One of the plotlines in tonight's episode of Under the Dome involved Linda and Julia trying to find clues about the reason for all the propane. In an amazingly coincidental and timely bit of intuition, Linda has found the key to a safety-deposit box inside Duke's cowboy hat. Because since he never didn't wear it, it had to be hiding something, right?
So they go to the bank.
The episode shifts focus to a different plotline for a while, but it eventually returns to the bank. Linda has located the box that corresponds to the key. "Here it is," she says; "Duke's safety-deposit box."
Now, I want you to imagine that you are one of the two people in that scenario. Nah, scratch that; let's use a different scenario. Let's say you and a friend go to the grocery store. You've been sent to find a single item: a twelve-pack of Coca-Cola. For whatever reason, you're having trouble locating it. You walk up and down every aisle. You see bread. You see bananas. You see cream-of-chicken soup. You see one of those jars of salsa that has Paul Newman on it; he's wearing a sombrero and has a vaguely Hispanic mustache. You see cat litter. You see birthday cards. You see sour cream, you see laundry detergent, and finally, you see soda.
So you walk up to a twelve-pack of Coke, and what do you do then? You turn to your friend, and you say, "Here it is; a twelve-pack of Coke."
And your friend looks back at you and says, "No fucking shit?!? What do I look like, a moron?"
If Julia had done that to Linda, I'd have been so happy I wouldn't even know what to do. Sadly, she just continued playing the script the way it had been written, and the way it was being directed: as though the people watching the episode are dumber than all hell.
Talk Stephen King recently had a good post about how this series treats its audience like idiots. I wish I could agree with David that America isn't that stupid. I think America is that stupid on a good day; and on a bad one I think it wishes it was smart enough to be that stupid. Vast swathes of this nation cannot flush a public toilet, or return a shopping cart to the designated area, or walk through the in door rather than the out door. Huge numbers of my fellow citizens say "nukeyalar" instead of "nuclear." This nation got very close to electing Sarah Palin to be its vice president. This nation adores Chris Brown, who is scarcely one step above being a Neanderthal. And don't even get me started on Duck Dynasty.
We might fairly be said to be a nation of fools.
And evidently, CBS has decided to aim Under the Dome squarely at this nation's Lowest Common Denominator. How else can a scene like the one mentioned above be explained? This is a series whose network and/or producers are behaving as though its audience cannot remember from one scene to the next why Linda and Julia were in that bank. They only went there for one reason, but by God, make sure that you remind people what that reason is!
Buckle up, y'all; I'm 'bout to start bitchin'.
Speaking of bitching, I continue to loathe Maxine. (Get it? I said "bitching," and then mentioned Maxine, who is a bitch. See, the reason why that's funny is because it's like I was talking about two things at once. It's really funny. You just have to be able to follow me. Laugh!)
Now, let me clarify what I mean by that. I don't mean that I'm removing Maxine from my Christmas-card list; I don't mean that I wouldn't want to go shoe-shopping with her. I mean that Maxine is an uninteresting character who is being played in an uninteresting fashion by the actor cast to play her. Maxine is boring. Maxine is somebody's idea of an upper-class female gangster; Maxine is supposed to be going against type (i.e., she looks like a fashion designer, but secretly she's a criminal mastermind! Gasp!), but is the sort of character who has been popping up on CBS and TNT and USA and other mediocre networks for at least the past two decades. So Maxine would only seem edgy to the sorts of people who essentially stopped living in 1992. To CBS viewers, in other words.
Maybe I'm reading it all wrong. And I'm aware that I've slipped into Bryant-insults-people mode, which is never a good place for me to go. So let's ease back on the throttle just a tad. It may be that I'm not supposed to be seeing Maxine as being edgy and powerful at all; it may be more the case that I'm supposed to think Maxine sees herself as being edgy and powerful, and this is her idea of how to walk that walk and talk that talk.
I'd like to believe that, but nothing in the series proves this to be the case. Instead, she's operating an underground boxing ring that is -- depending on your outlook -- a bit reminiscent of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome or Fight Club. ("He's the ball-cracker! Death on foot! You know him! You love him! He's...Baaaaaarbie!") ("The first rule of Dome Club is, you do not talk about Dome Club! The second rule of Dome Club is, you do not talk about Dome Club!") This is the sort of lame plotline that would have seemed embarrassing on the first season of Babylon 5. It would have been tedious on Walker, Texas Ranger.
My dad -- who is a smart guy, but not terribly discriminating in some ways -- made a disgusted sound when Barbie got sucker-punched during this scene, and then announced to the room, "You know, this is a stupid show sometimes." My mom spoke up and agreed. (I don't have cable, so I go over to my parents' house and watch things with them sometimes. Just last night, we were watching an episode of Breaking Bad, and my dad announced that Walter White was a genius. He said it admiringly, and he wasn't wrong to do it.) They both sounded like they'd had an epiphany of some sort.
