Thursday, September 19, 2013

Under the Dome

Under the Dome
Episode 13: Curtains
By: Carlos Uribe

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

Spoilers Ahoy!

The season finale of Under the Dome, Curtains, is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it was an entertaining season finale that had enough narrative momentum that made me interested to see how it would turn out in the premiere. On the other hand, it was predictable and slightly ridiculous. The predictable charge comes in terms of the cliff-hanger. Barbie is able to escape prison, joins the group, but then gets captured by Junior. It's really no surprise that Junior picked his dad's side even as he finds out that his father has continually lied to him. I'm not saying Junior should have tried to kill his dad but that family is ultimately going to stop him from actually joining into an assassination plan. It's kind of obvious he would pick his dad because of family bonds. The episode ends with Big Jim having built an actual gallows. Barbie is sentenced to death despite having no trial whatsoever. It helps that the people of Chester's Mill have decided that they are being punished by God and they're hoping bringing Barbie to justice will save them. Just as Junior as about to pull the lever to hang Barbie, the episode ends. Granted, we get another cliff-hanger ending having to do with the mythology plot arc but it's ultimately not surprising the season ends with the life of a character at stake. It couldn't be Julia because she had been in a coma for the penultimate episode. It would have been overkill to put her life at stake at the end of the season. The other characters wouldn't have made much sense due to their role in other plots. Barbie is already a wanted man so he's the most obvious choice. The only reason he was even allowed out of jail was to rule him out as the Monarch. Overall, it's predictable and I'm kind of sad the show didn't actually kill him off. It would have been a huge twist, would have gotten the people talking, and the show's dynamics would still be able to work. Barbie might be the male protagonist but he's not a strong lead that has held the ensemble together and I could easily see Under the Dome working without him. If anything, it would have made it more difficult for the rest of the protagonists to rise against Big Jim in a good way. It's no surprise that the show doesn't take the chance. I guess it could in the premiere but it's very doubtful Barbie will actually die.

The mythology gets advanced quite a bit as multiple characters try to go after the mini-dome. Linda tries her best to stay on top of it by taking the egg but finds herself electrocuted when she tries to touch it. I was a bit disappointed the writers didn't take this opportunity to have her realize Big Jim has been manipulating her. The mini-dome also turns black as the monarch butterfly gets out of it's cocoon. This causes the dome outside to turn black which turns most of Chester's Mill into religious zealots. The mini-dome is moved to the factory where the group put their hands on it. The mini-dome comes down, the butterfly is free, and Julia is named the monarch as she's able to stop the egg from freaking out. The show confirms aliens did this when they use Norrie's dead mother to communicate with them. They get one wish: they must protect the egg at all costs. The three teenagers are sent away as Julia takes responsibility for what to do next. She's basically given an option: she can chose the egg or the military tags that represent her love interest. Her choice is the egg as she throws it in the lake. Why? I'm not sure but this was the right choice as it caused the pink stars to rise. The next thing we know the dome goes from dark to a very bright white. It's all very ridiculous which makes it surprising that I'm so willing to accept this plot on it's face value. Still, we can't escape that this is basically a story about protecting a magical egg. It's ridiculous story aside, it makes no sense after the mini-dome goes down. Julia being the monarch felt like a twist for the sake of a twist rather than making any rational sense for the narrative. Worse, a lot of things happen for which we have no explanation. Why did Julia put the egg in the lake?

The first season of Under the Dome is perplexing. It's a constant mix between entertaining, frustrating, and stupidity that ultimately only arguably found success because of the lack of competition. I believe if this show aired in the fall then it would have quickly fallen in the ratings due to the increased options for entertainment. The season started out very weakly as it couldn't properly set up it's premise with realistic responses by the characters. The whole kidnapped Angie plot arc was so frustrating it brought the episodes down, even the ones that had some elements that were working for it. She was eventually freed and Under the Dome became more entertaining but it made a grave error: it tried to validate Junior's craziness. He was right that Angie was affected by the dome and the mythology seems to support that they were meant to be together. The two are part of something bigger after all. What's worse is the show's insistence to make him some kind of anti-hero when he didn't have the popularity to justify it. Big Jim's gradual decline into a cartoon hero at least made some sense but Junior's rise into the group never worked because it made none. What's worse is that the one plot device that could have provided the series focus (the mini-dome) didn't completely succeed because Big Jim's power plot remained too prevalent. It isn't until the end that the two plots actually converged. These major narrative flaws are supported by many minor ones that exposed the stupidity of the characters, highlighted ridiculous plot details, and ultimately failed to really matter. If anything, the end of the season finale sort of underscores the feeling that the writers have an endgame in mind but they have no idea what happens until then. Still, the first season of Under the Dome can't be completely dismissed as it is a fun way to spend time when nothing else is on. Considering it's the summer, practically nothing else was on.

The quality of the finale and season aside, I think it's interesting to point out the impact that Under the Dome might have on the television industry. I'm not trying to suggest this show is going to influence television creatively but I do think it's ratings success might indicate to the national broadcasters that there's an audience for viewers in the summer. For some unexplained reason, broadcasting networks have been under the impression that there is a limited audience during the summer. They assume that the demographic they target is too busy doing anything but sitting home with the television on. It makes little sense when you really think about it but it's a way of thinking that is finally being challenged. The little programming that the networks have premiered are either Canadian (low-cost) or with very little fanfare. They haven't done well in the ratings primarily because they lack any real buzz. It's been a half-hearted effort so they've received a half-hearted reception. Under the Dome is different because it came with an actual marketing campaign, has received significant buzz, and achieved respectable ratings. It is without a doubt the hit of the summer. Sure, I have a feeling Under the Dome only succeeded because it had little real competition but it only speaks to the actual audience that is there. It has provided CBS with a reliable marketing audience to promote their new fall shows. In other news, Under the Dome is a big success for the network in many ways. I wouldn't be surprised if the other networks take notes and try to have their own big launches in the summer. Under the Dome might not be very good but it is possibly opening the door to more summer programming from the network broadcasts. If at least one of those programs is great then it would have been a great achievement.

Curtains is ultimately an episode that closes out the first season of Under the Dome. It'll be the only one I review since I don't plan to continue the blog next summer but it was certainly interesting to cover a summer show that actually had a chance. This is not a very good show but it's a fun one for what it ultimately was: light entertainment.

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