Under the Dome – “Let the Games Begin”
Chester’s Mill is a town just like any other. But the Dome, the Dome is a world of contradictions. A world where logic is largely absent and where coincidences no longer exist. And as a show, Under the Dome has morphed from largely boring domestic drama into the crazy, pointless kind of sci-fi mystery that can only exist in our post-Lost world. After nine weeks of mostly middling around, the show has gone off the rails, but I’m not convinced it’ll ever quite make it to the stars.
There were four major plot lines this episode, with very little side-action happening, so it seems easiest to recount it all via countdown from the least crazy to the most. Aaaaaaaaand coming in at number four…
4. Linda and Julia go buddy-cop, uncover secrets, explore hats
Linda has been an inert force in the world of Chester’s Mill. She’s clearly one of the show’s moral centers (along with her episode buddy), but because of her sheriff title, is locked into a certain mode of action. Unlike Julia, who can bend the rules around for the greater good thanks to being a journalist (it seems Under the Dome‘s idea of journalism is roughly equivalent to journalism in the DC and Marvel universes), Linda must stick to the letter of the law, lest she be seen as too villainous. Granted, in a show where villains act so outrageous and obvious, you’d think even the most pious, law-abiding citizen could get away a little gray-area thinking, but Linda is steadfast to a fault, making her one of the show’s least interesting characters with nothing to do.
This episode, Linda gets to team up with Julia and actually get shit done. Sure, this only happens because Julia is looking for Barbie, Knight of the Dome, but that doesn’t stop Linda from all but deputizing Julia right there on the spot. Apparently, Julia once talked to some random townsperson about all that mystery propane, but dropped it because they “seemed kinda loopy.” (Isn’t Julia supposed to be some kind of massively talented reporter? Bah!) Linda spills the beans on what she knows, but can’t imagine where to find any clues. Deducing that Duke always wore his hat, she checks the brim, because remember, under the Dome, there are no coincidences, and surprise surprise, there’s a key. And sonofabitch, Julia has a key just like it. They’re both keys to safe deposit boxes, so a trip to the bank is in order. After weirdly breaking into the bank–obviously money has no real value under the Dome, but didn’t it take them like five weeks to realize that? How have none of the town’s millions of mindless drug zombies not already invaded this place Walking Dead style and cleaned it out of cash? Whatever.– they both decide to open up their boxes.
In Linda’s box, we find a genuinely touching moment with a sheriff’s star and a letter from Duke that explains everything. Now, the confessional letter/videotape is an old trope, but it’s deployed fairly well here, filling in some of the blanks about why Duke would be complicit in the shady going-ons and implicating Reverend Whosit and Big Jim in Max’s schemes. In Julia’s, we find a life insurance policy taken out by her husband, leading Julia to claim, “I have to talk to Barbie.” I don’t entirely understand the logic that got her there (and even their conversation at the end of the episode does little to rectify this), but hey, at least this plot is finally going somewhere!
3. The kids play with the Egg, Joe gets to curse, Dodee suffers Convenient Amnesia
Because the mysteries of the almighty Egg are so mysterious, Joe, Angie, and Norrie have decided to sleep in the barn with it. And in a move that’s way more brilliant than should be allowed on this show, Norrie has tied her and Joe’s wrists together, to prevent him from sleepwalking and stealing more mysterious things. Upon waking up, they discover that a caterpillar (apparently exactly the kind of caterpillar that grows into a monarch butterfly, because, remember, no coincidences!) is now living inside the Mini-Dome. For no discernible reason other than to show off the (admittedly kinda cool) handprint special effects on the Mini-Dome again, the kids all get into their positions around the Egg, and decide to find out who else has been having seizures.
