Here I was hoping that this episode was going to be focused on Caterpillar’s Mill, the community of caterpillars trapped underneath the mini-dome. I was imagining that they would be dealing with their own issues like a shortage of delicious leaves to munch, a delay in the cocoon-spinning pageant, and questions about what, exactly, the mini-dome wanted them to do. Instead I had to console myself by imagining that everyone in Chester’s Mill were dressed as giant caterpillars while they shot each other, snapped out tough-guy dialogue, and sucked each other’s wounds. It helped a little, but not enough. Because this might be the most disappointing episode of Under the Dome yet.
“She got shot. In the chest. And she died…for a minute, but then she came back.” And there you have it: the most disappointing line of dialogue in the history of television, as Scarecrow Joe shakily informs the rest of the cast that Julia Shumway is not dead despite the best efforts of pretty much everyone on the show. And it’s here that Under the Dome demonstrates why it’s a lesson in helplessness, fear, and the total elimination of human agency. Under the Dome will learn our deepest desires and then it will deny them to us, disappointing us over and over again, just like divorced parents.
Maxine, the evil drug lord who appeared out of the blue two episodes ago and immediately set up a fight club and starting threatening to expose everyone’s dark secrets unless they picked her up some Nespresso pods and dark chocolate ASAP, has decided that “Hello” is a terrible greeting. She tries “Hell’s right here,” with Big Jim but that doesn’t quite sound right, so then she goes to Julia’s house and when everyone’s least favorite hair model with lots of volume and extra bounce opens her front door and says, “May I help you?” Maxine turns it all around on her and goes, “You can’t even help yourself,” and shoots her in the collarbone. I think that might catch on!
After Julia Shumway’s shot it becomes immediately apparent that no one is rooting for her to pull through because they all come running to help her in slow motion. Whether it’s Sheriff Linda walking reeeeeally sloooowly to her car and waffling around with organizing a carpool to go rescue Julia, or the fact that the only ride Julia can get is from a 15-year-old kid who gets bullied into it, or the fact that the kid picks a Prius (the world’s slowest vehicle) to take her to the hospital, it’s clear that everyone wants her to bleed out. Even the trees hate her so much that they smash through the windows of her hospital room and throw themselves into the road trying to get at her. If it wasn’t for Barbie sticking a straw in her guts and slurping out her gut juice like she’s a Shumway-flavored Capri Sun then she would have died, but eventually he sucks out enough death so that the machine that goes “beep beep beep” starts going “doop doop doop” and, with her proper levels of “doop” restored, Julia survives.
But that’s not tonight’s only disappointment. Maxine looked like she was going to be the show’s bad guy for a while, but then she takes a stroll on the beach and discovers that someone has thrown out a perfectly good Mare Winningham. Enraged, she tries to force a very, very dense Barbie into a marriage situation (or something? I wasn’t clear on this point: was this a FWB thing, or did she just want a couple of dates at gunpoint to see how things worked out? Or was she looking to settle down? And was there an expectation of children? I don’t blame Barbie for being confused—so was I) but Barbie either doesn’t pick up on her hints or is very, very stupid and he dumps her. Doesn’t matter! Because then Big Jim shoots Maxine and her henchman, so even if Barbie had gotten married to her when she asked, he would have been a widower in about five seconds.
To the show’s credit they have shown, in the broadest strokes possible, Big Jim’s descent from nice guy who wants to do right by the town, to a guy who realizes that shooting people is the best way to keep viewers engaged. However, this limited amount of character development is not enough to save him from a punch to the throat and he goes down like a big sack of “I Wish We Were Shooting Breaking Bad This Week.” But previously Big Jim has revealed that he is a Jedi Master and he used the Jedi Mind Trick to hypnotize Sheriff Linda into thinking Barbie is a bad guy. The Mind Trick turns into uncomfortable flirting by the end of the scene, but then again so did that part with Obi-Wan Kenobi and the droids in Star Wars, so you know, Jedi Mind Tricks are a double-edged sword.
Earlier in the show, Big Jim patted himself on the back for owning so much propane, and now he pats himself on the back for hypnotizing Linda because after he gets throat-punched she gets the drop on Barbie and proves that she has the hardest face in showbiz. Barbie punches her full in the nose, generating an ear-splitting “KEE-RAK” on the soundtrack, but five seconds later she’s up and blasting away at him. Unfortunately, her gun skills aren’t as sharp as her face is hard and she misses him with every shot. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
Which is something Junior should remember. The teens are lying around the barn on their backs, stoned, and watching the mini-dome put on a laser light show for them. “We’re the guardians of some secret cosmic mystery. It’s too much. Too much,” sobs Norrie, which pretty much is how I sound when I’m stoned too. Angie offers to make Junior some scrambled eggs but he doesn’t want her scrambled eggs—he wants her hot loving, which is a mistake that happens more often than you’d think. But it makes Angie so angry that she gives a totally self-defeating speech in which she points out that she hasn’t been sending mixed signals and that “scrambled eggs” are not a euphemism for some sexual act and she really was just asking him if he wanted some scrambled eggs. Junior decides he doesn’t want to be friends with the caterpillars inside the mini-dome anymore and he storms off, at which point the caterpillars send a Domenado to convince Junior to be their friend again. The shape of the swirling clouds in the Domenado looks exactly like a flushing toilet, reinforcing my theory that everyone might actually be trapped inside an enormous Scrubbing Bubble.
On a previous episode we learned that touching the mini-dome made really boring hallucinations appear: dead lesbian Alice gurning like a moron; a bland-looking Joe spouting LOST-isms like “The monarch will be crowned.” And can we all just admit that “Pink stars falling in lines,” or “The Monarch will be crowned,” sound like pretentious cocktails served at a place with a mixology program rather than a drinks list? But this time the kids discover that touching the big Dome allows them to see slightly more interesting hallucinations, like Big Jim Rennie all stabbed and bleeding. “Hey,” one of them says, jumping to a conclusion. “The dome wants us to kill Big Jim.”
Now that sounds a lot better than “Purple Sunset Exploding Rum Snap” but it also reminds us that the only plot development Under the Dome understands is characters getting killed. Its approach to plot and character development is totally binary: characters are either alive or they’re dead, that’s it. There is nothing in between. It’s like that annoying friend who’s always trying to get people to go see The World’s End and you’re all like, “Let’s go get wings,” and he’s like “And maybe afterwards we can see The World’s End again?” There are other options! There are other things you could do on this show besides kill people! Then again, maybe Under the Dome is signaling to us how it will end. As the dead bodies pile up it seems to be leading inevitably to a final shot, three seasons from now, of Scarecrow Joe sitting on top of the mini-dome, sobbing and slapping himself, surrounded by the corpses of the entire population of Chester’s Mill like mangled snowflakes inside a giant snow globe.
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.