After a pilot episode that felt interesting enough, it was somewhat disheartening to see episode 2 of Under the Dome open up with a cheesy, Revolution-style voice over explaining the series’ set-up – suggesting a mild television conspiracy wherein actors with memorable roles on Breaking Bad head over to do high-concept network dramas that may or may not have sustainability concerns.
And while the pilot managed to adequately establish the show’s conceit while creating an appealing balance between the characters inside the dome and the mystery of the dome itself, ‘The Fire’ feels like a step back, as it struggles to convincingly build on whatever interest the pilot managed to create.
For the most part, the finger can be pointed at the rather abrupt transition from the occurrence of a strange and life-altering event to the feeling that things in Chester’s Mill have barely been disrupted. On one hand it’s understandable that the series doesn’t have the time (or the budget) to show scenes of townspeople up in arms about the invisible dome trapping them in the world’s largest snow globe – and there’s an expectation that the audience should deduce on their own the collective reactions of off-screen residents, based on what is given to us in terms of the main characters’ performances. (Although, if that’s any indication, nobody’s really bothered by the whole thing or they’re just convincing themselves that the dome will come down shortly).
It’s also reasonable to assume that with just 13 episodes at its disposal, Under the Dome is going to have to make a substantial leap from depicting the initial event to the more micro-level storytelling, so, with any luck, this hasty transition from incident all the way through the stages of acceptance will be worthwhile once the real plot gets cooking.
Hopefully that plot will begin to take a closer look at Big Jim and his involvement with the propane shipments and, perhaps, the dome itself. As it stands, Dean Norris (much like his former co-star Giancarlo Esposito on Revolution) is proving to be a standout amongst many characters who have yet to feel as fully formed, or capable of significant story potential. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Norris’ fictional spawn, Junior, who appears to be on the exact opposite trajectory as his father and co-star. To be fair, Alexander Koch was given a lot of heavy lifting to do in the pilot and in ‘The Fire’ with regard to convincing the audience that he was perhaps once of sound mind and has simply snapped at the thought of Angie not wanting to be with him, and believing her to have fallen into the arms of another man – which, in this case happens to be Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara. It doesn’t excuse his hokey storyline, but it does afford him some slack since it’s still so early in the series.
Junior’s control issues lead to a confrontation between him and Barbie that connects the current storyline to the reason for Barbie being in Chester’s Mill in the first place. From the pilot, it wasn’t clear whether or not the show was going to use flashbacks as a way to flesh out the characters’ backgrounds and although it doesn’t seem like that will be the case with everyone, we do see the circumstances leading to Peter Shumway’s death and that Barbie didn’t initially confront him with the intent to kill. This certainly helps to give us some idea of who Barbie really is, as his time in post-dome Chester’s Mill has been spent saving lives rather than taking them. And although frequent cuts to illustrate the importance of Barbie’s dog tags felt completely unnecessary, the larger information gleaned from the flashback hints that his arc will be one of (at least partial) redemption.
Of course, the main thrust of the episode stems from the death of Sheriff Perkins – which unfortunately means the show immediately loses the welcome presence of Jeff Fahey – and Big Jim’s attempt to cover up the propane purchases by sending Rev. Lester Coggins (Ned Bellamy) to dispose of any evidence in Perkins’ house. Unbeknownst to Big Jim and Rev. Coggins, however, Perkins’ house was apparently constructed entirely of the most flammable material on Earth, as a small garbage can fire consumes the house with such speed and ferocity one would think Ron Howard was directing it.
Of course this leads to a small gathering of Chester’s Mill residents acknowledging their predicament, so it wasn’t all bad. There were also some interesting details about the dome itself, courtesy of Joe McAllister and engineering wunderkind Dodee Weaver that helped to round the episode out and illustrate how limited anyone’s understanding of the structure actually is.
All in all, ‘The Fire’ can hopefully be chalked up to second episode jitters, and will wind up being an early stumble for a series that’s just getting started. And if a show is going to slip up, it’s best to do so early on, when the stakes aren’t quite as high and the story is still waiting to be developed further.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with ‘Manhunt’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: