Man things in life are unfair. Let's not even begin a list; it'll only bum us all out. Instead, let's mention a single specific unfairness: tonight's episode of Under the Dome was really rather good. Not flawless; laws, no. But good. Solid. Entertaining.
And yet, all I really want to talk about is last night's season premiere of Breaking Bad, which was not merely good, solid, or entertaining (though it was all of those things), but revelatory, inspiring, heartbreaking. I'm tempted to say that television doesn't get any better, although I've seen episodes of Breaking Bad (among other shows) that were even better than this one.
It's unfair to hold Under the Dome to the same standard. Fuck, man...it's unfair to hold any television show to the same standard, with a few extremely notable exceptions. (Let's not list them, either; let's not risk sidetracking a sidetrack.)
But while I watched Dean Norris make his way through an hour of television for the second consecutive night, I simply could not help but remember moments from the hour that aired on Sunday, and find the hour that aired on Monday lacking in comparison. To the extent it's possible, I try to find a place of objectivity to write these reviews -- all my reviews, in fact -- from, and one of the obstacles that constantly appear in my path are comparisons between one work of art and another. As I say, I do my best to keep the corn and the mashed potatoes separated. But let's face it: we live in a world where things don't always have clear lines of delineation, and sometimes one thing butts up against another, and there's no keeping them separate.
Tonight was one of those nights for me. So if I sound slightly down on this episode, bear in mind that it may be the aftereffects of a massive Breaking Bad hangover. Fair? Probably not.
It's what we've got, though.
Let's be clear, though: I did like the episode. I have some problems with it, though, and we may as well address a few of them first, since in already in a minor-mode negativity spiral.
First of all, I'm bummed that Leon Rippy's time on the series seems to have come to an end. It makes sense, I guess, although I also would have liked to see how Hank and Ollie would have behaved in a scenario where Ollie has his power stripped as quickly as he got it. I don't immediately know how you go about putting that dynamic in a CBS television series, though; and evidently, the producers didn't either.
Or, more likely, they were simply more interested in using the situation to exploit the tension between Big Jim and Junior. On that score, it was mostly a success; I found myself halfway believing that Junior might pull the trigger and smear his poppa's brains all over the room, leaving the series with Ollie as the primary power-monger. I mean, I didn't really think it was going to happen; but there was enough room for doubt that it created genuine suspense for me. I'd assumed all along that Junior going over to Ollie was a ruse Junior was playing, in an attempt to regain his father's confidence. Then, things appeared to not be playing out that way, either, so I just wasn't sure what to think at all. So of course, we got what probably worked the best out of all the available scenarios: more proof that Junior is a man who is equal parts psycho and sane. Did he ever intend to kill his father? Yeah; yeah, I think he did. And I think that he genuinely believed what his dad told him about what happened to his mother; I also believe that Big Jim was telling him the truth. Partly that's because Dean Norris was just so fucking good in the scene (although not as good as he was on last night's Breaking Bad, if you can believe that), but partly is because I just can't see any story reason for Jim to lie in that moment. We don't know for sure one way or the other, I guess; but for my part, I'm convinced Jim was being honest.
And that spelled bad news for Ollie. News was bad enough already; without water, he was a tin god minus tin, and minus allies, so either way, his time was up. It's a bummer for Leon Rippy, who made a hell of a fine antagonist. I think the series is going to miss his energy.
Speaking of missing energy, has Dodee received shockingly little to do on this series, or what? Phil, too, for that matter; although he at least got to be shot in the torso, so comparatively his character wins.
- I'm not sure the scene in which Julia called Barbie "honey" worked. Intellectually, I think it is supposed to be a satirical use of the word; she's probably feeling a bit rattled by her day in general, and part of that has got to be that Joe successfully identified that she's -- as far as anyone (including her) knows -- cheating on her husband. So I think that her saying that is a dig at herself. I think that's what was intended. But if so, it didn't come off that way. Boy, the guys at Under The Dome Radio are going to hate that moment...
- I'd like to have seen a scene in which Carolyn comforts -- or tries to comfort -- Norrie. Yeah, I get it; she's upset because her wife has died. Look, dude; lotsa people's wives die. When they ignore their only child in the process of grieving, that makes them a bad parent. And I do not get the sense that Carolyn is a bad parent. So for me, it seemed out of character for Carolyn to just hole up in a room, all alone. Maybe this will become an issue; if so, then I'll revise my opinion. For now, though, it rings false.
- Not at all persuaded by the end of the episode. It was a good episode, but it needed a stronger cliffhanger than yet another repetition of "The monarch will be crowned." Given that Barbie had just emerged from a bloody powers struggle between two men who want to control the town, it seems like he ought to at least have had a theory that the phrase referred to Big Jim's victory. Or is the idea that Julia doesn't explain it to Barbie well enough for him to put two and two together? Either way, as an episode-ender, it fell a bit flat for me.
Now, all that said, there was a lot to like in this episode, too:
- "There's two sides to that coin, Jim." Not as great as the tagline from last night's Breaking Bad, in which Dean Norris is told "Tread lightly." (Trust me; out of context it doesn't play all that great, but IN context...it will send a chill from the top of your head to the pink toes on your feet.) No, not as great; but pretty solid. I was starting to wonder if Barbie and Big Jim were going to end up just being allies. And that could still happen, I guess; but the tension between them here seems earned.
- The scene in which Julia is introduced to the mini-dome by Joe was terrific. Rachelle Lefevre really sold that scene; she seemed genuinely freaked out, but in a non-panicked way that seems utterly believable for someone who has been living behind an impenetrable force-field for the past week. Going overboard would have been the dead wrong approach; she played it perfectly.
- I liked the scenes between Angie and Norrie. I continue to like Angie in general, actually. Between the snowglobes, the persistent emphasis on that butterfly tattoo of hers, and the creepy vagueness of that scene in which she's staring at Joe and Norrie, I get the feeling that the show wants us to think Angie is a vastly more important character than she may initially have seemed to be. Will that end up being the case? I dunno; the fact that the show clearly does want us to think it makes me wonder if it isn't a fake-out of some sort. I'm interested. Give me more.
- Alexander Koch was really rather good on this episode. He still has moments where he's a wee bit iffy; but tonight, it was, like, 5% iffy, 70% solid, and 25% excellent. Koch's IMDb page only has three other acting credits (two short films and one tv episode); clearly, this is a guy who's learning while on the job. I thought he weighed poorly on the first couple of episodes, but since, he's become a bit of an asset. If he had been bad in the big confrontation scene, the whole scene would have, despite how great Dean Norris was; but he wasn't, and it didn't, and I think that's pretty cool.
That's about all the thinks I can think tonight. Sleep is calling, and I'm inclined to answer.
See y'all next week!
It's a few days later, and I've harvested some prime Dean Norris images from the episodes of Breaking Bad and Under the Dome discussed in this review. Enjoy!
Hats off to ya, sir!