Under the Dome: Review: Series 1 Ep 4: Outbreak

Dome 4Chester’s Mill has been trapped under the dome for three days, and the townsfolk are finally starting to get riled up, but mainly because the military is inexplicably leaving from around the outer perimeter. Meanwhile, captive Angie (Britt Robertson) takes a stab at escaping the bunker that Junior (Alex Koch) has locked her in, and everybody starts fainting. Good thing that LA lesbian psychiatrist Alice (Samantha Mathis) has some medical training because the town is mostly without medical personnel, and now it seems that an outbreak of meningitis is felling anyone who’s not been immunized. Luckily, Junior is immune because it’s finally his turn to step up to the plate and impress daddy Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) with his leadership abilities. Mysterious hot guy Barbie (Mike Vogel) has most of his secrets blown out of the water thanks to Junior’s machinations, leaving the stricken bitchy journalist Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) to find her own inconvenient truths and offer an ultimatum. Plus, another “red shirt” dies, Reverend Coggins (Ned Bellamy) goes further down the cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs road, and kid genius Joe (Colin Ford) — who finally remembers that he has a sister — and LA Goth Girl stereotype Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) discover a secret about their seizures and watch a creepy self video.

Episodes two and three almost sunk interest in Under The Dome, but for those who are still watching, the tension is finally, finally, starting to reveal cracks among the townsfolk. There are significantly less talky moments, though time discussing the actual dome itself is probably two minutes tops, and hitherto unlikable characters gain a little more dimension… though oddly, no more likability. Strangely, one could almost forget episode two and three happened and pick up here and probably have a good time, even if some of the characters’ personalities do a 180-degree turn.

Koch’s douchey Junior gets the lion’s share of the focus this episode, and it’s to Koch’s credit that he manages to both turn up the charm and the creep factor in equal measures, even if he’s coming off like a Batman-villain-in-the-making. A scene of him holding off frightened townsfolk with a shotgun is ludicrous, however, even if it gives supposed impetus for Deputy Linda’s (Natalie Martinez) show-ending surprise offer. Big Jim, meanwhile, is faced with several tough choices this episode, though both are set-ups for the future: what will he do about drug-stealing, drug-using, now-repentant wackjob Reverend Coggins; and when he discovers Junior’s darkest secret in the bomb shelter, what will his reaction be?

The saga of Barbie and Julia finally starts getting somewhere, with an infodump of answers about Julia’s husband, Barbie’s past, and what led to the death that opened the series. Oddly, Julia is more compelling than ever as a woozy, hallucinating damsel-in-distress; the snap-back to her bitchy personae is less welcome, though largely in-character.

Burning Questions of the episode: When Junior fires a shotgun into the ceiling on the first floor of the hospital, was there no fear he might hit something above? Why not shoot at the floor? Why does the hospital have absolutely no emergency exits or windows for people to escape from? Can shouts for help really be heard through several hundred feet of water pipes, dirt, and a kitchen faucet? Why does the Reverend’s immensely visible hearing aid not explode near the dome? Why does almost nobody ever refer to anyone’s name? Seriously, I have to wiki the show after every episode to remember who is who…

The theme of this episode is “epidemic,” and as much as the past two episodes lacked excitement, this one at least attempted to deliver it. Whether dealing with the meningitis epidemic – wrapped up far too quickly and easily, diminishing the actual threat level – or the epidemic of fear that is finally starting to creep in on the townsfolk, at least there was some action. The questions of what will happen to the town if they’re trapped under the dome for much longer are finally discussed, though it’s unfortunate that the pharmacy’s ransacking and lack of medicine are too patly resolved. Let’s see more of the moral compromises hinted at and less of the histrionics.

VERDICT: Slowly rebuilding itself after the disastrous second and third week, Under The Dome actually brings a bit of tension to the fore, even if it’s mostly cast aside by episode’s end, and it’s still hard to actually care about any of the characters. It’s frustrating to see the promise that the show’s concept should have be squandered; with a guaranteed thirteen episodes, storylines should really be balanced better. Instead, the strong elements are cut short, and the weak elements are playing out like an interminable soap opera. But at least some triggers happen for Barbie, Julia, Big Jim and Junior, and perhaps those events will focus future episodes to stronger excitement. 6/10

Andy Mangels

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