[This is a review of Under the Dome season 3, episodes 1 & 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
There is a certain joy that comes from watching something as consistently moronic as Under the Dome. Now in its third season, the series doubles down on its "I wish I was Lost" sensibilities by essentially trying to tell the story of the Dome's aftermath, by way of a silly alternate reality cooked up by Melanie, who has seemingly achieved a Beyonder-like level of power. Like most things on the show, these parallel devices (and universes) are a knockoff of something at least halfway competent, which the series tries to bury beneath its own misguided belief it has somehow developed a persuasive mythology in which an alternate reality (the existence of which is spelled out in the lengthy "previously on" segment that sounds more like the show saying, "did we forget to mention this?") might actually result in something compelling and entertaining happening.
As per usual, however, the most entertaining things to occur in the two-hour premiere, 'Move On/But I'm Not,' are the inane and constantly fluctuating characterizations, and the horrific, unnecessarily expositional dialogue that has served as the series' calling card from the very beginning. Here the entertainment mostly comes from watching Dean Norris ham it up by strutting down the empty streets of Chester's Mill, a king lording over a vacant kingdom (that is as poignant a metaphor for the series as there could possibly be), yelling at a stray dog, or alternatively shooting framed photographs of his family while drunkenly wandering around his living room. There's probably two hours worth of material in Norris' demented performance alone, but credit Under the Dome for being ambitious enough to attempt the television version of the Triple Lindy before falling flat on its face.
Last season saw the trapped residents of Chester's Mill (and all the deeply felt relationships that were formed in all of three weeks) on the verge of escape, when a bunch of butterflies led the townsfolk into a blindingly bright light. On the other side of that light was the other side of the dome, and its apparent destruction, which culminated in all the majestic spectacle of a Pink Floyd Laser Light Show. From there, the story jumps forward a year, where Barbie is leading a hostage rescue mission in Yemen, still mourning the death of Julia – who apparently died alongside the Rennies – while the rest of Chester's Mill prepares for a memorial.
It doesn't take long to see that the aftermath of the Dome is really just some form of wish fulfillment Melanie thinks she's granting the victims of the Dome. And the reveal that everyone but Julia, Junior, and Big Jim are not only still trapped inside the dome, but trapped inside some weird, glowing cocoons basically renders what unfolds inside the alternate reality completely moot. We see Barbie in a relationship with someone named Eva Sinclair (Kylie Bunbury) and Joe under the care of therapist Christine Price (Marg Helgenberger), a woman who apparently helps towns in the wake of catastrophes like, you know, invisible domes and the like.
Despite the creation of new storylines for Barbie, Joe, and Norrie – not to mention Ben, who returns briefly to be his usual annoying self before being strangled in his cocoon by Melanie – the extra long premiere essentially boils down to a clumsy way of introducing two new characters into the mix. From that perspective, watching the episodes is like watching the writers run with the idea of getting everyone off the island – sorry, out from under the Dome – before realizing they are running in the wrong direction. The result is one of the clumsiest and most inane up-and-backs in recent television history.
Aside from Melanie strangling her and Barbie's dad, and Eva and Christine somehow being pulled from Melanie's alternate reality, the vast majority of what transpires is erased at the episode's end. Almost all of the characters are right back where they started, which isn't great considering that place is exactly where they were after the end of the series premiere.
So, even though almost nothing of consequence actually happens in two hours of Under the Dome (which has got to be considered medically unsafe), at least we are treated to the unique pleasure of some inexplicably hysterical moments played with utmost sincerity by the members of this poor cast. For starters, there's Big Jim shooting Junior in a reciprocal action that's treated with the sort of urgency you would expect if perhaps the elder Rennie drunkenly threw a basketball at his kid's head. But that only opens up a whole new level of hilarity when Julia and Junior venture into the cave and are set upon by swarm of vicious butterflies – props to the Foley artists who managed to make a bunch of unassuming winged insects sound like a thousand bats flapping their leathery wings.
Joe still has fondness for exposition, telling people the details of incidents they were more directly involved in than he was, and Norrie still manages to deliver excruciatingly pointed observations by saying things like, "It's like you're trapped under the dome and you cant even see it!" But nothing manages to become as perversely enjoyable as hearing Junior yell, "Over here, you bastards!" to a swarm of butterflies while standing amidst a bunch of purple glowing rocks.
Inexplicably, this show has taken what is at best a 12-episode premise and not bothered to explore it in a remotely intelligent or compelling way for 26 episodes now. With that kind of success, the only logical question is: Why bother to start now? And that's what Under the Dome has brought in the beginning of its third season. A sense that all it's doing is plodding along just to keep the wheels moving. If there was a destination or a point in mind, it's well past the point of mattering now.
Under the Dome continues next Thursday with 'Redux' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below:
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