San Diego Comic Con! Where the hottest breaking news about the hottest TV shows are thrown to excited audiences like it’s raining puppies over Shark Lake. And there was an Under the Dome panel. I have to assume the youngest exec at CBS pulled the short straw and had to call Comic Con, lower lip trembling, practically in tears, “But…we can bring our show, can’t we? I mean, people like us, too, right?” and the Comic Con programmers didn’t have the heart to say “no.”
So Dale Barbie himself (Mike Vogel) got to tell the audience waiting for the Teen Wolf panel, “A lot of people said, ‘How do you maintain a show under a dome year after year after year after year?’ They’ve come up with a really exciting and interesting way of broadening the scope of our world so I think everyone’s in for a treat when that happens.”
Besides the fact that Mike Vogel and I differ greatly on the definitions of the words “exciting,” “interesting,” and “treat,” there is also the implied threat of “How do you maintain a show under a dome year after year after year after year after year after year after year…” the most chilling sentence ever uttered after “Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fthagn!” We are all helpless in the face of the immense darkness that is Under the Dome, borne to our doom each week on a wave of very hungry caterpillars and electromagnetism, screaming as we are washed over the Cliffs of Insanity and into the darkling void.
As this episode begins, Uncle Sam and Junior Rennie have discovered the entrance to Narnia in Dead Angie’s locker. They immediately enter the tunnel thinking, logically, that this must be some hitherto uncharted extension of the basement of Ye Olde Cement Factory, the number one location in Chester’s Mill which the Millers apparently assume is omnipresent, its tunnels and subbasements extending beneath every structure in town. The only way the dialogue on this show could sound any worse is for the actors to shout it, and so Junior and Uncle Sam shout all their dialogue as they discover an abnormally precise set of footprints in the tunnel. These footprints are the only evidence we’ve seen of Lyle (Dwight Yoakam) in two-and-a-half episodes, despite the fact that this episode revolves around him, thereby proving that the only power capable of getting someone out of the Dome is Dwight Yoakam’s day rate.
Meanwhile, back at the Sweetbriar Rose, the Millers are gorging on over-loaded plates of the $5.95 daily special with choice of seven vegetables. Big Jim and Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher, would have totally been embarrassed if they’d unleashed their population reduction program only to discover afterwards that Andrea had hoarded enough food to provide this kind of spread seven days a week.
Barbie enters and gets Julia Shumway’s juices flowing by saying, “Hey, can I borrow your Prius?” and she’s all like, “Stop sexting me with your mouth,” then he goes to join the LyleHunt (like a manhunt, only for Lyles), leaving Julia to sit down with Melanie, the mysterious girl from the lake who travels with her very own mood candelabra. This leads to a scene where Scarecrow Joe and Norrie of the Five Foreheads break up, only to reconcile by the end of the episode in an awkward physical display that leaves viewers dreading the inevitable Joe and Norrie first sex scene that is bearing down on us all like grim death.
Back underground, invisible Lyle has rigged a booby trap and our band of boobies stumble right into it, causing an explosion and an avalanche of plastic beams and styrofoam rocks to bounce off their heads. “Lyle always was a crafty guy,” Sam explains, underlining the direct link from ribbon wreathes to glitter picture frames to improvised explosive devices. Junior escapes the blast, but Barbie and Sam are trapped together, thus setting up “In the Dark” as a “bottle episode,” a device in TV dramas so named because of all the bottles of liquor viewers must consume to hold on to their sanity.
Dean Norris shows up at the Sweetbriar Rose and reveals that his new take on the character of Big Jim Rennie is to sneer all of his lines, transforming him into a snobby 14 year-old-girl trapped in the body of a middle aged man. Creepy, yes, but it allows him to ask Julia Shumway what we’ve all been thinking, “Is there a brain under that hair?” (A: No.) Meanwhile, a dust storm hits Chester’s Mill because, as Rebecca Pine says, “The acidity in the red rain must have fried the topsoil.” Apparently the dust is going to clog the Dome’s pores and everyone will suffocate, which is the cue for a ponytailed skater boy to start coughing before taking a huff off his asthma inhaler. Then this bold asthmatic heads out the door. “Where are you going?” Big Jim sneers. “Neither wind, nor rain, nor creepy ass dust,” the kid says, before going out to shred said dust on his bitchin deck.
Sam and Barbie stumble around underground together, finally winding up at the Cliffs of Insanity. They peer over the edge but instead of seeing Wesley climbing up after them they see NOTHINGNESS. Like a terrible version of Waiting for Godot they hunker down to act at each other. When Barbie thinks thoughts, he sees happy things like Julia Shumway’s beautiful hair. When Sam thinks thoughts, he sees “Melanie’s face in the dark with blood pouring out.” Then he doubles down, shouting, “The only thing this damn dome has ever done is brought pain.” Which is so rude because the Millers clearly asked the Dome to either bring dessert or a bottle of wine.
As Sam acts, his blouse falls open and Barbie sees Dead Angie scratches on his man boob. Sam was obviously dying for someone to ask him about his scratches and he immediately starts screaming that he’s going to kill the Four Hands (Angie, Joe, Norrie, and Junior) because he thinks that this will open the Dome, like a murder-powered garage door opener. “Then I will kill myself,” Sam says, before lowering his voice and adding, “Or you can kill me.” Which is very thoughtful. Moments later, Sam leaps into the void, after growling, “I left the love of my life in a hole, like garbage.”
Speaking of garbage, Big Jim saves the life of asthma skater by manfully opening his bookbag and handing him his inhaler, then he convinces the town to build a giant windmill out of garbage (Garbagemill!) to fight the dust. Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher, has never met a problem she couldn’t solve with a hose and, after using a hose to end the red rain, she sprays a hose on the garbagemill to end the dust storm. Everyone is so happy that when Big Jim points out to Andrea that he, Big Jim, is a hero because he built a garbagemill and Julia Shumway didn’t do anything, Andrea immediately forgets that Julia gifted her with a precious name last episode and instead makes pinched lips judgment face at Julia.
Junior Rennie, meanwhile, encounters mysterious girl Melanie and asks her what his mom was like. “Cheerful, and really brave,” Melanie says, thereby confirming that Junior’s mom was incredibly boring and possibly deformed. Scarecrow Joe and Fivehead Norrie join them and, after a brief debate over what Dead Angie would want them to do, they decide that she would want them to “find answers.” Taking the metaphor a bit too literally they actually go looking for answers at the lake and somehow levitate the Egg back into their four hands. Taking it to a private place, they touch the Egg and it gives them a light show while the French Horn of Hope plays on the soundtrack.
Amidst the pink stars, purple diamonds, and green clovers, the Egg shows them an image of a very large, very uncomfortable-looking butt plug. “What does it mean?” Joe gasps, revealing that he does not go on the internet ever. “I’ve seen that before,” Melanie mumbles, “It was in my hometown, Zenith.” Thus introducing audiences to “my hometown, Zenith” as a new euphemism for the butt. As the image of the butt plug spins in mid-air, only one conclusion can be drawn: the Egg is some kind of Skymall catalog from the future and the Dome is just a hard sell tactic, trapping everyone inside until they commit to buying at least $49.95 in product.
Next episode: “Barbie descends into the unknown abyss in the mysterious tunnel to look for Sam, taking our remaining shreds of sanity with him. Will the screaming ever stop?”
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 novel, Horrorstör, about a haunted Scandinavian furniture superstore, is due out in September.