Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x1)

Confession: I've never liked Stephen King. I know, I know. To many of you, this is the equivalent of not liking ice cream or puppies. And yes, I do recognize that two of my all time favorite shows--LOST and Once Upon a Time--were heavily influenced by King and his works. Horror has never been my forte. While I'm ok with some horror elements embedded in my sci-fi or fantasy, straight up horror tends to give me nightmares and thus I avoid. However, the trailer for the CBS take on King's work "Under the Dome" was intriguing enough that I knew I wanted to check it out. Summer TV is a bit of a drag: nonsense reality shows and repeats. If I have to wait until September for my favorites to return, then I'll gladly sit back and sink my teeth into this show. 

 Because I've never read the novel, I can't do a point-by-point tv vs. text analysis so instead I've decided to just look at the TV show as its own separate thing. I'll be tracking not only the mystery but also our main characters arc through the story. Most of them are pretty standard as far as TV tropes go, but I do hope they get to deviate somehow from the norm in order to make this show fresher. The town of Chester's Mill is in Maine; it's your standard small town known for "rich, fertile land and warm, inviting people." Everyone seems to know everyone else but unlike the placid small towns in other TV shows, even before the dome falls, there is a built in mystery. For some reason, propane has been coming into the town in large quantities. I'll keep our eye on who knows about the propane and their reaction to it. Now on to our tropes:

--The mystery man: Dale "Barbie" Barbara. The show opens with Barbie burying a body out in the woods. It seems fairly obvious that Barbie killed this man but as of now we do not know why, how, or even why he is in Chester's Mill. As expected, Barbie has a military background--he is the first to encounter the dome after it falls, and snaps into action, alerting those on the other side to call in the Feds. The encounter with the dome is pretty fantastic. The animals get spooked, the ground shakes and suddenly it just falls. It even splits a cow in half, long ways, which was both really gross but also kind of hysterical. Despite being a murderer and our mystery man, Barbie appears to be a good guy; he has a very pretty face and thus far has not done anything menacing. I don't think he'll turn out to be any kind of villain. He saved a boy from a falling airplane and has gone out of his way to rescue others.

--The Sheriff: "Duke" Perkins. Every small town needs a sheriff, preferably one with an impressive hard sounding yet lovable nickname and a strong desire to protect the town. Check and check. Duke seems fairly competent in his duties; when the dome falls he does his job. Yet, like most lawmen, he is obviously hiding something, keeping secrets "for the good of the town." He knows about the propane being stockpiled but he has turned a blind eye for the sake of the town. At the end of the first episode, he tells his lieutenant, Linda, that he has been hiding things from her and is about to go into detail when, naturally, his pacemaker malfunctions and we are left wondering if he'll make to the next episode!

The Politician: "Big Jim" Rennie.  Local small time politician and car salesman who obviously considers himself to be a much bigger fish than he really is. Big Jim sees himself as powerful but is always craving more power. In the opening moments, he gives a waitress $100, buying her vote in the next election, even though he always run unopposed. He has been stockpiling propane, though we don't know why. He becomes a 15min hero when he takes over the local radio station and sends out a general distress broadcast, urging everyone on the road to stay where they are so that they don't run into the dome (die, in other words). He seems almost delighted that the other councilmen are on the other side of the dome and that he alone remains standing. There is quite a bit of tension between Big Jim and Duke, as is to be expected in typical TV trope land; when Jim offers to make citizens into policemen to ease Duke's burden, they get into a very polite fight in which Duke tries to make it clear that he's in charge, not Jim. Jim is at the top of the list of "suspects who know more than they should" but if this show is anything like other TV shows, it's all a red herring.

The Lovers: Angie and Junior. Our young teenage angst will most likely come from these two. Angie is a candystriper who has ambitions of getting out of Chester's Mill. All summer she's been hooking up with Junior (turns out he's Big Jim's son) who is our resident psycho. Junior is cruel and vindictive and ends up locking Angie in a fallout shelter in his backyard when he spies Angie and Barbie having a smoke together. Junior even carries a knife with him, twirling it in his hand like some sort of evil mustachio.

The Plucky Young Reporter: Julia Shumway.

New editor of the town's (probably only) newspaper, Julia is apparently the only reporter inside the dome with it falls. She strikes up a tentative "friendship" with Barbie and invites him to spend the night at her place instead of sleeping in the woods. She was tipped off about the propane before the dome fell so if there is a connection between the two (despite Big Jim's assurance that there isn't) she'll be the first to figure it out. Julia is also married to the local doctor Peter, who hasn't been seen all day. Why? Because Barbie killed him and buried him in the woods. Cue the dramatic music.

There are some other miscellaneous characters like:
--Phil and Dodee who work in the radio tower and thus will probably be the first ones to make some sort of outside contact. Also, our resident hipster/nerds, and from Dodee's perspective, maybe a bit of a conspiracy nut.

--Linda, the deputy who is worried about her fiancee on the other side of the dome.

--Caroline and Alice Hill, a lesbian couple traveling with Alice's teenage daughter Norrie. They are the "Outsiders" in the town and when Norrie encountered the dome, she began to have seizures and mumble "the stars are falling in lines."

--Joe, brother to Angie who will be the first to notice her missing and will employ Barbie's help to find his sister as Barbie saved him from a plane after it crashed into the dome.

As with LOST before it, there are a lot of characters that all have some sort of story to tell and will be affected by the dome in different ways. My hope is that character development is given to the core cast, the ones I fleshed out in greater detail, and that the mystery is really what focuses the show. So far my only working theory is the government. Despite the final moments of the episode showing the outside and a radio broadcast assuring the rest of the world that this is an "unparalleled event in human history" someone out there knows something. The question is, does someone on the inside know something.

Overall Rating: check it out. It's a short 13 episode series, so the producers know they have to solve the mystery while making it entertaining. I was intrigued enough to watch again next week. The visuals of what the dome did to the town are stunning.

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