Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Under the Dome Review: "Blue on Blue" - The Need for Fear

Barbie and Julia commiserate on "Under the Dome"
I think I’ve figured out my fundamental problem with Under the Dome: There are no threats.  With the exception of Angie and the meningitis outbreak last week, nobody is ever in any real danger on this show.  Sure, people keep randomly dying (the Reverend this week murdered by Big Jim), but random killing isn’t enough to create a proper sense of dread.  You need it to feel like people are in danger, so that when a death happens, it feels necessary or logical, rather than random and out of place.  This week’s episode finally gave us a threat, even if it was a threat from outside the dome.  The threat is affecting, even if we know it’s never going to work.  And, more importantly, the threat hits our characters, making them believe that they’re in danger, which is perhaps the most important piece of all.

The biggest problem here is that we don’t really know the motivations of any of our characters.  For example, why does Big Jim kill the Reverend?  Sure, he’s annoying, probably crazy, and possibly a threat to the town, but we haven’t really been given any indication that Big Jim actually cares about Chester’s Mill and the threat the Reverend poses to the town is existential more than physical.  We know that Big Jim and the Reverend are involved in something with the propane (yeah, remember the propane?) but it’s been so long since we dealt with that plot point (and we still know so little about it) that it doesn’t really play any part in this storyline.  Random deaths aren’t enough to keep the horror momentum going, you need a sense that everybody has a reason why they could die at any time.  And Dome just hasn’t given us any of those reasons.  So what we’re left with is a show where nothing happens, nothing bad seems like it’s ever going to happen, and any deaths we do get are only there for shock value. 

And that brings us to tonight’s episode, where we do finally get a threat to the town and the people.  We get a brief glimpse outside the dome and, more importantly, our characters finally decide to talk to people outside the dome, and we get two key pieces of information.  First, the American government had nothing to do with the dome.  Second, their plan for dealing with the dome is to blow it up.  Now, there’s not much for the audience to fear here.  It would make for an awfully short show to destroy the town at this point.  But, as I said, the most important part is that the characters feel the threat, and they certainly do, as most everybody evacuates to the cement factory’s tunnels.  This outside threat gives us some of the series best scenes thus far as we get a few tearful reunions between family members and the people of Chester’s Mill make their peace with each other.  The final montage is a little manipulative, but it succeeded at making me care about these people more than I have since the pilot.  And Joe & Norrie kiss in front of a giant explosion, which is both obvious and cheesy, but sweet all the same.  Ultimately, the bomb does nothing but scorch the earth around the dome (which will cause some hell on the CGI budget for the rest of the season) and will have to make the people of Chester’s Mill feel like it’s them against the world now.

In other news, this episode gets a passing grade if only because it gets Angie out of the shelter, with Big Jim releasing her only when he realizes everybody is going to die anyway.  She still ends up as Junior’s hostage (in her own home this time) but it appears that she’s out for good and at least something different is going to happen now.  It took about three episodes too long to happen, but it’s better than the status quo. 

“Blue on Blue” was a better episode of television than what we’ve seen from the previous three.  It’s still not great and I’m not in any way convinced that they’ve figured out what’s actually wrong with the show, but I at least want to watch and write about the show again, which is more than I could have said the last few weeks.

A Couple of Stray Thoughts –

The Dome seems to be having some kind of magnetic effect as monarch butterflies are flocking to it.  Of course, all those butterflies (save one) end up getting blown up.  I’ve been happy thus far that the dome isn’t really playing a huge role in the story, but it’s nice to learn little tidbits like this every once in a while.

I’m not entirely sure why Sheriff Linda felt the need to set up police tape at the family meeting place.  These people have been under the dome for five or six days at this point.  Surely they’ve realized by now that the dome messes with electronics?  It also doesn’t help when she immediately runs past that tape to see her fiancé. 

Of all of the family meetings we could have seen, Norrie’s first meeting with her biological father was not high on my list.  At least we got to see Peter’s Dear John letter to Julia.  If nothing else, it will speed up their inevitable hookup.

I normally don’t have a problem with product integration (I watch Bones for God’s sake), but this was a pretty terrible example of it.  It’s the nature of the television beast now, but they could at least put some thought into it, because this was bad.

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