Millions of people are still watching Under the Dome and scientists are baffled. Studies show that since UtD began last summer America has become smellier and 81% of forest animals now hate their bodies. So why do we continue to tune in? This week I had a revelation: UtD is not just a subpar television drama featuring cliché-ridden dialogue, cardboard characters, bad acting, bland camerawork, and poor writing. UtD is educational television and it is here to teach us lessons. As Big Jim says when he reveals that he’s cleaning out the feral pigs and reopening the high school with Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher, “She’s going to teach us things that matter!”
Here are all the useful things that UtD taught this week:
Nothing says “I’m sorry I tried to kill you” like breakfast.
Big Jim has decided to make amends by cooking breakfast for everyone in town. In this episode he serves breakfast to Norrie, Scarecrow Joe, Julia Shumway, and Dale Barbie. He also serves breakfast to my new favorite character, Andrea, an old lady who looks like she does a lot of quilting and who starts all her sentences with the phrase, “People say…” thus making everything that comes out of her mouth sound like an Appalachian folk saying. Big Jim may have formed a lynch squad, arrested children, almost murdered an innocent man, and become a drug dealer, but he’s going to breakfast his way out of it one free coffee refill at a time. His darkest hour comes when Junior stumbles into the diner and instead of asking for breakfast tells his dad that Angie is dead, which is so depressing because Big Jim was keeping a plate of scrambled eggs warm for her.
Magnetic stuff is powerful.
When Junior tells his Uncle Sam that he had a vision of his dead mom, Uncle Sam says, “It was probably the magnetic stuff from the dome playing with your head.” Yeah, that magnetic stuff from the dome gets blamed for everything in Chester’s Mill. Last episode it made people sleepy. This episode it made all the butterflies horny, or, as Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher says, “Something has caused our butterflies’ reproductive cycles to accelerate.” It has also made all the butterflies hungry. Or, as Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher, says, “I think the magnetism must have altered their feeding patterns.” In other words, magnets have caused an invasion of very hungry caterpillars. Rebecca Pine even brings one to the diner so she can show Big Jim what a hungry caterpillar looks like. Fortunately, she has imprisoned it in a jar so that it cannot get out and eat everyone’s eggs, which we know it wants to do because…
Butterflies are dicks.
Almost the very first time we see butterflies in this episode they are feasting on Angie’s corpse because the magnetic stuff from the dome has made them very hungry. And very horny. So horny, in fact, that they have laid eggs on over “half our crops” according to Rebecca Pine, reminding us that in a town covered by a dome for barely two weeks the most important thing is crops which will not be ready to harvest for at least two more months. Rebecca Pine is so angry that butterflies are touching her crops that she ties a pair of flaming underpants to a stick and uses them to light half the crops on fire. Some of us will be confused by this seemingly contradictory “We have to save our food! Let’s burn our food!” attitude, but are any of us as smart as a high school science teacher? Probably not. Later, the butterflies all kill themselves, but we should not be sad. As Scarecrow Joe explains, “If they’re dead, they laid new eggs.” Does this mean that since Angie is dead she laid eggs too?
CSI stuff is almost as powerful as magnetic stuff.
Angie’s death has unleashed the investigatory powers of the Chester’s Mill police force, and they are mighty to behold. The first person to find a clue is Dale Barbie. He uses deductive reasoning to ascertain that the giant bloody handprint on a locker shows that Angie was reaching for it when she died. Then Julia Shumway and Uncle Sam discover that there are Man Hand prints on dead Angie’s arm, meaning that a man must have killed her because butterflies have tiny lady hands. Then DJ Phil, the man now temporarily inhabiting Sheriff Linda’s still-warm police uniform (and making it his own by leaving the top button rakishly unbuttoned) finds a bloody shoe print near Angie’s body! And not just any shoe print. “The sheriff found a YOUNG WOMAN’S shoe print,” Julia explains dramatically to the mysterious girl she found in the lake last episode. How they know it’s a young woman’s shoe print is not discussed but within minutes, Chester’s Mill is acting true to form and has thrown this girl in prison and is getting ready to murder her. But Julia Shumway falls down on her Sherlocking later when she has learns that Uncle Sam is Big Jim’s brother-in-law. “Sam!” she gasps. “That means you’re practically related to Big Jim!” No, it means that he is actually related to Big Jim, genius.
Flying an airplane is hard.
After they stop Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher, from burning down the crops with flaming underpants, Barbie puts on his plane-flying helmet and dusts the crops with anti-caterpillar dust. “He’s getting too close to the dome!” Rebecca Pine gasps, and I assume she means that in an emotional sense. Suddenly, Barbie’s wing is damaged and he runs out of fuel at the exact same moment! Overwhelmed by empty fields in which to land, he steers his plane into the trees to crash land “away from people.” At the last minute, Big Jim does an Obi Wan Kenobi and tells Barbie about a secret switch on the plane. Barbie flips it and he lands safely. Flying airplanes is hard if you do not know about the secret switches.
Grief is also hard.
Last episode, Sheriff Linda was crushed to death by a magnetized SUV and Angie was killed while snooping around the high school. This episode, it’s like Sheriff Linda never existed. Angie gets a massive funeral, but Sheriff Linda barely even gets a mention. The only time anyone even says her name is when Julia Shumway turns her eyes to the heavens and moans, “First there was Linda, and now Angie.” What about Dodee, the beloved radio station DJ who died? Or Julia Shumway’s husband, Peter, whom Barbie murdered 14 days ago? Or Rose, the beloved owner of the only diner in town, who was beaten to death in episode six? Or kindly Police Chief Duke, whose pacemaker exploded in episode one? Or the town reverend? Or any number of people who have died so far? Why is Angie the only one people care about?
No one can escape the Dome.
This is the hardest lesson of all. With millions of people watching, there is no escaping the Dome, and it drags everyone down to its own level of anti-talent. This episode was directed by Ernest Dickerson, the award-winning cinematographer of Do the Right Thing and the director of Juice, Demon Knight, and several episodes of The Wire. Here, he has directed an episode in which the name “Big Jim” is repeated six times in one 25 second conversation and where three very hungry caterpillars happily munch leaves in extreme close-up while horror music plays. After that day’s shooting, Ernest Dickerson probably just sat in his car alone for a while and let the tears silently roll down his face.
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.