Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Under the Dome 2.07: "Going Home"

Having watched tonight's episode, I find that I don't know how I feel about it.  Which is partially a lie: I do know how I feel about it.  I feel numerous things about it all at once, and some of them are flat-out contradictory.  I like this show, and I loathe it; I am invested in this show, and I feel virtually no attachment to it.  Reconcile those things, if you can.  I can't.
So, in an attempt to do so, I'm going to rewatch it, take a few screencaps, and try to work it all out as I type.  We'll see how it goes.
Barbie wakes with a start from a dream of Sam falling into the darkness in the cave.  Julia has been reading Pauline's journal, and can't sleep.
The next morning, Julia and Barbie tell Junior, Joe, Norrie, and Melanie about Sam's death, and about Barbie's discovery that it was Sam who killed Angie and not Lyle. Junior doesn't take it well, and more or less accuses Barbie of lying to cover up the fact that he murdered Sam.
Barbie determines that the only way to convince Junior is to retrieve Sam's body from the bottom of the cave, so he gets some climbing gear, and, with the help of Julia and Rebecca, tries to head down.  But when he gets to an area of darkness, he is pulled inside by some unseen force, and disappears.  Julia screams "no" at the top of her lungs; you can practically hear Rachelle Lefevre's vocal cords being shredded.
Let's pause here to assess things.  Julia's reaction to Barbie's dropping out of sight is simultaneously compelling and laughable.  Lefevre seems genuinely destroyed by this turn of events; she's got her emotions dialed up to 100%.  Thing is, this is not that kind of series.  What we see in that moment is a good impersonation of raw, naked emotion.  Under the Dome simply does not exist in that sort of storytelling universe.  You can get away with that on Game of Thrones, or on Mad Men; they did it on Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica all the time.
Under the Dome simply cannot bear the weight of a scream like that, because there is too much honesty in it.  And honesty is not something this series does particularly well.  Remember, at this point in time, Julia has known Barbie less than three weeks.  Something like seventeen days ago, she was still a happily-married woman.  Apply a bit of emotional honesty to that situation, and see what you get from it.  (Hint: you do NOT get the version of this series as we know it.)
Can the idea of her and Barbie becoming romantically involved work?  Well, it sort of can.  If we're watching the series in real-time as the episodes air, we, the audience, have been vicariously experiencing Julia and Barbie's relationship for over a year now.  We feel the rush of time whereas they do not, and if their on-screen relationship develops at a rate more alike to the year the audience has lived with it than it is to the seventeen days the characters have lived with it, then there is a sort of metaphorical emotional honesty there.  In other words, Julia and Barbie are not characters; they are stand-ins for the hypothetical emotions of the audience that is watching them.
That's valid only if the series does something interesting with the relationship.  This series has failed at that utterly.  And so, both in terms of emotional realism and symbolic emotion, Julia's big scream simply does not work.
After the commercial break, the scene continues: Lefevre is shouting for Barbie like she's going for an Emmy.  So, here's a problem: the series is not breaking its own rules in this scene, and trying to be too serious.  Its doubly ineffective because if we, as viewers, have even a lick of sense then we almost certainly know Barbie cannot actually be dead.
Not long after that, there is yet another scene in which Big Jim talks to Junior and Junior doesn't want to hear what he has to say.  We've seen that about forty times over the course of the series, it feels like.  This series loves to walk over patches of ground it's already trodden, and this episode is no different.  How many times do we need to hear Jim and Junior arguing?  How many times do we need to hear Joe and Norrie talking about how weird something related to the dome is?  I think we're good on those subjects, y'all.  Similarly, do we need to keep hearing Melanie exclaim over how weird it is that somebody has mentioned Zenith?  Since she's from Zenith and all?  Again, I think we got it, guys.
Compare this approach to a different one, which I am going to exemplify via The X-Files.  Now, that series was by no means perfect, but it did have a tendency to assume that its viewers were able to remember things.  I'm currently rewatching the series, and during the first season episode "E.B.E." we are introduced to the characters collectively known as the Lone Gunmen.  One of them, Frohike, takes one look at Scully and says, "She's hot!"  A bit later, she responds to some bit of their paranoia by essentially saying that their conspiracy theories give the government too much credit, that the government is in no way competent enough to do all the things they insist it is doing.  "She is hot!" Frohike, obviously smitten, exclaims.  It's a funny scene, but not so much so that it feels out of place; it's just that these three characters bring a new energy to the dynamic of the show.  They don't vilate that energy; they expand upon it.  Big difference.
