Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Under the Dome 2.11: "Black Ice"

Pop quiz time, kids:
"Black Ice," the eleventh episode of the second season of Under the Dome, is: 
(A)  A pretty good episode of the series
(B)  An average episode of the series
(C)  An even-worse-than-normal episode of the series
(D)  All of above
(E)  None of the above
Don't look to me for guidance; I honestly don't know how to answer the question.  If you put a gun to my head and demanded that I answer, and answer truthfully, I'd probably end up bidding adieu to life.  This scenario hinges on you having a Lying Cat like in Saga, the excellent comic book from Dome alumnus Brian K. Vaughan.
I don't know that I could accurately answer the question for myself, which means that I'd probably be toast.
Anyways, what sort of weirdo goes around executing people based on whether they know what to make of "Black Ice" or not?  You've got issues, pal.
So do I.  And right at this very moment, the foremost among them is that I just don't have anything cogent to say about this episode.  It's debatable as to whether I ever have anything cogent to say about Under the Dome, but it's a damn certainty that I haven't this week.
With that in mind, we are going to simply do this: I'm gonna rewatch the episode, screencap whatever I feel like screencapping, and talk about whatever crosses my mind.

As was hinted at last week, Chester's Mill is experiencing a dome-tastic drop in temperatures.  Everything begins to freeze, necessitating some significant effects work.  There aren't a huge number of shots like the one above, but there are a few, and if my eye deceiveth me not, the "freeze" was accomplished via a combination of CGI and color-correction.  It doesn't look bad at all.
Pauline has a reunion with Melanie, and despairs that she must look old.  "I'd know you anywhere," says Melanie; "my best friend, who left me to die."  Ouch.  This show can sometimes do okay when the writers decide to slow things down a bit and let the characters interact with one another on an emotional level.  
Good lord, did I actually just type that?
That actually tends to be true maybe 25% of the time; the other 75%, you can bank on getting something filled with unearned emotion, or something that just flat-out doesn't make sense given what we know about the characters involved.
This scene is part of the 25%, I'd say.  To some extent, this may be because we don't really have too much of a handle on who Pauline and Melanie are; therefore, since their characters are somewhat unfocused to begin with, it isn't as possible to contradict them as with most everyone else.  Instead, we're able to focus only on the acting and on the quality of the filmmaking, and both are fine.
Does it feel as if the series has already dropped the idea that Sam murdered Angie?  I'm afraid that last week's scene in which Junior considered burying an axe in Sam's skull, only to be convinced not to by the avatar of Angie, might well be the last we hear on the subject.  If so, what a strange decision.  
It's too early to say for sure, but I fear the worst.  It certainly wouldn't be unlike this series to ignore an issue.
Heh.  Just kidding.  Carolyn does not appear in this episode, which makes six in a row that Aisha Hinds has sat out.  Okay, guys, seriously; what in the hell has Carolyn been doing all this time?  Unless the final two episodes of the season offer an incredibly satisfactory explanation, then...
I don't really have a resolution for that sentence.  All I can do is threaten to continue to roll my eyes at this series.  Also, where is Ben the skater kid?  I didn't much care for that character, but he was too prominent during the first season to be ignored altogether.  Tell me he died of an asthma attack offscreen between episodes if you need to; anything is preferable to evading the issue.
I have virtually no interest in Max Ehrich as Hunter.  He's a boring actor playing a boring character.  That said, Hunter does rheorically ask Joe if he's aware that there is a "Little Bitch Road" in town, which as an all-too-rare mention of something from the novel.
Ehrich probably shouldn't be blamed too much for Hunter's deficiencies; this series has a way of making everyone boring.  And I will say this for Ehrich; both Mackenzie Lintz and Colin Ford seem a bit better than normal this week in their scenes opposite him.  (Lintz is typically good; Ford, less so.)  Elevating the games of those around you is certainly a mark in your favor, so maybe I shouldn't write Ehrich off just yet.
Much of the episode revolves around the plight of Julia and Barbie, who are involved in an ambulance wreck when they hit a patch of the substance from which the episode's title derives.  Julia's leg is impaled by a piece of metal, and Barbie dare not move her off it lest it set an artery a-spurtin'.  So he tries to keep her warm in the face of the incredibly low temperatures outside, and the eventual resolution is that he lets her die of hypothermia, the better to prevent the artery from being an issue.  He then totes her back to the diner, where he resuscitates her.
Now, I don't know all that much about all that much, but I'm led to believe by watching movies during five different decades that if you want to revive somebody, you need to do it more or less as soon as they die.  Here, Barbie must first carry Julia's corpse for . . . well, admittedly, for an indeterminate distance, but one which seems likely to be much too far to permit for manual resuscitation afterward.
Actually, now that I consider it, I'm not certain she dies.  Maybe she's just unconscious with a low heart-rate?  I'm not clear on how that works.  I'm going to continue to assume she dies, though.
But I'm just a hack amateur blogger, and admittedly I don't know much.  I'll fall back on a paraphrasing of an old saying: all I know is what seems like bullshit to me, and this seems to me like bullshit.
I suspect your enjoyment of this episode will hinge on your degree of investment in the Julia/Barbie story.  Mine is negligible.  Both Mike Vogel and Rachelle Lefevre are good actors, but the fact is that they just don't have much chemistry together.  So if you find the relationship between Barbie and Julia to be eyeroll-inducing, you are apt to find your patience tried quite severely during these scenes.
What's interesting to me is that by deciding to have the characters become romantically involved during the first season, all sense of actual romance was removed from the relationship.  Imagine how much more effective it might have been for the two to instead merely become good friends, albeit friends between whom you sense an almost palpable romantic chemistry; a chemistry which might find purchase later on, but which events have made unrealistic at this precise time.
Under the Dome went the other route, which is to turn them into a romantic couple almost immediately; and to say it has not worked would be a bit of an understatement.
This scene involves Norrie tearfully uttering the line, "I never should have let Big Jim knock that egg out of my hand."  Has there ever been a worse line of dialogue uttered during a scene of good, tearful acting?
While hunting for some gasoline, Jim just happens to be present when Lyle belatedly pops out of the lake.  This blows my theory out of the water, so to speak; I assumed he'd somehow remained behind in Zenith, and that as a result he would (as one of the original Four Hands) be the only person in town who could handle the egg without being zapped by it.  So much for that.
Instead, he has an interesting monologue to Jim about what he saw while in transit between Zenith and Chester's Mill: "The whole world was on fire," he says.  "There were waves of flames a thousand feet up, circulating endlessly.  Destroyed everything . . . everything was just . . . it was beautiful.  You should start thinking about where you want to be at the end of the world, Jim; because the end is coming, and there's nothing you can do."
This should provoke a bit of a reaction from anyone who has read the novel, and I'm curious to see if the upcoming season finale ends on a cliffhanger of some sort involving this idea.  I've got no faith in the show doing a good job with the idea; but, hope against hope and all that.
There is a good scene in which we see Big Jim -- who has been thoroughly tongue-lashed by Pauline, and by Barbie and Julia, for his rashness in tossing the egg over the cliff last week -- contemplating what we assume must be some high-school trophies with his name on them.  Pauline shows up and makes reference to being present at a game when he blocked a field-goal to win a game for the "mighty, mighty Woodchucks."  This is another sly reference to the novel (in which a woodchuck, rather than a cow, gets sliced in half by the dome when it drops into place).
This is a good scene all around, and it continues the trend of permitting Dean Norris as Big Jim to play complexity as opposed to cartoonishness.
The episode ends with dome beginning to shrink inward.  Which is an intriguing idea, but  one which seems likely to play absolute havoc with the show's effects budget unless the shrinkage stops almost immediately at the beginning on the next episode.
Where will this lead?  Dude, don't ask me.  Probably nowhere good.
And by the way, if you've still got that gun to my head, and your Lying Cat is sitting there waiting on me to say something, I guess I have to go with "All of the above."


