Under the Dome Recap: The Fourth Hand

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I was wondering when Chester’s Mill would get its first Gilligans’ Island-style castaway, and the time has come. Despite the town being sealed in a dome, that won’t stop a new recurring anatagonist from showing up to cover for the show’s failure to establish enough conflict between the existing characters. Given the characters’s relative lack of surprise at this development, we should no longer be under any illusions that we’re watching a primetime soap with a dash of supernatural mystery. New plot contrivances can walk in against all odds without anyone batting an eye. Les Moonves was right: this is Dallas.

It turns out that Max, Big Jim’s shady business associate, was on her way to visit him the day the dome came down. Being a criminal, she went to ground in an empty house waiting for the dome to lift. When it didn’t, she decided she might as well get involved and mess with everybody. Because that’s what villains do when their only motivation is to be selfish and villainous.

Justified‘s Natalie Zea plays Max, and the character is your standard-issue attractive-criminal-mastermind, right down to kissing a stoic Barbie out of the blue to reveal that they used to have a thing, Barbie hates himself for it but he’s still a red-blooded man ya know, etc etc. That’s right, she knows both Jim and Barbie. Sure, Barbie may have been in town on business for Max – although I’m unclear on whether we’re supposed to assume Julia’s husband’s debts are connected to this – so it’s not implausible that she was also working with the locals. Why innocuous Chester’s Mill would be the site of a criminal conspiracy is far from clear, however. Oh, and Max is somehow omniscient: she knows that Barbie is sleeping with Julia and that he killed Julia’s husband, because she’s somehow spent the last eight days watching Barbie and ‘everyone in this hellhole’.

Bringing an outside character into this situation feels like a betrayal of the premise. The drama needs to come from the townsfolk, from how they change and become entirely new and perhaps not entirely nice people as their situation gets increasingly desperate. Introducing the Others into Lost was viable because the island’s history was fundamental to the story. Helicoptering in cheesy antagonists to ruffle everyone’s feathers has far less integrity. Big Jim’s reaction to Max works as meta commentary on this: without much shock or confusion, he asks if she somehow made it through the dome barrier. Explaining her presence doesn’t matter because sweeping in a new source of conflict is more important than creating a credible world with unimpeachable rules.

We learn that Max, Big Jim, and Reverend Coggins were manufacturing and distributing a drug called Rapture, with Sheriff Duke paid to look the other way. Rapture is somehow derived from propane, which is why Jim was stockpiling it (if only you could use propane to make meth. Walt and Jesse would have had a much easier time). With the larger market dried up, Max wants to get the townspeople hooked on Rapture. The first step to doing that safely is to disarm everyone, so she devises a gun surrender program with Jim, telling the town it’s to keep everyone safe. Barbie figures this all out, and Max, in the best soap villain style, threatens to expose his Dark Secrets if he doesn’t play along.

A bunch of townspeople happily oblige, even though small-town America is hardly renowned for being ambivalent about its gun ownership rights, especially in a crisis. The scheme is inherently flawed anyway because some will refuse on principle, and then more will too because they’ll be defenceless. With a sequence involving one crazed, grief-stricken resident refusing to surrender his gun, this seems to be Under the Dome‘s gun control episode. A shame it has nothing remotely useful to say. Max and Jim just want to stockpile guns, confirmed by Junior discovering this when he spies on his dad in his bomb shelter-turned-armoury.

I swear, if Junior is given a heroic redemption story arc – and worse, somehow gets back together with Angie – I’ll have to question whether Under the Dome is actually right in the head. It seems to think it’s rendering Junior more sympathetic and reflective. But the script doesn’t support that and Alexander Koch is hitting the same notes as always in his performance. He’s either been directed poorly or can’t play Junior as anything other than a psychopath.

Part of why this seedy evolution of the character seems disturbingly likely is the subplot where Angie has a seizure when Junior comes to the diner to make peace (again). But her body’s not reacting against the mind-sucking plotline she’s trapped in. She has the same seizure as Joe and Norrie, repeating “the pink stars are falling in lines” just as they did. The phrase has meaning to Junior, and he later convinces Angie to visit his late mother’s art studio in his yard, left untouched since her death. He shows her a painting she made years ago based on a dream, with pink stars falling behind a young Junior.

The intrigue that the dome may have been playing a hand in Chester’s Mill years earlier is quickly undercut by Junior’s bizarre rationalisation that this means he was right to think the dome was making Angie sick. He didn’t know about the pink star connection until that day and the connection in no way means that Angie was ‘sick’. For some reason though, Angie quietly accepts this, seemingly awed by Junior claiming they’re connected. I’m hoping that the script and direction uncharacterisatically underplayed Angie’s reaction and she doesn’t believe his insane logic at all, but I can easily believe that the show is passing this off as the plot knitting itself together. Under the Dome has failed to think through the implications of its own plotting enough times that the latter seems entirely likely.

Granted, if Angie does become enthralled by Junior again, the writers may think they’re offering a sad commentary on the psychological horror of domestic violence. The pink stars mystery could serve as a metaphor for an abusive spouse’s insistence that their relationship is special and wondrous and that any abuse is actually protective and nurturing. But Angie has not been established as remotely susceptible to Junior’s crap, and given how often the script cuts corners it’s far more likely to bring them back together for the sake of narrative convenience instead of exploring an important social issue. Nothing else in the show has that depth of insight or meaning. In the absence of the framework necessary to explore such a delicate issue, the rekindling of their ‘romance’ would just be insulting and offensive. I truly hope the show has enough sense not to stoop that low.

Meanwhile, Julia takes Barbie out to the woods to show him the mini-dome and the egg inside it, but they’ve disappeared. Clearly they don’t need to be in the centre of the maxi-dome. Joe, it turns out, left the house  without a word late the previous night. Angie says she didn’t try to stop such weird behaviour because, in her words, “what isn’t weird these days?”. Ugh, more lazy plotting. Joe has no memory of this, and they realise what’s happened when they find the mini-dome glowing in their barn. Angie, Joe, and Norrie all touch the barrier and see a fourth handprint appear. One more person is needed to do whatever can or needs to be done with the mini-dome.

OK, show, not a bad development. You’ve got me a little intrigued, albeit with a painfully derivative mechanism. One of Under the Dome‘s hallmarks, which no amount of atrocious scripting can fully erase, is the inexplicable strangeness of the dome, its purpose, and its apparent sentience. Maybe I’m slow, but no obvious explanations spring to mind for why this is all happening. If the show’s execution cleaned up its act, Under the Dome might be genuinely engrossing rather than a shamefully fun opportunity for hate-watching.

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