Some fifteen episodes later, well into the second season, there is an episode ("One Breath," a classic) in which Scully is in a coma.  She's been abducted -- possibly by aliens, possibly by the government or the military -- and has been recovered, but is in a hospital bed, barely clinging to life.  And what's worse is: she is not currently meeting the criteria she established for herself i her living will, which means she is going to be taken off of life support.  Mulder spends the episode despondent and desperate, and he is at the hospital trying to find some way -- any way -- of helping, when all of a sudden, Frohike walks up, dressed in a tuxedo and carrying flowers, almost as though he is going to pick someone up and go to the prom.  The way I've written that, it sounds like a joke, and a bad one at that.  However, the way the scene is filmed and acted, it might provoke a chuckle, but it might just as easily cause you to roll a tear.  Because you know from context -- and from the look on actor Tom Braidwood's face -- that what's going on here is a socially awkward man coming to pay what he assumed to be last respects to someone whom he barely knew, but liked and respected.
Because The X-Files -- and this was twenty years ago, mind you! -- had faith in its audience and assumed they would be able to keep track of such things, that moment with Frohike has the ability to hit you like a hammer.  Comparatively, the approach of Under the Dome -- take shortcuts wherever and whenever possible, and then repeat the same information over and over and over again -- is so simple-minded that it really does not even merit being mentioned in the same breath as The X-Files.
This begs a question: if that is the case, then am I committing a party foul by holding Under the Dome to the same standards as The X-Files?  Some might say yes.  Some might say that Under the Dome instead exists on the level of soap opera and reality television, where it's all about what's going on right in front of you, at that time.  That's television for dogs and cats, and, I suppose, for people who try to approximate the ability of animals to live eternally in the now.  That's not television for me, though, and it's not really what the television drama is in 2014.
Except, arguably, on CBS.
Anyways, right before we cut to a commercial, something interesting finally happens:
Barbie wakes up in a park.  In Zenith.  He's outside the dome.
At this point, we've moved so far beyond the content of the novel Under the Dome that it is honestly not even worth comparing the two, except as a case-study in how NOT to adapt a novel.  It's kind of been like that as far back as the pilot episode, to tell the truth; but with this latest plot development, there is no going back.
See, despite the show's many points of dissimilarity from the novel up to this point -- and they are many -- there was always the possibility that the writers could, if they wanted to, turn back and head in a different direction, one that would take the story back toward the themes and tone of the novel.
Now, however, that possibility seems to be off the table altogether.  But here's a question for you: is that automatically a bad thing?  After all, the first nineteen episodes proved that this show's producers and writers (including -- yes, let's admit it -- Stephen King himself) were either incapable of properly adapting the novel or were disinterested in doing so.  That being the case, then really, their only option in terms of making the series good on its own terms would be to turn it into something radically different from the novel.
I'd say that the developments of "Going Home" qualify as "radically different from the novel."  So, with that in mind, does it stand to reason that it might now theoretically be possible for the series to becomes something more interesting and consistent?
As long as I'm using words like "theoretically" and "possible" and "might," then yeah, sure.  Why not?  It might theoretically be possible that I'll be cast as James Bond once Daniel Craig hangs up the holster.  But I wouldn't bet on it, you know?
The odds seem a bit better in the case of this television series, but perhaps only a bit.  And as I'm writing, I find that I just don't have the energy to finish rewatching the rest of the episode.  Suffice it to say that Barbie visits his father, and that Sam -- who, in a shock for nobody, is also still alive -- goes and visits Pauline.  Lyle, too, turns out to still be alive; he's semi-catatonic, and will only say "Melanie."
I will admit to being interested in all of this.  It's got precisely jack shit to do with the novel, but I can live with that.  I've got virtually no faith in Neal Baer to somehow turn this into a good series over the course of the five remaining second-season episodes, but if he wants to go farther down the road traveled by "Going Home," then maybe he can at least turn it into a series I won't feel the need to make fun of on a weekly basis.
I'd settle for that.


