Monday, August 26, 2013

Under the Dome

Under the Dome
Episode 9: The Fourth Hand
By: Carlos Uribe

Under the Dome is a series about a small town that is trapped under a literal dome.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Under the Dome is speeding up it's narrative which is turning out to be surprisingly entertaining. It does get some things right and I'm finding myself more and more hooked on what's going to happen next but it still suffers from a multitude of weaknesses. I've noted how the mini-egg has the potential to be the narrative tool that finally gives the series the focus it needs to truly pull itself together and deliver some great science fiction drama. The Fourth Hand seems to validate and contradict that at the same time. The mini-dome, and the egg, go missing this week. The characters who know about it are mystified but they decide to search for it because it might contain clues on why the dome is over the town. This search for answers makes sense but it does feel like it's a way for the show to avoid moving forward this plot until the very end of the episode. It's a stalling method that is largely annoying because it feels so forced. We find out at the end that Joe moved the egg to the barn while he was sleepwalking. The series reaffirms that Joe and Angie don't really give a shit about each other because his sister let him leave the house despite his zombie walk. It's even more hilarious that her excuse is that because weird stuff is happening that she didn't really think much of it. The two are like the worst siblings where they only pretend to care about each other. I'm not sure why they were made to be brother and sister when they're never written like it. Anyways, they decide not to tell Julia that the egg is now in the barn because they decide Joe's actions means they have to keep it a secret. I wonder how long Joe can keep his mouth shut this time. They touch the dome around the egg and it's basically revealed they need a fourth person. It's over-the-top but it is intriguing. Sadly, the narrative momentum is a little bit undercut because all the characters keep commenting on how “cool” this is. There's nothing wrong with having the characters be interested but it's a little self-congratulatory to have all of them do it.

As if the stalling wasn't frustrating on it's own, I must find that the series insistence on drawing Junior and Angie together is mindblowingly stupid. Angie is understandably concerned about being anywhere near the guy who kidnapped her but the writers are now trying to make them some kind of cosmic lovers or something. I get that Junior is still into her but connecting the two of them through the series mythology doesn't help fix how creepy and wrong it would be if they got back together. I would lose all respect for Angie if she actually does get back with him. What's worse is that the series (and Angie) seems to justify Junior's insistence that the dome made Angie sick. She basically has a seizure where she says the same things that Norrie and Joe did during their seizures. This freaks her out. I'm a bit perplexed why it took her so long to have a seizure but it's disappointing that she reached the conclusion that Junior was right. Okay, I'll admit the dome is clearly affecting her health. It's also affecting Norrie and Joe. It's not like Junior had any actual evidence she was sick beyond her breaking up with him before the dome even went down. In other words, even if Junior was right it definably doesn't justify him kidnapping her. Look, I don't care if Junior's mom drew a painting of falling pink stars that seem to correlate with what the seizures are stating. I don't want Junior and Angie ever being in the same scene much less together. I hope that the show backs down from this path because I sincerely doubt there are actual shippers of Junior and Angie. If there are, I'm a bit concerned about what they consider to be a healthy relationship. So when it comes to mythology: it had a pretty cool cliff-hanger even if it stalled too much and the Junior thing remains a wreck.

The rest of the episode wrestled with the control of the town. Big Jim has things under control. He might not control the well but he has come up with a deal with the farmers to provide produce and meat to the town. He might lose the diner because Angie wants to take it over but he's pretty much the undisputed leader. His episodic crisis comes when a crazy, grieving widow accidentally shoots a neighbor while trying to get rid of a drug addict. Big Jim with the help of a new character, comes up with a plan to collect as many of the town's guns as possible. It's sold as a voluntary gun turn-in program where the town's citizens give up up their guns for as long as the dome remains. The only person who doesn't have a choice is the guy who shot his neighbor. This is basically just an excuse to have Barbie point a sniper rifle at Big Jim's head but there's never any real tension he might shoot the guy. They basically succeed and the town has largely been unarmed. The guns are now in Big Jim's bomb shelter. What is interesting about this, in the sense of the writing, is how the show basically acknowledged the second amendment issue but then simply curtailed it. The show didn't take a side whether gun control is actually good or not. Yes, the guns are taken away for the safety of the citizens but it's also left them without any self-defense or ability to protest. Yes, guns were used to form militas against Big Jim in the previous episode but he's not exactly a good guy. The character who helps Big Jim, Barbie, doesn't even believe their doing the right thing. He's only going along for the ride to see what Big Jim is really up to. The solution itself is that it has to be voluntary and temporary. In other words, the show admitted it was an issue but then refused to really make a stand on gun control. The real narrative here is that the bad guys basically defanged any opposition they might have had. It just so happens that they way they did it is relevant. The show's refusal to take a stand is smart in that it won't offend anyone but it's a willingness to politically offend that marks a drama with an actual point to it all.

We get to meet the Big Bad of the remaining episodes this week. The character is Maxine. She's the person that Barbie had called in the pilot. The reason we haven't met her is because she's been hiding out in a house for the entire season. She's finally accepted that the dome is going to stay for a while so she's come out of her hole in order to take the town over. She's the one who pushes Big Jim to take away the people's guns. She's hoping to give them a black market in order to make money from them and to control them. Her plan basically means she'll be sharing power with Big Jim but she's on his side so he's fine with it for now. The real big twist of the episode comes when she walks into the diner at the end of the episode and kisses Barbie. He was not only working for her before the dome went down but she knows all of his little secrets. She threatens to reveal his role in Julia's husband's death if he doesn't play along. She's an interesting plot catalyst because she threatens to basically upset the status quo at every turn. She's going to be a rival to Big Jim, she's set herself at odds with Barbie, and she has nefarious plans on the town. I'm interested to see just how much she can mess around on the show for the next four episodes.

The Fourth Hand is not a perfect episode of Under the Dome. The mythology frustratingly stalls until the end. It's a little bit too self-congratulatory at times and the show's insistence on pushing Angie and Junior together is frustrating. On the other hand, I really want to know who the fourth hand belongs to. I'm interested as to what the messages of the seizure mean. The whole gun control plot was okay even if some of the tension was forced and it could have been great to see the series take a stand on a controversial issue. The introduction of the Big Bad was surprisingly memorable and I'm intrigued as to how she's going to affect the rest of the show. Under the Dome presents a good episode with some strengths but the show still needs to figure things out.

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