Like most shows of its kind, Under the Dome works a whole lot better when the characters have something requiring their immediate attention, typically something dire or otherwise life-threatening. Generally, this means that they’re so preoccupied with the task (or tasks, if the writers are feeling particularly frisky) at hand they don’t have much time to whip out that magical expository dialogue they’re so fond of.

In the penultimate episode, ‘Exigent Circumstances,’ the particular task at hand is tracking down one Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara, who has become the most wanted man in and out of the dome, as tech genius Dodee overhears the military suggesting their man Dale is the only one who can deal with the black egg hanging out in the barn behind Joe and Angie’s house.

As nice as it is to be thought of as “the one,” Barbie’s stuck dealing with a five-star wanted level, courtesy of Big Jim’s sudden uptick in murders intended to keep his stranglehold on Chester’s Mill as firm as possible. This time around, Jim manages to be sitting in front of Dodee’s radio equipment at the exact moment the military on the outside just casually mention they saw him murder Reverend Coggins. Clearly that means its curtains for Dodee, and to add insult to injury, Big Jim destroys all of her equipment and burns down the radio station, casually pinning it all on Barbie because the townsfolk are so easily swayed in their opinion (these are the people who just shrugged and went along with a fight club to exchange bags of salt for D batteries, mind you), Jim could have convinced them an expired can of SPAM was responsible for all the mayhem.

But Jim needs a scapegoat, so he targets Joe and Norrie to use against Barbie after Dodee spills the beans about the black egg, surmising that it’s likely the dome’s power source. By this point in the episode any major character without an ounce of real power is completely on to Big Jim’s scheme; namely, the Four Hands (Junior seems to come around by episode’s end) and Norrie’s mom, whose only recourse is to invoke all sorts of rights Big Jim couldn’t care less about at this point. In the end, Barbie is captured by Linda (and kicked in the face by a very angry Phil in skinny jeans) and coerced into confessing to all the murders Big Jim’s committed.

‘Exigent Circumstances’ leaves things on a relatively exciting cliffhanger that could pull any number of characters into the fray, as things careen toward the finale. It’s somewhat surprising and slightly commendable that the series has burned off the characters it has and managed to raise the stakes to such a degree before the season ends. Of course, having pushed Big Jim from the realm of mildly bad dude to full on murderous psychopath, Under the Dome has some character elements and arcs to consider (reconsider?) with regard to its biggest star, Dean Norris. It would have been one thing had this been a miniseries as originally planned, but now that this is an ongoing series, keeping the Big Jim arc interesting just became considerably more difficult.

Under the Dome concludes its first season next Monday with ‘Curtains’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: