Sep 17 2013 2:30pm

Under the Dome: “Curtains”

In what must be one of the most disappointing finales in television history, season one of Under the Dome sputtered to an end last night with all the drama, satisfaction, and excitement of someone unplugging a television set in the middle of a sentence. But we’re not here to dwell on our pain because a second season of Under the Dome is coming whether we like it or not, so it’s time to take stock of what we’ve learned in this first season.

Lesson #1: Sheriff Linda is number one! It’s no small accomplishment to be number one at anything, especially when you’re as stupid as Sheriff Linda, so that’s why we should all be proud that she’s the number one stupidest law enforcement officer in the world. Yay, Sheriff Linda! With her fiancé trapped on the other side of the dome, Sheriff Linda started this season inheriting a house, which promptly burnt down, and then getting a promotion from deputy to sheriff. Doesn’t matter. No matter how hard you try to help Sheriff Linda, she will always be tragically stupid. To enforce a quarantine she arms Junior Rennie—the town psychopath—with a shotgun and instructs him to point it at anyone who moves. To calm a riot, she suddenly tear gases a crowd of extras who are mostly standing around muttering “Peas and carrots, peas and carrots.” She deputizes anyone with a pulse, watches in approval as Big Jim Rennie builds a gallows to execute someone who hasn’t faced trial, and constantly seems to be on the verge of tears whenever she gives a line reading.

In this episode, when she’s confronted with the egg-stuffed mini-dome in Ben’s bedroom she immediately declares, “This dome is police property,” before instructing “all units” to converge on Ben’s house. “All units” would consist of exactly one other car, driven by the town’s only other cop. Couldn’t she have called his cell phone? Then Carolyn, the town’s surviving lesbian, tries to talk her down.

Carolyn: Linda, don’t do anything rash. The kids think the egg is the source.

Linda: The source of what?

The source of delicious ice cream, Linda! What do you think? I’ll give you a hint: it’s big, it’s round, and it covers your entire city! (A: the dome.) Later, Sheriff Linda enters the barn where she thinks the mini-dome and its egg have been hidden. “It looks like they were using it for some kind of weird art project...” she muses, stupidly. Speaking of weird art projects, Big Jim Rennie takes her to his house and shows her that not only is everyone talking about “pink stars falling in lines” but that before her death, and months before the dome descended, his wife was painting pictures of pink stars falling in lines. “Maybe it’s a coincidence,” Sheriff Linda suggests, confirming that, yes, she is the stupidest character on television today. I can only hope that comes with a big special medal she can wear around her neck.

Lesson #2: Being cryptic is exciting. Clear and simple communication is Kryptonite for mysterious TV dramas, and Under the Dome has elevated obfuscation to an art form or, at least, some kind of weird art project. Most of UtD consists of characters jumping to insane conclusions based on limited evidence (the mini-dome starts screaming and Scarecrow Joe says, “The dome’s telling us we have to get the butterfly out before it dies.”) or characters sitting around reiterating the obvious (Norrie: “My mom said it would be the end for all of us if we didn’t protect that egg.” Angie: “What does that even mean?” Julia: “It means our town is as good as dead if we let this egg fall into the wrong hands”).

But without being totally cryptic—Who is the monarch? What is the egg? Where did the dome come from? What happened to Joe and Ben’s dog from episode two? Who really cares?—this show would not be the pulse-pounding thrill ride it is. If people started actually communicating with each other what would we be left with? Case in point: in this episode aliens appear in the shape of Norrie’s dead lesbian mother, Alice, and speak in unnecesary riddles.

Alice the Alien: The dome wasn’t sent to punish you. It was sent to protect you.
Human Trapped in Dome: From what?
Alice the Alien: You’ll see…in time.

Alice the Alien then tells the poor baffled humans that they have to protect the egg but won’t tell them how to protect it, or from what, or for how long. Come on, aliens, now you’re just being jerks. But if they actually said exactly what they wanted, how would we get a season two? Let’s stay focused on what’s really important here, people.

Lesson #3: Moms, do not try this at home! This is a lesson in what not to do. Alice the Alien tasks Julia Shumway with a Flour Sack Baby Project, giving her the glowing egg and telling her to care for it as if it’s a real baby. If she messes up she doesn’t just get an F in Health Class, but the entire human race dies. Or something (see Lesson #2). Immediately, Julia Shumway heads to a deep, dark lake and dumps the egg into it like one of those crazy baby-drowning moms. But apparently this is exactly what Alice the Alien meant when she told her to “protect” the egg. Dump it in a lake! Moms, do not dump your babies in a lake. It will not result in a pretty pink fireworks show but, instead, criminal charges.

Lesson #4: Violence feels good. Under the Dome is bold in its raw depiction of the real life effects of violence. Over the course of this season, Dale Barbie has had his face bashed to a pulp at least three times, including once in this episode. In a nod to reality, he sports a light scrape on his left cheekbone. Julia Shumway was shot in the chest three episodes ago, about three days in Under the Dome time, but now she is up and about, although the producers do insist that she sport a slight limp in order to show the horrifying effects of sucking chest wounds on the human body.

Lesson #5: When in doubt, head for the old cement factory. No location in Chester’s Mill gets a workout quite like the old cement factory. When Junior Rennie wanted to try to find the dome’s weak point, he headed for the old cement factory. When a missile was heading for Chester’s Mill, the citizens sought shelter in the old cement factory. When Plot Contrivance Maxine wanted to start an underground Costco Discount Fight Club she headed for—where else?—ye olde cement factory. And in this episode, the fight club seems to have evaporated without a trace leaving the old cement factory ready to become a hideout for the kids and their mini-dome. Even before the dome came down the old cement factory was the number one spot for Chester’s Mill residents, as we learned in this episode when Scarecrow Joe informs us that it’s where he and Angie went to hide “after breaking mom’s old mirror.” Ye Olde Cement Factory: providing a cheap shooting location for the residents of Chester’s Mill for over 20 years.

Lesson #6: Everyone loves Dean Norris. Dean Norris is having a big year. Not only is there Emmy talk for his role as Hank on Breaking Bad, but his portrayal of Big Jim Rennie is the one reason to watch Under the Dome. And it’s not just the audience who feel this way—all the residents of Chester’s Mill love him, too. There is not a riot or a lynch mob on this planet that does not immediately improve with the presence of Dean Norris. When there’s a speech to be given, everyone shuffles their feet nervously until Dean Norris arrives to get things started. In this episode, he wanders into a church service where everyone is praying to avert the apocalypse. He’s repulsed by the idea, but without even waiting for an invitation, he instinctively heads for the pulpit and delivers a sermon full of questionable theology and Bible quotes he memorized just in case he ever needed to give a sermon. He even convinces one of the show’s only two recurring black characters to build a gallows for him. “My great-grandfather built the last gallows in Chester’s Mill,” he tells Phil, the DJ, pretty much spelling out that the last time Chester’s Mill had a gallows was in the 19th century when Phil’s ancestors were probably its most regular customers. But everyone loves Dean Norris and so Phil happily rounds up a crew to throw together a gallows so they can lynch Dale Barbie without a trial. Love of Dean Norris doesn’t see color!

Lesson #7: There are two things in life: crops and propane. Although the inhabitants of Chester’s Mill have been under their dome for less than two weeks, they are focused on the long game and are really upset about their crops. They have gone to war over their crops, killed people over their crops, and hoarded water over their crops. We’re not even sure what kind of crops they are, but the assumption is that they’re pizza trees and not the kind of crops that need to be milled or refined or that take months and months to grow and harvest. In this episode when the dome goes full goth and turns black and impenetrable a farmer reminds everyone about the important things in life, “We used to be trapped, but at least I could grow my crops.”

However, it’s not long before another citizen chimes in and reminds him of the other staple in Chester’s Mill: propane. “What if the temperature starts dropping?” she cries, pulling her baby to her chest. “My family is already out of propane.” Propane, in case anyone forgot, is one of the main food groups in Chester’s Mill. For the first seven episodes propane had basically the same importance as crops. Big Jim was hoarding it, then Farmer Ollie was hoarding it, then Big Jim blew up a truck for it, and now more people need it. It’s as if Chester’s Mill is some kind of alternate universe where propane has replaced money, family, food, and gasoline as the most important thing in life. The most important thing in life except for crops, that is.

Lesson #8: There really is nothing else on TV in the summer. There was no shame in watching the first and second episodes of Under the Dome back when the concept felt fresh and its execution seemed to be fumbling in the right direction. But by the end of episode two, and certainly by episode three, it was clear that this show was on a long, bumpy road to nowhere. I just got a raise to $25 per post to write about it, so you know I’m riding this Suck Train all the way to the end of the line, but what was everyone else’s excuse? Because UtD got so many viewers (13 million for the first episode, an 11 million average for subsequent episodes, then a drop to 9 million last episode) that it’s been a ratings smash for CBS and it was renewed for a second season. And yet I can’t find anyone who admits to liking it. Is it a case of mass hate-watching? Stockholm Syndrome on the part of viewers, who are so tortuously bored that they’re now identifying with their oppressor? Whatever it is, we all caused the second season to happen so now we have to lie in it.

Lesson #9: Microsoft has the worst marketing people. Under the Dome has been nothing if not a giant ad for Mircrosoft products, which are shoehorned in at every opportunity, no matter how awkward. But why was this the one show Mircrosoft wanted to go all in on? If Mad Men is any indication, corporate sponsors get to see scripts in advance, and so I wonder why Microsoft’s marketing people decided to align their brand with a show that didn’t earn its season one cliffhanger, is a barely-disguised rip-off of LOST, and is disappointing exactly the kind of viewers that would buy Microsoft products in the first place. Why have they committed to a marketing push that is almost guaranteed to equate Microsoft with an imitative product that doesn’t work and frustrates its users and yet is inexplicably popular and…oh, wait.

So season one is over, and I think we’ve all learned a lot, grown a little, and certainly we all understand the importance of crops and propane a little bit better now. Until next season, remember the immortal words of Norrie: “Things are happening.”

Grady Hendrix is the author of Satan Loves You, Occupy Space, and he’s the co-author of Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, the first graphic novel cookbook. He’s written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today and his story, “Mofongo Knows” appears in the anthology, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination.

David Gunter
1. spdavid
Yeah,this was a mess.Thankfully it is being replaced with what looks like actually good tv in that time slot.As for people watching this...yes there wasn't much else but I also place blame on the lack of readers in this country.They hadn't read the book and they are used to this kind of fodder being the main source of entertainment.Anyway,it's September.Good stuff finally.Sleepy Hollow was actually watchable.Personally I'm waiting for Person Of Interest to return.We can all put this behind us until next summer and the "nothing else to watch" period.I keep wondering why the networks don't bother much with summer tv.This isn't the days of three networks and people who didn't do much watching in the summer.
Liz J
2. Ellisande
the best part of the whole episode for me was that after it ended ("ended") my husband says, "So next week's the finale, right?"

Should've had a camera for the look on his face when I told him that was it.
Sky Thibedeau
3. SkylarkThibedeau
I thought the Steve's said 'No Aliens'? Dead Mom looks like she is an Extra Terrestrial to me.

Worst Season Finale Ever. Too bad Barbie's first name isn't Cliff or we'd have been left with a Cliff-Hanger ending.

I'm hoping they do something original and transport the whole dome to another planet.
Beth Meacham
4. bam
I'm not watching it (couldn't get past episode #3), but I'm enjoying your reviews.
5. Jesslyn
Stupid me thought it was a mini-series. I kept waiting for it to either progress or end (I loved the book), until I heard that Season 2 was coming.

Realizing that it was just another Lost/Revolution clone, I gave thanks that I was 3 or 4 episodes behind, erased all the episodes on my DVR and downloaded the book onto my Kindle.
Joe Vondracek
6. joev
I am ecstatic that the show has been renewed for a second season, but only because I hope that Grady Hendrix will continue with the hilarious reviews.
Mahesh Banavar
7. maheshkb
I just kept watching although I wanted to give up many episodes ago. No idea why.

Also, not pizza trees, Spaghetti bushes!
Cain Latrani
8. CainS.Latrani
I'm with spdavid up at #1. Reading is fundamental to the having of smarts, and clearly, the writers and producers of UtD think everyone watching is completely stupid.

I don't just say that as a writer trying to break into the larger fiction market, but as a reader who has grown disgusted with the celebrity tell alls, which are the book form of reality television.

What I wouldn't give for a genuinely smart television series that wasn't from another country, or better yet, a return to honestly good fiction over the next Snookie book.

Yes, I am old and bitter.
David Gunter
9. spdavid
@Jesslyn.You'll find the book very different from the show.The show is a funhouse mirror barely connected version of the book,so different I'm shocked Styephen King went for it.Also,it was originally supposed to be a mini series but ratings made them continue it which at least a little bit explains the finales crapola.
10. SamIAm
My prediction is that it becomes this generation's Gilligan's Island. They'll string it out until it loses any hope of recovering popularity, then cancel it without ever letting anyone out from under the dome.
11. Jim Rae
Yep. I think that's a pretty reasonable summary. I've only seen 6 episodes so far and, it just might be enough. Ominously, The Dome appeared here (in Spain) on one of the nastier 'general' channels. When a series doesn't appears on the Digital Pay Channel, you can (usually) predict an absolute doozy of a series - the nasty 'Elementary' was foisted on the 'General' channels as well. Those of us that pay, get series such as Boardwalk, Revolution, Falling Skies etc. etc. within 24 hours of the States. You pays your money etc... The Dome suffers from a severe OD of 'Enigmatics'. While some will analyze it incessantly, the rest of us will reach for the remote...
12. Togah
Thanks for hanging in there, Grady. I personally had to give up about a third of the way through episode three, so your awesome reviews are very much appreciated.

On an unrelated note, can someone in hollywood find Dean Norris a better gig?
Simon Hemmings
13. bartokian147
Oh lord, what a load of rubbish this show is, your review cracked me up though, and there is something about shouting at the TV on Monday nights which makes the week go by that much easier. Sheriff Linda has now replaced Junior as the most annoying character, seriously, why does Junior change sides every 3 seconds? Why can't Linda do anything right? I think the casting directors were on psychedelics when they cast this show as we have great actors clearly enjoying themselves like Dean Norris, and other actors who can't act to save their lives ( I won't mention any names). I have sworn I won't watch season 2. I bet I end up watching season 2.

Oh yeah and Barbie ended up in pretty much the exact same predicament as he did in the last episode. It was the virtually the same cliffhanger!
14. lampwick
I hope you're going to continue reviewing this show next season. I'm going to stop watching it, but I confess to a tiny smidge of curiosity about how they'll get Barbie out of this one. Personally, I don't think they're paying you nearly enough.
Sky Thibedeau
15. SkylarkThibedeau
I think I have broken the Secret of the Dome. Julia Shumway is Gordon Shumway's cousin and is an extraterrestrial herself. This also explains why all the cats in Chesters Mill have gone missing since the Dome came down.

The Monarch who will reign is A.L.F.
16. coyote6
The new sheriff being dumb and a terrible sheriff is actually consistent with the book. Of course, it was a totally different character in the book, but hey! Pink stars!
17. Len Goldstein
Just like the third series Finale of "Game of Thrones" was lacklustre i should have been "The Rains of Castamere" which ahd he infamously gory and violent Red Wedding. Now that would've been a superb seeason finale. Show runners better get their heads screwed on right and have a good solid wham-bang seaosn finale if they expect viewers to return when the series continues. I'm dedicated to both shows nd love the books they're based on. So, let's hope for more action and supense diven cliffhanger season endings. KIng himself is supposed to write the first ep of the new Dome season and we'll see if he can deliver.
18. Kevin M B
The best thing I can say about this series is at least it's not as badly done as the series version of Flashforward. I liked that book and I liked the UtD book. But unlike FF, this is (barely) tolerable.

As for the cliffhanger ending of Season 1, I don't feel let down, because I don't care that much about what happens next season.
19. Book vs. Series
I love the premise, town trapped under a dome. Steven King books are fun, at least the non-scary ones. So I decided to read the book at the same time I am watching the series. The book on "film" would be so much more interesting, what with the over the top religion stuff, necrophelia and just plain better story. But that wouldn't sell stuff and it sure would raise a lot of comment. I started out really liking the series and was so happy it would conclude with only 13 episodes. Now I seem to only watch just to see how far from the book it can get and laugh when they actually get the name of a character inserted into the script. Can't wait to see what they do with next "season."
Erica Collier
20. scifibard
Thank you. I watched the pilot, was just intrigued enough to think of giving it a second episode but hadn't actually watched any more yet. Now I can just delete them and move on. Sounds like a lot of wasted time saved.
21. redfox 60
Having actually read the book prior to this being made for TV, I was looking for a good thrill make of the story being it was a Stephen King novel. The show doesn't bring half of the terror of the book or maybe they are waiting for the second season to bring it out. Like the movie version of The Shining with Jack Nickalous, the actors here in UTD are following a made for TV view script. While slightly entertaining, I would rather have a more closer script to what the book covers. It was on late enough at night to give more attention to the real horror. Come on this is a Stephen King story.
Sky Thibedeau
22. SkylarkThibedeau
On an upbeat note the performance by Dean Norris in this mess prompted me to begin watching 'Breaking Bad ' from the beginning. What a great show. Makes 'Under the Dome' look like a high school production.
23. DougL
Well, I don't have any problems with microsoft OSes, and I don't watch the show but I read the recaps because they are funny.

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