[This is a review of Under the Dome season 2, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
After squashing a potentially interesting storyline that found several of its characters exploring the world beyond the increasingly claustrophobic and repetitive microcosm that is Chester's Mill, Under the Dome once again retreats to the safe, familiar confines of the crisis of the week.
The problem in 'Black Ice', as you may have surmised from the title, is the dome has somehow begun altering its temperature, putting the people of Chester's Mill at risk of freezing to death, since reformed genocidal maniac Rebecca Pine's only science-y answer to the cold is to basically grab a blanket and wait it out. Perhaps this close to the season finale, there wasn't enough money in the effects budget to have the world's worst science teacher whip up a giant space heater.
It's not hard to imagine Rebecca gathering a bunch of unused junk lying around town, fastening it to the Chester's Mill radio antenna/crisis response tower, and yelling, "It's called science!" before hitting the town with a blast of radiant heat that succeeds in even melting Big Jim's cold, cold heart.
But it's not to be. Instead, 'Black Ice' brings a night of unseasonably cold weather to Chester's Mill that is so swift in its chilliness, Jake Gyllenhaal can be seen running through the background, being chased by a pack of wolves. The cold is such an overwhelming antagonist here, its going to have to start paying its SAG dues, since the writers basically saw fit to give a temperature more to do than any of the actual characters in the show.
Basically, the episode serves as table setting for the final two episodes of the season. And despite what appears to be a lot happening, what with the residents gathering in the high school, and Melanie going into convulsions because the egg is now in a playground in Zenith, there's nothing of any real consequence going on. 'Black Ice' is essentially a filler show, which reveals yet another remarkable thing about Under the Dome: even though it's only responsible for 13 episodes a season, the series still manages to have more throwaway hours than a show doing almost twice that amount.
To kill time, the main plot is divided primarily among three groups. Joe discovers that the dome is rotating – making it the second non-living thing that is more interesting than any of the characters – and his growing suspicion of Hunter is confirmed after a cursory search of the newcomer's belongings reveal him to be working for the villainous Don Barbara. (Apparently, when you live in a giant fishbowl, the concept of invasion of privacy gets a little blurry.)
But, instead of building some intrigue or conflict around the character, Hunter reveals he's being forced to help Don because of a bad credit score, or something to do with his permanent record. Either way it doesn't matter, because everyone is cool with Hunter now, and any trace of conflict is remanded outside the dome and off screen, where it belongs, apparently.
The other two groups enter into relationship management mode - where, in what is certainly the single most delusional objective of the episode, Big Jim tries to patch things up with the woman who faked her death nine years prior, in part to get away from him, by telling her how he mistakenly sentenced everyone in Chester's Mill to die inside the dome so that he, Pauline, and Junior could be a family again. To prove he's a changed man, Jim turns down an opportunity to embellish a high school football story after dragging Lyle out of a frozen lake and, refusing to believe Dwight-cicle's story that the end of days are coming.
Meanwhile, Barbie and Julia are sequestered in an overturned ambulance for much of the episode. And to make sure they stay there, and have nothing to do with the vague attempts at generating plot, Julia's leg is impaled on a metal rod, which can't be removed until hypothermia sets in and her heart rate slows enough that it will be safer. Barbie is apparently a big fan of The Abyss, as his hypothermia gamble pays off and Julia is brought back from the brink of death under the glowing light of a gas-powered stove.
By morning, spring has sprung in Chester's Mill again. Everyone is warm and happy, and Julia is even up and walking around, proving nothing in the episode was of any consequence whatsoever. This is further demonstrated as the next episode's plot/crisis of the week is revealed when Joe tells Norrie and Hunter and the audience that the dome is shrinking, because it is plainly obvious that the dome is shrinking.
Let's all brace for next week, when Joe explains to everyone how Chester's Mill is in danger because Chester's Mill is in danger.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with 'Turn' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: