Over the past few episodes, Under the Dome has demonstrated more of an ability to gather its storylines and bring them together on an episode-by-episode basis. The result of this has been stories like ‘Blue on Blue‘ and ‘Imperfect Circles,’ which were not great episodes by any means, but far less scattershot than what had come before. If anything, they suggested the writers were getting a better grip on focusing single storylines in and around the larger and more tantalizingly complex issue of the dome.
The downside of this is: In making things more cohesive, the writers on ‘Thicker Than Water’ have overcorrected to such a degree they’re left with an episode that’s so straightforward there’s almost no tension to be found, despite the many gunfights, explosions and, certainly, the Junior/Big Jim therapy session conducted at gunpoint. That’s not to say this isn’t an entertaining chapter, or it had the kind of laughably bad moments as, say, ‘Manhunt‘ or other early efforts; it’s just for a set-up wrought with pressure and apprehension, there was precious little on display – unless you’re a big fan of Phil the DJ.
Much of what siphoned off all the excitement and sense of risk was the paint-by-numbers aspect of ‘Thicker Than Water’ that saw the conflict between Big Jim and Ollie finally reach the point where each man believed violence to be the only solution. While this should have been an interesting ideological, Hatfield & McCoy-style battle that pointed toward how Chester’s Mill might operate in the future (as Big Jim warns Angie there will come a day when food will be short and whatever’s available will have to be grown and harvested within the confines of the dome), the actual clash failed to heat up primarily due to the fact Big Jim was the major player in all of it, and considering his role within the series’ larger story, there was little question the councilman was ever in any real danger.
Of course, Junior’s continued resentment toward his father results in him supposedly jumping ship to join Ollie’s side of the conflict, so as to afford himself the chance to resolve the deep-seated issues he has with the elder Rennie by way of shotgun blast. Like what transpires between Ollie and Big Jim, the father-son conflict is confined primarily to a single scene late in the episode in which Junior finds out the truth about his mother’s death in a tearful confession from his father. The rest of the time, Big Jim is simply growling about how Junior made his decision and now he has to live with it, or otherwise seething with contempt for anyone who would disagree with his plan to go after Ollie with guns blazing.
Although many of the major scenes between Ollie and Big Jim (and the latter’s last-second reprieve from the son he’s disowned) lacked the kind of dramatic impact things of that nature would normally entail, the larger implications of Big Jim’s ruthlessness and hunger for power helped to offset the lack of complication one might expect would arise when townspeople and neighbors start pointing and shooting rifles at one another. Overall, the row over Ollie’s water and the subsequent fallout that included the death of several people went over a lot like the arrival of the dome itself: people were briefly up in arms, but when the day was over, they’d just as soon settle back into their pre-dome routine.
While the mostly nameless residents of Chester’s Mill remain willing to be complacent or mob-like on a script-by-script basis (which also seems to dictate the town’s actual population), more of the main cast has finally taken an interest in their situation, which naturally leads to more questions than answers. But on a positive note, even the new mysteries involving the dome seem to be less random and more calculated in terms of doling out answers and creating some sort of expectation and dramatic outcome. At this point, other than keeping everyone trapped inside, the only other suggestion we’ve been given is that the dome is some sort of supernatural matchmaker, so any implication of something more is always appreciated.
With Norrie in mourning over her mother’s untimely death, Joe inadvertently tells Julia about the black egg in the forest, leading to the cryptic message, “a monarch will be crowned” – which, thanks to the handy editing and repetition of the line, we know is likely in reference to Angie’s butterfly tattoo, putting her in a similar kind of situation her brother and Norrie were in earlier in the season.
For the most part, ‘Thicker Than Water’ operated like it was on rails; it didn’t take many chances and certainly didn’t offer much in the way of surprises, but it still managed to come off as another solid-enough effort from Under the Dome. The series hasn’t yet demonstrated the sense that risk and hazard are a part of the story, but week-after-week, it seems to be getting closer.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with ‘The Fourth Hand’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below:
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