After a flawed but fun premiere, Under the Dome stumbled somewhat in its second outing, leaving many to conclude (or hope) that it may have just been second episode jitters or a case of too much heavy lifting left over from the series’ start. But with episode three, it becomes clear that brief stumble might turn into a full-on plummet, as ‘Manhunt’ begins to exhibit signs that the writers aren’t moving the show away from what hasn’t worked early on, but rather they are shining the spotlight directly on those negative aspects.
That aforementioned spotlight is on the overall acceptance of the dome and the circumstances that have ostensibly imprisoned the citizens of Chester’s Mill - and, possibly, completely cut them off from things they’ll need to survive once all the bacon has finally been scarfed by the two old guys casually hanging out in the diner, giving strangers-in-need a hard time about their lifestyle. Although it’s only been about a day and a half (according to Ben), the manner in which most have reacted to the enormous, indestructible dome suddenly appearing over their town has been somewhat baffling. It’s almost as though the writers haven’t spent any time around real people, witnessing their reactions to even the slightest delay. Perhaps a field trip to watch people losing their cool in traffic, or while waiting in line would help even things out in that regard.
On one hand, it is not entirely necessary to see large crowds of people amassing in the street to demand answers or just to express the panic one might think would overtake the general public soon after realizing they’re trapped, but the fact that folks are just carrying on, walking their dogs or hitting up the diner for some coffee and chit-chat feels more than a little bit off. In fact, it seems like the only thing that can arouse these townspeople is the prospect of forming a lynch mob to enact a little vigilante justice on Paul Randolph, after he inadvertently killed his fellow officer and subsequently went nuts, repeatedly blaming all of his and the towns’ woes on the existence of the dome.
Paul’s storyline this episode was completely overwrought, but at least his character was capable of acknowledging the presence of the dome and thinking of it as something other than a mild inconvenience. If anything, the meltdown exhibited by Paul can be looked at as an indication of things to come, as the storyline progresses and the townspeople’s perception of their situation shifts from placid acceptance to something more akin to genuine concern, anger or even outrage.
Maybe it’s an unfortunate side effect of each episode consisting of a single day, but just three episodes in, the story is already starting to feel like it is dragging its feet. It’s fine to think there needs to be some sort of set-up, and that we need to spend some time with these characters before things inside the dome begin to fall apart, but, as with ‘The Fire,’ too much time is devoted to characters like Junior, Norrie and the increasingly insufferable Ben. And the trouble is that the other characters who could potentially get the narrative rolling are being forced to spend time with this lot and just allow the plot to sink – or, in the case of Big Jim when he’s alone with his son, become an outlandish exaggeration of big bad swagger.
In a way, ‘Manhunt’ felt as though it was still picking up the pieces left behind by the pilot, as so much of the episode was devoted to characters sharing bits and pieces about their past with individuals who seem tailor-made to later become their adversary. As such, Paul’s ill-fated escape to nowhere was less about discovering what (if anything) had truly set Paul off and more as a means to set up Big Jim’s tale of maiming a fellow football player who’d taken to using Jim’s nickname pejoratively. Similarly, Junior’s attempt to escape via the cement factory tunnels wound up going about as well as Paul’s escape, but it did grant Julia an opportunity to divulge more of her background and describe how she’d been disgraced as a journalist and wound up in Chester’s Mill.
It is essential that the audience gets to know these characters better, but for it to happen in a series of long, static information drops only heightens the sense that this show is slowing down at the precise moment it needs to be ramping up the tension and pressure inside the dome. Under the Dome started with an interesting foundation, but what’s been built on top has so far been underwhelming. With any luck the coming weeks will see the tinderbox that is Chester’s Mill come a little closer to a story containing some much-needed fire.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with ‘Outbreak’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: