Under the Dome
Episode 2: The Fire
Episode 3: Manhunt
By: Carlos Uribe
Under the Dome is a series about a small town that is trapped under a literal dome.
The sheriff didn't get shot in the last episode as it seemed but rather his pacemaker blew up. It's established that anything with batteries is going to explode if it gets too close to the dome. It's good that the series is serious about having rules within it's universe as it helps to add a level of realism to the situation. The other established rule is that there is something that can go through the dome and that is a small level of water. I'm not sure how this is going to be useful but a smart series will find a way to make this relevant to the narrative at some point rather than just including it to establish rules. There must be rules but they also have to serve a point. They can't exist for the sake of it. Having batteries explode basically limits what they can bring near the dome. That could be used (as it does in the next episode) by the writers. The whole water rule has to become relevant at some point in the series or it's just going to be information that the audience didn't really need to know. If it turns out to be key to bringing down the dome, that's good it was given to us this early. Whatever the case, the seed has been planted. It's up to the writers to make good use of this seed. The series not only establishes rules but it does so in an entertaining fashion that doesn't come across as pure exposition. The battery explosion comes as a cliff-hanger. The water plot thing is an accidental discovery by the characters. We don't learn about these rules from a character explaining it to the audience. We learn through the experience of the characters. I bring this up because a lot of shows make the mistake that the best way to tell the audience is by simply telling them. While this could work for the more complicated stuff, it's always more interesting if we learn because something happened. Under the Dome remains an imperfect series but it's very good at establishing information about the actual dome. It helps that the characters are learning about the dome as we do.
The title of the episode refers to the climax. The sheriff’s death threatens Big Jim and the pastor because all three were involved in an illegal activity. Since the pastor was using their product, it's heavily suggested that they were dealing drugs. What kind is left up to the imagination. The sheriff had a receipt of the propane trucks they rented that could somehow implicate all three in their crime. Big Jim thinks the best way to ensure nobody finds out is to destroy this evidence. When a search of the sheriff’s office turns up empty, he has the pastor break into the sheriff’s home to find the receipts. There is a time limit for the pastor because the house had been given to the deputy in his will because she was like a daughter to him. It's a time limit that is mysteriously not used by the writers to create any tension as she doesn't even go to the house until it has caught on fire. They bring up that the pastor has to do this before she gets there but there's a difference between suggesting he has to do it and actually having her head home. One merely suggests that suspense is going to build while the other one actually does it. The pastor does find the folder but he decides that the best tactic is to light it on fire. Why couldn't he have taken the folder to his office and use a shredder? His unwise choice to set it on fire quickly spreads to the curtains and traps him in a burning room. The town has to finally confront that they don't have a fire department when they have to fight the fire on their own. They only succeed after Big Jim destroys the sheriff's home, the pastor is saved, and the deputy is fed with the worst bullshit excuse in history and buys it. It's a decent plot but there's a lot of questionable moments that make you question the intelligence of the characters. Why didn't the pastor destroy the evidence in a more safe way? Why didn't the deputy question the pastor more? Why did the deputy simply assume that her crazy colleague was going to be fine?
That's right: the episode adds a crazy colleague to the mix. This all starts when the reporter learns that the military is calling it a dome. There's a moment where she questions why the radio people haven't released this information yet. Earlier in the episode, the engineer had stated that she didn't want to cause a panic until she knew more information. This was smart and made sense. Yet when asked again by the reporter, she flippantly replies that the radio station is not a news one. Which is a stupid thing to say to a reporter. The reporter quickly takes over the radio station to deliver the message to the town: they are under a dome. It's no surprise when one of the deputies takes this to mean that they are screwed. He quickly starts to act irrationally that plays out at the end of the episode when he takes the victory over the fire to try to warn people that chaos is imminent. He fires off his gun at the dome, it bounces off to hit the third cop in town, and he's quickly comprehended. Only it should have never come to this because the female deputy, the one in charge, should have realized something was wrong with him and relieved him from duty. She might have needed him but he was clearly in no state of mind to hold a badge. As for the engineer, why didn't she reveal the panic line to the reporter? She clearly had a reason to withhold this information beyond the radio station not meant to deliver news. It was a good one and it might have stopped the reporter from, oh I don't know, reporting it. There's a lot of stupid character actions and I haven't even touched the whole Junior kidnapping his ex-girlfriend and then being manipulated by her. He attacks Barbie, gets beaten up by him, and then tries to lie that he killed Barbie to his ex-girlfriend.