As the kids run off, we see that Dodee has been lurking around the barn, because… well, I’m not entirely sure. We know Dodee doesn’t trust the kids because they broke her technobabble doodad a few episodes ago, but I guess now she’s full-on stalkerish creepo, and must know what those darn kids are up to! She finds the Egg and Mini-Dome, and because only good things have come from touching the Dome, she touches the Mini-Dome, and is PK Blasted away by the Mini-Dome and the Egg’s awesome mysteries. Good thing the kids didn’t actually go anywhere though, so they’re able to run back into the barn and take Dodee to The Clinic. Of course, the PK Blast also caused Dodee to suffer from Convenient Amnesia, completely neutralizing a threat that didn’t exist before this episode’s cold open. The kids also learn that the only other person who’s ever had a seizure in Chester’s Mill’s history was at Angie’s 10th grade dance. Angie’s face of terror can mean only one thing (that’s been painfully obvious since those damn handprints showed up the first time): It’s Junior time.
But before the kids can recruit Junior for Alien 4H Club, Angie must reveal the dark secret about Junior keeping her against her will. Obviously, Joe and Norrie now want nothing to do with Junior, but Angie must convince them, and does it the only way she knows how: that terrible, terrible painting Junior’s mother made. And as they view the world’s worst painting by a 4th grader and wonder where to find Junior, who should appear but… Junior himself! Joe flies into a billowy-shirted rage and is easily taken down by Junior. Luckily, Angie saves the day by appealing to Junior’s infallible love of Dome-related mysteries, and the four take off for the barn.
2. Big Jim discovers India, learns a lot of nonsense, shoves an old woman off a boat
If Julia’s search for Barbie left you wondering just where that scoundrel got off to, no fear! He’s just hanging out with his buddy Big Jim. As they ponder over how to deal with Max, Barbie realizes what we all did two episodes ago: there’s literally no way Max has just been hiding out in an abandoned house under the Dome for almost two weeks. He and Big Jim hoof it down to the town clerk’s office to find out which houses in Chester’s Mill were bought by Max’s real estate company (wait… what?), and it’s there that we learn of Chester’s Mill’s greatest secret: an island that literally has not been mentioned or alluded to in any way whatsoever so far in this show. An island with at least one house on it. Why hasn’t this island been brought up before? Does no one care that the people on the island might need medical help or be unable to leave their homes? If there’s part of a lake between the mainland and the island, why was there such a huge crisis over water? Of course, this is all irrelevant, and after Max swoops in to whisk Barbie away, Big Jim takes it upon himself to visit the mysterious island, because if history has taught us anything, it’s that white guys going to mysterious islands has never ended badly for anyone. Ever.
On the island, Big Jim walks up to the first house he sees, and finds a woman named Agatha. Their exchange raises all the same island-related questions we already had, plus a few more about the actual size of Chester’s Mill and how Big Jim, the man who has literally known every single person to appear on screen in this series so far, has no idea who Agatha is. Big Jim makes a grave mistake and follows her to a second location, going inside for “a nice cup of tea.” Now, obviously Agatha is up to no good, and as Big Jim snoops around and finds a picture of Max, Agatha returns with a gun, ready to tango.
Or so we thought. Instead, she slogs through a ton of exposition about Max’s life, almost none of it relevant to the story or any other characters or anything we, the viewers, care about. Luckily, as all terrible villains must, Agatha slips and reveals that she’s Max’s “insurance policy,” and a short tussle later, Big Jim has regained the upper hand. As he transports Agatha back to the mainland, she attempts to rustle his feathers, spouting off tired rhetoric about the man behind the curtain, and as she rises to make her ultimate point, tumbles overboard into the lake in what will probably never be topped as this series’ greatest scene. (I know, in the section title I said Big Jim shoved her. I lied.) As Agatha flails about in the water, Big Jim casually stares on, embracing his role as Big Bad. (Whether or not he grabs her hands and menacingly sneers out a “long live the king!” before letting her die is up to your imagination.) And once again, a threat has been neutralized mere moments after being introduced.