  1. I asked myself a very important question during the segment after the first commercial break. I'm sitting there, watching things unfold, and for me it's just not going anywhere, the scenes are dragging on in a familiar muddle. I recognize the same old pattern of Dome starts to destroy the town until it is either stopped, or the Dome seemingly quits by itself. My verdict: Seen it!!

    It was as I was wondering how come they come reusing the same situation over and over that a very important question occurred to me: are you running short on story and in need of padding?

    The answer could be yes. If so, then the reason it's important has to do with how various networks model and plan out their shows. Networks like HBO, Showtime and AMC seem to have caught onto the fact that the structure of their shows can be more organic and doesn't have to follow the regular network mandate of, say, 14 or 26 shows per regular season, whereas sometimes HBO id willing to let a season run for no more than 8 (5 at the very least). CBS seems to have structured UTD under the older, more formulated model.

    This may explain the problem that the series seems to be experiencing, as it shows up the limitations of the older network model of showrunning as opposed to the new fluid and dynamic cable model. The old network framework is much more suited to shows like sitcoms and dramas like CSI, where the show adheres to a basic pattern of situation. Something happens, the characters act in a patterned manner, and the situation eventually resolves. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is the old network model, and it still works in the case of shows like CSI, or Gilligan's Island. The problem is, UTD seems to be a show designed for the new cable model, and adhering to the old network format is potential poison for the kind of development both characters and situations, leading to needless padding involving tons of cheese and aimless dialogue scenes that don't necessarily belong.

