goes the cheap, easy way.
Convinced by Jim’s contrition, Junior shoots and kills Ollie just as Ollie was about to kill Jim himself. Junior later tells Linda that his defection was deliberate infilitration to take care of Ollie, which Linda accepts even though it implies that Junior again killed someone premeditatively. Seemingly nothing will keep that kid out of a uniform. The storyline ends with Big Jim and Barbie again at odds, as Barbie accuses him of rejecting his plan because he wanted to control the well rather than give the townspeople free access. So with Ollie out of the way, Jim is reasserted as the internal threat. That goal seemed at odds with the rest of the episode though. Maybe it’s Norris’s portrayal, but power for power’s sake doesn’t seem to be Jim’s MO.
Meanwhile, Norrie is grieving over her mother’s death and bonds with Angie while pushing Joe away. Joe lets slip to Julia about the egg in the mini-dome, and she insists he shows her. When she touches the mini-dome, she sees an apparition of a second Joe, who says “the monarch will be crowned”.
Cool, some blunt but reasonable mystery there, which the editing makes damn sure we don’t miss. In the final scene, Julia is repeating the phrase to Barbie. We cut to Angie and her butterfly tattoo (monarch butterfly, ya see), then back to Julia for her to repeat the phrase again. The spoonfeeding in this show is atrocious: repetitive exposition and ‘what do you think it means’ questions are rife in this episode. Under the Dome is seemingly intended to be Lost for the slowest, most incapable television viewers around.
Still, this episode gives us more dome mystery, which is the sweet yet tasteless, overly manufactured jam on this stale white bread of a show. Jam always helps.