Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Under the Dome Review: "The Endless Thirst" - Deus ex Lacrimae

Barbie and Julia get close in "Under the Dome"

Crap finally hits the fan in this week’s episode of Under the Dome as people finally begin to realize that being stuck together in a giant dome with no access to outside food, water, or propane might cause a few problems.  Unfortunately, it all seems to be coming two or three episodes too late and the resolution to everything is a little too neat.  Ultimately, I think this episode (and the series as a whole) serves as a reminder of how difficult ongoing, serialized storytelling can be. The need to be able to tell a single story that is introduced and resolved in 42 minutes makes this a weaker show than it probably could be.

First, though, let’s talk about the fact that Dome was renewed for a second season.  It was inevitable, once the ratings came back showing that the show’s pilot was the most watched scripted summer debut in more than a decade.  There was a lot of speculation initially that CBS was planning on treating Dome as a miniseries, ending after its first season.  But over the last few weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that that was never the plan.  The producers talked about ending on a cliffhanger.  The phenomenal ratings weren’t met with immediate denials of future seasons.  This renewal was a foregone conclusion after week two. 

The renewal poses some problems for the show, as best accented in this week’s episode.  Firstly, resources are going to become scarce (as it’s also increasingly apparent that nobody has really tried to conserve at all over this first week in the dome).  Second, it’s going to be impossible to introduce new characters to the show without going the “they were here all along” route, like Lost did in its much lamented third season.  Now, these aren’t exactly world-breaking problems, but we’ve been losing secondary characters at a pretty breath-taking clip so far (five in six episodes), and the ranks of background characters could seen be depleted.  There's also the issue of needing to tell a self-contained story that fits into a larger narrative.  This episode introduces several huge, community-wide problems, shows the citizens rioting over said problems, temporarily fixes one problem, and makes it seem like everything is perfectly okay now.  Everything shouldn't be okay.  There are still several huge issues that remain unresolved.  But the need to wrap everything neatly in 42 minutes gives us a finish that will either be extremely false (in a world where the problems continue) or extremely ill-conceived (it it magically fixes everything).

That aside, let’s dig in to this week’s episode.  There were a lot of intriguing developments this week, even if they all should have been covered by now.  Prior to the bombing, apparently nobody gave even the slightest thought to the idea that they may be under the dome for more than a few days.  People are out of propane, food is getting scarce and, thanks to the timely arrival of a furniture delivery truck, the water tower gets destroyed as well.  Who, precisely, is getting furniture delivered in Chester’s Mill right now?  I have to think there were twenty better ways to take out the water tower than a careening furniture delivery truck.  Anyway, with resources scarce, we finally get the insanity that we probably should have seen on day three or four as riots start at the town grocery store, which still has food for some reason.  I don’t mean to say that any of these plot points are bad, they’re just so long overdue that it seems weird to be having them now.  In the end, it rains in Chester’s Mill and everybody takes that as a sign that everything’s going to be just peachy, despite the fact that they’re still short on food and propane.  Everything’s wrapped up so nicely, when it seems like the panic over resources should be a huge, ongoing problem.  Hopefully, this is only a temporary lull in the drama, and we’ll be back to crazy panic next week.

In other news, Rose, the diner lady is dead, killed at the hands of a couple of teenagers looking to raid her kitchen.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense (in terms of timing), because it sure seems like people have been eating at the diner pretty much every day.  I have a hard time believing she’d have much, if any, food left by this point.  Again, I just keep coming back to the idea that all of this would have made a hell of a lot more sense if it had happened on, say, day three or four instead of day six or seven.  One woman even mentions running out of propane.  How on earth could she have used any reasonable amount of propane when any intelligent person would be using it for emergencies only?

Hopefully, getting a lot of this basic stuff out the way will let the story move forward in more interesting, more crazy ways.  The level of panic seen in most of this episode was fun, even if it seemed to be largely diffused by the end of the episode.  I still think there’s promise here, even if it hasn’t been fulfilled yet.  Under the Dome may never be a great show, but it can be a decent show, and if it’s going to get at least 20 more episodes, I’d at least like “decent.”

A couple of spare thoughts –

Even Joe and Nori go a little evil this week, raiding houses looking for insulin.  Far more intriguing, however, is the fact that they are causing interference with all the communications equipment in town, interference that ends when they touch the dome together.  I was kind of hoping for less mysticism about the dome, but it’s here and it could be far worse so far.

Barbie damn near kills a couple of dudes.  It was fun to see him get violent, but I’ve never gotten the impression that he was randomly violent like this.  He’s supposed to be an enforcer, somebody for whom violence is a profession, not a passion.  To see him just go off on a couple of guys felt out of character.

Angie, Junior, and Big Jim come to a détente, with Angie agreeing to forget the whole kidnapping thing in exchange for Big Jim’s protection for her and Joe.  I just don’t even know what to do with this whole story.  Ugh.

Linda and Barbie are apparently of like minds because, much like Barbie’s tactic for putting out a house fire is to toss buckets of water into an open doorway, Sheriff Linda’s tactic for stopping a riot is to drop two tear gas canisters into an open street.  Needless to say, it doesn’t work.

And Barbie and Julia hook up because of course they do.

So, thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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