At least one commenter has expressed disappointment that I was not reviewing each episode of Under the Dome during its third season. I'm disappointed, too; but the move to Thursdays made it nearly impossible for me to do so in a timely fashion (unless I'm on vacation, I work every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night), so I decided to just opt out.
I have been watching, though, and I thought it would be worth logging on tonight and dashing off a few brief words about the season in whole now that it has finished.
Spoilers ahead, so beware.
First things first: if you were not already aware, the show has been canceled. The ratings had dropped heavily since the show debuted, and I guess CBS must finally have decided the bleedoff was not stanchable.
The producers must have sensed it coming, so they decided to structure the season in such a way that it could serve as a series finale AND as a directional indicator for a potential fourth season.
When the series debuted, there was much handwringing on the part of the writers and producers designed to let audiences know that the source of the dome would be different than it had been in King's novel. There, the dome was revealed to be essentially a science experiment enacted by incredibly powerful alien children; these aliens were so far advanced compared to humanity that it seems possible that they did not even know they were being cruel. The comparison King put in the mouths of his characters (if I remember this correctly -- and if I don't, please correct me) was that to them, the people under the dome were nothing more than ants under a magnifying glass.
For whatever reason, readers by the scores could not get on board with this. I was not among their number; I thought the revelation was appropriate, unsettling, and highly memorable. But I'm in what seems to be a silent minority, because for the most part the Internet lost its flippin' mind over how much it hated that aspect of the novel. So, in understandable fashion, the people making the television adaptation were quick to say, "Oh, but we're not doing THAT bullshit!"
In the end, the show went to even stranger places; and in so doing, it abandoned and/or lost the pure simplicity of King's concept. King dealt out a bit of Lovecraftian existential horror; the producers of the show ripped off The Matrix, The Tommyknockers, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (among others) and did that with no conviction.
For those of you who did not watch, a brief summary of what happened during the third season is this: inside the caves underneath the town, the survivors (excepting Big Jim and Julia) become cocooned inside alien -- as in extraterrestrial -- pods. While there, their consciousness experiences a year's worth of life in an alternate/false reality in which the dome came down. So, for example, Barbie goes back into military service and gets a new girlfriend, whom he then gets pregnant. Except not really, because none of it is real. They get out of the cocoons because Big Jim destroys the egg. Everyone is bummed to find they are still under the dome, but Marg Helgenberger is there and she is apparently possessed by an alien consciousness. She infects most of the rest of the town with other aliens, and together they are called The Kinship. Big Jim and Julia lead a resistance against The Kinship, and then later Barbie gets his fake girlfriend real pregnant while he's possessed, and she carries the baby to term in literally three days because she is stealing power from young women who sacrifice themselves to the cause. The baby is born, Marg Helgenberger kills the baby's mother, and the baby grows up in about a day after being placed in a cocoon and sapping energy from the dome. The baby is played by the same actress who played her mother, but with a wig; I mean, look, she was under contract.
Meanwhile, the energy company headed by Barbie's father has invaded the dome so as to prevent the aliens from getting loose and infecting the whole world. The aliens get Joe to use a giant amethyst and a radio transmitter, which is used to amplify a whistle; this destroys the dome. Barbie kills his daughter, except not really; she escapes, and is last seen finding -- but, for some reason, not actually picking up -- another egg. She has plans to construct a new dome, which is intended to protect The Kinship from another alien species with which they are at war. A year has passed, and Big Jim is now a Congressman. The fourth season seemingly would have involved his efforts to -- along with the various other survivors of Chester's Mill who were still on CBS's payroll -- prevent The Kinship from bringing up another dome.
Here's my thing: done correctly, that's not a bad idea. It breaks down like this: the dome was an alien device designed to protect the aliens -- who had taken human form -- from a second race which was hunting them to extinction. Or something like that. I could get on-board with that concept.
However, you will have to explain to me why that is a good and acceptable concept whereas the alien-children one was not. Good luck; I'm not going to make it easy on you.
In the end, I believe the tv version of Under the Dome ranks as the single worst adaptation of a King novel to ever be produced. The book was (and is) full of biting and intense satire; not all of it works, but it has real edge to it. It is a nightmarish scenario, and the conflict that emerges between people inside it feels very possible to me (certainly in the divided America of 2015). The concept called for a hard-R approach full of violence, and for a no-holds-barred approach. I get that there was a need to expand the concept so as to permit for a multi-season run if the demand was there; but in the process of doing so, the producers failed the source material utterly. By the end of the third season, virtually nothing of the book remained (despite occasional grace notes, such as the finale's use of a baseball in a manner similar to a scene in the novel).
The characters in their television guises were laughable, and none more so than Big Jim Rennie. I'm not a fan of the character in the book; he's one of King's alpha-ignoramus baddies, with catchphrases and tics and cartoonish tendencies. In some ways, I prefer the version played by Dean Norris. This is due purely to Dean Norris being an actor I enjoy; at some point between the second and third seasons, he obviously decided to play the role as though it were a parody, and it kind of worked. Why not? After all, that's the only way he was going to get any consistency: by creating it himself. As the show progressed after its first-season debut, Big Jim would veer between being sympathetic and evil on what seemed sometimes -- and in fact may at times have been -- a weekly basis.
There is plenty more to be said, and eventually I'll get around to saying it by reviewing each episode of this final season; I do hate to leave a series unfinished.
For now, though, I've said what I felt like saying. It was a very poor series, albeit one that had a mostly good cast and occasional moments that hinted at what a better version of the same material might have been like. In the end, I think it goes down as a colossal failure on CBS's part, and on the parts of the various producers, including Neal Baer, Brian K. Vaughan, Steven Spielberg, and -- yes -- King himself.
Vaughan (who left after the first season) was interviewed at some point early on and specified that he had an ending in mind, and that King had expressed to him how much he loved it. I'd love to know if the series as it exists ever tackled any of that material. Whether it did or didn't, I wish Uncle Steve had been more protective of his novel. I suspect that public reception caused him to lose confidence in it after the fact, and if so, that's a real shame: except perhaps for the number of times he had Junior mockingly say "Baaaaarbie," he had nothing to apologize for with that book, as far as I'm concerned. But evidence indicates that perhaps the dullards who disliked the novel's resolution swayed him, and caused him to allow the producers to make a mess of a novel that worked.
In my opinion, it's a real shame, and a stinging case of what-might-have-been.
By the way, on the same day the series finale aired, this happened:
That's King in the process of receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama. It's a heck of an honor.
The television version of Under the Dome did nothing to add to King's legacy, but it probably didn't do much to harm it, either; except in the sense that in some better world, on some better level of the Tower, King is receiving plaudits of the sort one receives when one's work is turned into a great series on television.
It could have happened.