Who could have guessed that the key to turning Under The Dome into a fun, entertaining show would be getting out from under the dome? This week’s episode is easily the highlight of the season so far (admittedly, not such a high bar to clear), mostly because the activity out in the real world has shaken up the all-too-predictable rhythms of life in Chester’s Mill. The bad news is, by the end of “The Red Door,” Barbie and company are back inside, just like Gilligan and the gang washing up on the shore of their old familiar island.
Let’s start back in Zenith, with Barbie a prisoner of the private security force with an interest in the dome’s power source, better known as the Egg. Although Papa Don Barbara plays dumb, Barbie pretty quickly figures out that his father runs said security team and not the other way around. Barbie makes his escape by choking out his interrogator and stealing his keys, but it turns out this was the old “we let him escape so we could follow him” ploy. Except it backfires when Barbie loses his tail in about two minutes—always a potential pitfall of that particular scheme. Barbie makes his way back to the Hounds of Diana, where he is reunited with his old pal Uncle Sam as well as Pauline and Lyle. (Hacker Hunter, it turns out, was Pauline’s art student. Everything is connected!)
The new plan is to find the Red Door from Pauline’s vision so as to get back inside the dome and protect the Egg. Egg protection is also the primary motivator of the action back in Chester’s Mill, especially now that Big Jim is onto the whole Barbie still being alive thing. He’d like Rebecca to build him an egg detector, what with her being a scientist and all, but instead she blabs his plan to Julia. Just when it seemed he was backsliding into being his father’s whipping boy again, Junior grows a spine and decides to hide the Egg from Big Jim. This leads to a pretty tasty piece of black comedy when he chooses the family bomb shelter as the hiding place. You remember all the good times we had there! Melanie knows nothing about that, of course, but she does want Junior to stay with her in the shelter. If he’s at all self-aware, this has to be kind of an awkward moment for him.
Big Jim cuts a deal with the troops outside the dome to bring them the Egg. For once, he actually seems to have the town’s best interests at heart. He insists on safe passage for everyone out of the dome as a condition of his cooperation…but maybe insists is too strong a word, because it only takes one objection from the authorities for Big Jim to lower his demands to “me and my son.” Why Jim would want to leave his little fiefdom in the first place is an open question, but maybe his messianic complex would be fed by being seen as the rescuer who led his people to freedom. In any case, nothing’s stopping him from doing just that, Egg or no Egg. If everyone jumped off the cliff in bunches, it would be difficult for any army to cover up the sudden appearance of hundreds of people in a children’s playground.
Back in Zenith, Barbie recognizes the Red Door as the one leading to his family root cellar. He, Uncle Sam (who killed Angie to get out of the dome but is now going back for some reason), Pauline, Lyle, and Hacker Hunter find a secret tunnel that blasts each of them with a swirly cloud that gives them visions. Uncle Sam recalls Junior telling him he doesn’t want to stay with his father. Barbie has a childhood memory of meeting Melanie, with his father present. (So many daddy issues, so little time.) Pauline sees herself in the pit where they first discovered the Egg, but no one else is around. And Lyle…doesn’t show up again, maybe because Dwight Yoakam’s contract is up. These flashes may be the most Lost-like touch yet, which is really saying something.
Seeing these characters resurface in Chester’s Mill may pay off in the short term (the reunion between Pauline and Big Jim should be interesting, at least), but it’s disappointing that the split-structure of the series is being cut short so soon. The outside-the-dome conspiracy feels more promising than Big Jim’s continuing power machinations at this point, so here’s hoping the show doesn’t revert to crisis-of-the-week mode. For now, though, ”The Red Door” is a rare example of Under The Dome as enjoyably goofy sci-fi, with a minimum of boneheaded plotting and tiresome character dynamics. Faint praise, maybe, but by now that feels like a victory.
- This episode was directed by the original Robocop himself, Peter Weller. He’s also done a couple episodes of The Strain and Sons of Anarchy (on which he recurred last season).
- Young Junior was particularly well-cast. I could easily see that kid growing up to become the Junior we know and sort of tolerate.
- Pauline: “This is how my visions start.” Lyle: “In mud?”