Well, in case you were wondering, the way Under the Dome introduced Natalie Zea (Justified, The Following) as Max in ‘The Fourth Hand’ will probably be what it looks like when the show needs to add a new character to the fluctuating list of people trapped in Chester’s Mill. Still, you have to hand it to the show, for an episode that’s as chock full of implausibility and hackneyed dialogue as this one, bringing in a new character is the least worst thing to happen.
In fact, ‘The Fourth Hand’ actually does a fairly decent job handling the initial introduction of Zea as the drug dealing Max. With all the talk of the dome disturbing people and making them say things like “stop talking to me, dome!” or prone to seizures or visions of prophetic teenaged “apparitions,” the moment Big Jim walks into his house to find a hazy, slightly out of focus figure standing there feels a lot like Big Jim may have just lost his mind. It’s a nice bit of misdirection that may have been somewhat slight, but it manages to put the viewer off balance for a moment. Of course, most of the energy in that instant has to do with Dean Norris’ reaction (for anyone who’s watching Under the Dome and Breaking Bad, it’s not difficult to see just how much more raw emotion and crackling energy Norris is capable of bringing to this performance), and for a brief moment you wonder if this woman standing before him is an apparition of his late wife.
Naturally, this is not the case and Max is actually there to shed some light on Big Jim’s criminal endeavors – which include the stockpiling of propane and Reverend Coggins’ one-stop body-and -soul shop that was also a great to score a fairly nasty drug called Rapture – as well as tie Barbie to the mix, as his employer and the only person logical enough to tie him to Peter Shumway’s disappearance. All of this works well enough as a smokescreen that Max’s excuse she was hiding out in an unoccupied house for eight days becomes only slightly less bothersome than the idea that a small farming community’s population could be so easily talked into handing over their handguns, hunting rifles and laser-sighted assault weapons for a few more rations of food and an extra bottle of propane.
Still, it’s good to see the writers beginning to address more of the specifics of Big Jim’s undertaking, as well as once more shining the spotlight on the secret Barbie’s been hoping to keep from everyone – especially Julia. But these are things that need to be spelled out, inasmuch as ‘The Fourth Hand’ actually does spell them out; they’re plot threads that’ve basically gone untouched since the first few episodes, and with all that’s developed since, the notion that Under the Dome would just drop them, or pick them up again in a later season wouldn’t have been too far fetched.
Again, these are plot points that needed some clarification and although Zea’s Max ultimately works to be little more than a bridge between two characters who are quickly moving to opposite ends of the archetypal spectrum, at least the dialogue between them didn’t require a constant reiteration of plot developments or just how long it’s been since someone died or since the dome went up. It’s understandable that the characters reference the passage of time, since the longer they’re trapped the more dire their circumstances become, but when Norrie solemnly states “I can’t believe she was alive just two days ago,” in reference to her mother’s untimely passing or Julia asks a frantic Angie “what do you mean you had a seizure?” it becomes a chore to want to stay invested in characters who talk like they’re afraid the slightest hint of subtlety will forever lose them their audience.
But, like the Big Jim/Barbie plot, at least the episode has the presence of mind to follow up on the mini-dome that was formerly in the woods – until a somnambulistic Joe dug it up and put it in his barn – and the premonition that “the monarch will be crowned,” and that statement’s relationship with Angie and her tattoo. There’s even a decent scene (again, despite the implausibility that Angie would go anywhere with her former kidnapper) where Junior shows a painting done years prior by his mother depicting pink stars falling in lines – though, sadly, the episode didn’t reveal the rest of Mrs. Rennie’s paintings featuring purple horseshoes, red balloons, green clovers and blue moons. Maybe those will factor into the plot later.
For the most part, this seemed to be an episode intended to readjust the status quo and put the focus on Joe, Norrie and Angie, while illustrating the darker sides of Big Jim and Barbie. For all the semblance of discovery, however, ‘The Fourth Wall’ just wound up posing more questions.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with ‘Let the Games Begin’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below:
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