That's how bad this episode was. We had similar moments during the second episode, "The Fire," but this episode may actually have been worse.
Other moments of dullardry:
- Really, show? That's how you choose to have Julia find out about Barbie having killed her husband? And you expect me to believe that she takes the knowledge that well? That's . . . dude, "awful" doesn't even begin to describe that. Mike Vogel and Rachelle Lefevre are very good actors, and that was the only thing that made that scene even vaguely palatable.
- Are you determined to just not use Phil? Of course, I said something similar about Dodee last week, and she was shoved into this episode for virtually no reason at all. (Don't come at me -- bro -- with a "but them taking her to the hospital made it possible for Angie to guess about Junior!" Angie should have been able to figure that out based on the paintings. So the scene with Dodee was useless in every way.)
- Still no Carolyn?!? Has Aisha Hinds left the series and nobody wants to admit it?
- I've never been a huge Mare Winningham fan, and I automatically hate her character almost as much as I hate Maxine. There's no excuse for her letting Big Jim get the jump on her. Lady: you've got a rifle on the guy, and you've demonstrated that you know how to use it. He starts moving toward you, you put a bullet into the floor in front of his feet. He moves any farther, you kneecap him. Period.
- I forgot to mention it last week, but boy, do I hate that little piece of camera footage showing Duke getting out of the car to talk to Maxine. That is patently not Jeff Fahey, and the shot is so obviously staged so as to keep us from seeing anything but his black cowboy hat.
- The scene in which Maxine Sr. -- or whatever her name is (Claire, I think...?) -- falls off the boat is ham-handed as hell. I assumed initially that she jumped off, so as to either try to escape or simply to screw with Big Jim. But no, she fell off. If you were a prisoner with your hands tied together on a moving powerboat, would you stand up and then walk near the edge of the boat? No, you wouldn't. Unless you were a moron in a moronic screenplay, and the Powers That Be had determined that you had to fall overboard, but couldn't think of a better way to pull it off. Awful.
I still enjoyed most of the business with the minidome. I like the energy Alexander Koch brings to that quartet. And Colin Ford actually showed some signs of life this week.
Thing is, I'm steadily losing faith in the show's writers and producers. I can put up with a certain amount of awkwardness in a series, and I can even put with a certain amount of outright stupidity. Even the best shows are occasionally going to drop the ball. That's just the nature of the medium, and if you can't deal with it, you've got no business watching episodic television. But there's a big difference between coping with the realities inherent to a medium and permitting a series to be as consistently awkward and/or ineffective as Under the Dome is turning out to be.
It disappoints me to find myself coming back full-circle to the type of complaints I was making about the show's first couple of episodes, but it's beginning to appear that the upswing in quality the show experienced shortly thereafter was either an illusion or an aberration, because "Let the Games Begin" was not the product of a series that has found its footing. It is the product of people who either don't know what they're doing, or have their sights remarkably low.
I expect that from CBS. It shocks me that Brian K. Vaughan's name is on this, however. I'm not an expert on his work, but what I've read -- thirteen issues of Saga and three of The Private Eye -- indicates that he not is not merely a talent, but a major one. I simply cannot connect that Vaughan with this Vaughan. And yet, I know they are one and the same. It boggles my mind, and makes me wonder if I'm just crazy.
But I suspect I'm not. Nope, I just have standards. And it frustrates me now, whereas it has not frustrated me for weeks, that people are associating this crap with Stephen King. King is not above making the occasional gaffe in his own work (Under the Dome included), but if I step back and examine the entirety of his canon, I see a writer of almost limitless talent. He has skill that not more than a tiny handful of other people during his lifetime will have possessed. Not everyone will agree with me on that point; King himself, an affable and self-effacing fellow, wouldn't agree with it. He doesn't have to; people like me will do it for him. He is literally a genius, and therefore he gets the right to deny it.
It's disheartening to see the television series adaptation of one of his novels be this inferior to the novel itself. I've heard the arguments: the adaptation need not follow the novel. Hell, I've made that argument; and I stand by it.
But the adaptation does need to be at least roughly equivalent in quality. I think that is a minimum expectation. And while I've got problems with the novel, it is not merely better than the adaptation, it is enough better that I honestly feel there is no debate to be had on the subject. You're free to disagree, of course, and if you've got an argument to make, hit up the comments and make it.
But you better come strong, and you better come hard, because this is Thunderdome, baby, and I'm direct from outta the wastelands. I'm bad, I'm beautiful, I'm crazy, and to take me down, you're gonna need more than what you've probably got.
Because the television version of Under the Dome is lousy, and it seems to be getting lousier by the week, and I really don't see that it has much chance of improving this season.