As it is, The Fire is an improvement over the pilot as I'm starting to get to know the characters more. There seems to be more room for them to actually develop as the episode isn't as busy. The way it's establishing the rules is smart. The one thing I wish is that the characters were acting intelligently rather than making stupid decisions for weak reasons.
I honestly don't think the female deputy is the smartest bulb in the room after watching this episode. She has arrested her crazy colleague. She's the only cop left in town which makes leaves her in charge of law and order. Her first night on the job and she makes a big mistake: she falls for a trick anybody should have seen coming. Her crazy colleague acts like he's about to throw up and uses her good nature against her. She goes in to check on him, he attacks her, and he locks her in the jail cell meant for him. I understand being tricked by anybody who watches shows would have seen that coming a mile away. She should at least have been smart enough to be cautious or maybe have someone (like Barbie) be there with her. When Big Jim finds out, he decides that because he's councilman that he must take charge. What does he decide to do? Arm a few men and go on a manhunt. It's understandable that he's left to such a desperate move but it's never wise to form a manhunt from civilians because they don't always have the best self-control. It has the potential to go south and it kind-of does when one of the civilians gets injured. He decides to go ahead with his manhunt by having Barbie be his partner. The two don't completely get along which enables them to get ambushed by the crazy cop. Luckily, they get saved by the remaining deputy when she shoots him. It's a good plot that allows Big Jim and Barbie to get to know each other even if there's some implication that Big Jim is seeking some kind of revenge over Barbie beating up his son. He might just be getting to know Barbie so he knows what he's up against. The manhunt was a bit exciting but it was once again filled with many stupid decisions being made by the characters.
Since we don't really learn anything new about the dome from the radio reports, the reporter decides to follow Junior based on a whim. It really makes little sense why she's following him but I guess she has to do something. He's being sent on a mission by his ex-girlfriend to go under the old factory tunnels to see if the dome has breached them or not. It might be possible to go under the barrier in this way. Of course, this easy way to leave would basically undermine the whole premise so Junior is disappointed when he learns that the barrier reaches down that far. He pounds on it in frustration, partly because he's under a lot of pressure from his dad to start being a productive member of the town and partly because he wanted to impress his ex-girlfriend. The writers also use this plot for two more reasons. We learn why the reporter is working in this small town as she made a big mistake in trying to take down a political machine politician in Chicago. The other is to have Junior claim that Barbie attacked him out of nowhere. This makes the reporter be suspicious of Barbie. Instead of asking him about what happened, she decides to snoop. Which I guess is good because she might find the body of her dead husband and realize that Barbie killed him. On the other hand, I'm liking how Barbie has become useful in this town and he's the character I've grown the most fond of. Plus, this episode basically reveals how he only killed the husband in self-defense. He might have been trying to collect the money but he definably didn't want the guy dead. Which sadly removes any grit the character might have had otherwise but it does leave him as a likeable protagonist. While it might not have made much sense for the reporter to actually follow Junior, the promise that she might discover Barbie's involvement with her husband was a strong plot choice as I'm left wondering what's going to happen. It's the first cliff-hanger where I'm actually hooked.
Now the final major plot involves the two kids who have gotten seizures. The girl basically runs away from her parents to spend time with the boy because his house has electricity. The show is clearly planning to pair them up. I guess it makes sense that Under the Dome is going to want some teenage relationship drama to draw in the young adult viewers but I could care less about the two. There's a party, the boy stands up for the girl against a bully, and learns that the girl lied to him about having a set of regular split-up parents. He's a bit surprised when he discovers that she has two moms. I'm not sure what he's more surprised about: that she lied to him or about the lesbian part. There's a bit earlier in the episode where two guys act homophobic towards the two lesbians which implies that homosexuality is rather non-existent in the town. The episode ends with a cliff-hanger of the two of them having seizures but I'm not really sure why I should care. The boy is rather bland, the girl is rebellious for no reason, and they don't have strong enough chemistry for me to want them to be together. There's a clear connection to the dome with what their saying that should make it more interesting but it fails because it feels more like a gimmick than anything.
Manhunt is the third episode in a row to improve but it's still suffering from major character stupidity. I also could care less about the teen drama part of the show. I must admit that I do care about what happens to Barbie and I'm worried about what's going to happen to him when his dead body is uncovered.
As a sign of how confused I was by the rushed pilot, I thought the body and cabin were on the other side of the dome.