After a year of anticipation, we finally get to see Peter Capaldi in action as the Doctor, and the contrast with Matt Smith is so striking, the script goes out of its way to acknowledge it and reassure us that everything’s okay.
I was watching Apocalypse Now last night. Each time I see it, I forget how impressionistic and surreal the Kurtz sequence is. We’re carried along by sense and emotion. You can detect a reservoir of meaning beneath, so it doesn’t matter that you don’t initially get why the tribespeople turn Willard upside down in the mud, or why Kurtz is reading out T.S. Eliot. You can tell that these jarring and seemingly arbitrary moments are in service of an artistic vision, and they resonate without being consciously decrypted.
In lesser hands, inexplicable images and moments aren’t instinctively loaded with meaning. They form a lazy attempt to convince the viewer that a text has meaning because it’s easier than doing the legwork of generating actual meaning that feels smart and honest. But it’s usually blatantly obvious and the creators don’t realise it, their slapdash profundity falling flat.
Under the Dome is now guilty of this, with a finale that thinks we’ll overlook how barren with significance it is by throwing some supposedly awe-inspiring supernatural moments at us. It even has the gall to turn them into a cliffhanger, as if we won’t realise we’ve been given no reason to care what they mean. The sequence perfectly symbolises how empty and pointless this show is, and I’m confident many viewers won’t bother to return for season two.
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.
One hackneyed storyline comes to a close in this episode, only to precipitate another. And the dome mystery, although fairly slight because it doesn’t get enough attention, continues to be the drawcard.
The challenge for any mainstream genre show is to make its real-world drama as compelling as its supernatural or otherwise offbeat mysteries. Most balance the two to appeal to a broad audience, rather than taking the Star Trek route where everything is infused with science fiction or fantasy. Lost managed this pretty well by probing its characters deeply and carefully rather than rapidly walking them through clichéd scenarios. Under the Dome does the latter, seemingly content to dredge up old-hat storylines and nudge the characters sleepily through them. Consequently, the dome mysteries are far more appealing than they would otherwise be in a superior show by pure virtue of contrast. The latest dull storyline to distract us from the good stuff? Max sets up a fight club bar to take advantage of how bored everyone is, although that doesn’t help us much.
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.
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.
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.
When I read showrunner Manny Coto’s explanation that season four’s Vulcan three-parter was necessary to rehabilitate how Enterprise had been portraying them, I hadn’t seen the first season in many years and couldn’t recall how they’d been mistreated. Now, however, I’m stunned at how regularly and comprehensively Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are undermining the Vulcans, and just why Coto needed to tell a story about how Vulcan society had strayed from its core principles in order to retcon away the damage. Both “The Andorian Incident” and “Breaking the Ice” portray the Vulcans as deceitful, elitist, and racist, and position human (read: American) values and attitudes as a baseline that Vulcans stray from to their own detriment.
This isn’t merely an affront to Star Trek canon, but offensive cultural and social imperialism. The Vulcans embody elements of a number of non-American cultures, along with social and psychological characteristics that deviate from accepted norms, so demonising them is also an affront to Star Trek’s ideology of diversity. When I finally return to the season four story, I’m going to appreciate its restoration of Vulcan dignity far more than last time.
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.
I just couldn’t stay away. With a title that isn’t stagnantly literal for once, I grew immensely hopeful and optimistic about this episode. Well, not really. The talk of a missile being shot at the dome made me perk up though. Chester’s Mill being annihilated would save me some time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The episode opens with Joe showing Norrie a swarm of monarch butterflies that’s gathered on the dome wall in his yard. Struck by the beauty, they wonder why they’re in the area out of season. Norrie, who’s previously been dismissive of any discussion of the dome’s powers, quickly offers this theory:
“Maybe the dome sent them. Maybe it’s trying to tell us the dome’s just a cocoon and when it finally goes away, we’ll all get to be something new.”
Yes, the dome would communicate with you using clumsy metaphors. Dialogue that not only slaps us with a hamfisted summation of one of the show’s thematic goals, but is both out of character and an embarrassingly absurd logical leap for that character to make is rare. I’m impressed.
I’m running a bit behind with these recaps. This entry covers last week’s episode, and I’ll endeavour to get to this week’s as soon as I can face watching it.
If you had any doubt of how saccharine, prosaic, and flat-out lame Under the Dome is, it should be eliminated with this line of dialogue:
“Duke once told me that the most valuable weapon a police officer has is a good heart.”
Or something like that. I can’t bear wading through the episode again to check.
Any hope that Under the Dome might develop some wit and verve is rapidly fading. I may only think any hope remains because I’ve committed to doing these recaps and need to cling to any shred of optimism I can muster. What made me hopeful this week was a genuinely creepy moment when Joe and Norrie film one of their seizures, which they discover they can induce when they touch. In the video, Joe sits up, still writhing, looks at the camera, and holds a finger to his lips, whispering ‘shhhh’. It suggests a malevolent agency behind the seizures, and by default, the dome, that’s a tad unsettling. More of this please, Brian K. Vaughan!
An emerging trend of early Enterprise is that it’s choosing the wrong stories in trying to achieve laudable goals. “Strange New World” was about the thrill of new explorers walking on a lush, unknown world, but the story engine was just paranoid characters turning on each other. A dangerous scenario, sure, but it’s not an intrinsic extrapolation of the dangers of exploration. Instead, a disposable plot is laid on top of a momentous event as a half-hearted excuse for conflict.