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.


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