  1. For me, this episode was yet another of those surprising turns where, on the whole, my opinion has more or less shifted back to favorable. This isn't to say that there aren't aspects that I wouldn't change. At the very start of the show, in terms of the motivation for getting Barbie down that tunnel I was more or less thinking, "Rewrite!".

    I also thought there was a sad moment when the show was going to repeat that whole last minute first season add on with Barbie's "employer" (I'll admit I forget her name) when I thought he should be trying to contact the show's version of Col. Cox. Then, thankfully, it turns right around and more or less goes on the track I thought was most logical for it to go.

    Of course, this opinion does depend on whether or not anyone is dissatisfied with the original novel. I'll I still am after five years, in that it just still doesn't cohere into an interesting whole for me. This isn't to say that the series is doing so well either, but at least this episode picked things up a bit for me.


    1. I believe the name you are looking for is "Maxine," and it's to your credit that you forgot it. What a terrible plotline that was...

      I found myself thinking about her last night, too, though, and at about the same time it sounds like you did. On the one hand, it makes sense for Barbie's criminal cohorts to have his place staked out; on the other hand, it made me roll my eyes pretty dang hard. This is one of those times when the show's inattention to character background hurts it; if we had known that Barbie needed to get out of Chester's Mill to do take part in this heist, then it might have added something. Or not. Either way, having those goons show up like that felt cheesy and ridiculous.

      I wasn't anywhere near as dissatisfied by the ending of the novel as you were, but I'm still more or less able to put the book aside and focus on the show as its own thing. The thing I'm struggling with is comparing it to other television series, which is maybe a little bit unfair. Then again, I'll say what I've said before: given the source material, the pedigree of the behind-the-scenes talent, and the budget, there is zero reason why this should not be a very good television series at the very least.

      It isn't. But, like you, I found my opinion swinging back toward the positive last night. I don't think my review managed to indicate that, but it's true.

    2. I believe you when you say your take on the episode was more positive.

      For me, the very strange part of this whole series is the way is literally jerks the viewer (or at least this one) from one extreme to the other. Technically, that may be part of a story's job, and if it is doing that then maybe it's deserve more credit.

      However the problem I have is figuring how much of each episode was intentional, which was padding mandated from higher up, and what just struck me either the right or the wrong way.

      ...This series is slowly becoming it's own kind of weird Rorschach Test.


    3. I think you're onto something, there. In some ways, the function of a story really IS just to keep the person experiencing it in a state of slack-jawed diversion. I'm thinking of Vern, Teddy, and Chris listening to Gordy tell stories in "Stand By Me." And sure, the story of Lard-Ass Hogan is a pretty good one, but you just know that Gordie has told them plenty of other stories that were nowhere near as good.

      I'd imagine that most of them sucked, in fact. But did Gordie's audience mind? Probably not. They probably didn't even notice.

      And I imagine that if there were a way to somehow catalog every single story that has ever (regardless of medium) been told to an audience, the vast majority of them were lousy, but nevertheless received mostly positively. Why?

      Simple: the audience wanted to know what would happen next.

      There's an argument to be made that as long as you fulfill that requirement, then you've told a story successfully.

    4. "Gordie has told them plenty of other stories that were nowhere near as good."

      Er, I assume you're talking about the Stud City segment from Different Seasons?

      My review of it: third rate Springsteen and no kick ass music to back it up, and the story doesn't suffer if it's cut out, unlike the pie eating contest story, in which case a great deal of humor and character development is lost.

      Getting back to the Rorschach Test comment, I'm beginning to realize as more episodes of this show go along, I find I'm trying to somehow second guess what comes next. By that I mean that the quality of this show as a whole is so all over the place, and the plot careens in so many directions that I wind up trying to figure out not only where the hell it's all going, but also wondering just what is the best direction for things to go.




    5. Disconcerting? Maybe. But I'm doing much the same thing, so you're at least not alone! I find it perfectly natural to engage with the show in the form of waging a guessing-game campaign, wondering what sort of tropes the producers will use from one week to the next. Every once in a while, they stumble on an effective one; so there's that.

      I find myself actually looking forward to the show, though, and even if it is for partially the wrong reasons, the anticipation is sort of its own reward, isn't it?

      On the subject of "Stud City," that's not what I had in mind, but yeah, that's a good example, for sure. I don't mind the short story too bad, though. I actually wrote a review of that a while back (http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-ghost-of-her-in-glass-review-of-stud.html), and I agreed with your Springsteen assessment so much that I pre-agreed with it in my review! As I said there, I don't think it's a particularly good story, but it's got its points of interest.