    At least that's one possible explanation for why I found myself literally PICKING UP MY IPOD, PLACING HEADPHONES ON, AND BROWSING FOR A U2 VID I REMEMBERED RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FRICKIN' SHOW!

    To be fair to the episode, there were three moments that at least "seemed" important. I grant you the importance of Melanie and Mrs. Rennie reuniting, that does seem important. My problem is the cheese factor seemed through the rough and it kinda got in the way of my ability to just enjoy the scene. I kinda wish the whol segment had been written more as a "what the hell is going on here in general, I think I'm going crazy, we're all dead and this is hell, sorta creepy vibe which heighten the tension of the entire scenario, and make the audience remember how much is at stake.

    The other two were the return of Lyle, and Hunter's contact with the outside authorities. Other than that, I'd say all I was given was mostly useless padding, for reasons outlined above.


    1. I think you make some good points. Explaining the show's ailments away as a case of old-model thinking crammed into a new-model framework probably goes a long way.

      Part of what I always come back to -- but rarely mention, because it's utterly fruitless to do so -- is the fact that the series has no teeth. We're living in an era in which probably the two biggest shows on television are "The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones." Both are based on highly-popular pre-existing material, and in both cases that pre-existing material is totally go-for-broke in terms of violence, profanity, and sexual content. (The latter is less true of "The Walking Dead" than of "Game of Thrones," granted.) And in the case of both, the television versions are seemingly 100% unafraid to be horrifically brutal when the stories call for them to be.

      End result? Well, I'd argue that "Game of Thrones" is miles beyond "The Walking Dead" in quality, personally; but others might argue the opposite, and whichever way you go, you have a television series that feels as if it has genuine stakes.

      On "Under the Dome," there are NO stakes. Even when characters actually do die, their deaths tend to be utterly unimpactful. Did anybody actually care that Angie died at the beginning of the season? If so, I haven't heard about it. Why? Because the death had no emotional weight to it of any sort.

      And in thinking about your comments, it all makes sense: it's because so much of the series is designed to feel exactly like old-school television, where characters rarely if ever died and where anything troubling or ambiguous was strongly advised against by the network brass lest anyone in TV Viewing Land be disturbed and decide to change the channel for good. Or, worse, change the channel for good and then talk six or seven people at work into doing the same by talking about it around the fabled Watercooler.

      Thing is, "Under the Dome" as a novel is not well-suited to that sort of soft-pedaling. So you get occasional feints in that direction on the series, such as Big Jim executing Dodee; but even then, the events have a curiously weightless feel to them.

      CBS seems to exist primarily as a delivery system for entertaining retirees at this point, and I suspect that what really happened here is that the network's top mandate was that the series do nothing to genuinely offend the senior citizens who watch it. This is not horror; it is pap disguised as horror. Too bad we didn't get to see what the Showtime version of this might have looked like; that would have had massive potential.

      As is, this is arguably the worst treatment any King novel has received. There are others which are worse in terms of their competency and entertainment value; but in terms of butchering the source material, I'd argue that this one has to go at or near the bottom.

    2. Leave it to Lilja's Library to provide the kinda sick punchline to this post:

      "The Things They Left Behind Lands on CBS"

      " Looks like CBS will be the channel who gives us The Things They Left Behind. Personally I had preferred another, more reviewer friendly channel, but this is where it landed."

      "In a competitive situation, CBS has landed The Things They Left Behind, a supernatural procedural drama based on Stephen King’s short story, from Seth Grahame-Smith, and Greg Berlanti. The project, produced by Warner Bros. TV and Berlanti’s studio-based Berlanti Prods., has received a put pilot from the network, which has had success with another drama adaptation of a work by King, summer series Under The Dome. Written by Grahame-Smith, The Things They Left Behind centers on an unlikely pair of investigators carrying out the unfinished business of the dead. Grahame-Smith and his producing partner David Katzenberg will executive produce through their KatzSmith banner, along with Berlanti Prods.’ Berlanti and Sarah Schechter."



    3. I would prefer that that just not get made at all. If it gets made, I'll feel the need to watch it, and that despite the fact that the short story is one of least-favorite stories King has written the last decade or so.

      I can't help but focus on something Lilja says there about CBS not being reviewer-friendly. This, if I'm not mistaken, references the fact that CBS wouldn't send him screener DVDs of the series when it premiered last season. And really, why should they? I love his site, but it's an amateur site, and the man can barely type in English. So really, why should he expect one of the biggest media networks in the entire world to give him things for free?

      It's always sad when an amateur mistakes himself for a professional. It makes some of his opinions a little difficult to take seriously.

    4. One of *MY least-favorite stories. Derp.