Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Under the Dome 1.08: "Thicker Than Water"

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.

Other complaints:

  • 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!


  1. I actually was expecting Rippy to exit the show this episode beforehand so tonight's episode delivered for me on that and pretty much overall.

    "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.)"

    The irony is, I don't mind a sidetrack, at least like this any way.

    Do I hold all movies to the same standard? Well, if it comes to that I think one of the most consternating things about fiction is those who think it important all more or less agree it SHOULD be held to some form of standard (at least that's what I've found through years of book review/fan blog scanning and internet vlog watching).

    The trouble is no one can seem to come to a definitive answer to what those standards are or should be.

    Oh well.


    1. I hear ya!

      And yes, I absolutely agree that some sort of standard HAS to be applied. I try to judge a work against its own potential (which really means that I'm judging it against what I perceive its potential to be, because after all, there's no way to gauge potential in that way). For that reason, I'll let certain things slide ("Maximum Overdrive") and give others very little slack at all ("Transformers"). It all makes sense in my head, and I do my best to try and give my rationale for things. I imagine I do a better job of that at some times than I do at others.

      For me, though, what it's about is self-exploration. I think I've said this before, but it is worth repeating every so often: I'm doing this (blogging) as a means of finding out why I feel certain ways about certain things, and through that process I'm learning about myself. It's my hope that that element of it mostly gets left in the background; the foreground, I hope, is merely a dude talking about stuff he likes, other stuff he dislikes, and other stuff he hasn't made his mind up about yet.

      This particular television series...? I like it. Not without flaws; but I definitely like it.

    2. well, as to the why of liking any particular book or film, I originally had this big grand idea expositing about artistic standards.

      In other words I was tripping on my own ego, so never mind.

      I can at least give three other examples (besides Jung) that have influenced my idea of artistic standards.

      First is an old essay by T.S. Eliot that still seems pretty relevant (though I'm not sure I agree with him on all he says). The essay is so famous in fact, that it's got it's own wiki page:


      Warning: Harold Bloom makes an appearance, tread lightly.

      The second is a book I ran across called "On Becoming a Writer" by Dorothea Brande that basically goes into King's "stories as fossils" idea despite being written in 1934. Plus it features an intro by John (Grendel) Gardner!


      The final item I discovered from the recommended reading appendix from the Brande book, The New Laokoon by Irving Babbitt, and no, I don't know what that word means even though I think I should for no good reason.

      It a book of literary theory and it ties in neatly with the Eliot essay as Babbitt was apparently Eliot's old Harvard English teacher.


    3. Correction:

      Here's the Babbitt link I meant to include in the above post and forgot about (slaps side of head).



    4. I might have to read that Eliot essay at some, although I'm fairly certain I'll disagree with at least part of it. I don't feel as if a poet ought to feel obliged for his/her work to somehow be a summation of the entirety of literary tradition. (Same would go for a filmmaker, or a musician, etc.) The very notion immediately makes me grumpy, in fact.

      I don't know what a Laokoon is, either, but it strikes me as a Klingon racial slur, for some reason...

  2. Boy, they really drove that "Monarch will be crowned" thing home, didn't they? It was almost Twin Peaks-ish in spots, except instead of drawing attention to its weirdness pursuant to genre deconstruction, it seemed like they just really wanted to make sure I remember the line. Which was amusing for all the wrong reasons.

    Not a bad episode, but not one of my favorites. Fair write-up, though. I think Junior's gotten better, definitely. Angie and Norrie still annoy me, but meh. Good point on Carolyn - perhaps her time in Starfleet has taught her the best way to deal with children who lose their parents is to leave them alone in their quarters. (As we see in TNG's The Bonding, and elsewhere.)

    Sad to see Rippy go, but we knew that was coming.

    Your blogging mission statement in your comment up there is exactly how I feel, as well. Well-put.

    1. Thankee-sai!

      Yeah, the "monarch will be crowned" thing was clunky. I feel at times as if this series is being aimed squarely at the Lowest Common Denominator, and that certain decisions are made with that element squarely in mind. I can almost hear somebody saying, "Alright, now make sure you say this X-number of times, and make sure that ANYONE watching understands that it's supposed to be mysterious."

      To be fair, network television is a business first; and as big a hit as the show has been, from a business standpoint it's hard to argue that they're doing anything wrong. Artistically, though, they continue to hit at least one major speed-bump every single week. I'd be incredibly frustrated by this if som much of the show wasn't working well for me.

      Happily, it is.

    2. Okay, this is really off topic, but who cares!

      Popmatters is doing an entire Breaking Bad retrospective, including what I think is intended as an entire season by season episode at a time recap along thoughts of how the show has developed.

      That would be a feat in and of itself.

      Here's the link for "The Popmatters "Breaking Bad" Companion:


    3. Very cool! Bookmarked for later perusal.

      I figure "Breaking Bad" is more or less on-topic around here. There's the Dean Norris connection for one thing, and for a second, King has written about how the show is one of his favorites. That's good enough for me, right there.

      By the way, I'd love to see Vince Gilligan adapt a King story or book. He'd be great for a "Pet Sematary" remake.