Under the Dome
Episode 8: Thicker than Water
By: Carlos Uribe
Under the Dome is a series about a small town that is trapped under a literal dome.
The main conflict between Big Jim and Ollie comes to a head at this episode. The two have held a long rivalry and the stakes are who gets to control the town. Who will be approached for leadership. Ollie is hoping that his control of the food and water supply will elevate him to power. He might have lost the propane but he feels like he could survive without it. Big Jim is hoping to negotiate with him so that the town can have eternal access to the well and the food but he finds an uncooperative Ollie. When Big Jim tries to use eminent domain to take Ollie's land from him, he quickly finds that's going to be difficult to do as Ollie has his own little army to defend his well. Big Jim's natural response is to form his own little army to take over the well. It's a small battle that threatens to bring more bloodshed while draining more of the population of Chester's Mill. It is a battle that Big Jim wants because he wants to keep his hold over the town secure. He doesn't want any challengers or any threat. If he controls the well, he'll keep control over the town. The conflict is pretty much mandatory because of this. Ollie wants it, Big Jim wants it, and the two are going to get it. The show provides Big Jim with a relatively peaceful option out. Barbie can plant explosives at the well that will somehow redistribute the water to the dried up aquifers. The danger is that the explosives might possibly poison the water supply which would put the town in a far worse scenario. On the other hand, the only character who has this concern is Big Jim. There is literally no actual tension that this water corruption might actually happen and is probably only a weak excuse he uses because he wants the battle to happen. This disagreement is big enough that it might finally cause a rift between Big Jim and Barbie. It's a bit disappointing that we don't get more out of this battle considering how it's been building up pretty much since we first met Ollie. There are basically three layers to the conflict: the actual battle, Junior's decision to enter the enemy camp, and Barbie trying to resolve the issue by blowing up the well. Three different concurrent storylines that are surrounding the same issue.
The actual battle is a little disappointing. We see the men band together, they go to the farm, there are a few shots, but we largely don't see anything. This is always a problem with television when it promises something even remotely epic: it rarely has the actual budget to pull it off. I wasn't expecting a large-scale battle but considering how small the town is and how important the battle is to the narrative, there should have been a little more action. The well explosion is a little less interesting because it has zero tension. Of course Barbie is going to blow it up and of course it's going to be fine. There's no way the series can actually get rid of the town's only water source because then all the characters die from thirst or the dome has to be removed early. He blows up the tower which causes the small army of both sides to basically withdraw from the battle. They were fighting for the well, not the men. Big Jim does get captured but he's free by the end of the episode. Overall, I feel like more could have been done if Under the Dome had the proper tension with the battle. At the same time, Under the Dome could have tried to actually build tension with exploding the well. It was such a big part of the plan that it's a bit baffling how the result seemed so inevitable to the point where it seemed like the obstacles were minor. A stronger script could have presented bigger problems for Barbie. It could have built the tension a lot more and made the battle more intense that way. It should have also taken the idea that he could poison the water supply a little more serious rather than Big Jim only using it as an excuse on why he didn't go along with the plan. What if Barbie realized that the structure of the well required him to plant charges in a difficult spot? Anything to build any tension.
The final layer was slightly more successful. Junior gets kicked out of his own home because he went to go see Angie. He seemingly betrays his father when he decides to join Ollie's side. He even asks for the opportunity to kill his own father. That's a red flag right there because most people don't know how crazy Junior is. Ollie should have realized that Junior might be angry but it's doubtful he would actually have murder in his heart. The audience? I've got to say I didn't know whether Junior knew what side he was actually on. I think he only decided when his dad finally told him the truth about what happened to his mother. Anyways, Ollie does try to build trust with Junior which is nice of him. In the end, Junior ends up acting as a trojan horse as he kills Ollie instead of his dad. He's still not welcomed back at his home so he ends up sleeping in the prison cells. Which is ironically where he belongs. This plot worked a little better because Junior's character is a little unpredictable. He's the kind of person who would betray his dad. Still, I wasn't caught by surprise when the show went with the predictable route. Of course he's not going to kill his dad. That would be a bold move that most writers wouldn't make. Big Jim is too important of a character to be killed off. Ollie's death is a bit sad because it means his rivalry with Big Jim is gone. Big Jim ended up having a victory in getting rid of a rival but he didn't get what he really wanted: the resource to control the town's population. The episode hints at the end that his latest conflict might be with Barbie as they basically warn each other that they would be a formidable opponent.
The rest of the episode was largely spent with Norrie having to grieve Alice's death. It's a bit odd we don't really see Carolyn grieving. It's mentioned but it's largely brushed to the background. Norrie is the really important character. She reacts by blaming everyone, including herself, for Alice's death before being ready to bury her. It's a pretty decent plot that was necessary for the character but it wasn't particularly compelling. While this is going on, Joe basically shows Rachel the mini-dome with the egg. A fake Joe shows up to deliver a message that a monarch will be crowned. The episode suggests at the end that queen might end up being Angie because she has a tattoo of a monarch butterfly. The former is necessary while the latter is simply continuing to build the mythology. It's a bit nice that Angie is promised to become a leader of the town but that also means she's going to come into conflict with Big Jim. This revelation helps increase the narrative momentum, continues to promise a larger mythology, and at least answers the one question posed by Joe's cryptic message. Of course, now we have to wonder just how Angie will rise and what kind of monarch she will be. It's the kind of mythology building the show should be doing right now.
Thicker than Water is an okay episode of Under the Dome. It promises a little too much with the ultimate battle between Ollie and Big Jim as the budget simply wasn't there. It could have created a little more tension with the Barbie bomb part of the plot. The whole Junior plot works a bit better he's crazy but the show still went down the predictable route. Norrie's grieving was expected while Joe's cryptic message serves as effective world-building. Overall, this episode promises a lot of potentially interesting stories that gets me excited about the future of the show. Who knows? At this rate, I might even become a fan.