Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Under the Dome Review: "Going Home" - Falling Out

I hereby claim "eggsposition"

I thought I had sworn off reviewing Under the Dome a few weeks ago as the series departed on what I can only describe as the worst four or five episode run I can recall ever seeing on television.  The standalone plots were dull, the egg-based exposition (eggsposition?) was awful, the product placement was epic in its audacity, and the characters were, well, utterly moronic in every conceivable way.  As the AV Club’s Scott Von Doviak put it, “none of the townspeople can remember anything for more than 24 hours, and they always support whoever spoke to them last. It’s gotten so very tiresome.”  Then, last night, some interesting things happened that could potentially lead to good stories, and since we’ve also reached the halfway point of Dome’s thus far disastrous second season, I thought I’d take a look at “Going Home” and what it could mean for the series going forward.

So there’s a way out from under the dome.  If it seemed too easy and convenient to kill off the newly villainous Sam at the end of last week’s episode, that’s because it was.  They certainly weren’t going to kill Barbie either.  When he turned up in the playground in Zenith, I have to say, I felt relieved.  Finally, the show is breaking out of the narrative bubble (no pun intended) in which it’s found itself for the past several weeks.  I can’t say that I really care about Barbie’s bad guy brethren, but it’s something different, at the very least, from the disaster-of-the-week scenarios we’ve been stuck with so far.

I also liked that Joe finally had another good idea (mapping the dome was his first and, thus far, only other).  It may have required the return of the abominable Surface tablet, but this show has set such a low bar for intelligence that it’s nice to see somebody act smart for once.  And, frankly, the more people who discover that the pit is potentially a way out, the better.  The last thing the show needs right now is to return its bland disaster-of-the-week storylines, and this seems like the best way out.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Under the Dome if we didn’t get some silly CGI and eggsposition in the cave, with grand declarations about the dome’s plan and all that.  I want to be clear, this wasn’t a good episode of television; it was merely a decent step up from the absolute pits the show has been in during recent weeks.  Dome has a long way to go to become an actual good show and, honestly, I have little faith that it’ll even break “average.”  The show will certainly get a lot of time, though, to work through its problems.  The ratings are down significantly from a year ago, but the show still draws a large enough audience to pretty well guarantee a return next year. 

With that in mind, I’d like to look at where the Under the Dome might go from here that could make it a show at least worth caring about. 

First, it’s time for Big Jim and Junior to go.  I like Dean Norris a great deal.  He wasn’t nominated for an Emmy for his performance in the final season of Breaking Bad, but he probably should have been.  Here, though, his villainous character has been neutered.  He’s tried to do so many terrible things – and been caught doing them so many times – that there’s absolutely no reason why any reasonable person would listen to a thing that comes out of his mouth.  Granted, we’ve established that, in the bad version of this show, all of the townspeople are complete morons.  But if Dome wants to get better, Jim’s continuous cycle of villainy and contrition can’t keep happening.  Without that, though, all he has left is wandering around the diner, glowering at people, and muttering about being the dome’s “chosen one.”  He can no longer function as a villain and the audience will never trust him as a hero, so what use is he?

The same principles apply to Junior.  The show wants so badly for us to forget what he did to Angie, but it’s just not possible.  It would have been one thing if Junior had just been following his father but ultimately rebelled and turned to the right side of things.  But Junior was so insanely villainous in his own right, completely apart from Jim, that you can’t now pretend that all of that never happened.  Dome wants us to see Junior and Melanie inadvertently cuddling and think, “Awww,” but all I can do is wonder when she, too, is going to end up handcuffed to a bed in the tornado shelter.

It’s also time to bring in the outside world.  When Under the Dome first debuted, I argued that the series should stick to stories inside the dome and not even explain how it got there.  But that was when I thought they could actually tell interesting stories about life in such a crazy environment.  Clearly they can’t, so it’s time to expand the story beyond Chester’s Mill.  I’m moderately intrigued by whatever is happening with Sam, Lyle, and Pauline (especially Pauline’s visions), less so by Barbie’s shadowy past.  But it would be interesting to find out how the outside world is reacting to the dome and its occupants.  Anything that gets us out of the dull, repetitive day-to-day life inside the dome.

Again, “Going Home” was not a good episode of television, but it was different.  It shows that the producers are at least interested in changing things up from the status quo, even if it’s only for a short time.  I don’t have much confidence that the series can get much better, aside from a major revamping, but recognizing that the show needs something other than a new disaster each week is progress.  Hopefully the writers don’t revert to form in the coming weeks.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at TyTalksTV AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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