Monday, September 2, 2013

REVIEW: Murder, Tornadoes, Manhunts & Visions Bring Focus to 'Under the Dome' in the Action-Packed 'Speak of the Devil'

CBS' Under the Dome - Episode 1.11 Speak of the Devil

Big Jim turns the town against Barbie when the truth about his past is revealed. Meanwhile, Maxine makes it personal when she confronts Barbie's closest ally.

It should come as no surprise that I have largely been underwhelmed by Under the Dome for the majority of its first season. It simply didn't live up to a great standard set up in the pilot. Instead it has largely chosen to live in a more melodramatic world filled with bland characters acting out plots that simply were not that exciting or have a social commentary on a larger issue of how humans react under extraordinary circumstances.

"Speak of the Devil" is the first hour since the first that I actually enjoyed watching. It delivered on the action. But it was not simply just action. It was action that actually excited. Stuff actually happened in ways that made me feel something for certain characters.

Big Jim wants to bring back order and normality to the town of Chester's Mill. However, he also wants to be in power - the person that everyone trusts going to to solve their wildest problems. He will exploit every situation so that he always ends up on top. Barbie wants a community that he can live peacefully in while also aspiring to a future that does not include the vices of his past life. He wants a simple life and doesn't want to be the same person he once was. He wanted to take Maxine alive and he hesitated before shooting Big Jim. He has killed before but now he doesn't want to simply be the collective of debts. The final variable in this power play is Maxine who was devilish from the start but grew even more maniacal after discovering the corpse of her mother on the beach. She wants to live above everybody else by making everyone else in debt to and in fear of her. While the three of them have all been in business together, they all want different things for Chester's Mill. Their conflict had to reach a tipping point. Big Jim and Barbie reluctantly join forces and turn the tables in their favor. But neither one trusts the other - with each declaring that after Maxine is dealt with they are coming for the other. So, when Barbie turns his back, Big Jim takes control of the situation coldly murdering Maxine and her associate. Then, he gets lucky again with the arrival of Linda. Big Jim is a man of words. He always knows exactly the right thing to say to get away by the skin of his teeth. He played Linda wonderfully and now Barbie has the wrath of Big Jim to deal with. It's a great moment of human reaction as Big Jim has the perfect scapegoat for all his crimes and Barbie is desperate to fight to prove his innocence.

So while the power play between Big Jim and Barbie is what ultimately made the hour, it couldn't help but highlight just how useless Julia and Linda actually are. Naive is probably the better way to describe Linda. Linda, if Barbie shot Julia why would he call you all panicked over the police radio and then take her to the hospital and save her life? She is like putty in the hands of Big Jim. She warns Barbie that she'll shoot but only does so after Big Jim tells her to. Julia will likely be the reason to overturn Big Jim's grand plot to get rid of Barbie as she can expose Maxine as her shooter. As long as the show doesn't go down the rabbit hole of short-term memory loss after a traumatic incident like many melodramatic series do. But here, all she does is get shot and that is never a smart thing to do.

The small town maneuvering is more interesting to watch than the group of four trying to solve the mystery of the dome itself. It's interesting how this show is founded on a big science fiction concept. And yet, when it tries to delve further into those areas, it's a complete mess. The mysteries of the mini-dome and the four hands coming together and the idea that the dome is influencing the actions of the community below always feels like the show biting off more than it can chew. These scenes have tons of exposition dialogue. They are forced into the dynamics of the show instead of letting humans interacting rationally and emotionally to their new circumstances. So while it's cool to end with the scene depicting a vision of Big Jim suddenly becoming fatally bloodied. It doesn't work as a satisfying cliffhanger. Barbie running in the forest with Big Jim's over-the-radio monologue was the perfect ending. Closing on the four ends a largely successful hour on an anti-climatic note. The group go to that spot to see what the dome wants and get some answers. The dome apparently wants Big Jim dead. He needs to die because he's evil in case you didn't notice - and the dome always has to be in the right. That fact is always annoying whenever anyone brings it up. They believe that this is what needs to happen to bring the dome down. But that's just foolish. The show is trying to string us along on this idea but we just know it won't happen because of the long-running nature of the series. So the idea that the show is actually raising the prospects of this story is just so far fetched that it severely limits the show's credible of handling anything well. When in all actuality, it can deliver on some basic human emotions and struggles and actions.

So while Under the Dome has been one of the most infuriating shows to watch this summer, "Speak of the Devil" shows that there is promise here. The first season has been used to highlight what the show can do well and what they simply can't. The conflict between Big Jim and Barbie was the dynamic I was most intrigued by all season long. With this hour delivering on that promise, it sets up the final two episodes of the season for success.

Some more thoughts:
  • I'm convinced that the one nurse/doctor is the only person actually working at the hospital.
  • Isn't it just great that Mare Winningham came back just to play a corpse?
  • Which will be a larger influence on the ratings for this episode: the Labor Day holiday which usually boasts low ratings or the resolution to the CBS/TWC conflict bringing the network back to the homes of many?
  • Someone had to die in this episode because of all the weather hijinks. So, even though she was ultimately shot, Maxine is no more. I'm sad to see Natalie Zea go - she seriously needs to find a leading role that sticks. She had spunk in this role but it was also one that show couldn't make into a more fully rounded character.
  • The promotional photo above must have been from a scene that was cut.
  • I don't think I've ever said it but Julia's opening narration each episode is just terrible.
  • And if Maxine really wanted Julia dead, she would have been dead. She can't be that terrible of a shot, right? But hey, not everyone can be Big Jim with a gun - even at such close range.
  • Julia needs a hospital, Joe! But first, can you plug my car into an electric outlet. Gee, I'm glad I have this car as the gas supply is slowly depleting.
  • Joe is great in his few scenes with Barbie and Julia except whenever he starts talking what the Dome wants or that the Dome is angry. Why Barbie didn't go "What the hell are you talking about, you crazy kid!" is beyond me.
  • In response to Big Jim saying he got rid of her insurance policy, Maxine: "You have no idea." Could Big Jim's secrets still be coming out in the final two episodes?