To say that Under the Dome experienced a sharp and rather drastic decline in quality following a problematic, but still entertaining series premiere would be a bit of an understatement. Sure, there were a few episodes that suggested the ship was capable of righting itself, but by the time the season finale rolled around, it was pretty clear the course had been set and, for better or worse, the series would continue in the direction it was headed.
Of all the problems the series had during its 13-episode run, it seems the show suffered most from unexpectedly going from CBS’ summer experiment to CBS’ newest ratings hit, which effectively altered the course and potential duration of its storyline. Moreover, the show suffered from what can only be the misguided belief of those in charge that putting a group of plainly dull characters at the center of the storyline could somehow make for an interesting and thought-provoking series.
It’s not just that all the characters come off as confused or bewildered by their circumstances as they pertain to the dome – they seem readily befuddled by anything and everything that happens. Even characters not named Ben (i.e., the most irritating character on the planet) find themselves perplexed by the most random things possible – none of which seem to be related to the huge dome that has trapped them in their small town. But the key word in that sentence is “random,” in that things seem to happen (especially in the season finale) that are practically free of reason, and certainly free of dramatic weight because, as interesting as it usually is to have characters unravel the larger mystery of their current predicament, it doesn’t seem like anybody actually learns anything useful from that information.
All this incomprehension is borderline comical and is certainly deserving of a laugh from the audience – but even then, it isn’t the kind of entertainment initially promised by the series. Under the Dome touted itself as a serialized thriller in the vein of Lost and other heavily thematic, mythology-driven shows of the past, and the fact that it was adapted from Stephen King’s weighty tome of the same name certainly suggests something with regard to the tenor of the storytelling.
Despite all of this, when it comes to the season finale, we’re treated to scenario where a group of wily teenagers outwit the increasingly exasperating Sheriff Linda by tricking her into touching the dome and knocking herself unconscious; but only after they become visibly agitated when a butterfly starts flying around inside the mini-dome, causing the larger dome to shift from transparent to completely opaque. And later, when the situation has gotten particularly dire, the show has the teens stop in the woods to ask an egg some important life questions. These are the kinds of elements the series consistently uses to drum up dramatic tension and probably in no way intended for them to elicit a snicker from the audience. What’s worse is that the show treats its viewers like its characters and enlists Joe to constantly point out things that everyone already sees.
To its credit, ‘Curtains’ does manage to answer the nagging question of who will be crowned the Monarch. After the min-dome turns completely black, Joe, Norrie and Junior rendezvous with Angie, Barbie and Julia (who is walking around pretty well for someone who just got shot) at the cement factory, because the darkening of the dome seems to have canceled the Chester’s Mill Fight Club. At any rate, with the Four Hands present, the mini-dome collapses after they attempt to communicate with it, freeing the butterfly everyone was so worried about. After briefly flying around Barbie, the butterfly instead chooses Julia, after she calms the egg when it randomly decides to cause an earthquake.
During the commotion, Junior takes Barbie back into custody and sends him off to the gallows that Big Jim asked Phil The Face-Kicking DJ to organize the construction of. While Big Jim is playing on his dull-witted flock’s belief that the blackened dome is somehow the beginning of the End Times, Julia and the kids encounter a strange being that has taken the form of Norrie’s recently deceased mother, Alice, because whatever the being is (an alien, perhaps?) it’s as inept at perceiving emotional trauma in others as it is answering questions in any useful way. But the being cryptically says that the group must protect the egg – officially turning Under the Dome into a class on parenting taught by high school teachers in every ’80s sitcom – which Julia interprets as “drop the egg in the lake.” To her credit, Julia’s move causes pink stars to rise (not fall) into the sky and turn the dome from black to bright white, effectively leaving Barbie’s fate at the gallows to be resolved next summer.
Even with the disappointing cliffhanger offering little dramatic tension, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Under the Dome is that after the fantastic antepenultimate episode of Breaking Bad over the weekend, it’s hard not to look at Dean Norris’ role as Big Jim as an unfortunate departure from the sort of incredible performance he’s so clearly capable of delivering. Still, having demonstrated his skill as a performer, it seems like Norris is doing the best with what he’s been given, but his role has been steadily reduced from a morally questionable man with basically good intentions, to a one-note villain hell bent on killing anyone who stands in his way. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot even the best actor can do with material like that.
It remains unclear how Brian K. Vaughan and the series’ producers plan to move forward with the story since it has deviated so significantly from the source material, and considering the show’s ratings, whether or not they feel compelled to address some of the lingering quality issues with the series. Now that it is certain Under the Dome will be an ongoing series, hopefully that knowledge will allow the writers to craft a more focused program where the drama is palpable and the laughs are intentional.
Under the Dome will return for season 2 sometime during the summer of 2014.
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