Previously on Under The Dome, season one didn’t end well. It’s not that it was a sudden plunge over a cliff; the series was shaky almost from the start, and despite a few bright spots along the way, it had started going off the rails well before “Curtains,” the season finale. But oh, that finale! The pink stars are falling… up! There’s a magic egg in the mini-dome! Julia Shumway is the Monarch! Deputy Linda is dumb as a post! It’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it?
Deviating from the source material early on and devolving into arbitrary nonsense by the end, Under The Dome was not well-served by the decision to extend it beyond a single season. A year later, in the wake of True Detective and Fargo, that decision looks even worse. Had the series been a more straightforward adaptation of the novel with a beginning, middle and end, we might now be talking about an all-new Stephen King limited series filling thirteen Monday nights on the CBS summer schedule. (I vote for 11/22/63.) Instead, we’re back under the dome with Big Jim, Junior, and the gang.
Still, going into “Heads Will Roll” tonight I held out hope that Under The Dome could course-correct. After all, the creative team has had a full year to work out the kinks (writer Brian K. Vaughan has departed the show, but reportedly co-plotted the season with showrunner Neal Baer), and with Stephen King himself aboard to write the season premiere, maybe this was a chance to scrape away the goofiness and dig into the primal terror of being cut off from civilization with resources running low. And then two minutes into the episode, the dome turned into a giant magnet. Embrace the goofiness!
Of course, there’s goofy fun and then there’s goofy dumb, and Under The Dome has proven itself capable of both varieties. Such was the case tonight. No visual on this show will ever match that opening night shot of the cow being sliced in half, but the sight of all the metal objects hurtling toward the dome and sticking there, culminating in Deputy Linda getting squished by her car five minutes into the new season, came close. This was a tragic moment, obviously, and I laughed out loud because it played like the show just couldn’t get rid of the character quickly enough. (Whether she’ll stay dead is another matter, but honestly, Linda had become such a disaster by the end of last season, this felt like the appropriate sendoff.)
The slapstick horror of the scene inside Norrie’s house as she and her pals try to rescue her mother was vintage King, expertly directed by Jack Bender. The knives flying through the air, the nails pulling loose from the walls, the pots and pans whizzing over the kids’ heads, and finally the house falling completely apart…it all worked as a very satisfying mini-movie: the perfect short subject before your next screening of Maximum Overdrive.
As usual, however, just when I started to think I was enjoying myself, Under The Dome would remind me of all the things that drove me crazy last summer. Julia—who was shot, what, 24 hours ago?—swims out into the lake to save a mystery girl from drowning. She brings her to a cabin where we meet a new character, Sam Verdreaux (Eddie Cahill), who turns out to be Junior’s never-before-mentioned uncle. Big Jim gets trapped in his own shelter and has a running conversation with Dodee, who he killed last season. Electromagnetic pulses from the dome cause nearly everyone in town to pass out. Another new character, schoolteacher Rebecca Pine (Carla Crome), supervises the construction of a giant magnet to counteract the dome. (Hey, it worked for Walter White.) Junior has some sort of dream/music video in which he wanders through a strange city, finds a snowglobe filled with blood, and encounters his mother, who we later learn is apparently still alive and still making awful paintings.
The behavior of the characters continues to be erratic. After another ghostly/alien visitation, this time from Linda, Big Jim is willing to hang himself as a sacrifice to wake the townspeople (including Junior). A few minutes later, after Julia has spared him (because that’s what the dome wants, even though it appeared to want the exact opposite last season), he’s pretty much reverted to his bad old self. Sparing Jim’s life is one thing, but since a number of people know he killed Dodee for no particularly good reason, should they really just let him go back to strutting around Chester’s Mill like nothing ever happened?
New mysteries are introduced only to be replaced by newer mysteries a few episodes later. Forget about the egg, what about Pauline Verdreaux’s scrapbook with the picture of the four hands and the drawing of the new mystery girl? Meanwhile, life goes on and people keep eating at the diner, which will never run out of food. It’s such a strange show, capable of entertaining moments and weirdly compelling imagery but seemingly incapable of deciding what it wants to be about.
- So is Angie dead? I would prefer Angie not be dead.
- It will be interesting to see what the ratings are like for this second season. I expect this first episode will do fine, if only for the King-penned script, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a drop-off from last year’s impressive numbers in the weeks to come.
- Are you a fan of the films and television based on the works of Stephen King? Please allow me to recommend this definitive tome on the subject. It fits neatly atop your toilet tank for all your bathroom reading needs.