Monday, July 28, 2014

Under the Dome 2.05: "Reconciliation"

It occurs to me that what we're dealing with on Under the Dome is, essentially, soap opera, wherein the characters need not remain particularly consistent from one week to the next.  All that matters to the producers and writers is that there be conflict between the characters.  Is it necessary for that conflict to make actual sense?  Not apparently.  They just argue and argue and argue, and if one character ends up arguing something that seems to contradict something they argued a week ago, well, what of it?
So, what's the argument about this week?
Image stolen from:

Yep: food.  Because, see, food is getting scarce in Chester's Mill.  Patience is also getting scarce, and the town is starting to divide along lines of those loyal to Big Jim and those loyal to Julia.  I'm not sure the series has done an adequate job explaining this, but evidently Julia is currently in charge of Chester's Mill.  This may or may not have happened prior to Big Jim getting arrested last week.  You'd think this would be a good time for somebody on the show to refer to Julia as "the monarch," but does that happen this week?  Nope.  We're over a third of the way into the second season, and the very concept of there being a "monarch" has been utterly ignored.  
Part of doesn't mind this, because it was kind of a dumb idea to begin with; then again, you can't really spend as much time as was spent on that concept in the first season only to then totally ignore it in the second season.  Except that I guess you can, because hey, lookit these folks doing it.  They're proving me wrong on a weekly basis.  So what I ought to say is that you shouldn't ignore it.
Anyways, I'm a bit pressed for time this week, so I'm not going to do what I've been doing this season; I've been watching the episodes a second time and writing my reviews as I rewatched, pausing as needed to wax philosophical and to take a crapload of screencaps.  There's no time this week; yr. hmble blogger has to go to work for a few hours, so blogging's got to take a back-seat tonight.
Which is kind of a shame, because I did like this episode.  It's still dumb as a sack of donut holes, and it's a step backward from the actually-not-bad philosophizing of last week's episode.  But, despite that, I enjoyed watching it.
To save myself some time, I'm just to going to run down the list of characters and make some comments about what they were up to this week.  We'll proceed in terms of the order in which they are listed on IMDb:
  • Barbie -- He's finally able to tell Julia what he knows about Sam, although the food crisis -- or, depending on how you look at it, sloppy writing -- prevents Julia from actually doing anything about it.  Barbie also tells her that he never had any intention of going along with Big Jim and Rebecca on their plan to selectively cull the herd.  So, he and Julia reconcile, and she offers to make him the sheriff.  As the episode ends, he's thinking about it.  I don't know what to make of Mike Vogel as Barbie.  As written, the character is bland as hell, and Vogel's performance does nothing to elevate it.  He's not bad, but he has nothing interesting to play.  That's the case almost every week, and it's no different this week.
  • Julia -- She asks the citizens to voluntarily contribute to a centralized food bank, so that food can be distributed equably.  But Phil sabotages her efforts and tries to make her look hapless in the eyes of the town.  She's got some serious doubts about her ability to lead as a result, but by the end of the episode, she and Big Jim seem to have reached a public understanding.
  • Junior -- Because he's gullible, he's convinced that Lyle must have killed Angie, and he's determined to get payback for her murder.  So, of course, he blabs everything to Sam, whom his mother has specifically told him NOT to tell any of this.  Sam gets him wasted and almost murders him before thinking better of it.  The implication seems to be that Sam thinks killing the "four hands" will cause the dome to come down.  This begs a question: why has he not tried to kill the other three?  Answer: he didn't know who they were.  Junior tells him, though.  Thanks, Junior.
  • Sam -- This week marked the first episode in which I felt like I actually enjoyed Eddie Cahill's performance.  He's still a bit bland and taciturn for my tastes, but he was better this week.  I think the series is asking us to believe he is an all-out villain, which means that he probably isn't.  But the series will fumble this aspect, because that's what this series does.
  • Joe -- He calls Norrie a bitch and kisses Melanie, and then later tries to get Norrie back.
  • Phil -- Phil kills a guy who is attacking Big Jim.  Pretty good shot for a deejay.  Phil evidently still doesn't know who killed Dodee.  Or maybe he does.  It's hard to tell, because as far as I can make out, Phil has forgotten there ever was such a person as Dodee.  He essentially becomes a terrorist this week, which I'm sure is the result of listening to too much Rage Against The Machine in his capacity as a deejay.  Later, Barbie shoots him, but not to death, I don't think.  Unfortunately.
  • Norrie -- "She's so hateful," remarked my mother of Norrie during this episode.  My mother ain't wrong.  This week, Mackenzie Lintz is back to playing Norrie as a one-note asshole, the way she played her during the first part of last season.  To be fair, this is perhaps a valid decision; if the idea is that Norrie has been somewhat changed and softened by Joe, then it would make sense for her to revert to her former self when her relationship with Joe hits the skids.  I'm not sure any of that is on purpose, but we can pretend, can't we?
  • Rebecca -- Rebecca seems to have developed some remorse over the direction she was heading, and seeing a guy gunned down in front of her accelerates her along that path.  She also seems to be changing her mind about Big Jim.  It never made a whole lot of sense for her to put her faith in him anyways.
  • Big Jim -- Dean Norris's left eye was awfully red for part of the episode.  What was up with that?  Big Jim gets a couple of good moments this week, including one in which he refuses to let Phil bust him out of jail.  Then, later, he disavows Phil's activities.  I think he was being genuine during both moments, but with this cat, you never can really tell.
  • Melanie -- Melanie seems like more of an actual human being this week, after learning who she is.  I'm still somewhat interested in this story line.  Let's hope my interest isn't shit upon by something stupid happening in the writer's room.
  • Carolyn -- Carolyn!!!  She's briefly appointed to be Big Jim's lawyer, but the trial seems to have been cancelled by the end of the episode.  Or maybe it'll still happen.  I don't know.  I doubt the producers know, either.  Carolyn also gets to be in a fight with Phil, and I'm going to just go ahead and call it like I see it: I think Aisha Hinds would beat Nicholas Strong's ass.
  • Andrea -- In a fairly satisfying instance of the series actually remembering something from the pilot episode, we learn that Andrea -- established long ago as a hoarder -- has a shitload of food, which she is more than willing to share.  This, we are told, will help fend off the food crisis for a couple of months . . . which, if you're mentally doing the math, means that at the rate the series is progressing in terms of its internal chronology, there will probably never be a need for the show to address the idea of there being a food crisis again.  On the one hand, I admire the use of Andrea in this way, because it shows that the series has a memory.  On the other hand, good lord, if that really IS the way the food crisis is going to be resolved in a permanent sense, that's a massive cop-out.  The novel had teeth.  The series has dentures, and even those are mostly content to sit in a cup rather than be put to use.  Time and time again, the producers opt to simply avoid doing anything that might be difficult to deal with.  Rarely have I seen so thorough a job of sanding all the interesting edges off a novel.

