For all the goofiness that's arisen from her unexpected and seemingly inexplicable arrival, at least Natalie Zea's Max, and her desire to build a criminal empire based primarily off of dry goods and men punching one another, has encouraged Under the Dome to engage in a more progressive kind of storytelling that has helped push along some of the main characters' plots and shore up a few more loose ends before the season finale.
Sure, Max's small town gladiator arena filled with men willing to pummel one another in the hope that rearranging some poor sap's face will let them trade a canister of salt for a few D batteries is about as hokey as you can get, and Barbie's bare-knuckle brawl to protect his secret winds up being violence for the sake of showing some violence, but at least the episode does its best to move swiftly enough that, despite the questionable efficacy of these separate elements, there's really no time to be too caught up in wondering whether or not they actually matter.
Essentially, if you can look past the idea that Max has been hanging around, completely undetected for the past week or so, handing out fliers for the Chester's Mill Fight Club (or however she got the word out), then the idea of the place actually functioning like a real business isn't entirely unconvincing. (Okay, it is; but considering where this series started out, 'Let the Games Begin' still feels like an improvement.) After all, this is a series where a major plot point now involves a group of progressively less irritating teenagers trying to communicate with a black egg that looks like it was bought at The Sharper Image.
Besides, if ever there was a character with an expiration date stamped on them the second they appeared, it's Max. And that's precisely how it felt when Mare Winningham popped up on-screen for the first time. Again, if you can look past the fact that suddenly there is a secluded island, upon which sits a splendid home that, much like the Galápagos, has somehow remained untouched by the hand of man – or in this case, rioting Chester's Mill residents – then the idea of Big Jim meeting Maxine's mother and discovering she's also a former classmate of his is just another day under the dome. The two engage in a long-winded conversation about the scandal that arose from her teenage pregnancy and how it cost her everything. This interaction somewhat clumsily ties in to the idea that Chester's Mill has always had a dark underbelly and it seems intended to shed some light on the community's sometimes-unpleasant true nature, but any investigation into this notion is soon forgotten, as before too long, Winningham is being left by Big Jim to drown in the lake.
Still, it's hard to fault 'Let the Games Begin' for moving so swiftly past certain points, as it becomes clear the episode's true intent is to clear out the less important or essential mysteries that were set up earlier in the season. Now, moving on, Under the Dome can focus on things that seem more integral to the plot. Things like, you know, the dome. At any rate, both Big Jim and Barbie wind up with their secrets coming out and the revelation of both demonstrates just how dry and unnecessary they were to begin with. Linda confronts Big Jim on his involvement with Max's drug business, while Barbie comes clean to Julia about her husband's death. And since the series already did its best to make Peter Shumway look like the ultimate cad, by the time Barbie comes clean, Julia's already pieced it together and remains mostly indifferent about her dead husband, but not about continuing a relationship with Barbie.
Like dome-fried Dodee's sudden and convenient amnesia, everything in 'Let the Games Begin' essentially paves the way for the three remaining episodes to focus more on the mini-dome and what it means now that Junior is revealed to be the fourth hand. There's the feeling that the series is starting to understand what's important simply by how many excess storylines it has shed in the past two weeks. There's still plenty of slack that can be picked up, but at least things are starting to feel more focused.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with 'Speak of the Devil' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: