Under the Dome: Review: Season 1 Ep 2: The Fire

under-the-dome-the-fireContinuing immediately from the pilot, the second episode of Under The Dome finds a major character in Chester’s Mill dead, and as a new day dawns, many of the townsfolk are rushing to cover up their sins. Councilman “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris) works to erase his tracks to a mysterious propane deal with a drug-using Reverand Coggins (Ned Bellamy), while Jim’s son Junior (Alex Koch) keeps his onetime girlfriend Angie (Britt Robertson) locked in a bomb shelter. Mysterious hot guy “Barbie” (Mike Vogel) flashes back to a killing and tries to recover evidence, and radio station DJ Phil (Nicholas Strong) and engineer Dodee (Jolene Purdy) intercept stray radio conversations that prove the military didn’t create the dome, but decide to keep that fact a secret from the populace until newspaper reporter Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) spills the beans. But when a home catches on fire, with no fire department and little power, will the community band together to put it out?

After a memorable pilot, the second episode of Under The Dome is quite a let-down, doling out tiny bits of story and a lot of padding that is alternately lazy or just flat-out idiotic. One of the weakest points of the pilot, Koch’s Junior, goes from zero to minus-fifty on the credibility and interest scale; the storyline with him and his captive girlfriend (which diverges significantly from Stephen King’s novel, wherein Angie was killed fairly early) is eye-gougingly bad, playing like a soap opera plot written by a grade school child who hadn’t yet grasped the meaning of logic or characterization. Why does Angie attack Junior with a soft suitcase instead of harder weapons when she tries to escape? How exactly was Angie locked in given how the doors close and where the hinges are? Where did Junior’s knife-flipping trick go?

Big Jim fares only slightly better, teaming up with a Reverend who is not only visibly high on drugs, and who has the mysterious abilities of a master pickpocket, but who then makes the idiotic error of burning papers in a wastepaper basket next to flammable curtains. Meant to show the townsfolk discovering unity (in the context of the show), the fire instead brings a whole host of logic problems. Somehow the Reverend survives for twenty minutes in a burning room that has flames strong enough to engulf the whole house in minutes? Nobody in the entire neighbourhood has a fire extinguisher in their house? Nobody thinks to dig trenches or throw dirt or sand on the fire? Nobody knows how to throw water on fire or form a bucket brigade until lead characters tell them to?

Although one would think the flashback to the killing perpetrated by Barbie would be a good thing, it reveals far too much too soon. That, and the secret of the stockpiled propane — that secret also apparently given away in an almost throwaway line between Big Jim and the Reverend — are the biggest two mysteries of the series… other than those directly caused by the dome. The writing crew should have learned more from Lost; if the revelations are misdirects, there’s nothing to tell the audience to prepare for possible further revelations because they seem plausible, and if they’re teases, they’ve seemingly shown too much. It would be better to show more fragmentary scenes and keep people wanting and speculating, as the pilot did, than to half-assedly explain mysteries too quickly.

Speaking of too quickly, the pacing of the episode is lugubrious in spots, and laughably fast in others. A significant amount of time is taken on naming and discussing the dome, but too little time is spent on people freaking out about it or trying to escape. Why is it that only two teens in town are trying to map the invisible forcefield in the most obvious manner: spraypaint? Why does only one guy try to drive something into it or through it? The dragging pace of the dome exploration only makes the whiplash paranoia of Deputy Paul (Kevin Sizemore) seem all the more sudden; it’s been less than 24 hours since the dome appeared, and this law enforcement officer is the first to go full-on gun-shooting-in-a-crowd gonzo?

Following up a successful pilot can sometimes be difficult, and many shows stumble. But Under The Dome is adapted from a very large book, and is only thirteen episodes, which means that the character arcs, breaks in logic, and plot holes should have been worked out ahead of time, to say nothing of the jettisoning of annoying storylines such as that of Junior and Angie. Here’s hoping that this early stumble doesn’t cripple the show.

VERDICT: With astonishingly inept pacing and incredibly stupid characterizations for several cast members, this second episode of Under The Dome could lose a significant portion of its momentum and audience. More care should be taken to establishing characters whose futures we actually care about, and providing realistic and logical ways for them to act and interact while within the new environment. 3/10

 Andy Mangels

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