And with that, I'm out of time.  Actually, I was out of time ten minutes ago.  So while there might be more to say, I'm gonna have to not say it.

See you next week!


  1. "The network giveth, and the network taketh away" - Stephen King on what it's like to work with network TV.

    That was the quote that was in my mind as I finished watching the episode. After the surprising two steps forward for the last two episodes, this one is a definite step back. It's this entry, more than anything else, that convinces me their must be some kind of struggle for creative control between King, the show writers, and the network, who must have some idea of what they want the show to be, even if they have no idea how it should go.

    At least that's the overall thought this episode placed in my head. I found myself literally split down the middle of it. For every moment that would irk the living skyte (thanks South Park) out of me, a scene such as Junior discovering something about the Dome or Big Jim manipulating (the two major strengths of this episode) would come along and keep me interested enough to at least not totally write it off (of course, seeing the trailer for Michael Bay's TMNT didn't help).

    The show had some interesting elements, and they mostly work, but what's galling is how other better alternatives present themselves with a little thought. For instance, how about keeping Dwight Yoakum's character in longer? I could be scenario where instead cold-knocking Junior, Junior instead makes Lyle lead him to the opening in the Dome (spoilers) and Sam, Barbie, Julia, Jim, Rebecca and the kids all wind up following them to the opening. The final kicker could be that when the door is opened, it's revealed that most of the town has been following them (maybe thanks to Joe's techy friend from the first season, I forget his name) and they have most of the guns.

    I could easily imagine one of the townsmen making a dash for freedom into the opening...and everyone hearing his horrified, dying screams once he's inside! Yeah, it's probably a bad sign if one of the viewers can create a more exciting scenario. I think as long as King is overridden by the network, we may not see much creativity, except sporadically.


    1. Hmm. I don't know that there is any particular reason to suspect behind-the-scenes conflict, apart from the fact that Brian K. Vaughan left the series. It's tempting to suspect that King might be somewhere behind the scenes clamoring for something grand and beautiful that CBS will not let him do, but I see no real reason to believe that's the case. After all, one need look no farther than "Kingdom Hospital" to see long-form television that King decidedly DID have complete creative control over. And "Kingdom Hospital" is a hugely problematic piece of work, one with some of the same problems currently plagueing "Under the Dome": inconsistency of character, huge tonal variances which do not sit well in relation to one another, and an overall feel of cheesiness.

      I see no evidence that CBS is in any way trying to stifle or censor King. This is, you'll remember, the network that gave us shows like "CSI" which are really quite gory and disturbing. I don't think CBS would shy away from any of that sort of stuff. I could be wrong, but I just don't see the problem here being that CBS is somehow keeping King in check.

      As for Lyle, I'm sure he's coming back for more episodes. Which is good, 'cause I like the energy Dwight Yoakam brought to the show.

  2. "Dumber than a sack of donut-holes" and the Rage Against the Machine line re: Phil really cracked me up.

    When I was watching the show, I felt the same things with Vogel's Barbie. I think the casting was soap-opera-visual inspired (as much of the conflict-plotting is, as you say.) With Julia, too. Junior as well - hell, everyone. They need to look a certain type. I mean, that's true of most visual media, I grant you, but some shows just have that feel to them, where the writing conforms to moving the dolls around in dramatic ways rather than the other way around. I sound much more dismissive than I mean to be.

    I'd be curious how much of this is determined behind-the-scenes by casting agencies and what not. The process always fascinates me.

    1. I love filling in the blank on "dumber than a sack full of _______" but will never be able to do better than whoever filled that blank with "hammers." That's the all-time champion.

      With a show like this one, I tend to assume a casting agency would probably only determine some of the smaller roles. The producers seem likely to be the people casting the big roles like Barbie and Julia. I think the casting of both roles was/is sound; I just don't think the writing or directing has been good enough to showcase the talents of those particular actors.