While last week’s pilot maybe have been flawed, ‘Under the Dome’ built a solid enough foundation and posed enough interesting questions to give viewers plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the show going forward. What’s not to like about a good science fiction/horror mystery to occupy the summer?
Quite a bit, actually, if the second episode is any indication.
“The Fire” seemingly chose the most unpleasant aspects of last week’s premiere and built from there. This was a sloppy, disjointed hour of television that did an uneven at best job of telling a single coherent story, much less weaving the various characters together in a way that was even a little compelling.
It’s almost impressive how ‘Under the Dome’ – a show whose premise is that all the characters are literally trapped together – can feature so many stories that feel so disparate. The characters are all operating within the same town, but for the most part, they might as well be at opposite ends of a metropolis. “The Fire” ping-ponged through its characters as each of their stories advanced incrementally and separately from one another. When they did interact, it felt forced – like when Junior, provoked by Angie for some reason, charges out to teach Barbie a lesson and is promptly beaten up.
By the time the episode actually got to its central event, the fire itself felt like a rushed afterthought. And that’s too bad, because when the town gets together to solve a problem, the whole show starts clicking a little better. It’s disheartening to see ‘Under the Dome’ already veering strongly towards slavishly advancing plodding, pre-drawn character arcs rather than making interesting episodes. Maybe it will pay off at the end of the season, but if it leads to more episodes like this one, I’m not sure I’ll be sticking around for that.
Some more notes from this disappointing episode:
-It’s still early, but I think we can welcome Junior to the “Worst Characters on TV” club. He can take Lori from The Walking Dead’s bunk, it’s right next to The Governor’s. Hey, those two motivationless psychopaths might even get along! If Junior starts wearing an eyepatch, watch out!
-Barbie and Big Jim continue to be the most interesting aspects of the show, and the biggest reason this episode was watchable. Both seem to be bad guys with inclinations to be good, but that could be entirely wrong. I continue to like how the show is playing its cards close to the vest with them, giving Jim enough hero business (stopping the fire) to balance the shady stuff he’s involved in.
-Can’t say the same for the reverend, who in this hour proved he was an expert pickpocket, a mediocre preacher, and a lousy arsonist. Not sure if “the corrupt reverend accidentally lights the house on fire” is the best way to introduce the central event of the episode, but whatever.
-It seems like every female reporter/blogger on TV right now is the same character. If you replaced Julia with Freddie Lounds from ‘Hannibal’ I’m not sure what the difference would be.
-Let’s end with the biggest problem, in my opinion, facing ‘Under the Dome’. This show is having a really, really rough time establishing meaningful motivations for its characters, and it was painfully obvious that “The Fire” was driven by plot points, not by characters behaving like recognizable human beings. Major events in this episode were driven by Angie taunting Junior with lies, the reverend throwing a flaming piece of paper in the trash bin, and Paul the Deputy firing bullets into the dome with a crowd of people watching. I understand that the dome is making everyone a little crazy, but so little of the behavior in ‘Under the Dome’ rings true, while much of it feels like it’s being molded in direct service to the plot. It’s frustrating to watch, and at times during “The Fire” I found myself questioning why I’m watching this show at all. Here’s hoping for a better episode next week.