Watching Under the Dome is like French kissing an octopus (horrible but slightly less traumatic if you don’t resist) and as Season 2 nears its end that octopus is feeling more romantic than ever. It’s lashing my face wildly with its Plot Tentacles! It’s gnawing on my tongue hard with its Beak of Inconsistent Characterizations! It’s transferring its Spermatophores of Futility into my Mantle Cavity of God Help Us with its Hectocotylus of Awful Dialogue like a mad thing! My metaphorical make-out session with a love-crazed cephalopod has resulted in the current situation whereby I am recapping Two (2) TWO Under the Dome episodes at once.
So hold onto your Angie-Chopping Ax because you’re about to get both Barrels of Bafflement, right in the face! Prepare yourself for “The Fall” and “Black Ice.”
To give credit where credit’s due, whoever’s responsible for keeping those scabs on the back of Barbie’s neck deserves some kind of Emmy. In the world of Under the Dome where the bruises from a face-pounding disappear in half an episode, where a man is shot in the chest and is swigging whiskey and raving incoherently 24 hours later, and where entire plotlines, characters, and Dome-shattering disasters are forgotten in 12 hours or less, it’s downright heroic that a lone make-up artist has been maintaining Barbie’s scabs for NINE episodes.
Such continuity is not to be found elsewhere. On many television shows you can tell the story is reaching its climax because the plot is getting more intense and the characters are revealing their true colors. On Under the Dome you can tell it’s reaching its climax because the writers are yanking the knobs on the Characterization Computer like drunken bears. Big Jim’s wife who faked her suicide shows up and Big Jim spends 11 minutes and 30 seconds before deciding he forgives her. Then he decides to save everyone to be a better person because the Dome is an awesome couples counselor who has told him he should love his family more, then he decides to betray everyone, then he’s going to save everyone again, then he marches some kids around at gunpoint, then he locks Pauline up in her art studio while she screams “Make it stop! Make it stop!” Then he’s sane and tries to save everyone one more time. Truly, Big Jim contains multitudes.
Meanwhile, Scarecrow Joe decides to make out with Fivehead, who says, “Wait, Melanie hasn’t been here in almost a day.” Whatevs, says Joe, even though the last time he couldn’t find a young woman it was his sister and it turned out she was getting tortured in Junior Rennie’s bomb shelter. But characterization has no place on “The Fall” because it’s basically one giant Easter egg hunt where there’s only one egg and it makes an annoying sound like a dial up modem.
Big Jim wants the Egg so he can get his family back (?), the people outside the Dome want the Egg so they can whatever, Barbie and Julia Shumway want the Egg to help everyone in Chester’s Mill escape, the Computer Hacker wants the Egg because he’s evil now, Melanie wants the Egg because she has to protect it, and Pauline wants the Egg because she can’t paint without it. Julia and Barbie come up with an evac plan and tell the townspeople, but Food Hoarder Andrea wants no part in it. Tom’s on board, though. Good old Tom. (Who the hell is Tom?)
Meanwhile, it’s getting cold inside the Dome or, as Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher puts it, “Our microclimate’s been disrupted. Somehow the dome is accelerating the seasons.” Don’t give me that crap, Pine. You and I both know that magnetism is to blame. Big Jim struts into the Sweetwater Rose in a Members Only jacket like a late 80s version of the Fonz and is all, “I’ll lead the people to freedom,” but then he takes Fivehead and Scarecrow Joe hostage and makes them bring the Egg to the edge of the cliff that leads to the playground in Zenith. Fivehead takes a heroic stand, but Big Jim smacks that Egg right out of her hands. Egg-cellent! It sails off the cliff and then things get really Egg-citing because Sheriff DJ Phil breaks out of prison and jumps off the cliff, too. “I love eggggggs……” he shouts. Turns out that without the Egg there is no more Egg-zit to Zenith. Instead, there are just a bunch of really sharp stalagmites. Phil doesn’t quite get the point…or does he?
Watching the names Steven Spielberg, Brian K. Vaughn, and Stephen King come up in the credits each week reconfirms that Under the Dome is the underachieving child of prime time television. It’s the kid whose parents are Oscar winners and Olympic athletes, who gave it every advantage, and yet it’s out in the student parking lot, huffing patio sealant, killing brain cells, and repeating ninth grade for the third time.
To its credit, “The Fall” does resolve the Sheriff DJ Phil plotline that absolutely no one cared about, and it allowed all the actors to do their “reacting to an earthquake” faces, and they had to hold their elbows and shiver a lot to remind us that the micro-climate in the Dome had been disrupted. This makes you think that “Black Ice” will revolve around a gripping shortage of long-sleeved shirts in Chester’s Mill, but instead it turns out to be an ad for the Prius.
Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher, can now add “Triage Center Setter-Upper” to her long list of titles as the Dome starts to revolve, “pulling the upper atmosphere and the clouds down” which results in sudden ice everywhere. If Rebecca Pine, high school science teacher and triage center setter-upper, had a hose she could fix this before Julia could even leverage her Egg, but with a shortage of hoses she has to set up a triage center in the high school.
You know what else there’s a shortage of? Food, fuel, and medical supplies. AGAIN?!? The only vehicle on the road is Julia’s Prius, which Big Jim uses to go find gasoline, marveling over its egg-ceptional gas mileage. There is also fuel for an ambulance that Barbie and Julia drive back to the Sweetwater Rose looking for food, but it turns out that they accidentally took the ambulance full of random metal spikes and when they hit some “Black Ice” Julia gets one through the leg.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t spiked through a non-essential part of her body, like her brain, but fortunately she wasn’t spiked through a truly vital organ, like her hair. After swaddling her in animal hides and lighting some Vaseline on fire, Barbie realizes that he must freeze her blood, so he bundles up warm and watches her freeze almost to death. Then he takes her to the Sweetwater Rose and puts her in the oven. Needless to say, she comes back to life.
At this point in the show, everyone in the Dome is cold, tired, frustrated, devoid of hope, and praying for death, just like the viewers. So it’s fitting that this antepenultimate episode ends with the Computer Hacker, Fivehead, and Scarecrow Joe out at the Dome together. The production team have been hiding Bad Religion posters and Dr. Dog graffiti all over the sets and their most deeply coded meta-message to the viewer is Scarecrow Joe’s Spuds McKenzie t-shirt.
The emptiest logo of the 80s, Spuds McKenzie represents the nothingness at the center of all pop culture, his smug unknowable face a flimsy mask for the void that all marketing, all plotlines, all cliffhangers are designed to disguise. Spuds McKenzie is anti-life, the elimination of all meaning, the herald of eternal emptiness. A fitting mascot for Under the Dome, indeed, especially when these kids discover the Dome’s latest trick.
“The Dome’s contracting!” Scarecrow Joe shouts.
“You mean…it’s shrinking?” Fivehead asks. Yes, that is what “contracting” means. “And if it doesn’t stop…” she continues.
“It’ll kill us all,” Computer Hacker says.
Well, I know who I’m rooting for.
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 latest novel, Horrorstör, about a haunted Ikea comes out on September 23.