[This is a review of Under the Dome season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
In this ever-changing world, it is reassuring to know that some things can remain constant. And with its second season now underway, that means Under the Dome has assuredly stepped back into its place as one of the most frustrating and dim-witted shows on television.
Now, there are plenty of programs out there that are unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, but Under the Dome feels like a special case because there’s no reason for it to fail so completely at basic things like plot, characterization, and dialogue that doesn’t trust the audience enough to believe they understand the difference between being unconscious and being dead. On the surface at least, the show has a lot going for it: It’s based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name; it has Dean Norris scowling and yelling at people for whole episodes at a time; and celebrated comic book (and Lost) writer Brian K. Vaughan developed it for television (though he’s now left the series). But none of that helped the series capitalize on an intriguing concept through the first season, and even with King on hand to script the second season premiere, ‘Heads Will Roll’, there is little to suggest things are going to get better any time soon.
Last season ended on a cliffhanger that saw Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara with his neck in a noose, waiting to be executed by Big Jim in front of a bloodthirsty group of townsfolk, while the dome was fulfilling some sort of prophecy about pink stars, after Julia dropped the screeching black egg into the lake. To its credit, the season premiere wastes no time in resolving Barbie’s fate, as the dome’s apparent reaction to the situation in Chester’s Mill sees it tear the town apart through the power of magnetism. At the same time Julia rescues a mysterious young woman who happened to surface in the very lake she dropped the egg into, opening the door for Sam Verdreaux (Eddie Cahill) – Junior’s uncle – to make an appearance.
There are plenty of questions swarming around the woman from the lake like: who (or what) is she, why does she walk around like a somnambulist, and how it is that Julia can swim out to the middle of a lake and drag an unconscious person to shore despite having recently been shot? But this is Under the Dome, so viewers already know there isn’t a plot development that can’t be handled through inconsistent characterization or sloppy storytelling. And while it would be nice for characters like Junior or Linda to, you know, be consistent once in a while, and not change their motivation from scene to scene, the episode resolves half that issue by doing away with Linda altogether.
Maybe Linda’s death can be seen as redemptive, considering her arc last season consisted of her being either incredibly bad at her job or having almost no impact on the story whatsoever. At least that was until she decided to join up with Big Jim’s angry mob, only to turn on him in the opening minutes of ‘Heads Will Roll’, so that the two of them – along with Junior and Barbie – could wisely investigate why the dome had knocked half the town unconscious with its pregnant whale sounds. Even though Linda was an ineffectual, poorly drawn character, it was clear Under the Dome wanted to paint her last moments as courageous and noteworthy. Still, despite having all the necessary ingredients for a heroic ending, the series still managed to completely bungle the moment and turn it into something that was surprisingly not underscored by a sad trombone.
But beyond getting rid of a underwhelming character and introducing potentially underwhelming new ones, King seems most interested in setting up a token binary between science and faith that will undoubtedly bring plenty of intellectually stimulating debates to a series where Dean Norris tells a ghost to “shut up and be dead.” Of course, this potential conflict of ideologies requires the introduction of the world’s most underpaid science teacher, Rebecca Pine (Karla Crome), who just happens to be studying the dome’s “contractions” like a metaphysical ob-gyn, and quickly helps Barbie construct a giant electromagnet to counter the dome’s own magnetic rampage. Rebecca may be a goofy character, but at least she has some level of impact on the goings-on inside Chester’s Mill. For Rebecca’s sake, hopefully that will continue to be the case. Still, one can’t help but worry she’ll be reduced to a romantic foil for Barbie and Julia’s relationship.
‘Heads Will Roll’ ends with Julia convinced Big Jim learning the true meaning of Christmas has appeased the dome, while Rebecca is positive it was her insta-magnet that did the trick. But it also turns into the worst game of Clue when the lake girl apparently murders Angie in the high school with an axe. This is in addition to the episode setting up some questions about Junior’s mom; namely, how is it possible that Sherry Stringfield and Dean Norris could end up with a kid that looks like Alexander Koch?
To the credit of Under the Dome, there’s really nothing else like it on television. In order to perpetuate its own narrative, the series must consistently reset itself. So, after a day in which houses are ripped apart, people gather nonchalantly at a diner and eat food that come from who knows where, and Angie just takes the trash out to astonishingly empty trash cans. There is a lack of urgency in these moments that is at conflict with the conceit of the show, and suggests that, while thee is an intriguing premise at its heart, the series still isn’t quite sure what to do with it in either the short or the long term.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with ‘Infestation’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: