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Monday, July 7, 2014

CBS "Heads" Back UNDER THE DOME

Article originally written for Seat42F.



CBS’s Stephen King series, UNDER THE DOME, returned last night with a season premiere penned by the horror master himself. “Heads Will Roll” picks up right where season one ended, with Barbie’s (Mike Vogel) head in a noose and the dome glowing with a bright, white light. From there, the episode introduces several new characters, says goodbye to a couple of main players, and forces Big Jim (Dean Norris) to take a long, hard look at himself. It’s a pretty solid hour.

Big Jim is the villain of the piece, of course, but it seems like “Heads Will Roll” sets him on the road to redemption. As a magnetic force renders most of the citizens unconscious, Jim is plagued by hallucinations of Dodee (Jolene Purdy), whom he killed, and Linda (Natalie Martinez), the first casualty of the premiere. It’s like his own version of A Christmas Carol, and confronted with his failings, Big Jim decides he should end himself, which he almost goes through with until Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) stops him.

Can Big Jim eventually be one of the good guys? The dynamics of UNDER THE DOME are often flimsy, changing on a whim. After all, how many times has Angie (Britt Robertson) seemingly forgiven Junior (Alexander Koch) after he kidnaps her? However, the situation is tense and stress levels are high, which does make it easier to overlook misdeeds. Big Jim has made quite a few blunders in the eyes of our heroes, but most of the townsfolk don’t hate him, so if he works to be the leader they want, which he seems serious about when he gives now-homeless Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) and Carolyn (Aisha Hinds) a key to his house, we could end up liking him.

With arcs like this, UNDER THE DOME strives to be a serious character piece, meaty drama with layered players. The problem is, it’s just not. It takes shortcuts and allows inconsistencies that hurt the overall impression. For instance, moments before Julia saves Big Jim, she’s ready and willing to be the tool that kills him. How can she shift so suddenly? The writers definitely seemed more concerned with the actions of those on screen than the motivations behind them. And even the actions, such as the dome magnetically pulling metal to it, aren’t the most consistently thought out, with items flying willy-nilly, rather than in a logical pattern, making it more dangerous, but less believable.

Which is not to say UNDER THE DOME is a bad show. I find it quite enjoyable, and there are some genuine surprises, such as Linda being squashed and Angie getting hacked to pieces. I am curious as to what is going on, and I’m engaged with who might die next. It’s just more in the genre of summer popcorn than serious drama.

The deaths do seem a bit arbitrary, which makes it hard to predict who might go next. Angie is one of the four kids who communication with the dome, so she doesn’t seem expendable, but’s she taken out, nonetheless. Plus, she runs the diner after the owner is previously killed, so that leaves a crucial gap in the town. Linda is the last real law enforcement officer left, again, making her seem safe, but she’s replaced by Phil (Nicholas Strong) by the end of the episode, Big Jim’s lackey, for now. The show does not worry about preserving a structure, and is willing to create more conflict by removing those that don’t seem replaceable, bold moves.
To help keep the population up, we are introduced to Sam Verdreaux (Eddie Cahill, CSI: NY), who initially makes a pretty boring corner of a love triangle with Julie and Barbie, but gets more interesting when we learn he’s Junior’s uncle and acts shifty. There’s also Rebecca Pine (Karla Crome), a science teacher, who might finally give us insight on the (uneven) mechanics of the dome, and Melanie Cross (Grace Victoria Cox), a crazy girl. This new blood should keep the story humming along nicely.

More interesting is the reveal of Junior’s mother, Pauline (Sherry Stringfield), outside of the dome. We haven’t really seen how the rest of the world is reacting to the events in Chester’s Mill, and she not only potentially provides a window to the larger universe, but also has strange connections to the dome itself. I, like many viewers, had assumed she was dead. To learn she’s elsewhere only deepens the mystery.

Overall, “Heads Will Roll” is one of the better installments of UNDER THE DOME, with everything from action to self-reflection, to a cameo by King himself. Season two is off to a good start.

UNDER THE DOME airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

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