Under the Dome‘s plotlines converge in the penultimate episode, and it’s quite an effective hour. Unfortunately, enough characters behave idiotically or transform into supervillains that investing in the stakes is almost impossible.
The manhunt for Barbie has begun, and Big Jim makes a speech to the townsfolk. He somehow rationalises that bringing him in marks the beginning of them looking after themselves and ensuring the town’s prosperity. He’s cementing his power by convincing the town that helping him turn it into a police state that he runs is actually in their interest. Jim’s working them with reverse psychology, because one guy (no doubt meant to represent common sentiment among the town’s redshirts to save on paying for more speaking parts) counters Jim’s urging for due process by insisting that they’re not bound by American law any more. He even says that they’ve been in the dome for two weeks, so why should they be beholden to outside rules? Trapped for only a fortnight in relative comfort and suddenly anything goes? Going for a long-distance hike with these people probably isn’t wise.
But what of Sheriff Linda Esquivel in this process? She happily stands to the side, letting Jim do the talking. She asks him what to do next and follows his orders. For no apparent reason, she’s ceded her entire role to this shady car salesman.
Linda turns into an irredeemable disaster of a character this week. The shortcuts taken to keep her on Jim’s side and bolster the pressure on the good guys are so blatant that the conflict becomes meaningless. Her beloved Duke has posthumously revealed that the guy’s a crook, but she’s not only tolerating Jim, she’s embracing his leadership and believes his lies about Barbie with only circumstantial evidence. Despite having less reason to trust him, she’s just as much a part of the mob mentality as the rest of the town, and that’s a huge mistake for an authority figure in a show like this.
If the script was emphasising that she’s not up to the job, or has frailties that make her susceptible to manipulation, then it might be acceptable. But Linda has no such gradations. Her sole characteristic is ‘competent cop’, so when she’s so frequently incompetent, it’s just plain bad writing. Under the Dome has no illusions that it’s a nuanced character study about small-town politics and corruption, so we should reasonably expect that the sheriff character is ahead of the curve, if they’re not corrupt. Instead, Linda is a happily obliging pawn in Jim’s scheme. If I were Natalie Martinez, I’d be angry that this prominent role for a female authority figure has been so thoroughly undermined.
The key problem is her failure to ask thuddingly obvious questions about the manhunt as they arise. Jim tasks Junior to watch a comatose Julia at the clinic in case Barbie comes back to finish her off, telling him to only call him if she wakes up. While Angie distracts Junior by playing to his need for her affection, Barbie wheels Julia out into an ambulance and away from Jim’s watchful eye. Junior reports their escape, and who took her. If Barbie wanted to kill her, why on earth would he go to the trouble of wheeling her out on a gurney into an ambulance? She knows Angie is helping too, so Barbie is almost certainly not planning to harm Julia. At the very least, this unexpected behaviour should make Linda question Jim’s version of events. Even psychopathic Junior sees the wisdom in Angie’s warnings about Jim and starts to see through his father’s lies. But Linda never registers that Barbie leaving Julia alive contradicts Jim. Instead, she still wants Barbie brought in.
And she gets her wish when Barbie surrenders so Angie and Julia can escape. Jim and Linda lock him up at the station along with Norrie and Joe. Dodee has told Jim about the egg and that it may be powering the dome, so Jim tries to seize it. When he discovers they’ve moved it (to skater dude Ben’s house), he brings them in too for ‘obstruction of justice’, not even bothering to justify why he can arrest anyone. In exchange for Julia and the kids going free, Barbie will confess to the town that he killed all those people.
To quote Weylon Smithers, in this episode Big Jim “crosses that line between everyday villainy and cartoonish supervillainy”. High on having eliminated the threat of Max and seeing an opportunity to remove Barbie from the picture too, Jim is in charge and loving it. He taunts Norrie and Joe, happily has his goons manhandle Carolyn when she refuses to let them inspect the barn, physically intimidates Norrie when she talks back, and does it all with a gleeful bad-guy smirk. This was inevitable, of course, because Under the Dome is in no way capable of a gradual, plausible descent into power-hungry amorality, Walter White-style. But it’s no less dull to watch.
Where Jim crosses the line is at the radio station, when he overhears the military’s latest transmission. They’re discussing whether he is a useful contact inside the dome when they do whatever they’re planning to do, but decide that they’re not going to work with someone who killed a reverend by pressing his hearing aid to the dome. It turns out the military saw that, and Dodee walks in and hears them. Big Jim actually manages to convince her that it was a necessary evil because Coggins was a liability. Dodee should still be fairly soured on him after this revelation, but she not only believes him, she eagerly offers to help however she can (what she has against those kids, who are the only ways talking any sense in Chester’s Mill, is beyond me). Jim looks amenable, but then shoots her dead. As he leaves, he sets the station on fire, torching wall hangings as he slowly walks past.
Jim has now reached his apex of nastiness and manipulation, and therefore his value to the series. I bet good money that he’ll be killed off next week and another antagonist will somehow emerge. I’d like them to do something cool and have the dome inhabit his dead body and interact with the characters in season two, allowing Dean Norris to play an utterly different character, similar to Amy Acker in the final season of Angel. But I doubt Under the Dome will do something that innovative and strange.
After Joe and Norrie don’t reveal anything, Jim lets them go and tells Linda to follow them. With Carolyn, they go to Ben’s house and find the mini-dome making a screeching sound, the egg surging with orange light. As it builds towards doing something, Jim and Barbie stand on the town hall steps in front of the mob. Jim asks how Barbie pleads in this absurd outdoor courtroom. With an Inception-style horn on the score, Barbie smirks, pleads not guilty, and the episode ends.
He has no guarantee Joe, Norrie, or Julia are safe, but presumably has some kind of plan. Beats me what it is, so it’s not a bad cliffhanger. I’m ashamed to say I’m bummed I have to wait until Tuesday to see how the season ends. I expect it’s some kind of coping mechanism, but more likely is that there’s still juuuust enough to like about the show, and just enough of the story that’s hard to predict, that the ending will be worth sticking around for. I won’t be recommending Under the Dome for anything other than hate-watching, but I have just enough affection for it that I’ll be a tiny, tiny bit sad when it ends.