Monday, August 26, 2013

REVIEW: 'Under the Dome' - Fight Club Comes to Chester's Mill in 'Let the Games Begin'

CBS' Under the Dome - Episode 1.10 "Let the Games Begin"

Julia uncovers the truth about her husband's disappearance and unravels some of Chester's Mill's darkest secrets; and Maxine shows Barbie how she plans to take control of the town.

The pilot episode of Under the Dome opened with Barbie burying the dead body of Peter Shumway. That moment was intense and wrapped in mystery establishing that Barbie had his hand in some shady business. He later would take up residence - and later the bed - of Peter's wife, Julia. This little wrinkle was bound to come loose sooner or later. We are now in the tenth week of the series and I have about the same interest in the Barbie-Julia relationship I had after just the first episode. Probably even less as they grew quite bland in the succeeding weeks and their relationship made no sense and simply wasn't interesting. The reveal of Peter's death to these characters made them inherently more interesting. Mike Vogel and Rachelle Lefevre sell that one scene really well. That scene called for them to do more than the series has typically asked from them - much like Barbie and Julia's bigger stories in this hour i.e. his dealings with the underground fight club and her helping Linda investigate the drug business. That stuff was weak but actually did build up to that great scene. It's in this moment where the show actually does something instead of building up to absolutely nothing week after week.

The show also did something very right in pairing Dean Norris and Mare Winningham together. These are actors who can sell even the flimsiest of material. Together, the stakes felt real. And it also solidifies Big Jim as evil. Sure, he's had moments of deviousness but none quite compare to when he drives away as Agatha is screaming out trying not to drown. The world certainly presented a solution to his problem and Big Jim took it. Agatha was Maxine's insurance policy as she knew all of the town's secrets. Her dying would mean that Big Jim could take out Maxine as well and truly become the leader of Chester's Mill. That is unless Linda gets in his way. The show has been trying to set Linda up as the moral compass always fighting for what's legal and just. But most of the time, she comes across as stupid and incompetent. With the new information she knows about him, why in the world would she let him have a night before coming in for questioning? I don't foresee this ending well for Linda but I also don't have a real concern about her either. If she was killed off, I wouldn't care at all even though she's been here since the beginning. Big Jim is by far the more interesting character and Norris is the one consistent performer rising above the weak writing. So naturally, I would rather have more time with him than with Linda and some of the other bland characters.

The reveal that Junior is the fourth hand was painfully telegraphed the moment that the plot was introduced last week. We all knew it was coming and yet the show wasted an entire episode of story time to get to it. It would have been great to see Junior be sent flying across the room - because that would have been awesome to see him be punished with more than just a punch to the face. But the show needs to start explaining some of its science fiction elements and thusly we end on the cliffhanger of the "pink stars falling in line." No clue what it actually means. But hey, it's progress, right?

I inherently always am under the impression that the story Under the Dome wants to tell is a battle between Barbie and Big Jim. And yet, it always finds a way to keep itself from telling that story. The first season has basically been set up in three distinct arcs. The first arc focused on Reverend Coggins and the town's belief that the dome was only temporary. This ended when the bomb failed to destroy the dome. The second arc was the panic mode as the townspeople realized they may be under this thing for some time. The looting of supplies and control of the town feel under this part of the season. The third started last week with the introduction of Maxine and how certain people are trying to mold Chester's Mill into the society most beneficial to them. Each of the arcs also has to introduce new guest characters and the "Nikki & Paulo" way that they all have to be introduced is always clumsy. But in the end, these stories are simply conflict for conflict's sake. They each offer little interesting bits but how they collective come together as a season makes very little sense. Each arc has to happen before the next one can begin but the stories of each one don't offer much insight into the mindsets of the characters or force them into any real stakes or make them deal with any actual consequences. The Barbie-Julia reveal and Big Jim driving away from Agatha have the potential to put the characters into interesting places - but I'm also sure the show will back away from those interesting things in order to maintain the status quo.

Some more thoughts:
  • The opening sequence was basically just an over-explanation of the mini-dome and Joe, Norrie and Angie's current storyline.
  • Every other line from Natalie Zea was about holding stuff over the heads of Big Jim and Barbie. I love Zea and she's got spunk and charisma in this role but this character is so terribly written.
  • Maxine: "The rules are simple. There aren't any." Yeah, very obvious reference to Fight Club as this whole story was just a poor man's adaptation.
  • It felt totally implausible last week that Maxine would have so many well-tailored dresses but with the information about her mother now revealed it makes a little more sense.
  • But really, what does the show have against poor Dodee? We didn't want to see her get electrocuted. We wanted it to happen to Junior.
  • Aisha Hinds and Nicholas Strong must still be in a room mourning and in the hospital respectively, right? I'm actually surprised the show didn't explain them away like that for yet another episode. Or maybe both actors realized how poor their material was and decided to be seen less.
  • The comparisons are inevitable but Big Jim is able to turn a situation into his favor much faster than Dean Norris' other role this summer as Breaking Bad's Hank.
  • Someone needs to fix the show's music scoring pronto!