1. Max creates Dome Fight Club, Barbie is Knight of the Dome, Natalie Zea sounds unconvincing making threats
I guess now it’s time to learn what exactly it is Max is up to. After stealing Barbie from the town clerk’s office, she brings him to The Cement Factory. Apparently Max’s business consists of setting up “booze, cards, and brothels” (Natalie Zea’s insistence that she never deals in prostitution is just the first of many unconvincing line readings she’ll give in this episode), and since the Dome came down and ruined everyone’s fun, she’s taken it upon herself to establish–drumroll please!–DOME FIGHT CLUUUUUUUUUB! Dome Fight Club is a magical place where ne’er-do-wells can fight to win prizes. And while the concept seems simple enough, Max muddies up the whole thing with a bizarre explanation about “trading up” batteries to eggs or some such nonsense. Clearly she’s just charging admission and then giving away a prize to whoever wins. Wouldn’t that be a much easier sell to the weak-willed of Chester’s Mill’s population? But, I digress.
After waiting patiently for Max to deliver more drivel about what purpose Dome Fight Club serves, Barbie finally asks what exactly he’s doing there. Max reveals that everyone thinks Barbie is the biggest badass in all the Dome, and they want to see him fight. Barbie resists, but Max blackmails him into the ring, where he almost immediately decides to throw the fight. But, alas! It turns out Max planned for that all along, and was literally the only person to bet on Barbie’s opponent, making her the big victor. Barbie points out how it’s really impossible for this whole plan to work, since they’re, you know, trapped under the Dome, with a massively limited (and dwindling) amount of supplies to collect, so Max insists that she’ll “burn the place down,” setting off the most unintentionally unconvincing series of threats in television history. Barbie storms out, and Max is left to stew in her own rage and silk-infused conditioner. (If it seems like I have little to say about this, the craziest plot, it’s because most of it just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.)
As the episode ends, Julia and Linda have gone their separate ways in order to confront their respective problem-men. Big Jim finds Linda on his porch, where she hints at her newly-acquired knowledge, but gives Big Jim until the morning to come to the station. Over at the Shumway residence, Barbie begins his confession even before Julia confronts him, and we learn that Julia’s husband’s gun wasn’t loaded the day Barbie killed him, in what turned out to be essentially a “suicide by cop” move. Julia is surprisingly okay with all of this, and promises a future with Barbie, as long as there aren’t any more secrets between them.
Meanwhile, back in the barn, the kids show Junior the Egg, where they notice that the caterpillar has formed a chrysalis on the inside of the Mini-Dome. They place their hands on the Mini-Dome, and convince Junior to do the same. After thirty seconds of stock sci-fi noises and forced expressions of awe, the Egg erupts with light, projecting pink stars into the air around them. “What does it all mean?” Junior mumbles, and the strings swell from nowhere as we cut to black.
“Let the Games Begin” is the first episode in the third act of Under the Dome‘s first season, and while the show still isn’t very good, it’s at least traded in soul-crushing boredom for not-quite-campy craziness. There might not ever be another moment on this show as glorious as Agatha falling off the boat, but here’s hoping they’ll find some new kind of dumb sci-fi tomfoolery to throw at us next.
- Junior does get a little bit of boring side-action before meeting up with the kids, though all it adds is more confusion about the the mechanics of Dome Fight Club.
- Seriously, Natalie Zea, what is going on? Sure, you don’t have the best track record, but we’ve all seen you do decent work in Justified. Now, granted, you’re not a mustache-twirling villain there, but you got to make threats that were at least a little bit menacing. Here, it’s just a mess.
- The dialogue in this show continues to be reminiscent of a very, very bad high school drama production, though I guess that is the shipped gold standard on CBS.
- Can I emphasize enough how ugly that painting is? Every time it’s on screen, I can barely suppress my chuckles. I know Junior’s mom was supposed to be “crazy” but c’mon.
- Is the Convenient Amnesia a sign that Dodee’s usefulness on the show has come to an end? If so, who will be the Dome’s new source of technobabble? Who will build a new Mr. Miyagi or whatever that thing was called? Who will be there to not trust the kids and be a total creep?!