As we’re reminded shortly after this episode begins, it’s been a day-and-a-half since the dome came down on Chester’s Mill. Following the fatal shooting that left one person dead, deputy Paul Randolph (Kevin Sizemore) is brought in to the police station by the town’s only other law enforcement, Deputy Linda (Natalie Martinez), but Paul doesn’t stay in custody for long. A search “party” is put together, consisting of Councilman Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) and mysterious hot guy Barbie (Mike Vogel), plus two homophobic townies that practically scream “red shirts.” Paul isn’t the only one who thinks the dome is “making people crazy”; so too does Reverend Coggins (Ned Bellamy), and Jim’s son Junior (Alex Koch), though both of them were a few eggs short of a dozen to begin with. When the captive Angie (Britt Robertson) urges Junior to explore convenient underground tunnels at the cement factory, a suspicious Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) follows, and the two bond, even as Junior spreads more half-truths about Barbie. Meanwhile, kid genius Joe (Colin Ford) and LA Goth Girl stereotype Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) share some together time at a low-key house party before having a seizure, and as is now commonplace in only three episodes, somebody else is shot.
Following a disastrous second episode, the third outing for Under The Dome is a small step up, though it’s still on some shaky — and talky — ground that relegates the central conceit of the dome to almost an afterthought. The writing team can’t seem to decide whether Big Jim is supposed to be a flawed hero or a heroic villain — which may be part of the point, but isn’t being written convincingly — leaving Norris to do his best acting simply by being a glowering physical presence when necessary, or to spout supposedly helpful speeches to either the townsfolk or the self-doubting cast members. He’s good at the former, but not so strong on the latter; to be fair though, he does his best with the dialogue given.
Koch’s douchey Junior remains the most consistently unlikable character, though attempts to humanize him in scenes with Rachel almost succeed. Then, one recalls that he’s lying about just about everything, and he’s got a girl chained in a bomb shelter, and his credibility and believability kinda go out the window. Julia finally starts to wake up a bit, though for a journalist, her investigative instincts — and general intelligence level — pretty much suck. Poor Deputy Linda is stuck with some poor characterization here as well; although we’re constantly told she’s good at her job, she hasn’t exhibited much flair for it to date, except for a decent withering glare when she isn’t self-doubting. Man candy Barbie is a bit too trusting of Big Jim, even if the viewer knows more about Jim’s agenda than Barbie does.
Burning Questions of the episode: Why do Julia and Junior waste all their matches in long periods of talking instead of moving? How many miles of underground tunnels are actually under a small-town cement factory? Without texts or phones, how can a John Hughes-esque teen house party get everyone in high school — including the requisite bully — at it so quickly? Why is the generator at said house party completely silent?
Kudos to Under The Dome the TV series for adding in the lesbian parents of Goth Girl (the characters are not in Stephen King’s book), and for working in semi-realistic elements of homophobia and shame. It’s rare for genre series to actively reflect the world around them, and although we’re still stuck with a mostly WASP cast, the diversity is welcome. Congratulations also go to the writer for working in a glancing “meta” Simpsons Movie reference to the “town in a dome” plot, though it sadly comes from unlikable tween skater Benny (John Elvis).
The theme of this episode is “bonding and secrets,” as almost everyone gets a talky five minutes or ten to reveal some hidden part of their past, and it brings them closer to another character in ways only television characters bond. Some work vaguely well, such as Big Jim’s scene, while most others are lacking. The other theme of the episode is that “the dome is an enabler for crazy.” It would appear that in addition to sometimes making batteries explode (though not all of the time), the dome turns the volume up on anybody who’s a bit wacky. Unfortunately, the dial isn’t turned up on action; nothing truly exciting happens to rival the first episode. Past talk, dome talk, secrets talk, suspicions talk, another shooting, past talk, dome talk, seizures, rinse, lather, repeat. Let’s get some water-cooler moments, people! Tension? Excitement? Special effects? Bueller?
VERDICT: Under The Dome regains some minor control of its story in this episode, though the broadly-played and inconsistent overly-talky characterization don’t do the cast many favors. And although we’re let in on several secrets, the fact that most come from unreliable narrators means that we might not believe the tales told any more than those related by Ben Linus in Lost. Three episodes in though and we’re treading water in the excitement level, and there’s almost nobody viewers will want to see survive the dome. 4/10