Under The Dome: “Force Majeure”
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Dean Norris (CBS)
Dean Norris (CBS)

Under The Dome: “Force Majeure”

Red rain is falling down all over the dome

We all like to think we’ll be the hero when disaster strikes. That when our real personas are revealed under unbelievable stress, we’ll be the one everyone turns to for guidance, not the one pilfering items for the black market or shoving women and children out of our way towards safety. Unfortunately, the wretched residents of Chester’s Mill, the town trapped by the titular dome, really have slim pickings for leadership: a rugged anti-hero, a used-car salesman with delusions of grandeur, a Machiavellian science teacher, and a red-haired lady who thinks she’s a butterfly.

Rebecca Pine, the science teacher, may not seem like the nicest person, but she’s somehow the only one who has realized that after two weeks, Chester’s Mill’s resources can no longer sustain the town. This problem is only exacerbated after last week’s magnetic-butterflies-gone-haywire infestation, and this week’s nasty red acid rain that destroys even more livestock and crops. The acidic rain goes on a bit long, is really unpleasant to look at, and is a bit much overall (“Nobody leave the café until the rain stops!” Big Jim pointlessly cautions). Guest star Dwight Yoakam, as Lyle the religious barber, would like to think the rain has religious, end-of-days significance, but Rebecca knows it’s something to do with algae, something she can defeat with a simple hose and a water tank.

While the red rain is raining, Lyle kidnaps Rebecca as payback because Big Jim likes her and Jim also stole Pauline from Lyle many moons ago, but it’s really just an excuse to head into our weekly science-versus-faith mashup. Julia pointlessly pleads with Lyle in a way-too-earnest line read: “Help me achieve the dome’s true plan.” “What is that?” “I don’t know.” Julia maintains that the dome is there to protect them all, even as the Chester’s Mill death count racks up at an alarming rate. Where was the dome for poor Angie, huh, Julia? Please don’t make me agree with Barbie: “Belief only gets you so far.”

Call me a cynic, but I have trouble with inherent faith for no reason, as Julia seems to cling to the idea that the dome is good, and Melanie is harmless, with absolutely nothing but her own instinct to back her up. This is the woman who apparently didn’t know that her husband was cheating on her/had a huge gambling problem. She also dove headlong into romance with the man that killed her wayward husband, and after two weeks, lines like Barbie calling their home “our house” and Julia yelling “I thought I knew you. I was wrong. Don’t follow me!” are unintentionally hilarious. If these are the main characters we’re supposed to root for, they constitute a giant vacuum of suck instead of people who should actually be commanding our attention.

The kids don’t fare much better—“Hey Joe, I know your sister was just murdered there, but would you be willing to immediately go back to the high school to work on an alternative energy project?” “Sure!”—but some intriguing developments manage to squeak through at the school. A Microsoft tablet product placement enables the kids to get email! And Twitter! The dome is trending! With many posts by a mysterious @houndsofdiana. Hmm. Of course, she turns out to be Junior’s mother (welcome back, Sherry Stringfield), who encourages Junior to talk only to her ex-boyfriend Lyle the mysterious barber. And damned if I’m not intrigued by this latest development, especially when Lyle says that he might know who killed Angie. Or why Pauline would have faked her death 25 years ago.

Trapped in the school by the red rain, the kids run into Junior when they head back to the scene of Angie’s murder. Again, in the midst of apparent plot stupidity (Junior is there because returning to the school might help him remember something from his blackout), I found myself holding my breath as Melanie remembered the locker combination and Joe opened the same door as Angie did before she was killed. (Although the ensuing forehead fight between Norrie and Melanie and some really weird swingy camera direction managed to deflate the tension in that scene pretty quickly.)

So even though the town’s whole survival seems to rest on Jim’s mandatory citizen registration and Rebecca’s suggested “thinning of the herd,” I’m less interested in the Dome’s turn toward The Lottery/Hunger Games-ness than I am by these apparently random twists. Sure, it’s an intriguing premise: Do you keep everyone alive and starve, or get rid of a fourth so the other three-fourths can survive? But that just doesn’t sound as fun to witness as the other questions raised this episode. Although I did enjoy Rebecca telling Big Jim the story about putting all of the elderly into a tree and shaking  it to see who could hang on as if it was a fun craft project they might try out.

Curse you, Dome! Despite the overall distastefulness of this episode (honestly, I felt like taking an acid-free shower afterward, but of course had to write this instead), the show still contains enough drama to keep me intrigued past just snark-watching. My whole family was peeking through fingers when Joe opened the locker (our take: what’s in the magical locker depends on who opens it, much like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction). And I want to know more about Sherry Stringfield’s alliance with the evil drunk doctor and the religious barber. I’m even curious about the time wormhole that got expressionless Melanie to arrive in Chester’s Mill in the middle of a lake. Trapped underneath a bunch of hackneyed plots and science versus faith arguments and the blandest romance that ever landed in the center of a TV show, there’s still valuable suspense here. So I just can’t stop watching yet. Just like in a real force majeure, all bets appear to be off.

Stray observations:

  • Hey, did your high school have a volume that listed everyone who had ever used every locker over the past 50 years? Nope, mine neither.
  • If you want Junior to do something for you he doesn’t want to do, just call him James.
  • That plucky Julia is literally always willing to go out and save people, in any sort of life-threatening condition.
  • “I serve at the pleasure of our councilman”: What?
  • Watch out for that effeminate cassia oil.
  • Possible meaning behind @houndsofdiana: Diana is the goddess of the moon, the hunt, and animals, and often appeared accompanied by hounds or a stag. There’s also a constellation named Diana.
  • Props to the show for giving Dwight Yoakam a chance to sing from his jail cell, even if “Who’ll Stop The Rain” was a bit too on-the-nose.
  • Random speculation: Melanie’s creepy repeat of Julia’s “We’ll figure it out, sweetie,” was just her way of mimicking what appears to be normal human behavior. She’s an alien! Left over from Roswell in ’88! Or something!
  • Thanks so much to Scott Von Doviak for letting me sit in: Like you, I look forward to his take on the Dome every week.
  • Well, we’ve had fire, the sun turning black, red rain, and insect swarms. Coming up on the Dome: the infestation of frogs, Magnolia-like! Or maybe just some good old-fashioned pestilence.
Filed Under: TV, Under The Dome

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